Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Short History of the Sinner's Prayer

Despite the fact that no such thing as the "Sinner's Prayer" appears anywhere in the Bible and despite that fact that no one was ever told to "pray through" for salvation in the New Testament, most of the evangelical world embraces the "Sinner's Prayer" as God's "plan of salvation." Upon searching the Scriptures, one can only find two prayers that even begin to resemble the "Sinner's Prayer" used by many in the 21st century. One example is the Publican's Prayer recorded in Luke 18 and the other is Peter's demand that Simon the Sorcerer "repent and pray for forgivness" in Acts 8.

When one examines the Publican's Prayer in Luke 18 in context, one quickly discovers that both the Pharisee and the Publican were already in covenant relationship with God via the Jewish blood flowing through their veins. The Publican was praying, not for salvation, but for forgivness of sins committed under the Law of Moses. As a result, the Publican's Prayer cannot be prototypical for non-Christians today seeking salvation.

When one examines in context the strict request of the Apostle Peter to Simon the Sorcerer in Acts 8 to "repent and pray for forgiveness" one quickly discovers that Simon was already a Christian! He had already been baptized for the remission of sins in the name of Jesus Christ, had received the gift of the Holy Spirit and had been added to the church of Christ by God Himself. As a result, the Prayer of Simon cannot be prototypical for non-Christians today seeking salvation.

Despite the facts, many today still are trying to pound theologically "round pegs into square holes" in order to justify false assumptions made by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, et al regarding baptism. These men, despite their heroic definance of Catholic dogma, over reacted to the radical works-based Catholic system by creating an equal over reaction by embracing a so-called "Reformed" doctrine of faith only...minus obedience. These men assumed that baptism was a "work of man" and therefore could not possibly be included in God's plan of salvation. Unfortunately they failed to realize that baptism is a WORK OF GOD. (Colossians 2:11-12) Baptism is the place and time where God chooses to separate us from our sins much like when 8 day old Jewish boys were circumcised.

During the time of the "First Great Awakening," there was a reformed preacher by the name of Eleazar Wheelock that began using what has since become known as the "Mourner's Bench." Sinner's who "mourned for thier sins," as well as their friends and relatives would come to the "altar" and "pray through" for salvation. This was an emotional experience and was not accepted by most Protestant churches of the time.

Nearly a 100 years later, another reformed preacher from western N.Y. sought to discover a method by which more people could be "converted." His name was Charles Finney. He took the "mourner's bench" concept and renamed it the "anxious bench." Those who were not church members were seated up front where Finney could use psycological manipulation to convince the "sinner's" to convert through prayer and repentance. Finney readidly admitted that he had replaced New Testament baptism for the remission of sins with the "Anxious Bench."

The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ, were called out to be baptized. It held the place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians.

The Finney "Anxious Bench" was still not accepted as a "mainstream" approach and was left on the theological sidelines until the time of Dwight L. Moody in the latter 1/3 of the 19th century. Liking Finney's approach but thinking it too extreme, Moody took aside respondents to what he called the "Inquiry Room." There trained persons led the respondents on a process of repentance and cofession of sin, ending with a prayer.

In 1899, R. A. Torrey took over from the late Dr. Moody and took the "Inquiry Room" concept onto the streets of Chicago where "on the spot" conversions were made. Torey's approach bridged the church building based work of Moody with the yet to come modern day "crusades" held in huge outdoor stadiums.

Soon after World War I, a former baseball player by the name of Billy Sunday took up where R. A. Torrey left off. He took the church "on the road." He was the first to combine entertainment with preaching and gained a huge following. Sunday was very pragmatic in his approach and wanted to make the "salvation experience" easier and simpler. As a result he told the folks at his rallies to just "come down the sawdust trail" and "take my hand." Despite the changes that evolved from Finney to Moody to Torrey and to Sunday, the "plan of salvation" was unclear and loosely defined.

After World War II, the most famous of all evangelicals, Billy Graham, stepped in to take Billy Sunday's place. Graham believed that Sunday was too heavy on the entertainment and too light on theology. He did, however, embrace the overall concept of big outdoor rallies that featured an altar call enhanced by mood music and dire predictions of an unprepared eternity. Graham wrote a pamphlet called The Four Things God Wants You to Know. Currently, the website of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association has this version of the "Sinner's Prayer."

Pray a prayer like this: Dear Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, and I ask for your forgiveness. I believe you died for my sins and rose from the dead. I turn from my sins and invite you to come into my heart and life. I want to trust and follow you as my Lord and savior. In your name, Amen.(2)

Finally, in the late 1950's a co-worker of Grahams, the late Dr. Bill Bright, further articulated the concept and wrote a defining work on the subject called The Four Spiritual Laws. The work of Graham and Bright solidified the "Sinner's Prayer" salvation experience among Evangelicals and most of the Protestant world. Bright founded Campus Crusade for Christ and today the crusade has this version of the "Sinner's Prayer" posted on it's web site:

Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be. (3)

As anyone can clearly see, the two prayers are radically different. Which version is correct? How would one determine? Into what church would one be added by saying one or both of these prayers? Could one become a member of two or more denominations by articulating these two distinct prayers? There are as many versions of the "Sinner's Prayer" as there are preachers who preach it! Words vary between preachers amd denominations. Who has the right words? What happens if the words are incorrect?

Sadly, the "Sinner's Prayer" never saved anyone, nor will it. Jesus Christ died, was buried, rose from the dead, appeared to over 500 witnesses and assended back to His Father. (I Corinthians 15) After His return to Heaven His Will was read on the Day of Pentecost. That will was clearly articulated by the Holy Spirit through Peter and the rest of the apostles. That will has been in effect ever since and will never change! "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins and you will receive the Gift of the Holy Spirit." The work of God is accomplished in baptism and no where else. Any plan of salvation that leaves out baptism is not God's plan!

(1) (“Measures to Promote Revival” located at

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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Luther, Calvin, Graham and the Evolution of the Sinner's Prayer

It seems that nearly every evangelical in America embraces some form of the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” as God’s primary salvation portal. How did Presbyterians, Anglicans, Baptists and Methodists et al come to the same theological conclusion despite past bitterness between them? The answer takes us back to the very dawn of the Reformation when, despite their best intentions, Martin Luther and John Calvin pragmatically reacted to Roman Catholic theology instead of “searching the Scriptures daily.” Those decisions made by the Reformers 500 years ago “wag to dog” today in regards to how most Protestants view matters of salvation.

Turn on any religious radio station today and you will hear nearly every preacher advocate some form of the “sinner’s prayer” for their listeners salvation. The prayer is as varied as every personality advocating it’s use. No two preachers use the same prayer. The content of the “sinner’s prayer” is never the same. The same “sinner’s prayer” will put you in the Methodist Church as will put you in the Baptist Church as will put you into the Lutheran Church as will put you in the Presbyterian Church, etc., etc.

Not only will one not find the “sinner’s prayer” anywhere in Scripture, the “sinner’s prayer” didn’t exist anywhere until rather recently. In fact, it did not become “mainstream” until the 1950’s when the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association embraced Dr. Bill Bright’s pamphlet entitled The Four Spiritual Laws. Bright articulated fragmented bits and pieces of earlier teachings of Dwight L. Moody, Billy Sunday and others. One theory galvanized Bright’s theories in regard to God’s plan of salvation.

That theory, articulated by both Luther and Calvin, says that since the Roman Catholic tradition relies on “works of man” and since baptism is a “work of man,” then baptism cannot possibly be included in God’s plan of salvation! The problem here is the fact that no one has ever proven that baptism is, in fact, a work of man. “IF” it was, the theory would hold water. (No pun intended!) However, the Scripture teaches that baptism is NOT a work of man, it IS a work of God! Paul states this clearly in Colossians 2:11-12 when baptism is noted as being a work or an operation of God. Man has absolutely nothing to do with it!

Proponents of the “sinner’s prayer” salvation experience use a number of “proof texts” to prop up the misplaced theological conclusions of Luther, Calvin, Moody, Sunday, Bright and Graham. We will examine the 5 most popular of these texts during our gospel meeting at the Archdale church of Christ this coming Lord’s Day through next Tuesday evening. Join us at 2525 Archdale Drive, Charlotte, NC Sunday at 9 a.m., 10 a.m., and 6 p.m. and Monday and Tuesday evening at 7 p.m.

Most importantly, we will also examine God’s true plan of salvation that includes water baptism in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins resulting in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and the addition of one’s name to the church of Christ.

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Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Salvation and YOU!

We live in cataclysmic, changing and turbulent times. Changes in society are not only frightening, changes are coming at rocket-sled speed. While well over 90% of people claim a belief in a “higher being,” there is a dark cloud behind that silver lining. Unfortunately, that “higher being” is not the God of the Bible. Paul tells us in Romans 1 that sinful man worships the creature in lieu of the Creator. In fact, the “higher being” most people worship is one of their own creation. This “being” forgives without repentance, saves without sacrifice and rewards at the every whine of the “believer.”

The time for the proclamation of the one and true gospel is now! That proclamation takes place daily but ongoing twice a year, in the spring and in the fall, Archdale will have a gospel meeting. For those not familiar with the term, a gospel meeting is a series of gospel presentations put on for the benefit of the general public…friends, relatives and associates of Christians who are not members of the Lord’s body. Simply put, a gospel meeting is a collective endeavor to fulfill the Great Commission of our Lord, to make disciples and to baptize so we can “teach all things whatsoever Christ commands in the Gospels, the Acts, the Epistles and the Revelation.”

A timely and neglected topic surrounds the so-called “Sinner’s Prayer.” Nearly every denomination today embraces this kind of prayer as a vehicle of salvation. Sadly, faith in such a prayer is in vain. In fact, there is no such prayer even found in Scripture! In the early part of the 19th century, a man by the name of Charles Finley became upset that more people were not becoming “Christians.” He decided that he would round up all the people who were not believers and have them all sit in the front pews where he could “work” on their emotions. This soon evolved into what we now call the “mourners bench” where people would come forward and “pray through” for salvation. Later, Dwight L. Moody began taking the “mourners” off to a side room where the same process would take place. The 20th century saw the dawn of the modern day “evangelical movement” with the emotional and fiery Billy Sunday, a former baseball player. He was the first to use large outdoors mass rallies to “convert” the masses. In our day, Dr. Bill Bright wrote a pamphlet called the Four Spiritual Laws that became the basis of the Billy Graham Crusades and the adoption of the “sinner’s prayer” by most everyone in the denominational world.

All that said, our gospel meeting will take the major “proof texts” of the “sinner’s prayer” and see what the Scripture REALLY says about these things. SALVATION AND YOU is the subject we will cover. Make plans to help us door knock our buildings neighborhood on May 22 in preparation for the meeting that will begin the following day, May 23, at the Archdale church of Christ 2525 Archdale Drive in Charlotte. [] Gospel presentations will take place on May 23 at 9 a.m., 10 a.m. and 6 p.m. Monday and Tuesday, May 24 and 25 will see presentations at 7 p.m. each evening. Pray for the meetings success and invite all you friends, neighbors and relatives.

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Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The Exhortation of Motherhood

Have you noticed? There are fewer and fewer of our Mothers still in the “land of the living” as each year passes. Each passing Mother’s Day, fewer and fewer of us have the opportunity to say “I love you!” to the one most dear who raised us. We long and yearn for just one more chance to do so when our sweet Mother’s “cross over Jordan.”

Rare is the person who says all the words and renders all the kindnesses for their Mother while she remains present with us. But does she resent it? No. Does she hold bitterness? No. Does she criticize us for our neglect? No. Not only that, she continues to show us an over abundance of love and affection.

We all must one day “go the way of all the earth” and slip the bounds of this vanishing vapor. When Mother goes, our minds fill with regret and remorse. We yearn for just a few more minutes to “make things right.” We cry out; “What can I do to make things right with Mother?!” There IS a way! There is no reason any more to disappoint Mother!

To make things right with Mother, all we need to do is to remember what she told us to do and DO IT! If we did not obey our Mother when we were growing up, it is never too late to embrace that obedience. If we did not become Christians while our Mother lived, we can still make that decision to put on Christ in baptism and “walk in her ways.” If we have become neglectful and unfaithful, it is not too late to be restored to our “first love.” Should Mother be gone, NOW is the opportunity to heed her now faded calls to “do right,” “be right” and “act right.” You see, Mother was all about the Great Commandment; “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul AND love your neighbor as you love yourself.” That statement sums up who Mother was and what she wanted YOU and I to be!

We cry and mourn when Mother departs and yearn for reconciliation, peace and happiness. However, those things will always elude us UNLESS we decide to begin DOING all those things she told us to do through the tears and the prayers of days gone by. If you want and need to honor your Mother this Mothers Day, whether she still is here or has passed on, become the person of HER dreams and aspirations! It is never too late even if you are old and your Mother passed many years ago. Remember Mother and do what she told you to do. By so doing, we will honor Christ, we will honor Mother and we will possess the free gift of salvation, the ONE thing she MOST wanted for us!

“Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. "Honor your father and mother" (this is the first commandment with a promise), "that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land." – Ephesians 6:1 – 3 (ESV)

Many a preacher raises many a great exhortation, but none can compare with the exhortations of a loving, tender hearted and God fearing Mother! “Thank You, God, for our Mother’s both present and departed! May we heed their great, good and loving directions! Help us to honor them by heeding their many calls to “Fear God and keep His commandments; for this is the whole duty of man.” - In Jesus Name - AMEN

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