Arminian Today

A Jesus-Centered Arminian Blog

“He Said The Prayer, That’s Enough”

I remember once attending a Baptist church with a buddy of mine.  At the end of the meeting, the Baptist preacher gave a typical, “bow your head and close your eyes” type of altar call in which he asked people to “accept Christ into your heart today, before it’s too late.”  A young teenager “came forward to receive Christ.”  The preacher spoke to the lad, prayed with him, and then announced that the teenager was saved and was a candidate for baptism to which they had a quick congregational vote on the matter and a man raised his hand to second the pastor’s vote for the teen’s baptism.  They then asked us to come up and shake hands with the teenager and welcome him into the family of God.

When I got to the teen, I could tell that he really had no clue what was going on.  So I quickly said to him, “Do you understand what it means to repent of your sins?”  To which he said no.  I was just starting to explain to him what it means to repent when a woman pushed me out of the way and said loudly, “He said the prayer, that’s enough now move on.”

The teenager never came back again.

“The prayer.”  That is how many see salvation.  Just say this prayer and you are in.  Repeat these magic words and you’re in the kingdom of God.  Despite not one example of anyone “praying to receive Christ” in the New Testament and despite not one example from the ministry of Jesus where He instructed His disciples to do this, the modern evangelical church seems fixed on practicing this unbiblical practice.  One large church in Charlotte, NC likes to boast about how many “prayed to receive Christ” and they boast that thousands upon thousands have asked Jesus into their hearts for the first time through this church.  Yet not one New Testament passage is offered for such a practice.

Furthermore, compare the ministries of the great saints of God in Church History.  John Knox.  William Tyndale.  William Carey.  John Calvin.  James Arminius.  John Wesley.  George Whitefield.  Peter Cartwright.  Charles Spurgeon.  Jonathan Edwards.  Not one of these men of God used the “sinner’s prayer” or exhorted sinners to pray to receive Christ.  They certainly used John 1:12-13 and called sinners to look to Christ alone to be saved but none of them had modern altar calls.  The modern altar call does not even appear until the late 1800’s and was especially used by men such as D.L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and of course, Billy Graham.  Charles Finney seems to be the first to introduce what he called, “the anxious bench” where seekers could come and hear more about how to be saved.  From here came the modern practice of “coming down front to receive Christ.”  Spurgeon would call his hearers to receive Christ but he would exhort them to go to a prayer room where a waiting Christian would instruct them on what it means to truly be saved.  This is also the practice of John MacArthur today.

I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts.  Since sin is rarely preached against or at least is not even biblically defined (1 John 3:4), many also don’t understand what it means to be saved in the first place.  Saved from what?  Saved from whom?  Why must we repent of our sins?  Why does God require repentance?  The modern church seems to have forgotten also that salvation is a work of God (1 Peter 1:3).  Regeneration is not a work of the flesh that comes from praying a prayer or saying words or raising a hand.  Regeneration is a divine work of God (John 3:3; Titus 3:5-7).  We cannot save ourselves.  We must cast ourselves completely upon the Lord Jesus to deliver us from God’s just wrath (Romans 5:8-9; 1 Thessalonians 1:10).  To be honest, too often gospel messages spend too much time focused on our sin instead of the holiness and justice of God.  It is God whom we should fear and it is His laws that we have violated (Luke 12:4-5).  We should be preaching the justice of God in regard to sinning (Hebrews 10:31).

I do praise God that more and more are realizing after studying both the Word of God and Church History that the sinner’s prayer is not a biblical nor historical practice.  It is not based on the clear examples of the New Testament nor upon the examples of great church leaders.  We find nothing in the early Church Fathers to suggest that they used a practice of altar calls.  The Church has preached salvation through Christ for 2000 years and this must be our message again if we are to see the lost saved (Romans 1:16-17).  Salvation does not come by the tools of the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:1-5) but the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).  Let us trust again in the power of the Holy Spirit to convict and save the lost (John 16:8-11).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

03/11/2013 at 9:00 AM

6 Responses

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. “I believe the modern altar call has produced countless false converts.” Amen to that. It seems that evangelicals do have a form of absolution — its called the sinner’s prayerat an altar call. Good post.

    Ed Raby Sr

    03/11/2013 at 9:06 AM

  2. It is true that simply praying “the sinners prayer” will not necessarily result in one’s salvation….However, if the Holy Spirit has been dealing with a person, and he or she now has a true understanding of the gospel message, and they are now ready to receive Christ as Savior and to follow Him as Lord of their lives, then the natural inclination of one’s heart is to pray to the One who provided salvation for them…..Also, putting into words what is already in their heart, helps to reinforce the decision they are making for Christ, and provides a starting point for them when they first began to follow Christ…..While there may not be any examples in the Word that shows a person trusting Christ through prayer, it does say this: “For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord, will be saved.” (Ro. 10:13) Those words come from Paul himself, which may suggest that he encouraged sinners to call upon the name of the Lord for the forgiveness of their sins, while making sure they had a true understanding of the decision they were making…..Therefore, I think we need to have a balance between the practice of some churches (like the one you attended), and this idea that we need to completely remove the practice of leading a person into prayer to express their heart of faith in words to their Savior.

    Steve S.

    • I would say preach the gospel and call people to repent. The Spirit will do His work and our duty should be to pray for them to be saved by God’s sovereign power and then exhort them that baptism is the first step of obedience. In the book of Acts, baptism is seen as the time when they confessed Christ as Lord (Acts 16:14-15, 30-34). Believer’s baptism should be the time when we declare that a person has repented of their sins (Acts 2:41).

      Thanks for your comment.

  3. I think what’s most important to the Lord is not so much the method, but what’s in the person’s heart, no matter how they are led to receive Christ….Jesus will not turn anyone away who comes to Him via prayer with a repentent heart and a desire to turn their lives over to Him….Again, the most natural way to express what’s in our heart when it comes to our relationship with God, is through prayer….. I am one of those who came to Jesus via prayer….but I know my heart was where it needed to be, as the Holy Spirit did His work…..By the way, I love your heart, and I enjoy reading your articles….I’ve noticed we share the same love for the ESV….I was prob among the first to purchase that translation when it first came off the press….I bought my first ESV Bible in Mar, 2002 after reading an article about it……blessings

    Steve S.

    • I agree. God saves sinners. He doesn’t save us based on methods of men. He saves us by His own power. We can trust in that.

      Thanks for your kindness and your kind words. Glad you enjoy the ESV.

  4. […] I was going to use this as an item in tomorrow’s link list, but it truly deserves a much larger audience. This appeared at Arminian Today. […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: