Arminian Today

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Posts Tagged ‘The Sinner’s Prayer

How To Lead Someone To Christ

Here is a short video featuring Paul Washer on how to lead someone to Christ.  I enjoyed his answer here and agree with him, salvation is a mighty work of God that we do not have the power to create.  Only God can save a sinner from hell (1 John 4:10).

 

Written by The Seeking Disciple

09/03/2013 at 5:33 PM

The Invitation System

I have several problems with the invitation system.  I remember when I first was saved and the church I was attending regularly did an invitation at the end of the service.  It was the typical “every head bowed, every eye closed” and then the preacher would exhort people to repent and to “ask Jesus into your heart today.”  We would cheer if a person actually got up out of their seat to meet with the preacher down front to “get saved” by saying the sinner’s prayer.

Then I began to read John Wesley.  I was struck by the fact that John Wesley saw thousands of souls converted to Christ yet he never gave an altar call.  Not once in my reading of Wesley did I find mentioned the “sinner’s prayer” or the “every head bowed, every eye closed” approach to evangelism.  I found Wesley exhorting sinners to turn to Christ, to repent of their sins, to place their total faith in Christ alone to save them but I found nothing like what I was seeing in our church.  I began to question the invitation system.  I began to see the system as man-made and based on the tactics of 19-th century evangelists rather than the Word of God. I began to see that baptism had been replaced with the sinner’s prayer and when a person was declared saved.  I saw that the system downplayed the sovereignty of God in salvation for the tactics and manipulations of men.  

Finally, in a debate with an International Church of Christ guy, I had to wrestle with the Bible over the issue.  The ICOC guy challenged me to show him in the Bible where a person ever “prayed to receive Christ.”  He challenged me to study the sinner’s prayer and its history along with the Bible to see what is the correct way to call sinners to repentance.  I began to see that Jesus nor the Apostles in Acts ever did an altar call, none led people in a sinner’s prayer, and all called people to repent and believe the gospel and demonstrate their obedience to Christ though baptism by immersion in water.  

In this post, Dr. James Rasbeary writes about why churches should have an invitation system.  A couple of points about this post.  First, I found his articles to be pragmatic.  As one pastor told me when I asked him why he did an invitation system if in fact it was not biblical, “Because it works” was his reply.  This same man admitted to me that baptism was the proper response to the gospel but he then said, “But the sinner’s prayer is so much faster and easier.”  Notice the pragmatism.  It just works.  We have been doing it this way so long and God uses it.  This is the normal reply for those who defend the practice.

Secondly, I don’t deny that God does call us to make a decision.  As the author points out, all through the Scriptures God calls us to repent, to turn from our sins, to come and drink, etc.  but we must not take to mean that we should call people “down front” as part of that call.  Wesley would call sinners to do all these things but he rightfully knew that God alone saves the lost.  Wesley did not ignore the fact that the Holy Spirit was the one who converts the sinner.  A sinner can come under conviction but unless the Holy Spirit is doing His work, the sinner’s conviction will be temporal.  The Spirit of God alone converts the sinner (John 3:3-7).  The Spirit of God takes the sinner and regenerates them (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Titus 3:5-7).  Our duty as a witnesses for Jesus Christ is to proclaim His gospel and the Spirit of God does the rest (Acts 1:8).  

Lastly, in reply to the use of Acts 2:37-38, I would add that the response to the Jews was baptism (v. 41).  How many meetings have I sat in where people “came down front to get right with God” and then 20 or 30 were said to be saved.  Where was their baptism?  Did I miss it?  Did they usher them to the tank that fast and plunge them under?  All through Acts, baptism was seen as the time when people confessed Jesus as Lord (see Acts 2:38, 41; 8:12, 36-38; 9:18; 10:47-48; 16:14-15, 30-34; 18:8; 19:5; 22:16).  No doubt a person is justified by faith (Romans 5:1; Ephesians 2:8-9) but let us not downplay the role baptism plays in confessing Jesus as Lord.

In closing, I don’t doubt that God is sovereign in salvation.  Some of you reading this may have been saved through the flawed invitation system.  God is graceful and good.  He often uses us despite us and in spite of us.  That said, we should still strive to be biblical in our evangelism and in our teaching about salvation.  I don’t doubt that Dr. Rasbeary means well in his approach.  I simply don’t agree with the approach nor with the conclusions.  While I would not make a war over this issue, after witnessing to many people who “prayed the prayer” or “went down front at that church”, I am convinced that so many fail to grasp what it means to truly repent of our sins and look to Christ alone to save us.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

04/24/2013 at 10:29 AM

“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

The Pocket Testament League

I appreciate The Pocket Testament League.  Here you can find Gospels of John to hand out when you preach or when you evangelize.  If you can not afford to purchase the Gospels, you can request them for free and they will ship them to you as soon as possible.  God has blessed me with a good job so I purchased 30 Gospels of John that I plan on handing out through evangelism.  My prayer is also for God to open doors for a prison ministry and a ministry to the homeless in our city.  I so want to spread the gospel of Christ in my city.

My only negative comment about the Gospels is that they contain the unbiblical “sinner’s prayer” at the end of the Gospel of John.  I would rather the reader be able to just read the Book of John and allow the Holy Spirit to do the rest (John 3:1-7).  He can save sinners apart from the sinner’s prayer.  He has done so for 1900 years before the sinner’s prayer became part of evangelicalism.  My plan is just to include a solid gospel tract that calls people to repent and avoids the sinner’s prayer.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

01/29/2013 at 10:03 AM

Tracts and the “Sinner’s Prayer”

Had an interesting experience at the South Carolina State Fair.  I took my wife for a nice stroll through the fair.  I enjoy looking at the exhibits and not so much for the rides these days.  The exhibit hall is very large and has hundreds of booths.  It ranges from an art gallery to a flea market.  Typically there are a few religious booths such as Catholics, Mormons, Gideons, and a pro-life group.  I enjoy browsing through their materials.  This year, the first booth in the hall had a sign that read, “Free Christian Bracelet: After Hearing the Gospel.”  I was intrigued.  The bracelet was the witnessing bracelet that I myself even wore when I first got saved in high school.  It has the beads on it with various colors that represent the gospel message of sin, baptism, forgiveness, the blood of Christ, etc.

When we approached the booth, an old woman who had to be nearly 100 took my wife and I by the hand and started on the colors.  There were five colored beads but she only did three and stopped and led us in the “sinner’s prayer” after asking me if I wanted to go to heaven when I died.  I said, “Yes” and she led me in the prayer.  My wife didn’t repeat the prayer because she was about to laugh too hard.  I did and when we were done she patted me on the stomach and said, “I’ll see you in heaven.”  And that was it.  I was marked down on their list as another sinner saved by grace.

First of all, let me state that I appreciate the heart of this old woman.  She seemed to genuinely want to see me saved.  She seemed to be genuine in her desire to communicate the gospel.  Sadly, she has simply been taught wrong.  I suspect that she attended a short class at a church about these witnessing beads and how to use them to share the gospel.  I applaud the group for desiring to reach out with the gospel message.  For those who would criticize them, I ask what do you do for the furtherance of the gospel?  How do you witness for Jesus?  Bashing them is easy but don’t bash them while not seeking to applaud them for seeking to evangelize when the vast majority of people who claim Christ never talk about Him to the lost in the first place (Matthew 10:32-33).

My contention is with the usage of the sinner’s prayer.  A bit later I came upon another Christian booth.  This guy seemed more grounded but his tracts that he had out where mainly KJV-only church tracts that contained some elements of the gospel message but focused mainly on, again, the sinner’s prayer.  All the tracts led to this point: to say the prayer to be saved.

A brief history of the sinner’s prayer.  You can read the works of Martin Luther, John Calvin, James Arminius, John Wesley, John Fletcher, Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, and many others and you’ll not find them leading anyone in the sinner’s prayer.  The practice came from the second great awakening in the United States under the ministry of Charles Finney.  Finney’s view of mankind was basically Pelagian and semi-Pelagian at best.  Finney believed the will of man to be free.  Karl Dahlfred writes in his book, Theology Drives Methodology: Conversion in the theology of Charles Finney and John Nevin,

Although Finney acknowledged that the grace of God was involved in the conversion of sinners, he was convinced that the decisive variable in conversion rested in the will of a man himself.  If an evangelist could convince a listener to submit himself to God, then that man’s salvation had been won.  In order to help his listeners to make this decision to submit to God, Finney would ask for, and even demand, some physical indication that they had done so.  This might include calling people to walk down the center aisle of a church to where the altar traditionally stood.  This might also include asking people to bow their heads and repeat a prayer of faith and repentance.  Though these practices did not originate with him, Finney greatly popularized them and promoted them as essential to revival.

Sadly, Dahlfred writes that Finney represents an Arminian point of view.  This is completely untrue.  Arminius never stated any of the above nor practiced any of the above.  Arminius stated,

In this state, the free will of man towards the true good is not only wounded, maimed, infirm, bent, and weakened; but it is also imprisoned, destroyed, and lost. And its powers are not only debilitated and useless unless they be assisted by grace, but it has no powers whatever except such as are excited by Divine grace. For Christ has said, “Without me ye can do nothing.” St. Augustine, after having diligently meditated upon each word in this passage, speaks thus: “Christ does not say, without me ye can do but Little; neither does He say, without me ye can do any Arduous Thing, nor without me ye can do it with difficulty. But he says, without me ye can do Nothing! Nor does he say, without me ye cannot complete any thing; but without me ye can do Nothing.” That this may be made more manifestly to appear, we will separately consider the mind, the affections or will, and the capability, as contra-distinguished from them, as well as the life itself of an unregenerate man.

Clearly Arminius would differ with Finney over the state of the will of man.  The will is bound by sin.  Jesus called us slaves to sin in John 8:34.  The will, apart from the prevenient grace of God, is bound by sin.  Salvation must be the work of the Spirit of God because of the will being bound by sin (John 6:44).  This is why we read in Acts 16:14 that the Lord was the One who opened Lydia’s heart to hear the gospel from Paul.  All of us need the work of the Holy Spirit for conversion.  The conversion of a sinner is not by the means of correct argumentation or an astute evangelist but rather lies in the gospel itself (Romans 1:16; 1 Corinthians 1:21).

However, Finney’s methods prevail to this day.  Evangelists after Finney nearly all used the sinner’s prayer in their calls to repentance.  From Billy Sunday and D.L. Moody to Billy Graham and today we see them in modern evangelists such as Greg Laurie.  They all, after preaching a message on salvation and our need to be saved, ask the people to either “come forward” to be saved or they ask the people to say a prayer for salvation.  The practice, while not created by Finney, was popularized by him and today is the standard tool used in evangelism.  Churches and evangelists will often post the number of people who “prayed the prayer for salvation.”  Even at the fair, the second man I spoke to told another gentlemen standing there that they had had over 100 people pray the sinner’s prayer the day before.  This was grounds for rejoicing between the two.

My feelings are that the sinner’s prayer is simply not biblical.  I have been a Christian for 20 years and for the first 10 years of my Christian life, I practiced and taught that the way of salvation was through the sinner’s prayer.  I have even led people in the prayer (all of whom have turned away from Christ by the way).  My own studies on water baptism and studying church history led me to reject the sinner’s prayer.  I first begin to study the issue when I was reading John Wesley and I noticed that he never spoke on the sinner’s prayer, never gave an altar call, and never spoke on the numbers of people getting saved during his ministry though I knew that many had come to faith in Christ during Wesley’s preaching as well as under George Whitefield.  Why didn’t Wesley or Whitefield practice the sinner’s prayer?  This led me to study the issue and I begin to see that it was not until the 19th century in America that the Church begin to practice the sinner’s prayer.  The sinner’s prayer replaced baptism as the time when the Church acknowledged people to be saved.

Today the modern Church in the West relies upon the sinner’s prayer.  I myself have been chastised for not leading people in the sinner’s prayer after preaching on salvation.  I do believe we should call people to faith and repentance but we should allow the Lord to do this work and not through the coercions of flesh (John 1:12-13).  Salvation is of the Lord (Jonah 2:9) and He alone saves sinners by His grace (Ephesians 2:8-9).  I do believe that baptism in the book of Acts is clearly shown to be the time when people confessed Jesus as Lord (Acts 22:16).  One thing that is clear is that neither Jesus nor His Apostles ever practiced the sinner’s prayer.  Not one person in the Bible is ever shown to pray for salvation.  Paul prayed for the Jews to be saved (Romans 10:1) but he never encouraged people themselves to pray to be saved.  Jesus saves sinners as we preach Him (John 12:32; Romans 10:14-17).  Our duty is to preach the gospel (Mark 16:15) and make disciples of those who are baptized (Matthew 28:19-20).  We must not just preach the gospel to the lost but we must disciple those whom the Lord saves (Acts 2:42, 47).

While I praise God for those who desire to preach the gospel to the lost, I pray that the Church would reject false teachings that are not biblically based when it comes to spreading the gospel.  These false teachings can only produce false converts (Matthew 13:20-21; Luke 8:13).  May we be active in preaching the truth of God based on the Word of God and not upon pragmatism.

Written by The Seeking Disciple

10/18/2012 at 1:05 PM

Great Arminians and the Sinner’s Prayer

Just a reminder that great Arminians in the past did not hold to nor practice the sinner’s prayer, the anxious seat, or the mourner’s bench.  This would include great Arminians such as Arminius himself who never states in his Works anything about how a sinner receives salvation other than by God’s grace through faith as Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:8-9.  Neither did Arminians after him such as John Wesley, John Fletcher, Richard Watson, Adam Clarke, Thomas Pope, nor John Miley.  Non-Calvinists such as Alexander Campbell did not use the practice.

So what did great Arminian evangelists do to call sinners to salvation?  Wesley preached Christ.  Wesley preached that sinners should look to Jesus for salvation.  He would instruct sinners to be justified through faith as the Bible says (Romans 5:1).  He didn’t use manipulation to get sinners saved.  Wesley didn’t try to get his brother Charles Wesley to sing one of his hymns through just one more time so that that last sinner would come forward.  Wesley simply preached Christ.  Christ saves and no one else.  It is the name of Jesus that saves sinners (Acts 4:12).  You and I are only saved through faith in Jesus Christ and not by our works (Titus 3:5-7).  Works flow from justification but they do not secure justification (Ephesians 2:10; Philippians 2:12-13).  Faith works (James 2:14-26) but works flow from saving faith and not for salvation (Romans 4:5).

When you preach salvation to the lost, preach to them that they are to look to Jesus for salvation and not the Church nor any theologian.  Jesus alone saves (John 14:6).

Written by The Seeking Disciple

06/06/2012 at 10:57 PM

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