If you landed here on a search for the phrase “sinner’s prayer” or are looking for information on the “sinner’s prayer” then this post may be more in line with what you are looking for.
Warning: The following is a stream of thought type entry, it is convoluted and disorganized. I apologize in advance!
I recently read Pagan Christianity by Frank Viola and George Barna. One chapter deals with the current practices of baptism and the sinners prayer. The main point they make is that the sinner’s prayer is a very modern notion and when we look in Scripture we see that baptism was the public expression of faith. They explain that in the New Testament you see baptism immediately following repentance.
This sparked a thought in my mind. Now if you have read Pagan Christianity you can tell me if I stole this idea from the book, but I don’t remember reading this: is it possible that by replacing baptism by “the sinner’s prayer” we reverse the way we should see regeneration? That seems like a pretty convoluted question so I will break it down. First it seems that if in the New Testament the idea was “repent and be baptized,” and in the modern church it is “repent and say the sinner’s prayer” than it would make sense to think that the sinners prayer is serving in the role of, or has replaced, New Testament baptism. So if that is true (which it may not be, please correct me if you think I am wrong) then it may be worthwhile to ask ourselves what the impact is of such a change.
I want to continue to emphasize that this is all strictly my opinion and observation. Having said that I want to get to my real point. The Sinner’s Prayer is very personal, it usually expresses the persons desire to accept Jesus or for Christ to come into his/her heart. It is almost like an invitation to Christ or an acceptance of Christ. Baptism seems to symbolize surrender to Christ. You go under to symbolize your death to self and you rise as one alive in Christ surrendering your life to Him. In an overarching sense it seems that these two practices have opposite themes:
- Sinners Prayer: Me accepting Christ
- Baptism: Christ accepting Me
If this is true then it may be possible that this shift in mindset significantly changes the way people understand their faith and their relationship with Christ. I said the Sinner’s Prayer and when I did, around age 7, I remember using the terminology “I accept you into my heart.” I am not saying that this was not a legitimate expression of faith in Christ, I believe it was, I remember it to be, but it took a VERY long time for me to realize that I needed to surrender my life to Christ, that I was HIS, not that HE was MINE. Almost ten years later I had another life-changing moment, the moment when God showed me that my life belonged to Him. I wonder if instead of praying the Sinner’s Prayer that day, if I had gone down to the river and gotten baptized that I may have understood better that it was my life being surrendered to God.
This is a convoluted post, and I apologize for that, but I just feel like this is a question worth asking. If we are doing something different from the way they did in the New Testament what is the impact of that difference. I think concerning baptism there may be quite a significant impact.