The sinner’s prayer produces false converts.
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.
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).
…In sourcing the image that appears below, I ended up at an article by Caribbean pastor Thabiti Anyabwile. Since I believe we linked to it back in 2011 when it was published, I’ll just include the numbered points in the middle of the piece, but you can read it all at this link.
1. The altar call is simply and completely absent from the pages of the N.T.
2. The altar call is historically absent until the 19th century, and its use at that time (via Charles Finney) was directly based upon bad theology and a man-centered, manipulative methodology.
3. The altar call very easily confuses the physical act of “coming forward” with the spiritual act of “coming to Christ.” These two can happen simultaneously, but too often people believe that coming to Christ is going forward (and vice-versa).
4. The altar call can easily deceive people about the reality of their spiritual state and the biblical basis for assurance. The Bible never offers us assurance on the ground that we “went forward.”
5. The altar call partially replaces baptism as the means of public profession of faith.
6. The altar call can mislead us to think that salvation (or any official response to God’s Word) happens primarily on Sundays, only at the end of the service, and only “up front.”
7. The altar call can confuse people regarding “sacred” things and “sacred” places, as the name “altar call” suggests.
8. The altar call is not sensitive to our cautious and relational age where most people come to faith over a period of time and often with the interaction of a good friend.
9. The altar call is often seen as “the most important part of the service”, and this de-emphasizes the truly more important parts of corporate worship which God has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing).
10. God is glorified to powerfully bless the things He has prescribed (preaching, prayer, fellowship, singing), not the things we have invented. We should always be leery of adding to God’s prescriptions for His corporate worship.
Related item here at Thinking Out Loud