My peacemaking hat is off to Rev. David Platt who, after getting ear-boxed at the recent Southern Baptist Convention for raising concern about the use of the Sinner’s Prayer, ended up voting for a resolution affirming the use of the prayer and–in the weeks following–repeatedly emphasizing his support for it.
What has surprised me about this iteration of the Sinner’s Prayer discussion and debate is that it has been primarily cast as a repudiation of Calvinist soteriology. As Platt notes, the implication is that what would cause people to disdain the use of the Sinner’s Prayer is that they “don’t want the hopelessly condemned thinking they are saved or joining churches when they actually have no chance for life in Christ.” Platt of course notes that nothing could be further from the truth.
I have of course never been accused by anyone at any time of being a Calvinist, and yet as an evangelical Wesleyan type I am steadfastly opposed to the urging of the Sinner’s Prayer as a response to the Gospel proclamation. My reason why is tied to what may be the ultimate irony of this year’s Southern Baptist Convention, namely, that the same convention that affirmed the use of the Sinner’s Prayer also approved the adoption of “Great Commission Baptists” as an acceptable alternative name for its churches to use.
As much as it sometimes makes my fellow evangelicals uncomfortable to hear this, the Great Commission given by Jesus is not to bring sinners to salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus. It is instead to, in the words of Jesus,
go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.
Now it is of course possible to make a case that the Sinner’s Prayer is the “repent” portion of the “repent and be baptized” tandem that appears so often in the New Testament when people seek to respond to the Gospel.
The real challenge, however, is that we evangelicals are so focused on making sure people don’t think they can earn their salvation that we want to stress that the Sinner’s Prayer, prayed with the right heart attitude, is necessary and sufficient to lead you to salvation. Thus, we end up saying things like, “Baptism is not necessary for salvation.”
The great big problem with this, however, is that it overlooks an obvious point:
Baptism is necessary for the fulfillment of the Great Commission. So is discipleship.
This point was so important to Jesus that in the Great Commission he does not mention us leading people to a personal saving relationship with him–which is obviously a pretty important task–but instead mentions us baptizing and discipling people. Why do you suppose that is?
Because while it is absolutely categorically impossible to baptize and disciple people rightly without repentance, it is quite possible and in fact very common–as modern evangelicalism proves–to lead people to repentance without them being baptized and discipled.
So what is the solution? Just this:
Never undertake a method that permits the compartmentalization of repentance as separate from baptism and discipleship.
And a vital corollary:
Never lead someone to pray the Sinner’s Prayer before you work together with them to make definite, clear, and specific arrangements for their baptism and discipleship.