Before You Lead Someone Through The Sinner’s Prayer, Please Read These Instructions

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.

About Pastor Foley

The Reverend Dr. Eric Foley is CEO and Co-Founder, with his wife Dr. Hyun Sook Foley, of Voice of the Martyrs Korea, supporting the work of persecuted Christians in North Korea and around the world and spreading their discipleship practices worldwide. He is the former International Ambassador for the International Christian Association, the global fellowship of Voice of the Martyrs sister ministries. Pastor Foley is a much sought after speaker, analyst, and project consultant on the North Korean underground church, North Korean defectors, and underground church discipleship. He and Dr. Foley oversee a far-flung staff across Asia that is working to help North Koreans and Christians everywhere grow to fullness in Christ. He earned the Doctor of Management at Case Western Reserve University's Weatherhead School of Management in Cleveland, Ohio.
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5 Responses to Before You Lead Someone Through The Sinner’s Prayer, Please Read These Instructions

  1. Pingback: What is Your Plan to Teach Someone to Obey Everything that Christ Has Commanded You? | Rev. Eric Foley

  2. Pingback: The One Thing That’s Better (and More Biblical) Than a Personal Relationship with Jesus | Rev. Eric Foley

  3. Pingback: For What Is God Forgiving Us Anyway? Why The Prodigal Son’s Repentance Is More Theologically On Point Than Our Own | Do the Word

  4. Gary M says:

    Baptists vote to keep the Sinner’s Prayer…again

    Preuters News Agency

    Meeting today in London, a convention of the world’s Baptists narrowly endorsed the continued use of the Sinner’s Prayer as the hallmark act of Christian conversion. Here is the final draft of the convention’s statement on this issue:

    “Baptists today again affirm the Sinner’s Prayer as the act by which a sinner is justified before God. To be clear, it is not the recitation of the prayer itself that saves, nor is it necessary to endorse a set order of the words to be prayed, nor must the prayer be verbalized to others. What is necessary for salvation is this: A genuine, heartfelt prayer that 1.) acknowledges one’s sinfulness and hopeless state of perdition before God 2.) cries out to God with true repentance of one’s sins 3.) petitions God for his free gift of salvation 4.) asks Christ to indwell his heart/soul 5.) commits to abandoning his prior sinful lifestyle and promises to follow Christ and his righteousness.”

    Controversy over this statement simmered for the entire three days of the convention. A group of younger Baptists from the developing world pushed for the removal of the Sinner’s Prayer from the Baptist Statement of Faith, declaring that it was unscriptural and lacked any evidence of use in the Early Church. These young people read statements from the Early Church Fathers from the convention podium, noting that requiring a prayer (spoken or thought) for salvation was unheard of in the Early Church. This assertion created quite a stir as many of the older convention attendees were not accustomed to hearing appeals to the “catholic” Church Fathers as a source of authority for Baptist doctrine.

    The younger group put forward a new, brash, proposal as the new official Baptist Act of Christian Conversion:

    “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins.”

    This proposal prompted outrage from the majority of convention attendees. One prominent Baptist pastor from the United States summed up the majority’s sentiments by this statement:

    “Too Lutheran.”

  5. tseongyosa says:

    I am the same way. I tend to feel like it is my responsibility to commit myself to every person I meet. However, I think that, case-by-case, asking people who know us well and with whom we have accountability relationships before and in Christ can be a good idea. Members of the body of Christ who are closest to us can generally give us good council as to whether we have done our duty before God with regard to discipleship relationships with other people.

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