Swimming Upstream: “What’s Wrong With The Sinner’s Prayer?”


Finishing his stirring salvation message, the evangelist pauses a moment. He looks at the crowd which is jam-packed into the large football stadium, and then says, “Let’s bow our heads and close our eyes.”

The crowd responds as a group.

“This is serious stuff folks because Jesus is knocking on the doors of our hearts,” whispers the evangelist into the microphone, “so I want everyone to keep their heads bowed and eyes closed and repeat this prayer after me.”

Again, he pauses a moment. The audience is quiet, only the cry of a small baby can be heard for a second or two in the top tier of seats. Then, the mother quiets the child.

“Repeat after me,” says the evangelist, “Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life.  Take control of my life and make me whatever You want me to be from this point forward in my life. Amen.”

After a few moments, the evangelist says, “All those who have prayed this prayer for the first time – and have truly meant it – please come forward to this platform. We want to give you something and talk with you.”

Hundreds stand up and begin walking to the front of the stadium.

So, is there anything wrong with this type of evangelism? What about the sinner’s prayer, is there anything wrong with it? What do you think?

Swimming Upstream appears at this blog site on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. It’s  a little of this and a little of that, all written  to encourage and exhort believers in their Christian journeys.


Filed under Christianity, Christians, Church, church planting, Emergent Church, Faith, Gifts of the Spirit, God, grace, Home Church, jesus, Kingdom of God, Prophecy, Red Letter Christians, reformation, Religion, spiritual warfare

20 responses to “Swimming Upstream: “What’s Wrong With The Sinner’s Prayer?”

  1. Pingback: Posts about spiritual warfare as of August 14, 2009 | PRAYtheREVOLUTION

  2. That’s how my dad came to belief in Jesus, at a Billy Sunday tent meeting.

    Keep in mind the parable about the sower. No matter the circumstances in which the Word is given, the invitation is accepted, and the prayer that is prayed, some grow and fail, some don’t overcome their background, some give up and return to the world, some thrive.

    You can’t lump all that potential and diversity into a good or bad, black or white conclusion.

  3. God’s redemption is too far-reaching to rule out His using anything.

  4. jane,

    I agree. I know many people who were saved at a crusade or at an altar call via the sinner’s prayer.

    And before Billy Graham, many evangelists such as Finney and Moody had their own twists. The former used the “anxiety seat” and the latter an “inquiry room.” Maria Woodworth Etter had a mourner’s bench. So, different generations had their own unique ways for large crusades.

    Undoubtedly, the sinner’s prayers is the easiest option ever conceived for a person to give his life to Christ. But salvation is not the problem with the sinner’s prayer; it’s the new Christian’s journey afterward.

    Take a look at what Peter said to thousands of people in Acts 2:38 – “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

    Then, look at Acts 2: 41 – “So then, those who received his word were baptized; and that day, they were added about three thousand souls.”

    Every Jew knew that if he were baptized, everyone would know of his conversion. The temple. His family. His friends. Everyone. He was probably going to be shunned and ostracized for his decision, maybe forever. There was a price for giving his life to Christ.

    And because the person had to overcome these obstacles right at the outset, his walk became more precious to him.

    It’s my belief we have to go back and do it the way Peter did it in Acts 2. Why? To fulfill the Great Commission which Jesus gave us in Matthew 28: 19- 20 – “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them…and teaching them.”

  5. seriouswhimsey,

    I agree. My emphasis in disagreement with the sinner’s prayer is on the discipling aspect of it.

    Jesus is a Redeemer, but He is also the Master Builder for His church.

  6. Larry, it’s not one way or another way. When I was saved August 18, 1968, and baptized for the second time a few months later, they were hurt badly because

    1. Raising me in the church somehow “didn’t work”
    2. To react Mom continued to quote “work out your salvation with fear and trembling.

    I conclude that
    1. Accept
    2. Be baptized as a public statement that you have signed the contract
    3. Grow and learn as in “work out” your salvation.

    When you accept, your spirit becomes alive and you are a babe in Christ. When you are baptized you certify — a pledge, if you will. As you study, pray, receive, learn, etc. etc. etc. you are working out your soul’s (mind, will, emotion) ability to perform and obey.

    You are going to heaven at the nanosecond of step 1. The rest is maturity.

    My spiritual birthday is the 18th of this month. Holy Spirit and I are still working on maturity.

    Mom finally relented a bit when I told her that if I were privileged to go to Israel once or several times I’d be baptized again in the Jordan every time.

  7. jane,

    My feelings are we will have the most success doing it the way the bible has done it. Does that mean God always has to do it a certain way? No, of course not.

    But we humans like shortcuts, and these shortcuts eventually cause problems. God is a Redeemer first and foremost, and He winks at our fleshly ways for a while, but I believe the easy ways are over.

    We need to do it His way.

  8. When it started with 3000 in one day, I won’t toss out the mass group scenario. I think every way possible to reach out is His way. If it’s one on one on a street corner, the followup is still as tenuous as 500 packed around an evangelist’s stage in a stadium.

    Let’s add methodology instead of scrapping the stadium style because “it’s been done.”

    Unless each reaper literally follows the convert, otherwise known as stalking, followup has always needed the major component to be Holy Spirit.

    We are asked to use the foolishness of preaching wherever we are even if it is in a building full of disappointing people.

  9. jane,

    “When it started with 3000 in one day, I won’t toss out the mass group scenario…”

    I should have phrased the questions better as I am not against mass crusades. In fact, if there’s a way to get all of California at one large crusade, that would be great.

    My objection is with the microwave-quick prayer called the sinner’s prayer which is not a part of the New Testament. But instead, “repent and be baptized” and “believe and be baptized” are. (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38; Acts 8:37-38; Acts 19: 2-4)

    We Christians tend to look at our successful experiences and then believe these experiences are the guidelines which we should always follow. They are not. We must follow the directives of scripture.

    As for why God winks at our ways for a season or so? I haven’t a clue. He’s God the Redeemer; I’m not.

  10. (This comment was made by Jane on another post. I’ve copied and pasted it here.)

    To clarify, as in “follow up”, my comment, the evangelist’s job is to draw. Don’t fire him for moving on to the next tent meeting.

    The body of believers as individuals and as groups, are the caretakers who follow up. Are they supposed to get in the church van and knock on the door? No. They can gently invite the newborn to (drum roll please) the church, and plug them in to a supportive small group, but the primary source of food and drink for the new convert is the body. Where do you find groups? (drum roll please) Usually a gathering, usually in a building.

    Maybe instead of scrapping, we should cleanse and repair the existing system while simultaneously creating new hospitals for the soul closer to the souls.

  11. Jane,

    “Maybe instead of scrapping, we should cleanse and repair the existing system while simultaneously creating new hospitals for the soul closer to the souls.”

    Actually, I’m into the scrapping idea, but this will not happen right now. So, it will probably have to begin in new churches doing things in new ways which are really the old ways.

  12. hi. interesting question. there is the story of jesus meeting up with a rich young ruler (who scholars argue might later be the Apostle Paul) and they have this conversation and at the end of it, Jesus lets the guy walk away. He doesn’t chase him. He gives the guy a message and lets him decide. do these atmospheric-made moments allow for that?

    i can show the same stadium weeks later filled with a QVC convention (buying things on television). they too have music. they have give-aways, and they too have an inspirational speaker come and talk about they need to get more sales, we might use the phrase “get more people into the Kingdom”…listen for the subtle similarities.

    why do i bring this up? because coming to know Christ does happen in community contexts like above. but the issue is why are we looking to business models that psychologically manipulate people into “buying” into the way of Jesus when He himself was willing to let people walk away from His offer. He even tells a story in Luke about a young boy who tells his father to drop dead (this is what he means when he asks his dad for the money before his father is actually dead), the father lets the son run away. unfortunately in these places, like a regular high-octane concert, emotions are high. the pressure is on for people to make a decision. is it a soul one? that is only up to the person making that decision to decide.

    but maybe we have to revisit these models and ask what are they trying to achieve? and should we be trying to achieve anything for that matter? (I am using the word “achieve” in the business sense that the Church seems so unaware that is has adopted).

    Jesus uses this parable to explain what the Kingdom of God is all about. Remember, the KOG isn’t a system. It is a way of life. That is a better rendering. And he uses the metaphor of a mustards seed and several other organic images to get across that the way of Jesus isn’t forced, it is something that slowly happens over time. It isn’t urgent (like some or most of these type of meetings tend to feel like)..it occurs over time and intimately. The mustard seed has to be in the ground, with it, around it, near it. This is intimacy. It has to be watered, given shade, cared for…this is compassion. God is about all of us being culture-benders who don’t do things differently for the sake fo doing them differently, but because like He told Israel, we are all a “peculiar people”. Let’s be different and peculiar and organic.

  13. All points of this discussion have their proper and useful place. Joyce Meyer says instead of going back and for over baptism — immersion, sprinkling, baptizing only adults, baptizing babies–do both. Before this simple example is applied too deeply to misc. doctrines and taken to the rafters and back, it illustrates something simple and profound. My dad was saved in a meeting in which the evangelist may throw a chair to make his point — Billy Sunday. REALLY emotional. For many, emotion works!!! It’s not a bad thing. I was saved at 18 in a regular church service after attending church from birth after Holy Spirit had been hounding me in quiet time. Someone may receive a tract from a door to door witness, find Jesus alone on his knees and never darken a church door.

    Larry, can we come to a consensus that a church body can be a good thing and they are not ALL wrong, evil, selfish, and every other negative thing we can think to say? My whole point here and elsewhere in my postings and comments is that one size does not fit all. Tastes, styles, approaches, time frames — they all vary from person to person according to need, personality, and circumstance. If corporate is comfortable, fine, as long as the heart and Spirit connect.

    Peter preached in a stadium format. Shubal Stearns invented the camp meeting format–they literally camped for days and weeks. My 4-great grandfather was saved in a Stearns meeting and went on to evangelize KY and TN on horseback with his brother and planted the first Baptist church in the first town in TN. Jesus was one on one with the rich ruler, yes, but He also preached to 5000 men with their families and fed them. In fact, more of His preaching scenarios were to crowds than to individuals that we know of.

    It’s all useful. Different strokes, people. Why does everybody have to be on top of the Right Way pile?

  14. Jane,

    “Larry, can we come to a consensus that a church body can be a good thing and they are not ALL wrong, evil, selfish, and every other negative thing we can think to say…”

    Of course, I agree with you. As I have said before, I’m not against Christians, callings or churches; I’m for them.

    If Honey and I attended your church, the assembly would love us. We’d pat people on the back and do everything according to the order of your church. We would look like we were meant to fit into your church…and that is true.

    This would also be true if we attended a Baptist or a Vineyard or Lutheran or whatever church.

    But this would not negate the fact that I am against the structure and the status quo of traditional churches because – for the most part – it works poorly now, and is not prepared for what is coming in the near future.

  15. travelersnote,

    Great points and you have an interesting web site.

  16. Been to many Baptist, know many individual Baptists. Smiley people, perky, clappy.

    Speaking in big generalities,

    Baptists stop at the baptismal tank and circle back to Just As I Am without tending to the growth factor.

    Never been to a Vineyard. Were they birthed by Toronto and the revival in Florida about 12 yrs or so ago?

    All my in-laws are Lutheran as is the majority of Minnesota. Take my word for it, you cannot under the best of circumstances put Lutherans in the same basket with even level 1 Baptists let alone our congregation. That’s comparing a turtle sundae with extra whipped cream and hot fudge to yesterday’s unflavored oatmeal. C’mon!!

    Ours is not even close to 1st century — few are, if any — no spiritual gifts visible not to say we don’t have prayer warriors and those gifted in gifts besides the biggies — prophecy, healing, the dreaded tongues– behind the scenes. Our 1st hour small group/class is digging into Isaiah and the children are being taught salvation beautifully. That said, we get a lot of social club seeking people off the streets. However, it doesn’t take long for them to see we mean business as a body, warming up and popping out some, what The Preach called this morning, sweaty worship.

    Give the Spirit a chance to stir the pot and pleeease do not bunch old liners such as Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Episcopals in with mine.

    As for Catholics, en masse they haven’t worshiped Jesus as Top Dog since the prayer book to Mary surfaced somewhere around — ?? — 800 a.d. ???

    I would like to make some suggestions to the staff on how this or that should be changed, but I don’t know how pure my motives are or if what floats my boat is the one size fits all answer either.

  17. jane,

    Without a doubt, you are a hoot! A one of a kind hidden away in the hills of Tennessee. Go out and beat some demons up tomorrow.

  18. if it fits in a box, it is man made.

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