Here we go again… Several years ago, and not without irony, Katherine Jefferts-Schori, the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church, criticized the Sinner’s Prayer as a symptom of “that great Western heresy,” our individualistic focus in salvation. This week, Asbury professor J.D. Walt has joined her in the complaint.
To be fair, just because Jefferts-Schori said it doesn’t mean it’s wrong, but given a choice between her and Billy Graham, well… I know whom I’ll trust.
On the other hand, no one—certainly not Billy Graham—believes that this prayer alone saves anyone. It’s not a magical incantation. But it provides a way for a sinner to express his desire to repent of his sins, to trust in Christ, and receive God’s gift of salvation. Indeed, to put it in biblical terms, it’s a way for that person to do what Paul says we all must do to be saved in Romans 10:9—to confess Christ and believe. There’s nothing at all wrong with that! We don’t have to throw out the Letter to the Romans in order to accommodate the Rich Young Ruler.
Is the person praying the prayer sincere in his desire to repent and receive Christ? Is the Holy Spirit, in that moment in which he prays the prayer, justifying him and giving him new birth? We can’t know, but it’s certainly possible—often even likely.
This is why we believe such a prayer represents a beginning. We have to get started somewhere, right? Sometimes, as the example of the thief on the cross demonstrates, getting started is all anyone can do. Fortunately that’s enough.
I posted these words on Facebook, along with this comment: