I’m Catholic
History of the “Sinners Prayer”

Brief History of the Sinner’s Prayer
(Prayer of Faith) FROM biblestudyguide.org
Note: This ENTIRE Document if from Protestant , non-Catholic Sources [PJM]

Bible study on salvation and the sinner’s prayer.
The sinner’s prayer, as we know it today, was invented by twentieth century preachers as a quick and easy way to save people. Unfortunately, it is a false doctrine.

Second Century
Around the second century, Gnostics taught that baptism was not essential to salvation. Christians, on the other hand, vehemently refuted the Gnostic doctrine and taught that baptism was absolutely necessary to be saved.

16th – 17th Centuries
Later, during the Reformation (sixteenth and seventeenth centuries), Protestant Theology, in opposition to Catholicism, led to the invention of Protestant denominations. Reformation theologians opposed some Catholic doctrines of salvation (e.g., indulgences) while embracing others (e.g., infant baptism). Trying to “reform” the Catholic church, Reformation theologians formulated their own doctrines of salvation from which denominations were created in breaking away from Catholicism. In the process, Gnostic doctrines of salvation (e.g., salvation before baptism, and salvation without baptism) were again popularized in Reformation doctrine. But, the doctrines of Reformed Theology did not develop into the “sinner’s prayer” for hundreds of years after the Reformation.

Luther, Anabaptists
As the Protestant Reformation developed, some churches (under the guidance of doctrines from such men as Martin Luther) taught that salvation was a gift from God and that baptism was not necessary for salvation. Later, Anabaptists broke away from churches adhering to the doctrine of infant baptism under the leadership of such men as Menno Simons and John Smyth, only baptizing adults.

Praying to be Saved
As these Protestant issues were hashed out, man-made religious doctrines increasingly rejected God’s word which requires men to be baptized to be saved (Matt. 18:18-19; Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Since the Anabaptists rejected God’s word concerning baptism while also rejecting the Catholic and Reformed doctrine of infant baptism, they were forced to invent a human doctrine prescribing the point of one’s salvation. Praying to be saved became their substitute for God’s command to be baptized. In the end, baptism was relegated to merely being a symbolic act, not having anything to do with salvation. And in time, the phrase “baptism is an outward sign of an inward grace” was invented and adopted into Protestant doctrine.

Mourner’s Bench Salvation
As man-made doctrines of praying for salvation developed, “mourner’s bench salvation” was invented by men in the eighteenth century, becoming popular in the nineteenth century and dying out in the early twentieth century. This doctrine of salvation asserts that a sinner might be saved if he prays long and hard, at the mourner’s bench. Stories of people spending many long, arduous hours at the mourner’s bench were common. During this time, such phrases as “alter call” and “pray through” were popularized. But today, the mourner’s bench is practically nonexistent, although some churches have preserved the benches as mementoes of bygone revivalist days referred to as “old time religion.”

Pray a Prayer Salvation
In the early twentieth century, revivalist preachers began simplifying their doctrines of salvation. Mourner’s bench salvation was too time consuming and arduous a process making it unappealing. Also, large crusades became popular resulting in denominational preachers desiring a simple way for hundreds of people to be simultaneously saved within just a few minutes. So, preachers began asking people to come to the front and pray a prayer to be saved. By praying the prayer, people were led to believe they were forgiven of their sins and saved. This prayer soon developed into what is called the sinner’s prayer today.

Radio and Television Evangelism

As radio and television evangelism became popular in the twentieth century, preachers again simplified their doctrines of salvation. It was not possible for people listening to the radio or watching television to come to the front of an assembly, have contact with a preacher, and pray with him. Sometimes, people listening to the radio were asked to touch the radio and pray. Other times, people watching television were asked to touch the television and pray. And sometimes, they were not asked to do anything but pray. Since then, many preachers in churches do not ask people to come to the front and pray a sinner’s prayer but simply to pray while sitting in the audience.

Today, Sinner’s Prayer
Today, people are led to believe they can pray a sinner’s pray anywhere and under any condition to be saved. Many preachers and teachers “suggest” prayers for sinners to pray — some are several sentences long and some are only one or two sentences. But more and more, these preachers let people “receive Jesus” any way they want. Unfortunately, people who believe they have been saved by praying a sinner’s prayer have believed a false doctrine originating from men (Eph. 4:14).

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A sinner’s prayer is an evangelical term referring to any prayer of repentance, spoken or read by individuals who feel convicted of the presence of sin in their life and desire to form or renew a personal relationship with God through his son Jesus Christ. It is not intended as liturgical like a creed or a confiteor. It is intended to be an act of initial conversion to Christianity, and also may be prayed as an act of recommitment for those who are already believers in the faith. Often, at the end of a worship service, an evangelist will invite those desiring to “receive Christ” (become converted) to “repeat after me” the words of some form of a sinner’s prayer. It also is frequently found on printed “gospel” tracts, urging folks to “repeat these words from the bottom of your heart”.[1]

The prayer can take on different forms. There is no formula of specific words considered essential, although it usually contains an admission of sin and a petition asking that the Divine (Jesus) enter into the person’s life.

The use of the sinner’s prayer is common within many Protestant churches such as Baptists, evangelicals, fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and charismatics. It is sometimes uttered by Christians seeking redemption or reaffirming their faith in Christ during a crisis or disaster, when death may be imminent. It is generally not used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Orthodox, Lutherans, and other ancient traditionally liturgical Christian Churches. Some have noted, however, that its content (though not its intended use) is typically quite similar to the Jesus Prayer of the Eastern Orthodox traditions.

The Sinner’s Prayer as popularly known today has roots in Christian Protestantism and can be found as early as the eighteenth century in revival movement. A biblical example of this may be seen in the contrast related by Jesus between the prayer of a self-righteous Pharisee and that of a repentant tax collector humbling himself before the Lord.

An early proponent of the sinner’s prayer was the well-known American evangelist D.L. Moody.[2] Evangelists such as Billy Graham and evangelistic organizations such as Campus Crusade for Christ brought the concept to prominence in the 20th century

. Televangelists often ask viewers to pray a Sinner’s Prayer with them, one phrase at a time, to become a Christian. Quite commonly, such a prayer appears at the conclusion of a tract and is recited in a religious service or other public service as an invitation for congregants to affirm their faith, sometimes as part of an altar call. The prayer is nowhere found in the Bible, but proponents often point to Romans 10:9-10, Luke 18:13-14, and Matthew 7:7 as their sources.

An early version of the Sinners’ Prayer is found in Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, published in 1678. … Ninth Stage. (Chapter 18)

Doctrine of “baptismal regeneration”

One criticism comes from traditional Christians who believe that baptism is generally necessary for salvation, such as the Churches of Christ and Independent Christian Churches/Churches of Christ. This doctrine is called baptismal regeneration because of adherents’ belief that the moment of salvation is experienced as the candidate emerges from immersion in water at the time of baptism.

One such critic has labeled the sinner’s prayer an “apostasy” since the presumption is that salvation can instantly be received (prior to baptism) upon confessing one’s sins and accepting Christ as Savior and Lord without water baptism.

Others see it as an example of apparently instantaneous salvation coming through repentance without water baptism or any kind of work but saying and believing the Sinner’s Prayer, citing the assurance Jesus gave to the penitent thief on a cross next to him during the crucifixion.[Lk 23:39-43]

An opposing position is that the penitent thief was dying under the older Mosaical law which did not require baptism and that before Christ’s death He had authority and did forgive many without any of the salvation requirements found after His Death, Burial and Resurrection found in the rest of the New Testament.[Heb 9:15-17] Additionally, it is unknown whether the thief had been baptized at a stage in life before being crucified. John the Baptizer and Jesus’ disciples already had baptized many individuals. See “What about the thief on the cross?

Evidence for baptism being necessary for salvation includes the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (the Apostle Paul). After Christ had told Saul to enter Damascus where Saul would be told what he “must” do,[Acts 9:6] Saul was blind for three days and was praying during this time.[Acts 9:9-11] Ananias arrived and baptised Saul to wash away his sins. [Acts 22:16] Baptism is also called “washing of regeneration” and is part of the “born again” conversion experience in the Bible.

Absence of biblical example
The absence of any specific example of conversion in the Bible through the Sinner’s Prayer is also used by some to argue against it. Some say it creates within the sinner a false sense of security. Often cited as an example of salvation through repentance without baptism by water is found in the example of the penitent thief on a cross[Luke 23:39-43] Others suggest that the penitent thief on the cross was dying under the Mosaical law (which did not require Baptism), not during the time of the church (established on Pentecost over 7 weeks later), into which baptism signifies entrance. John the Baptizer and Jesus’ disciples already had baptized numerous individuals in that part of the world, so it is theoretically possible that the thief could have been baptized before Jesus promised him eternal life

Possible shallow or insincere commitment
A third major criticism is that many fail to mature as Christians after their supposed conversion using the Sinner’s Prayer. An article in Christianity Today claims that “mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians.”

The writer encourages believers to go beyond a sinner’s prayer and “embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God’s will, and radical, costly discipleship.”

Does the reciter truly understand what the commitment to Christ really means? Praying a sinner’s prayer with someone who isn’t genuinely repentant may create a false sense of security in the one reciting it. According to John 6:44, if a sinner is ready to accept Jesus as Savior, a biblical prerequisite is that the sinner (Christian prospect) has been drawn by the Holy Spirit.

The Sinner’s Prayer:
“Modern apostasy and false teaching that prevents men from being saved.”
The earliest notion of sinners prayer is less than 500 years old. It wasn’t formalized as a theology until around the time of Billy Graham.

No one in the Bible ever prayed for their initial salvation. They did however believe, repent, confess Jesus and be immersed in water for the forgiveness of their sins. The sinners prayer is a an innovation that thwarts God’s plan of salvation. First they replaced believers baptism by immersion with infant baptism by sprinkling. Second they later replaced baptism altogether with the “sinners prayer” so that baptism is no longer even part of the plan of salvation. If you prayed the “sinners prayer” for your salvation, you are still lost in your sins, because it is not what God said to do.

The Sinner’s Prayer

C.S. Lewis used the term “a great cataract of nonsense” to describe how people use a modern idea to construe Bible theology. One such example, perhaps the best example, is a conversion method called the Sinner’s Prayer. It is more popularly known as the Four Spiritual Laws.

Lewis used this term to describe what happens when someone looks backward at the Bible based only on what he or she has known. Instead, an evangelical should first discern conversion practices from Scriptures and then consider the topic in light of two thousand years of other thinkers. As it is, a novel technique popularized through recent revivals has replaced the biblically sound practice.

Today, hundreds of millions hold to a belief system and salvation practice that no one had ever held until relatively recently. The notion that one can pray Jesus into his or her heart and that baptism is merely an outward sign are actually late developments. The prayer itself dates to the Billy Sunday era; however, the basis for talking in prayer for salvation goes back a few hundred years.
Consider the following appeal:

“Just accept Christ into your heart through prayer and he’ll receive you. It doesn’t matter what church you belong to or if you ever do good works. You’ll be born again at the moment you receive Christ. He’s at the door knocking. You don’t even have to change bad habits, just trust Christ as Savior. God loves you and forgives you unconditionally. Anyone out there can be saved if they … Accept Christ, now! Let us pray for Christ to now come into your heart.”

Sound familiar? This method of conversion has had far-reaching effects worldwide as many have claimed this as the basis for their salvation. Yet, what is the historical significance of this conversion? How did the process of rebirth, which Jesus spoke of in John 3, evolve into praying him into one’s heart? I believe it was an error germinating shortly after the Reformation, which eventually caused great ruin and dismay in Christendom. By supplying a brief documentation of its short, historical development, I hope to show how this error has served as “a great cataract of nonsense”.

The Reformation
Although things weren’t ideal after the Reformation, for the first time in over a thousand years the general populace was reading the Scriptures. By the early 1600s, one hundred years after the Reformation was initiated, there were various branches of European Christendom that followed national lines. For instance, Germans followed Martin Luther. There were also Calvinists (Presbyterian), the Church of England (Episcopalian), various branches of Anabaptists and, of course, the Roman church (Catholics). Most of these groups were trying to revive the waning faith of their already traditionalized denominations. However, a consensus had not been reached on issues like rebirth, baptism or salvation–even between Protestants.

The majority still held to the validity of infant baptism even though they disagreed on its significance. Preachers tended to minimize baptism because people hid their lack of commitment behind sayings like “I am a baptized Lutheran and that’s that.” The influence of the preachers eventually led to the popular notion that one was forgiven at infant baptism but not yet reborn. Most Protestants were confused or ambivalent about the connection between rebirth and forgiveness.

The Great Awakening
The Great Awakening was the result of fantastic preaching occurring in Europe and the eastern colonies during the early to mid 1700s. Though ambivalent on the practice of baptism, Great Awakening preachers created an environment that made man aware of his need for an adult confession experience. The experiences that people sought were varied. Jonathan Edwards, George Whitfield and John Wesley furthered ideas of radical repentance and revival. Although there is much to be learned from their messages, they did not solve the problems of the practices associated with baptism and conversion.

Eventually, the following biblical passage written to and inspired for lukewarm Christians became a popular tool for the conversion of non-Christians:
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. ….Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me.” (Revelation 3:14-20)

This passage was written explicitly for lukewarm Christians. Now consider how a lecturer named John Webb misused this passage in the mid 1700s as a basis of evangelizing non-Christians:

“Here is a promise of Union to Christ; in these words, I will come in to him. i.e. If any Sinner will but hear my Voice and open the Door, and receive me by Faith, I will come into his Soul, and unite him to me, and make him a living member of that my mystical body of which I am the Head.” (Christ’s Suit to the Sinner, 14)

Preachers heavily relied on Revelation 3:20. By using the first-person tense while looking into the sinner’s eyes, preachers began to speak for Jesus as they exhorted, “If you would just let me come in and dine with you, I would accept you.” Even heathens who had never been baptized responded with the same or even greater sorrow than churchgoers. As a result, more and more preachers of Christendom concluded that baptism was merely an external matter–only an outward sign of an inward grace. In fact, Huldreich Zwingli put this idea forth for the very first time. Nowhere in church history was such a belief recorded. It only appears in Scripture when one begins with a great cataract of nonsense. In other words, it only appears in the New Testament through the imagination of readers influenced by this phenomenon.

Mourner’s Seat
A method originated during the 1730s or ’40s, which was practically forgotten for about a hundred years. It is documented that in 1741 a minister named Eleazar Wheelock had utilized a technique called the Mourner’s Seat. As far as one can tell, he would target sinners by having them sit in the front bench (pew). During the course of his sermon “salvation was looming over their heads.” Afterwards, the sinners were typically quite open to counsel and exhortation. In fact, as it turns out they were susceptible to whatever prescription the preaching doctor gave to them. According to eyewitnesses, false conversions were multiplied. Charles Wesley had some experience with this practice, but it took nearly a hundred years for this tactic to take hold.

Cane Ridge
In 1801 there was a sensational revival in Cane Ridge, Kentucky that lasted for weeks. Allegedly, people barked, rolled over in the aisles and became delirious because there were long periods without food in the intense heat. It resulted in the extreme use and abuse of emotions as thousands left Kentucky with wild notions about rebirth. Today it is generally viewed as a mockery to Christianity.

The excesses in Cane Ridge produced expectations for preachers and those seeking religious experience. A Second Great Awakening, inferior to the first, was beginning in America. Preachers were enamored with the idea that they could cause (manipulate) people into conversion. One who witnessed such nineteenth century hysteria was J. V. Coombs who complained of the technique

“The appeals, songs, prayers and the suggestion from the preacher drive many into the trance state. I can remember in my boyhood days seeing ten or twenty people laying unconscious upon the floor in the old country church. People called that conversion. Science knows it is mesmeric influence, self-hypnotism … It is sad that Christianity is compelled to bear the folly of such movements.” (J.V. Coombs, Religious Delusions, 92ff).

The Cane Ridge Meeting became the paradigm for revivalists for decades. A lawyer named Charles Finney came along a generation later to systemize the Cane Ridge experience through the use of Wheelock’s Mourner’s Seat and Scripture.

It wasn’t until about 1835 that Charles Grandison Finney (1792-1875) emerged to champion the system utilized by Eleazar Wheelock. Shortly after his own conversion he left his law practice and would become a minister, a lecturer, a professor, and a traveling revivalist. He took the Mourner’s Seat practice, which he called the Anxious Seat, and developed a theological system around it. Finney was straightforward about his purpose for this technique and wrote the following comment near the end of his life:

“The church has always felt it necessary to have something of this kind to answer this very purpose. In the days of the apostles, baptism answered this purpose. The gospel was preached to the people, and then all those who were willing to be on the side of Christ, were called out to be baptized. It held the place that the anxious seat does now as a public manifestation of their determination to be Christians”

Finney made many enemies because of this innovation. The Anxious Seat practice was considered to be a psychological technique that manipulated people to make a premature profession of faith. It was considered to be an emotional conversion influenced by some of the preachers’ animal magnetism. Certainly it was a precursor to the techniques used by many twentieth century televangelists.

In opposition to Finney’s movement, John Nevin, a Protestant minister, wrote a book called The Anxious Bench. He intended to protect the denominations from this novel deviation. He called Finney’s New Measures “heresy”, a “Babel of extravagance”, “fanaticism”, and “quackery”. He also said, “With a whirlwind in full view, we may be exhorted reasonably to consider and stand back from its destructive path.” It turns out that Nevin was somewhat prophetic. The system that Finney admitted had replaced biblical baptism, is the vertebrae for the popular plan of salvation that was made normative in the twentieth century by the three Bills — Billy Sunday, Billy Graham and Bill Bright.

However, it wasn’t until the end of Finney’s life that it became evident to everyone and himself that the Anxious Bench approach led to a high fallout rate. By the 1860s Dwight Moody (1837-1899) was the new apostle in American evangelicalism. He took Finney’s system and modified it. Instead of calling for a public decision, which tended to be a response under pressure, he asked people to join him and his trained counselors in a room called the Inquiry Room. Though Moody’s approach avoided some of the errors encountered in Finneyism, it was still a derivative or stepchild of the Anxious Bench system.

In the Inquiry Room the counselors asked the possible convert some questions, taught him from Scripture and then prayed with him. The idea that prayer was at the end of the process had been loosely associated with conversion in the 1700s. By the late 1800s it was standard technique for ‘receiving Christ’ as Moody’s influence spread across both the United States and the United Kingdom. This was where a systematic Sinner’s Prayer began, but was not called as such until the time of Billy Sunday.

R. A. Torrey succeeded Moody’s Chicago-based ministry after his death in 1899. He modified Moody’s approach to include “on the spot” street conversions. Torrey popularized the idea of instant salvation with no strings attached, even though he never intended as much. Nonetheless, “Receive Christ, now, right here” became part of the norm. From that time on it became more common to think of salvation outside of church or a life of Lordship.

Billy Sunday and the Pacific Garden Mission

Meanwhile in Chicago, Billy Sunday, a well-known baseball player from Iowa, had been converted in the Pacific Garden Mission. The Mission was Chicago’s most successful implementation of Moody’s scheme. Eventually, Sunday left baseball to preach. He had great public charm and was one of the first to mix ideas of entertainment with ministry. By the early 1900s he had become a great well-known crusade leader. In his crusades he popularized the Finney-Moody method and included a bit of a circus touch. After fire and brimstone sermons, heavy moralistic messages with political overtones, and humorous if not outlandish behavior, salvation was offered. Often it was associated with a prayer, and at other times a person was told they were saved because they simply walked down his tabernacle’s “sawdust trail” to the front where he was standing. In time people were told they were saved because they publicly shook Sunday’s hand, acknowledging that they would follow Christ.

Billy Sunday died in 1935 leaving behind hundreds of his imitators. More than anything else, Billy Sunday helped crusades become acceptable to all denominations, which eventually led to a change in their theology. Large religious bodies sold out on their reservations toward these new conversion practices to reap the benefits of potential converts from the crusades because of the allure of success.

Both Dwight Moody and Billy Sunday admitted they were somewhat ignorant of church history by the time they had already latched on to their perspectives. This is highly significant because the Anxious Seat phenomenon and offshoot practices were not rooted in Scripture nor in the early church.

Billy Graham, Bill Bright
Billy Graham and his crusades were the next step in the evolution of things. Billy Graham was converted in 1936 at a Sunday-styled crusade. By the late 1940s it was evident to many that Graham would be the champion of evangelicalism. His crusades summed up everything that had been done from the times of Charles Finney through Billy Sunday except that he added respectability that some of the others lacked. In the 1950s Graham’s crusade counselors were using a prayer that had been sporadically used for some time. It began with a prayer from his Four Steps to Peace with God. The original four-step formula came during Billy Sunday’s era called in a tract called Four Things God Wants you to Know. The altar call system of Graham had been refined by a precise protocol of music, trained counselors and a speaking technique all geared to help people ‘accept Christ as Savior.’

In the late 1950s Bill Bright came up with the exact form of the currently popular Four Spiritual Laws so that the average believer could take the crusade experience into the living room of their neighbor. Of course, this method ended with the Sinner’s Prayer. Those who responded to crusades and sermons could have the crusade experience at home when they prayed,

“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 the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be.”

Later, in 1977 Billy Graham published a now famous work entitled, How to Be Born Again. For all the Scripture he used, he never once uses the hallmark rebirth event in the second chapter of the book of Acts. The cataract (blind spot) kept him away from the most powerful conversion event in all Scripture. It is my guess that it’s emphasis on baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins was incompatible with his approach.

The Living Bible and Beyond
By the late 1960s it seemed that nearly every evangelical was printing some form of the Four Spiritual Laws in the last chapter of their books. Even a Bible was printed with this theology inserted into God’s Word. Thus, in the 1960s, the Living Bible’s translation became the translation of choice for the crusades as follows:

“Even in his own land and among his own people, the Jews, he was not accepted. Only a few welcome and received him. But to all who received him, he gave the right to become children of God. All they needed to do was to trust him to save them. All those who believe this are reborn! –not a physical rebirth resulting from human passion or plan–but from the will of God.”(John 1:11-13, Living Bible, bolds mine)

The bolded words have no support at all in the original Greek. They are a blatant insertion placed by presuppositions of the translator, Kenneth Taylor. I’m not sure that even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have authored such a barefaced insertion in their corrupt Scriptures. In defense of Taylor’s original motives, the Living Bible was created primarily with children in mind. However, the publishers should have corrected the misleading verse in the 1960s. They somewhat cleared it up in the newer LB in the 1990s, only after the damage has been done. For decades mainstream evangelicals were using the LB and circular reasoning to justify such a strong ‘trusting moment’ as salvation, never knowing their Bible was corrupted.

A whole international enterprise of publishers, universities and evangelistic associations were captivated by this method. The phrases, “Receive Christ,” and “Trust Jesus as your personal savior,” filled airwaves, sermons, and books. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion counselor-training program helped make this concept of conversion an international success. Missionaries everywhere were trained with Sinner’s Prayer theology. Evangelicalism had the numbers, the money, the television personas of Graham and Kennedy and any attempt to purport a different plan of salvation would be decried as cultic and “heresy.”

Most evangelicals are ignorant of where their practice came from or how Christians from other periods viewed biblical conversion. C.S. Lewis regarded it as chronological snobbery when we don’t review our beliefs against the conclusions of others:

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” (Learning in Wartime, 1939)

The bolded words have no support at all in the original Greek. They are a blatant insertion placed by presuppositions of the translator, Kenneth Taylor. I’m not sure that even the Jehovah’s Witnesses have authored such a barefaced insertion in their corrupt Scriptures. In defense of Taylor’s original motives, the Living Bible was created primarily with children in mind. However, the publishers should have corrected the misleading verse in the 1960s. They somewhat cleared it up in the newer LB in the 1990s, only after the damage has been done. For decades mainstream evangelicals were using the LB and circular reasoning to justify such a strong ‘trusting moment’ as salvation, never knowing their Bible was corrupted.

A whole international enterprise of publishers, universities and evangelistic associations were captivated by this method. The phrases, “Receive Christ,” and “Trust Jesus as your personal savior,” filled airwaves, sermons, and books. James Kennedy’s Evangelism Explosion counselor-training program helped make this concept of conversion an international success. Missionaries everywhere were trained with Sinner’s Prayer theology. Evangelicalism had the numbers, the money, the television personas of Graham and Kennedy and any attempt to purport a different plan of salvation would be decried as cultic and “heresy.”

Most evangelicals are ignorant of where their practice came from or how Christians from other periods viewed biblical conversion. C.S. Lewis regarded it as chronological snobbery when we don’t review our beliefs against the conclusions of others:

“Most of all, perhaps, we need intimate knowledge of the past. Not that the past has any magic about it, but because we cannot study the future, and yet need something to set against the present, to remind us that the basic assumptions have been quite different in different periods and that much which seems certain to the uneducated is merely temporary fashion. A man who has lived in many places is not likely to be deceived by the local errors of his native village; the scholar has lived in many times and is therefore in some degree immune from the great cataract of nonsense that pours from the press and the microphone of his own age.” (Learning in Wartime, 1939)

While most do this unknowingly, evangelicals are skewing church auditoriums all over the world from a clear picture of conversion with a nonsensical practice.

Written and copyright by Steven Francis Staten. This article is an overview of a book being written on the origins of the Sinner’s Prayer.

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