The Sinner’s Prayer goes something like this. “Father, I come to you in prayer asking for the forgiveness of my sins. I confess with my mouth and believe with my heart that Jesus is your Son. He died on the Cross at Calvary that I might be forgiven. Right now come in my heart and life. I am now saved. Amen.” The use of the sinner’s prayer is common within many Protestant churches such as Baptists, evangelicals, fundamentalists, etc. The earliest notion of sinners prayer is less than 500 years old. Zwingli was the first to adopt the idea that baptism was not part of the plan of salvation. Nowhere in church history was such a belief recorded. 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, and were baptized in the name of Jesus, for the forgiveness of their sins. The sinners prayer is a an innovation that thwarts God’s plan of salvation. First, Catholics replaced the believers baptism by immersion in the name of Jesus with the trinity titles in 325 A.D. Second, they institutionalized infant baptism by sprinkling in 1311 A.D. Third, many 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 it for your salvation, you are still lost in your sins. Why? Because it is not what God said to do. As the 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 Sacred Scriptures.
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.
History shows that during the time of the Reformation that many turned from the Catholic Church, and these went along national lines following mainly either Luther, Calvin or Zwingli. Neither one of these was free from blood. As Luther himself called for the deaths of Oneness believers, and some Protestants. He also was Anti-Semitic. Calvin directly caused the death of Michael Servetus, a man baptized in Jesus’ name who published the book, “On the Errors of the Trinity.” And Zwingli shouted to the condemned Anabaptists (anyone who re-baptized adult converts), “Death to the dippers.”
It has been 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.
In time the following biblical passage (which had been written to the lukewarm Laodicean church) became a popular tool for the conversion of non-Christians: “And unto the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write; These things saith the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of the creation of God; I know thy works, that thou art neither cold nor hot: I would thou wert cold or hot. So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth. Because thou sayest, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked: I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see. As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten: be zealous therefore, and repent. Behold, I stand at the door, and knock: if any man hear my voice, and open the door, I will come in to him, and will sup with him, and he with me. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne. He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches.” (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.
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.”
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.
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.
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 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.
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. It is my guess that it’s emphasis on baptism and repentance for the forgiveness of sins was incompatible with his approach.
Today phrases such as “Receive Christ,” and “Trust Jesus as your personal savior,” fill the 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 denounced as cultic and “heresy.”
Many people including evangelicals are ignorant of where their practice came from or how Christians from other periods viewed biblical conversion. So now let’s take a look at what exactly the early church preached and the first Christians practiced.
Every account of baptism in the Bible was by immersion. The Greek word for baptism is baptizo, it has always been translated as immersion.
“And Jesus, when he was baptized, went up straightway out of the water.” (Matthew 3:16).
“And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there.” (John 3:23).
“And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.” (Acts 8:38)
Because Jesus commanded baptism for the remission of sins in His name, we all must complete it in order to be saved.
Mark 16:15-16 “And he said unto them, go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”
John 3:5 “Jesus answered, verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the Kingdom of God.”
Luke 24:47 “And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.”
The first baptism was completed at Jerusalem, even as our Lord commanded the disciples in His name of Jesus, and for the remission (forgiveness) of sins.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.” (Acts 2:38-39)
Peter continued using only the name of Jesus in baptism, for both the Jewish and Gentile believers.
“But when they believed Philip preaching the things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women. Then Simon himself believed also: and when he was baptized, he continued with Philip, and wondered, beholding the miracles and signs which were done. Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.)” (Acts 8:12-17)
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord.” (Acts 10:44-48)
Paul had called upon the name of the Lord Jesus in his baptism, and he also baptized believers into the name of our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.” (Acts 9:17-18)
“And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” (Acts 22:16)
“The word which God sent unto the children of Israel, preaching peace by Jesus Christ: (he is Lord of all).” (Acts 10:36)
“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there. And she constrained us.” (Acts 16:14-15)
“Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.” (Acts 16:29-33)
“And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8)
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. ” (Acts 19:1-5)
Paul reminds both the Romans and the Galatians of the proper method of baptism.
“For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
“Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life…. Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin…. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof.” (Romans 6:3-4,6,12)
“I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)
While many use titles in their baptism, Jesus’ name alone is commanded for it.
“Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)
“And whatsoever ye do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God and the Father by him.” (Colossians 3:17)
“And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” (Matthew 28:18)
“But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:23-24)
“Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6)
“I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture. The thief cometh not, but for to steal, and to kill, and to destroy: I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly.” (John 10:9-10)
Jesus is the name of the father, son and Holy Ghost.
“I am come in my Father’s name, and ye receive me not: if another shall come in his own name, him ye will receive.” (John 5:43)
“And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name Jesus: for he shall save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
“But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26)
“For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named.” (Ephesians 3:14-15)
History proves this all out to be true.
The Catholic Encyclopedia, II, page 263, says, “The baptismal formula was changed from the name of Jesus Christ to the words Father, Son, and Holy Spirit by the Catholic Church in the second century.”
Hastings Dictionary of the Bible, 1963, page 1015, says, “The Trinity… is not demonstrable by logic or by Scriptural proofs,…The term Trias was first used by Theophilus of Antioch (c AD 180), …(The term Trinity) is not found in Scripture.”
The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, I, 275, says, “It is often affirmed that the words in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost are not the ipsissima verba (exact words) of Jesus, but…a later liturgical addition.”
In “A Collection of Evidence Against the Traditional Wording of Matthew 28:19,” Clinton D. Willis quotes from The Encyclopedia of Religion and Ethics to expose how Matthew 28:19 “…is the central piece of evidence for the traditional (Trinitarian) view. If it were undisputed, this would, of course, be decisive, but its trustworthiness is impugned on grounds of textual criticism, literary criticism and historical criticism.” “The obvious explanation of the silence of the New Testament on the triune name, and the use of another (Jesus’ name baptismal) formula in Acts and Paul, is that this other formula was the earlier, and the triune formula is a later addition.”
Edmund Schlink, in “The Doctrine of Baptism,” page 28, says, “The baptismal command in its Matthew 28:19 form cannot be the historical origin of Christian baptism. At the very least, it must be assumed that the text has been transmitted in a form expanded by the (Catholic) church.”
Wilhelm Bousset, in “Kyrios Christianity,” page 295, says, “The testimony for the wide distribution of the simple baptismal formula (in the Name of Jesus) down into the second century is so overwhelming that even in Matthew 28:19, the Trinitarian formula was later inserted.”
History shows that the Early Church patriarch, Eusebius (a Greek scholar), penned numerous documents in the latter part of the third century and the early part of the fourth century (290-339 A.D.) Seventeen times he quoted Matthew 28:19 as being, “In my name” (Jesus Christ was the speaker).
It was not until the year 325 A.D., at the Roman Council of Nicea (which was dominated by the Roman Catholic Bishops) that Matthew 28:19 began to read in the titles, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost.”
Hastings Encyclopedia of Religions, vol 2, page 377 states “Christian baptism was administered using the words “In the name of Jesus”. From the same source, page 378, “The use of the trinitarian formula of any sort was not suggested in the early Church’s history.” From the same volume, page 389; note that, baptism was always in the name of the Lord Jesus until the time of Justin Martyr, until the triune formula was created by him. Hastings Encyclopedia vol 2, page 377 declares the baptism in Jesus’ name according to Acts 2:38.
The word Name was an ancient synonym for person. Payment was always made in the name of some person, referring to ownership. Therefore, one being baptized in the name of Jesus became his personal property, as the scriptures say “And ye are Christ’s.” (1 Corinthians 3: 23) History testifies to the authenticity of the scriptures, history also corroborates the fact that you and I must go back over the period of Church thinking, re-arrangement for man, philosophies, and ideas of individuals introduced long after the Apostles. Baptism in Jesus name is what the individuals who hear the word of GOD should obey.
The great preponderance of historical scholars agree that the Jesus Name form of water baptism was the oldest form of baptism held by The Church.
Thomas Edwards of England in 1646 taught that it was heresy to use the words Father, son, and Holy Ghost in baptism as it was a man-made tradition and that true Christian baptism is “only in the name of Jesus Christ.”
Church Historian, Kenneth Latourette, A History of Christianity – page 193 – affirms that the Post Apostolic Christians (Those who lived within the centuries immediately following the death of the original apostles) believed that water baptism was necessary for salvation: “Baptism was believed to wash away all sins committed before it was administered. After baptism, the Christian was supposed not to sin.” Latourette further acknowledges from the writings of the Post Apostolic Bishops: “Baptism seems to have been regarded as requisite for the remission of sins and for the new birth through which alone one could enter the Kingdom of God.”
Church Historian, Otto Heick, in “A History of Christian Thought” – pages 27, 54, 62 – observed that the Post Apostolic Fathers taught that “baptism confers the forgiveness of sins.” was considered “a washing of forgiveness and a regeneration.” And that which “brings pardon and the new life, and is therefore necessary for salvation.” Heick further acknowledges: “At first baptism was administered in the name of Jesus, but gradually in the name of the Triune God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
The historical evidence proving that the Jesus Name mode of baptism continued throughout the centuries of The Church is overwhelming. If rebaptism into the name of Jesus Christ was not a continuing problem for the Catholic Church, why did the Catholic Councils so viciously condemn Jesus Name Baptism through the centuries? The following Councils condemned the Jesus Only form of Baptism:
The Council of Constantinople in 382 A.D. specifically condemns Sabellian (Oneness) baptism into Jesus Christ. This Catholic Council mentions that the Sabellian form of baptism was prevalent in Galatia in A.D. 382.
The Justinian Code of 529 A.D. declared the death penalty for both anti-Trinitarian baptism and rebaptism.
The Council of Constantinople of 553 A.D. again condemned Sabellian (Oneness) baptism for: “Retaining single immersion under a single name.”
Many will say in that day that did healings, casting out of devils and wonders in the name of Jesus, yet because they refused His name in baptism, they were lost. They failed to do the will of God.
“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” (Matthew 7:21-23)
According to Apostle Paul, there is only one Gospel message and baptism that is valid, the one of Jesus.
“One Lord, one faith, one baptism.” (Ephesians 4:5)
“But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed.” (Galatians 1:8)
“But he (Jesus) answered and said, It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4)
“For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body, whether we be Jews or Gentiles, whether we be bond or free; and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:13)
No person can serve two masters. As either we will love one, and despise the other. In other words, one cannot believe the Scriptures and continue to practice man made traditions that take away from the word of God.
“Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.” (Mark 7:7-9)
“No servant can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.” (Luke 16:13)