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Southern Baptists Debate the Sinner's Prayer
Southern Baptists Debate the Sinner's Prayer

The vote wasn't taken with every head bowed and every eye closed, but delegates to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) annual meeting today supported the "Sinner's Prayer" after considerable debate.

Jimmy Scroggins, chairman of the SBC Committee on Resolutions, told the convention that the committee brought the resolution to the floor because of recent challenges to the emphasis on the Sinner's Prayer—usually a prayer of repentance to "invite Jesus into your heart" that has become a hallmark of evangelical conversionism.

The committee wanted "to affirm our commitment to evangelism and to calling people to make a decision for Jesus Christ," Scroggins said.

"We affirm that repentance and faith involve a crying out for mercy and a calling on the Lord (Rom. 10:13), often identified as a 'Sinner's Prayer,' as a biblical expression of repentance and faith," the resolution said. But it added, "A 'Sinner's Prayer' is not an incantation that results in salvation merely by its recitation and should never be manipulatively employed or utilized apart from a clear articulation of the gospel (Matt. 6:7; 15:7–9)."

The resolution was originally presented by Eric Hankins, pastor of First Baptist Church in Oxford, Mississippi, though the version approved by the committee omitted language designed to refute the denomination's increasingly Calvinist membership. (An effort to put much of the language back in was defeated in a floor vote, as was an effort to remove references to the phrase "Sinner's Prayer.")

Indeed, Hankins says his resolution was sparked by a talk from one of the SBC's Calvinist stars, David Platt. Speaking at the Verge church leaders' conference March 1, the pastor of the Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Alabama, said the emphasis on the Sinner's Prayer is unbiblical and damning.

"I'm convinced that many people in our churches are simply missing the life of Christ, and a lot of it has to do with what we've sold them as the gospel, i.e. pray this prayer, accept Jesus into your heart, invite Christ into your life," Platt said. "Should it not concern us that there is no such superstitious prayer in the New Testament? Should it not concern us that the Bible never uses the phrase, 'accept Jesus into your heart' or 'invite Christ into your life'? It's not the gospel we see being preached, it's modern evangelism built on sinking sand. And it runs the risk of disillusioning millions of souls."

Speaking at the SBC Pastors' Conference preceding the Baptist's annual meeting, Platt referenced his Verge sermon, lamenting that his messages "can become three-minute YouTube clips." But, preaching from John 2-3, he reiterated his statements that believing in Jesus is not enough. "Many assume they are saved simply because of a prayer they prayed," he said. "It's not that praying a prayer in and of itself is bad—but the question in John 2 and 3 is what kind of faith are we calling people to?"

Hankins, who coordinated the recent "Statement of the Traditional Southern Baptist Understanding of God's Plan of Salvation" to limit Calvinist influence in the domination, said invitations to pray the Sinner's Prayer are usually accompanied by calls to repentance and costly discipleship.

"The real problem that the New Calvinists have with the Sinner's Prayer is that they believe only certain people can come to faith, and they don't want the hopelessly condemned thinking they are saved or joining churches when they actually have no chance for life in Christ," he told The Christian Index last month.

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