Saturday, September 12, 2009

A response to the note The falseness of today's "Sinner's Prayer" by Dan Lirette.

As I will be posting this on my blog as well as a note on my Facebook page, and not everyone has access to the original post, I shall first summarise what this note said:

The basic idea is that the concept of a “Sinner's Prayer” is not found in Scripture – nowhere, according to Danny, are people told to pray a prayer. He goes on to say the reason many people are falling away is because of this prayer. He says that instead of trusting the sinner's Saviour, Jesus, they trust the Sinner's prayer. He says that people have mouthed words that they do not understand. Evangelism is not a three-step prayer into the kingdom. Evangelism requires to primary ingredients, according to Luke 24:46-47 that repentance and remission of sin must be preached in Jesus name.
Danny concludes the article by saying that we have 'sold the gospel' for 3 pieces of silver, and produced a new kind of Judas.

Danny, I have summarised your response, and while no summary can ever be totally satisfactory, if you feel that I have somehow misrepresented what you were saying, please feel free to clarify below. Perhaps I missed out something you thought was important, then by all means draw our attention to that. Please also, note, ALL READERS, that Danny and I are not enemies, or even opponents. We are brother's in Christ, serving the kingdom, to the best of our abilities, and trying to remain faithful to what we believe Scripture is teaching, and, at times, having to change our minds about things we have firmly believed in the past, but we have come to realise, in light of Scripture, are not the case. I am not disagreeing for disagreement sake. There are elements of what he has to say that resonate with me and I will highlight those, but I do have a few questions that every believer, and potential believer, needs to think about, when it comes to this very import. I hope and pray that, through reading this, you the reader will have been able to more clearly understand the issue at hand and not that we (I) have simply muddied the waters.

SALVATION – That's what it is all about. This has to be the most Vital issue of all vital issues in the Bible - “How can a person be saved?” We will need, in the process of discussing this question, we will need to look at some Greek words, that are used in Scripture, and to truly understand what they mean. At this stage there are three words that I want us to look at:
  • Salvation – Soteria – soterion – these terms are used 45 times in Scripture. It is derived fron the word Soter which means Saviour – and that is significant – I believe.
  • Repentance – metanoia – to change one's mind.
  • Gospel - euangelion – from where we get the English word Evangelist. Means good news – eu – good; angelion – message.

And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. (Romans 13:11)

Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. (Eph 6:17)

Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed--not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence--continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, (Phil 2:12)

But since we belong to the day, let us be self-controlled, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (1 Thes 5:8)

Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory. (2 Tim 2:10)

Oh I wish I had the space to treat this matter more fully, but these verses – give us different aspects that we need to think about when we talk about salvation. Salvation is nearer than we believed – is this not talking about the Day when Jesus comes back? It would seem so. In that sense is Salvation only available then, and not now. Everything I have ever be taught, and what I believe Scripture teaches is that we cannot, we dare not wait until that day, but that we need to be ready. Jesus parables about the five wise and five foolish virgins illustrates this point most clearly. But we are reminded that Salvation does have a future element. There will be the day when, excuse the clich├ęs, all bets are off, the hour has come. All the cards will then be on the table – we will know who has won, and who has lost. The world is NOT ad infinitum – to infinity. Everyone, and I believe Danny would strongly agree, has to think about where they will spend eternity. It is not a question on which you can sit on the fence. One's indecision will not postpone the certain moment – you have to come to a decision.

We are instructed to put on the HELMET OF SALVATION. It is part of the armour Paul wrote to us about in Ephesians 6. Two interesting things – it is not the first thing we are told to put on, in fact it is second last., and it is a helmet which protects out heads. Salvation is NOT righteousness – Paul tells us to put on the breatplate of righteousness – a separate part of the armour. How do we interpret this. Is Salvation is part of the armour of God, one would assume we would need 'daily' or more frequently, to consciously put on Salvation. What does this mean in practice? Do we keep on being born again? If we miss a day (we are human, and we all miss it from time to time) does this mean that if we were to die that day – we would be turned away at the pearly gate. Sorry – you are not properly attired – get out of here. This could lead me down a whole other avenue, but the point, I think of this verse is not that salvation is inextricably linked to righteousness, but that we need both! I think there are other scriptures that support the idea that if you are going to follow Christ, you need to live righteously. Also, we should constantly put on that helmet – we should (I think we ALL fall short here) treat each day, as if it were our first as a Christian – keen but very hungry for more understanding. Excited and yet – still a lot of room for improvement. The Philippians 2:12 speaks about working out our salvation with fear and trembling. That is interesting – do we have to work it out for ourselves – didn't Jesus do it all? Where do we come into that? How do you work it out? These are questions – the answers to which are not easy!

I think I would agree with Dan to the extent that the “Sinner's Prayer” is an effort of rendering the thing down to 'simplest terms.' I am a primary school teacher and I teach fractions. Part of that teaching is to show children how to express a fraction in its simplest terms. A half, instead of five tenths, etc. However, in rendering down this complicated matter, to a simple, prayer have we either added to or taken away from what was originally there. I started this blog with a summary of what Danny wrote. I pointed out however that, as it was a summary, it is impossible to include everything and I had to make a decision as to what was the most important aspect and what could be left out while still containing the main thrust of the discussion. I think that the Sinner's prayer is an effort to distil to 'the essential elements' the basic truths of Salvation, so that the seeker can respond appropriatey. My point is, in rendering down, have we still got the basic essential. There is good precedent for this – if we look at the story in Acts 2 where the Holy Spirit was poured out on the Church and Peter preached his first sermon in he streets of Jerusalem and many were 'cut to the heart' and asked “How then may we be saved?” - Peter did not launch into a long dissertation but said: “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38) Dan stressed this point in his own article that what is required for salvation is Repentance. But what is repentance?

Looking at the Greek word – metanoia – it means to change your mind. You think one way about something – you change your mind – you think differently about it. You think “I'm okay , I actually quite a good person.” and then you change your mind, and say to yourself. I am a sinner – I deserve the punishment for sin, and I need salvation. You might have been a smoker, and you come to a point in your life, that you decide, I'm not going to smoke anymore – it is bad for me, and it's not socially acceptable to those around me. Now – the thing is how does one know that that decision has taken place in the mind of another person. That person may have woken up in the morning, and had their 'early morning' cigarette. Then, for some reason, he/she decides to stop smoking. Maybe they tell their family – is that “true repentance” (from smoking.) What happens if, this person, all well intentioned decides to give up smoking, is suddenly faced with very stressful circumstances, and the first thing they do is light up a cigarette and take a drag. Has the person become an ex-ex-smoker? For some people, due length of time they have been smoking, giving up is a harder battle, and they need help and encouragement. Maybe they join a group. Maybe they use patches, or use some other devices.

I use the smoking as an analogy. How do we pinpoint that moment when the change of mind takes place. Also, the decision to 'stop sinning' is well intentioned – even genuine, but, this is with few exceptions, if any, we all struggle to live up to that resolution. So when we give up smoking when is it that we can regard ourselves as an ex-smoker? When we repent and decide to follow Jesus, when is it that we can say that that conversion took place. When we decided to do it, or is it when show fruit of repentance? I don't believe there is an easy answer to this question – I don't believe one can make a universal and definitive statement regarding this. I am not saying that repentance is not needed, I am just saying that one person can't say what that repentance should 'look like' in another individual.

I visited the London Museum a few weeks back and as I came out I came across a 'statue' of a page of a diary – it was a page of John Wesley's diary and it was recount of his heart being 'strangely warmed' – his conversion experience – apparently that spot where I was standing was the place (close enough) to where this actually took place. Does this mean that everyone has a strange warming in their heart? Of course not. It is interesting to note that John Wesley was already a preacher of the word when that took place. Just because a person is a preacher, does not necessarily mean they are a Christian.

Repentence has been likened to turning around and facing in the opposite direction. So coming my question, at what point, does one regard oneself having repented = when you decide to turn around when you have turned that 1 degree – or do you have to go at least 90 degrees, or should it be the full 180 degrees. I fear that if it is the last, very few of us can count ourselves as true Christian.

Evangelists are those who spread the good news of salvation. We are urged in scripture to do the work of evangelists (though there are those who have specific calling to this ministry). If we are work to do the work of evangelists – we need to tell people what it means to be saved or hw you can be saved. You need to know how to tell somebody how to be saved. Think about – you say Repent – they say how? The 'sinner's prayer formulation is one attampt, and I believe it is a valid one, to help people come into a relationship with Jesus Christ – it is a way of pointing to a moment in our lives when we move out of darkness into light. I would however, suggest that people don't put words in people's mouths – as in pray these words, as if only one formulation will do it. Rather, having talked with somebody about the need to be converted, and they want to do so, say to the person that it would be 'a good idea' if they prayed and then let them express their prayer in their own words. I don't even think it is necessary to pressure the person to do that there and then. Maybe they want to go home and think about it. Maybe that person really needs to talk to God about the death of a loved one to Cancer, or some other stumbling block, that a formulised prayer would completely miss. I think the key here is that every evangelist and person who would lead another to Christ, is to not actually do it in their own strength, but TRULY be lead by the Spirit – seeking His guidance as we speak to and LISTEN to the person who is at that very important place in their lives. We must not develop a 'box ticking mentality'. Every individual is different and they should be dealt with differently. No one knows that person, like the Holy Spirit, and so we should rely on Him for guidance as to what to say, or if t speak at all. One last point, most people are not converted by the words of a preacher speaking to a crowd, but most people are brought around by personal interaction with another believer – one on one. Yes, the mass conversion take place and are wonderful when they happen, but the Bible says there is MORE REJOICING in heaven over the one sinner that repents, than the 99 who do not need to repent. God get excited about each and every conversion. At the end of time, when we all stand before the Throne of God, worshipping Him, it will not matter whether we converted at a 'evangelical rally', or alone in our rooms at home. God is God, He draws His children to himself, and we as Christians should not be judging people according to their conversion experience.

I leave you with some questions: (Please leave comments with your answers – provided you keep it clean and respectful, I will approve the comment – even if I don't agree with it.)

Is Salvation a reversible process – in other words, if you have been truly converted, is it possible for you to be unconverted? This is not calling for a simple yes or no answer. If it is yes, in what way – what particular factors will result in your falling away? If no, what happens with backsliders?

Similarly, can a person have assurance of their savation, or is that in itself presumption?

If a person has a particular weakness, say they are alcoholic, and they come to Christ, but some reason start drinking again, have they had an unfortunate lapse, or have they, by retuning to the bottle, in effect turned their back on Christ? Realising that alcoholism and most addictions have a physiological component, do we regard a lapse as medical problem, or a spiritual problem or both?

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