Remember the Contagious Christian program? I do. And I’m sure many others do as well and even currently use it in their churches. It was the first curriculum in which I was exposed to and taught to use something called the “sinner’s prayer.” This prayer was designed to help lead others to Christ by providing the evangelist with an outline of what a desirous convert to the Christian faith should pray. It usually goes something like this, “Dear Father, please forgive me for my sins. I am sorry that I have sinned and I accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior and ask you to come into my heart and be the Lord of my life. Thank you for saving me. Amen.” Now there is nothing wrong with the sinner’s prayer or even with using the sinner’s prayer. I myself repeated the sinner’s prayer when I began to follow the Lord and have had others repeat it after me. But, I have not used the sinner’s prayer for several years now. And here is why:

First, the sinner’s prayer causes people to trust in themselves and not in Christ. What I mean is, there are moments in every Christian’s life when they ask themselves, “Am I really a Christian?” Unfortunately, too many people have thought to themselves, “Yes, I have prayed the prayer, I am a Christian.” But in that crucial moment they are trusting they are alright with God because they have prayed a prayer. This is a self-centered trust opposite of the Gospel. They believe that a prayer has made them a Christian when only Christ makes someone a Christian. I believe in times of doubt that it is better for a Christian to not have an available crutch in the sinner’s prayer on which to rest their trust but instead be forced to rely solely on Christ for the assurance of their salvation.

Second, it allows many individuals to falsely believe that they are a Christian. Many individuals sincerely believe they are a Christian and even claim to be a Christian but when they are pressed for an explanation of what makes them a Christian are unaware of such basic tenants as Jesus Christ died on a cross in their place for their sins. Often the reason for this is that they were encouraged to “say the prayer” at which time they repeated a few words and were assured they were a Christian. The sinful human heart is then all too happy to play along, insidiously whispering “you are okay” while hiding its rebellion against God even from its owner.

Third, it hinders evangelism. This is because people, who believe they are okay with God, because they prayed a prayer, often use this as the first line of defense in brushing off any future evangelistic inquiries. They say, “Don’t worry about me. I’ve prayed the prayer.” The sinner’s prayer then becomes the means by which unbelievers avoid the Gospel and rebuff casual inquires which may have borne fruit. The sinner’s prayer becomes a roadblock to evangelism and the evangelist must first undo the sinner’s prayer before effective communication of the Gospel can occur.

Fourth, it shortchanges the work of the Holy Spirit. This is because the sinner’s prayer is often treated as the goal of any evangelistic encounter. The idea is to show a person their need for salvation, present the Gospel message, and offer the sinner’s prayer as the way to be saved. But the Holy Spirit does not work on our timetable. Often He works through our words to convict the hearer’s heart of sinfulness. Then when the hearer feels their sin, we prematurely speak peace to their troubled conscience by having them pray the sinner’s prayer before the Holy Spirit was pleased to work a deep and abiding conviction of sin and need for a Savior. The sting of the Spirit’s conviction is blunted by the prayer and the unconverted individual is comforted just enough to allow themselves to think about other things. At times the most loving thing an evangelist can do is not to comfort their hearer.

Fifth, it becomes the criterion by which we discern the genuineness of a person’s faith. We are led to believe a person is a Christian because they prayed a prayer with evident sincerity. But repeating words out of a tract does not make a person a Christian. Christ makes a person a Christian through faith. But the sinner’s prayer, because of its wide usage becomes the unofficial acid test of whether or not someone is a Christian. This becomes dangerous when an unbeliever, who is thought to be a believer, is placed in a position of leadership in a worship service, a youth group, a Sunday school class, or even a pastorate. They will be the person making decisions for the church and the church will suffer for it. But some may ask, “Is it even our role to judge someone else’s faith? That sounds awfully un-Christ like!” To this it should be demonstrated that Paul himself gives us the criteria by which we are to judge who is genuinely born of God when he tell us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” (Galatians 5)

Sixth, it causes Christians to be inarticulate when sharing their faith. Anyone can say “repeat after me…” without any serious reflection on the message of the Scriptures. Without the formulaic sinner’s prayer it may become more difficult to lead an individual to Christ but it also summons greater reflection on the part of the evangelist who is forced to ponder, own, and clearly articulate the call of the Gospel for themselves.

Seventh, we don’t need it! This is not a great argument against the sinner’s prayer, after all, there are a million things we use every day that we do not truly need. But this seventh reason is simply to point out that the majority of Christians who have ever come to faith in Christ have never even heard of a “sinner’s prayer.” It is only a recent invention in Christian history. When is the last time you heard any of the early Church fathers, Reformers, writers of Scripture, or Jesus himself recommend the use of a prepackaged sinner’s prayer? You have not because the sinner’s prayer simply did not exist. Yet generations of believers before now have had no problem sharing their faith without a prepackaged prayer. We are not dependent on it, and in my opinion should be free from it as the dominant way to think about evangelism.

I say there is a better way to call people to place their faith in Christ. What do you say?