Rethinking the Sinner’s Prayer

by Frank Viola

Most evangelical Christians believe in and practice believer’s baptism as opposed to infant baptism.1 Likewise, most Protestants believe and practice baptism by immersion or pouring rather than by sprinkling.

The New Testament as well as early church history stand with both of these positions.2

However, it is typical in most contemporary churches for baptism to be separated from conversion by great lengths of time. Many Christians were saved at one age and baptized at a much later age. In the first century, this was unheard of.

In the early church, converts were baptized immediately upon believing.3 One scholar says of baptism and conversion, “They belong together. Those who repented and believed the Word were baptized. That was the invariable pattern, so far as we know.”4

Another writes, “At the birth of the church, converts were baptized with little or no delay.”5

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In the first century, water baptism was the outward confession of a person’s faith.6 But more than that, it was the way someone came to the Lord. For this reason, the confession of baptism is vitally linked to the exercise of saving faith. So much so that the New Testament writers often use baptism in place of the word faith and link it to being “saved.”7 This is because baptism was the early Christian’s initial confession of faith in Christ.

In our day, the “sinner’s prayer” has replaced the role of water baptism as the initial confession of faith. Unbelievers are told, “Say this prayer after me, accept Jesus as your personal Savior, and you will be saved.” But nowhere in all the New Testament do we find any person being led to the Lord by a sinner’s prayer…

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