The sinner's prayer, as we know it today, was invented
by twentieth century preachers as a quick and easy way to
save people. Unfortunately, it is a false doctrine.
Around the second century, Gnostics taught that baptism
was not essential to salvation. Christians, on the other
hand, vehemently refuted the Gnostic doctrine and taught
that baptism was absolutely necessary to be saved.
16th - 17th Centuries
Later, during the Reformation (sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries), Protestant Theology, in opposition to Catholicism,
led to the invention of Protestant denominations. Reformation
theologians opposed some Catholic doctrines of salvation
(e.g., indulgences) while embracing others (e.g., infant
baptism). Trying to "reform" the Catholic church, Reformation
theologians formulated their own doctrines of salvation
from which denominations were created in breaking away from
Catholicism. In the process, Gnostic doctrines of salvation
(e.g., salvation before baptism, and salvation without baptism)
were again popularized in Reformation doctrine. But, the
doctrines of Reformed Theology did not develop into the
"sinner's prayer" for hundreds of years after the Reformation.
As the Protestant Reformation developed, some churches (under
the guidance of doctrines from such men as Martin Luther)
taught that salvation was a gift from God and that baptism
was not necessary for salvation. Later, Anabaptists broke
away from churches adhering to the doctrine of infant baptism
under the leadership of such men as Menno Simons and John
Smyth, only baptizing adults.
Praying to be Saved
As these Protestant issues were hashed out, man-made religious
doctrines increasingly rejected God's word which requires
men to be baptized to be saved (Matt. 18:18-19; Mk. 16:16;
Acts 2:38; 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:21). Since the Anabaptists rejected
God's word concerning baptism while also rejecting the Catholic
and Reformed doctrine of infant baptism, they were forced
to invent a human doctrine prescribing the point of one's
salvation. Praying to be saved became their substitute for
God's command to be baptized. In the end, baptism was relegated
to merely being a symbolic act, not having anything to do
with salvation. And in time, the phrase "baptism is an outward
sign of an inward grace" was invented and adopted into Protestant
Mourner's Bench Salvation
As man-made doctrines of praying for salvation developed,
"mourner's bench salvation" was invented by men in the eighteenth
century, becoming popular in the nineteenth century and
dying out in the early twentieth century. This doctrine
of salvation asserts that a sinner might be saved if he
prays long and hard, at the mourner's bench. Stories of
people spending many long, arduous hours at the mourner's
bench were common. During this time, such phrases as "alter
call" and "pray through" were popularized. But today, the
mourner's bench is practically nonexistent, although some
churches have preserved the benches as mementoes of bygone
revivalist days referred to as "old time religion."
Pray a Prayer Salvation
In the early twentieth century, revivalist preachers began
simplifying their doctrines of salvation. Mourner's bench
salvation was too time consuming and arduous a process making
it unappealing. Also, large crusades became popular resulting
in denominational preachers desiring a simple way for hundreds
of people to be simultaneously saved within just a few minutes.
So, preachers began asking people to come to the front and
pray a prayer to be saved. By praying the prayer, people
were led to believe they were forgiven of their sins and
saved. This prayer soon developed into what is called the
sinner's prayer today.
Radio and Television Evangelism
As radio and television evangelism became popular in the
twentieth century, preachers again simplified their doctrines
of salvation. It was not possible for people listening to
the radio or watching television to come to the front of
an assembly, have contact with a preacher, and pray with
him. Sometimes, people listening to the radio were asked
to touch the radio and pray. Other times, people watching
television were asked to touch the television and pray.
And sometimes, they were not asked to do anything but pray.
Since then, many preachers in churches do not ask people
to come to the front and pray a sinner's prayer but simply
to pray while sitting in the audience.
Today, Sinner's Prayer
Today, people are led to believe they can pray a sinner's
pray anywhere and under any condition to be saved. Many
preachers and teachers "suggest" prayers for sinners to
pray -- some are several sentences long and some are only
one or two sentences. But more and more, these preachers
let people "receive Jesus" any way they want. Unfortunately,
people who believe they have been saved by praying a sinner's
prayer have believed a false doctrine originating from men
The doctrine of Christ and His church (2 Jn. 1: 9) is the
same today as it was during the first century (Heb. 13:8).
- We must be baptized to be saved (Mk. 16:16; Matt. 28:18-19).
- Baptism is for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:38).
- Our sins are washed away when we are baptized (Acts
- We are saved when we are baptized (1 Pet. 3:21).
- The Lord adds us to the church when we are baptized
(Acts 2:38-39, 40-41, 47).
No one is saved by praying a sinner's prayer. To be saved,
we must be baptized having believed in God, repented of
our sins, and confessed Jesus to be God's Son (Mk. 16:16;
Jn. 8:24; Lk. 13:3, 5; Matt. 10:32-33).