As stated earlier, the sinner's prayer eventually replaced the biblical role of water baptism. Though it is touted as gospel today, this prayer developed only recently. D. L. Moody was the first to employ it.
Moody used this "model" of prayer when training his evangelistic coworkers." But it did not reach popular usage until the 1950s with Billy Graham's Peace with God tract and later with Campus Crusade for Christ's Four Spiritual Laws.' There is nothing particularly wrong with it. Certainly, God will respond to the heartfelt prayers of any indi-
u Ibid., 35-36; W. R. Halliday, The Pagan Background of Early Christianity (New York: Cooper Square Publishers, 1970), 313. The giving of milk and honey was borrowed from paganism. The new convert ("catechumens" as they came to be called, from which catechism is derived) was typically baptized on a Sunday Passover or Pentecost. The Thursday beforehand the candidate had to be bathed. He spent Friday and Saturday in fasting, and then he was exorcised by the bishop to drive out any demons. By the end of the second century, this was a fairly uniform baptismal ceremony in the West. Gregory Dix points out that the introduction of the creed in Christianity begins in the first half of the second century with the baptismal creed. The creed was made up of a series of three questions dealing respectively with the three Persons of the Trinity. The Council of Nicaea of AD 325 carried the creed a step further. The creed evolved into a test of fellowship for those within the church rather than a test of faith for those outside of it (Dix, The Shape of the Liturgy, 485; Norrington, To Preach or Not, 59). Ferguson, Early Christians Speak, 60. Green, Evangelism in the Early Church, 156.
C. L. Thompson, limes of Refreshing, Being a History of American Revivats with Their Philosophy and Methods (Rockford: Golden Censer Co. Publishers, 1878); Paul H. Chitwood, "The Sinner's Prayer: An Historical and Theological Analysis" (Dissertation, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY, 2001).
-1- Here is the classic "Sinner's Prayer" that appears in the Four Spiritual Laws tract: "Lord Jesus, I need You. Thank You for dying on the cross for my sins. I open the door of my life and receive You as my Savior and Lord. Thank You for forgiving my sins and giving me eternal life. Take control of the throne of my life. Make me the kind of person You want me to be." In the first century, water baptism was the visible testimony that publicly demonstrated the heart of this prayer.
vidual who reaches out to Him in faith. However, it should not replace water baptism as the outward instrument for conversion-initiation.
The phrase personal Savior is yet another recent innovation that grew out of the ethos of nineteenth-century American revivalism." It originated in the mid-1800s to be exact. is But it grew to popular parlance by Charles Fuller (1887-1968). Fuller literally used the phrase thousands of times in his incredibly popular Old Fashioned Revival Hour radio program that aired from 1937 to 1968. His program reached from North America to every spot on the globe. At the time of his death, it was heard on more than 650 radio stations around the
Today, the phrase personal Savior is used so pervasively that it seems biblical. But consider the ludicrousness of using it. Have you ever introduced one of your friends by such a designation? "This is my 'personal friend,' Billy Smith."
In Jesus Christ, you and I have received something far greater than a personal Savior. We have received Jesus Christ's very own relationship with His Father! According to New Testament teaching, what the Father was to Jesus Christ, Jesus Christ is to you and me. Because we are now "in Christ," the Father loves us and treats us just as He does His own Son. In other words, we share and participate in Christ's perfect relationship with His Father."
This relationship is corporate just as much as it is individual. All Christians share that relationship together. In this regard, the phrase personal Savior reinforces a highly individualistic Christianity. But the New Testament knows nothing of a "Just-me-and-Jesus" Christian faith. Instead, Christianity is intensely corporate. Christianity is a life lived out among a body of believers who know Christ together as Lord and Savior.
See chapter 3 for a discussion of contributions from Finney, Moody, and others.
The phrase is absent from the "Making of America" database from 1800-1857. It begins appearing in 1858 in the "Ladies Repository," a periodical put out by the Methodist Episcopal Church during the mid-1800s. Interestingly, 1858 is the year that Charles Finney concluded his prayer revivals, which are now so famous. See http://www.answers.com/topic/charles-e-fuller.
John 17:23,20:21; Romans 8:15; Galatians 4.6; Ephesians 1:4-6. For a fuller discussion on this topic, see Bill Freeman's The Church Is Christ (Scottsdale, AZ: Ministry Publications, 1993), ch. 3.
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