Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Heresy or insight: you need more than just the Sinner's Prayer

There's a funny thing about Lent: it has a way of making people uncomfortable. It's hard to explain to people why (and how) you can give things up that you regularly do or enjoy. Or add on things that you don't normally do. And all for a specific period of, well, rather inconvenient time of the year. Why inconvenient? Two words: spring break (not to mention the fact that every so many years, my birthday happens to fall on Ash Wednesday).

The discipline of Lent always bring me back to the word, "disciple," and what it means to undertake to become Christ's disciple. I have, lately, been persuaded by experience that the classic formulation of salvation from my Baptist heritage, the Sinner's Prayer, is somewhat lacking when it comes to introducing a new believer to true, Christian discipleship.

The prayer, or some form of it, is used to guide potential believers into the arms of Jesus through admission of sin, belief in Christ's saving death and resurrection, and commitment to follow Him (notice the convenient ABCs of salvation).

The problem with the sinner's prayer, and one of the weaknesses of my Baptist tradition, is that once a person prays this prayer, often the only guidance available to them afterward is "read your Bible daily and attend a Bible-believing church." Certainly not bad advice, but my what broad strokes. What part of the Bible should I read? What exactly is a Bible-believing church? Is there anything I should do differently now? What should I do differently?

My readiness to question the Sinner's Prayer, and the simplistic call to salvation that usually accompanies it, was inspired by a recent column in Christianity Today. The author's poignant analysis of the problem in the "get saved and go serve God" mentality is that it overlooks the biggest challenge to any young believer.

The author said it best:
I suggest that we tend to confuse the beginning of the faith journey with its entirety. Yes, believe in Jesus—that's the first step. Yes, invite Jesus into your heart as your personal Savior. Then, empowered by God's grace, embark on the journey of discipleship, in which you seek to love God with every fiber of your being, to love your neighbor as yourself, to live out God's moral will, and to follow Jesus where he leads you, whatever the cost.
The most challenging part of the author's message was convicting to me. It is so easy to "share the Gospel" and then move on. But real Christian discipleship -- and thus, real Christian ministry -- is about more than easy platitudes and rote recitation of a formulaic conversion prayer:
Mediocrity and hypocrisy characterize the lives of many avowed Christians, at least in part because of our default answer to the salvation question. Anyone can, and most Americans do, "believe" in Jesus rather than some alternative savior. Anyone can, and many Americans sometimes do, say a prayer asking Jesus to save them. But not many embark on a life fully devoted to the love of God, the love of neighbor, the moral practice of God's will, and radical, costly discipleship.
FEELING: Challenged to pursue "radical, costly discipleship"
LISTENING TO: My roommates having dinner

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