Question for Catholics: SInner's Prayer and Altar calls

I am curious as to what significance do Catholics attach to ‘The Sinner’s Prayer’ or ‘Altar calls’ at evangelical Protestant churches.

Example of a type of Sinner’s Prayer:
gotquestions.org/sinners-prayer.html

Here is a description of an altar call:
An altar call is a practice in some evangelical Christian churches in which those who wish to make a new spiritual commitment to Jesus Christ are invited to come forward publicly. It is so named because the supplicants gather at the altar located at the front of the church building.

Your comments are welcome.

I’m sure you’ll get a lot more of a brilliant reply than this but, being on my way home to the Catholic Church from Protestantism, I’ll tell you what I’ve come to learn regarding these.

There is no example of a “sinner’s prayer” that immediately precedes salvation in the Bible. It’s not there. This is a HUGE shot to the foot of Sola Scriptura.

However, there are a lot of instances where the gospel was preached and people were baptized “for the remission of their sins.” So, I would say that those who wish to make a commitment to Jesus need to be baptized and not just simply go forward during an “altar call.”

But, and as I’ve seen MANY, MANY, MANY times (and I was likely one of these, too), people will go the altar, either at the end of the sermon, or during a revival, and proclaim their “decision to follow Jesus” or proclaim themselves “saved” but they forget rather quickly that a commitment to follow Jesus is NOT a one-time event. Conversion must occur daily in our hearts. We must “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” and “run the race” and “endure to the end.” Those words are in the Bible, but a “sinner’s prayer” is not.

Most evangelical churches will not properly catechize or teach people that want to make a commitment to Christ before initiating them into the church. A decision to become part of Jesus’ church, the Bride of Christ, is not one to be entered into lightly or uninformed and one should know the faith before making this huge commitment. My opinion is that lack of education is why many Christians end up falling away when they come to a “hard teaching”…they simply weren’t informed of those “hard teachings” beforehand.

I am voting “an unbiblical way to claim to know Christ” but I’d also vote that it can be a great starting point for something deeper. It shouldn’t be the summit of one’s salvation journey, though.

Hey Tommy,
Forgive my ignorance. In my youth I used to see the Billy Graham Crusades on TV. Is what they did at the end considered an “altar call”?

Jon

Hi Jon,
Yes, I would consider it one, although that one was dramatically larger in size, of course.

Thanks, Tommy.
It is not part of the tradition of Lutheranism, and while I see no particular problem with it, neither am I enamored by it. Traditions that do not obscure the Gospel are acceptable. That said, our idea of an “altar call” is the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

Jon

EDIT: Let me qualify the bolded by saying that if it is part of “decision theology”, then I do have a problem with that.

I thought altar calls where silly when I was protestant.:blush: I never understood the sinners prayer either. I did neither.

Very well said and I agree

=slh3016;12914694]I’m sure you’ll get a lot more of a brilliant reply than this but, being on my way home to the Catholic Church from Protestantism, I’ll tell you what I’ve come to learn regarding these.

There is no example of a “sinner’s prayer” that immediately precedes salvation in the Bible. It’s not there. This is a HUGE shot to the foot of Sola Scriptura.

Depends on what one means by* sola scriptura*. Unless someone sees the “sinner’s prayer” as some kind of doctrinal requirement, SS is not applicable.

However, there are a lot of instances where the gospel was preached and people were baptized “for the remission of their sins.” So, I would say that those who wish to make a commitment to Jesus need to be baptized and not just simply go forward during an “altar call.”

I, personally, never thought of baptism as a “commitment”, but instead a gift of grace, which is why Lutherans and Catholics and others baptize infants.

Jon

Hi Kendra,
While I definitely respect your point of view (I always do), I actually became a Christian as a teenager through watching a Billy Graham crusade on TV, which had an altar call. Instead of walking up front, I knelt in front of my TV.

I was born and raised a Presbyterian. Prior to my Billy Graham crusade experience, all church was to me was a one-hour going-thru-the-motions religious ritual that I couldn’t relate to. It was something I did with my family each week that no effect on my life in any meaningful way. I knew about God but I didn’t know God in any kind of personal way. Church was just something I did for an hour on Sunday and I was glad when it was over.

I would say that the Sinner’s Prayer/altar call scenario on the heels of receiving the Gospel message preached by Rev Graham kick-started my faith journey that has only grown stronger through the years.

I still am far from perfect and feel I am painfully ignorant in the Christian faith at times when I compare myself to others on CAF, but I saw value in the praying the Sinners’ Prayer in my own life because I sincerely meant it with all my heart.

I would compare that experience to a spiritual equivalent of the moment when I realized that I wanted to marry and spend the rest of my life with my girlfriend and knowing that she felt the same way about me – if that makes any sense.

However, I agree with Catholics and others who say that the experience, although a profound spiritual awakening for me, was just the beginning of the journey and did not “save” me. However, I felt like I was finally on the right track in my relationship with Christ.

I must admit it bothers me a little when people dismiss or ridicule such an experience, but in the end I realize God meets people where they are, and I needed that experience to start me on my spiritual journey while others are able to grow in Christ in other ways.

Yes, in many Protestant denominations, especially Southern Baptist, reciting a sinner’s prayer is what is taught in Sunday School and encouraged at revivals. Therefore, it is doctrinal. I’ve been in many a room where the Pastor led someone in reciting it. There’s even an ABC formula:

A = Admit your a sinner
B = Believe that Jesus is God’s Son
C = Confess and your sins

So, the prayer goes something like this in Sunday School, “God, I admit that I am a sinner in need of a savior. I believe that Jesus is Your Son who died in my place. I confess my sins and turn away from them. Thank you for saving me. Amen.” Voila! You’re saved!

Nevermind that this prayer is not in the Bible, which they claim is the only rule of faith :rolleyes: That’s why I mentioned SS.

While there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with that prayer, I certainly don’t believe it’s sufficient, especially for someone who lacks proper catechesis.

I, personally, never thought of baptism as a “commitment”, but instead a gift of grace, which is why Lutherans and Catholics and others baptize infants.

Jon

Yes, you’re right, it is a grace, but we still have to submit to it. Many, many, many evangelical Christians don’t believe in the necessity of baptism. My dad, for instance, believes he can watch a Billy Graham crusade or Joel Osteen from the comfort of his Lazy Boy, recite some prayer, be saved, and go about his merry way never putting a foot in the door of a church building. :shrug:

My first thought when sinner’s prayer was mentioned was the tax collector’s prayer in Lk 18 v. 13, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”. A beautiful rote prayer often said in a Catholic Novena.

A sinner prayer’s given in the link is probably alright and can be said in one personal prayer after a Confession.

As for the alter call, I don’t see where this is applicable in a Catholic’s liturgy. Probably one can do that in a meeting or something, asking participants to come up to stage to make commitment on something.

But if they (Sinner’s prayer and altar call) are meant to replace the Sacraments, then Catholics would feel very strongly against their false innovations.

Reuben

A potential start to a long spiritual journey. I’m an optimist and never discount events outright. :smiley:

Many, many many Catholics were introduced to the faith via Protestantism. It was a start to their spiritual journey and for that we must be thankful for Protestants in all their forms for. That is where they first learned about Christ and to love him. That’s gotta be a good thing.:thumbsup:

That’s not to say I agree with either practice, safe to say it is foreign to Catholics. Of course they I’m biased and don’t believe they are fully practicing the faith until they find Catholicism. :stuck_out_tongue:

Beautifully said {the part that I bolded and underlined}. I certainly don’t ridicule anyone who had such an experience. I had one myself when I was 16 years old. The problem is that I had such a faulty view of faith and God from my lack of Christian upbringing that I felt that I HAD to have some emotional experience (or prompting) to go forward to the altar call. I begged God for YEARS for that experience so I’d know I was truly saved. It was very erroneous thinking on my part but I didn’t know any better.

I have a childhood friend who is a Missionary Baptist and she, in the last year or so, has been encouraging all her Facebook friends, to submit to her their “ask Jesus into my heart”, “I know I’m saved” moment to put into a book in which she plans to place in local physicians’ offices. The problem is that not everyone is going to have that altar call/emotional experience, and I’m afraid that her efforts will confuse and mislead more people than it’s going to help :shrug:

While we’ll have some responses which totally brush off what happens in an Altar Call, and while I am not comfortable with the process, we cannot diminish the fact that there are many who have come to a saving knowledge and faith in Jesus through praying a “Sinners Prayer” and/or going up when one is given. My mother became a Christian through a televised Billy Graham crusade back in 1957, was baptized, and became a regular and active member of a Baptist church. Her activity within the church ended when my father and she argued over it and she decided her marriage was worth more than attending church. (Long story short, she decided she would not go to church without my dad and they began attending after about 55 years of marriage. My dad committed his life to Christ at that time - He passed away maybe 6 months later.

There are so many people out there who understand that particular type of movement to personally make a statement about changing their lives to that of Christ-follower. In the majority of Protestant churches who do offer a chance to do this at the end of a service do have someone there to pick up the slack after the service so that these individuals do get regular instruction as to how to be a Christ-follower. The crusades put on by Billy Graham actually have churches represented with which to send the new Christians to in order that they have the proper follow-up. They even had Catholic churches represented at these tables for those who had Catholic backgrounds to be directed to.

Of course there is more to becoming a Christian after going forward for an altar call and/or saying the “sinners prayer.” I did not have a good experience within the church settings that did this often as a protocol and found the peace that Christ teaches within my Lutheran Church but I have a couple of siblings whose foundation as solid and beautiful Christians began with that decision on their part.

Thanks for letting me “ramble” a bit and share my nickle’s worth (inflation, don’t ya know?).

God bless you all!

Rita

Hi Rita,
I thank you and everyone else who have contributed to this thread.

I am deeply sorry to hear that your mother had to go without church for 55 years, but something tells me that her faith and witness had a positive effect on your father’s eventual decision to commit his life to Christ.

You also told me something I never knew before regarding Catholic participation at the Billy Graham crusades, which was "They even had Catholic churches represented at these tables for those who had Catholic backgrounds to be directed to".

I wasn’t aware of that. :thumbsup:

I read a personal story by a Catholic lady who, after going forward after Rev. Graham was done speaking, was asked what her spiritual experience had been up to that point and was led over to a table that was manned by a couple of priests. I hadn’t known that before either.

God bless, Tommy!

I always saw it as kind of a gimmick - the altar call anyway. I was raised in the episcopal church which mirrors Catholicism very closely.
So we didn’t have altar calls. I visited different churches with friends and saw how the altar calls work. They really work on the emotion of the person and seem to want to make people feel really bad about themselves and it seems a lot about control. I always thought to myself no way would I want to belong to a church like this. Luckily I fell in love with the liturgical worship and holy communion in the episcopal church which eventually led me to the Catholic church.
The liturgy and the Real Presence within the Catholic faith are enough for me!

Thanks for sharing, slh3016.

For me, it was not as much of an emotional experience as it was a ‘time stood still’ moment in which I felt Jesus’ presence in my life for the first time in a real and meaningful way.

I think the altar call is a great witness of one’s faith in Jesus in front of others. However, it must be done with a firm act of the Will. That is an act of faith and commitment not to sin any longer and to avoid the near occasions of sin. It can not be based on pure emotion, being caught up in the excitement of the moment.

Also, it is no guarantee of salvation. It may be a good turning point for someone but it is not the final round. One could go out and lose his salvation the next day by committing a mortal sin. For example, getting drunk or murdering someone.

Jesus has redeemed us by His sacrifice on the cross but we on earth are still working out our salvation in fear and trembling. We cannot presume we are saved until we enter purgatory or heaven.

I prefer the assurance the Sacraments offer to an “altar call.”

The sinners prayer is like the Act of Contrition without absolution. And I disagree with those who say that these so- called “altar calls” (what altar?) aren’t harmful. Often the victim is told that once you do this, you will be saved forever. They can give a false assurance one’s salvation.

This isn’t just some Catholic ranting against things non- Catholic either. Many Protestants would agree with this.

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