Do You Have To Pray To Be Saved?


an altar call

an altar call

Romans 10:9 That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.

I have a copy of the memoirs that an ancestor of mine had written. He was born in 1775 and died in 1875. The book is over 600 pages long. What awesome insight his writings have. It took them a week to ride from Richmond to Charlottesville and it takes me an hour. One of the writers of the Declaration of Independence stood at their defence in a church meeting. The trail from Lancaster, PA to Fort Pitt (Pittsburgh) was just wide enough for one horse. He even gives an account of the first altar calls.

It would seem that the idea of altar calls came about because of prayer meetings in the late 1700’s were experience strange powers of conviction where people would just fall onto the floor weeping. Some were as though they were dead. To provide a place for more focused prayer of repentance the altar was created, named after the places of sacrifice in the Old Testament.

All of my life I have known of altar calls. Growing up we called someone who gives their heart to Jesus, “praying through.” In my early ministry, when I began as a youth pastor, we led people in a “sinners prayer.” All salvations focused on the altar. Not even my ancestor was sure where the altar call started but he thought it started somewhere in New York.

What was it’s purpose? In the late 1700’s there were outbursts of prayers that would happen with people crying, screaming, and weeping. Some of these busts of loud prayers last for hours. So, someone came up with the idea of separating those in uncontrollable repenting into a more controlled atmosphere.

Here is an exerpt from the book Reminiscences of Rev. Henry Boehm, page 134:

“Dr. Bangs, in his History of Methodism, vol. III. p. 374, speaks of the revival in the city of New York in 1806, and says: ‘It was during this powerful revival the practice of inviting penitent sinners to the altar was first introduced. The honor of doing this, if I am rightly informed, belongs to Brother Aaron Hunt, who resorted to it to prevent the confusion arising from praying in different parts of the house.’ This has been for years stereotyped, and is interwoven into history… The truth is, he was not correctly informed… As early as 1799, when in company with that eminent revivalist, Rev. W. P. Chandler, on Cecil Circuit, at Back Creek, after preaching, the doctor invited mourners to the altar.”

Was providing a more controlled atmosphere  wrong? No, and it has served us well. Great ministry has taken place at what we refer to as an altar. The downside is that change took place within our theology. After following this pattern for over 200 years many in our churches have come to believe that in order for someone to be saved they have to have an “altar” or say a prayer. What happened to just believe?

The word believe in the above verse comes from the root word in both Greek and Hebrew which means to become persuaded. In Acts 10 Peter is preaching to a group of gentiles in Cornelius’ house. He was sharing with them their first message of who Jesus was and while he was preaching they believed.

Acts 10:43-44 “…To Him all the prophets witness that, through His name, whoever believes in Him will received remission of sins.” While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.

Even Peter used the word “believe” in his message. So, when were these saved? I am going to go out on a limb and say that they were saved just as soon as they believed, during the message. No altar call. No sinners prayer. No praying through. Then the Holy Spirit interrupted the message by filling these fresh new converts with the Holy Spirit and they began to magnify God and speak in languages they had never learned. I have never met anyone who disagree that this kind of experience does not happen on sinners. Therefore, they were saved without an altar call.

Shallow thinking to think that salvation comes through simple believing? No. Believing is where it all begins. That is where the walk in Christ starts.

What is the evidence that someone has believed? I would think that it would be repentance. That is where, often times, the emotion gets involved.

Although prayer may not be the means by which we are saved, prayer is the life of the believer. Jesus spoke in Matthew 6 that there are three things that every believer will do. This was evident from His use of the word “when.” – Giving financially, fasting, praying.

If you are in disagreement that salvation comes only through believing, all you have to do is to produce scripture that says the contrary.

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3 Responses

  1. Hey Nathan just a question. doesnt the passage you cited start with confessing with your mouth?

    • Most definitely. But, what is confession? Is it defined as prayer or can it be speaking what you believe? And, from this verse, does confession come first or can it follow?

      I am not discounting prayer for salvation. I just do not believe that salvation has to be as hard as many think it to be. For those folks in Acts 10 the confession from their mouth did not seem to happen until they began to magnify God and speak in tongues.

      I guess that would then bring us to another question. Paul says that if we confess our sins that He will forgive us. But, given the example in Acts 10, do we have to confess our sins? Are not our sins forgiven when we believe anyway? Therefore, making confessing our sins just another method of salvation? Did the folks in Acts 10 have time to confess their sins? Just a thought. Trying to stretch here.

      What I have seen are those who have prayed or those who have confessed, but only out of guilt or the fear that they have been caught. I’m thinking that there has to be something much deeper happening through believing, whether accompanied by prayer or confession of Christ or sins.

  2. Nathan, in Luke 15 Jesus told the story of what we call “The Prodigal Son”. When was he saved? I believe he was saved at the moment in the pig pen when he “came to himself”. He did two important things, he came into agreement with his father, and he did something about it. Acts 3:19 says “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord”. Repentance is a change of mind, which the son did, and conversion is from a greek word that means to turn aside. The son did both of these. Therefore, using scriptures, I believe that salvation comes when we make up our mind His way is right (repentance) and we turn from our ways (conversion).
    Another way of describing the word “confess” would also be to agree with, i.e. I confess God’s way is right. 1 John 1:9 says “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness”. Again, to confess does not mean to blab it to anyone, but to come into agreement with God that our actions are sins, or “rebellion” against God.
    I believe that a person is saved when those two things happen, acknowledge and agree that our actions are sins, and two, completely change our ways. Sometimes prayer needs to happen, but if we repeat a prayer that someone else leads us in, it is not our prayer, but theirs.
    Scripture completely backs up your point of view.

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