As far as I can remember, almost every wedding that I have attended has included the couple’s saying wedding vows to one another. In the vast majority of cases, they were led in those vows by someone else who directed them to repeat the vows after him.
I do not recall anyone objecting to this practice, which has, as far as I can think at this time, little to no explicit biblical support. Yet, a seemingly increasing number of people today object to a minister’s leading sinners to pray “the sinner’s prayer” and cite the supposed lack of any biblical evidence for doing so as an important aspect of their justification for objecting to the practice.
As I have argued elsewhere, there is biblical data that in principle supports a gospel minister’s appropriately guiding someone in praying a sinner’s prayer. Those who object to the a minister’s doing so, therefore, would do well to examine their perspectives about both practices and determine if there is a lack of consistency in their thinking that warrants a reassessment of their perspectives about guiding a sinner in praying “the sinner’s prayer.”
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I think people mostly object to praying a “sinner’s prayer” for cultural reasons. Namely, the idea that authenticity can only be found in originality.
I’m not aware of the origins of this idea but it is very common and may be rooted in laziness or Lewis’ famous “chronological snobbery.” People often seem unwilling to own the tradition they have been handed and then to add the next iteration. Perhaps it seems easier to walk off and do their own thing. But of course, no one can truly do their “own thing” and so they end up failing to add anything of real worth to the tradition/history that they pass on to their kids. I fear that my generation has been and the next generation will be more impoverished because of it.
So, I think I agree with you 🙂 If you engage the words at the heart level they are just as meaningful as if you’d made them up. And by using words or phrases that have served the church well through its history, (I’m talking about vows here) you are entering into a rich history that enlivens and adds value to what you are doing. You do not stand alone, you are part of something much bigger than yourself.
Thanks for these comments, Wes. I hadn’t thought much about cultural reasons for objecting; I was focused on answering the question from the teaching of Scripture.
I’m not arguing for or against guiding a prayer, but the two situations you mention are not analogous.
1) The vows are in a formal and public contractual (covenantal) ceremony, and while the sinner’s prayer is typically an informal, private setting.
2) In our circles the vows are typically either written by the couple or adapted from the Book of Common Prayer. The a guided sinner’s prayer is typically extemporaneously formed by the person guiding the prayer, not the person praying nor a common pre-written prayer.
3) A wedding ceremony typically follows a lengthy relationship, and the vows are merely the public and legally binding declaration of what has already been promised by the couple to one another. The sinner’s prayer is typically only guided because the person praying it does not have a long history of exposure to the gospel (or they wouldn’t need to prayer to be guided).
Thus, I’m pretty sure even if someone held the position you are arguing against and didn’t have a problem with the vows being repeated, their position is consistent, at least in this point.
Yes, there are differences between the two practices, and you may be right in holding that those differences allow someone to be consistent in their position. (Not addressing the comparative Scriptural basis for each practice, however, takes away the most important element of what I am arguing.)
About the points that you did mention, a diligent minister who takes the time to explain the elements of the prayer to the sinner before the sinner prays would be doing something similar to what those who say vows do.
Also, I’m not so sure that a person with a long history of exposure to the gospel does not need to be guided in praying because a long history does not necessarily mean sound understanding.
Thanks for the feedback, Dave.