Interesting story, and it's had me thinking. The most disturbing element of the story is probably the demand of the girl's father that she repeat the sinner's prayer before she actually get baptized. Now, of course, this whole thing is cloaked in the troubled relationship of the girl with her father, but think about it. If the girl wanted to be baptized out of her faith in Christ, why was the father so bent on adding additional requirements? Why would anyone?
Perhaps it is stories like this--stories of people trying to add just one more thing on top of the gospel of Jesus Christ, just one more rule on top of simply embracing God's love through Jesus--that Paul had in mind when he said,
"For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?...As for those agitators, I wish they would go the whole way and emasculate themselves!" (Gal. 5)Yes, I think Paul had big problems with folks who became so rigid that they could no longer handle the simplicity of the faith of others, people who needed it to be more complex for it to count.
It's not about proximity to Jesus. It's not about how orthodox our doctrines are. It's about which direction we're heading on the journey. Remember the story of the Ethiopian eunuch?
The eunuch asked Philip, 'Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?' Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus. As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, 'Look, here is water. Why shouldn't I be baptized?' And he gave orders to stop the chariot. Then both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and Philip baptized him." (Acts 8)"Why shouldn't I be baptized?" asked the Ethiopian. "No reason at all" is the implied response. Nothing is hindering from Baptism those who want to begin the journey of faith in Christ.
There's no magical prayer that makes one right with God, no single moment at which we can say that a person is "saved." What does that mean anyway? Salvation is a process with corporate as well as individual elements. Yes, the work of the cross was once and FOR ALL. But the larger picture of salvation, the very end to which the cross was a means, is the implementation of that reality which has been made true by the incarnational work of God through the crucified Christ.
Which direction?... This is the larger question. Which direction are we heading? Side by side with Jesus toward that truest reality? Or some other direction? If the answer is the former rather than the latter then no "sinner's prayer" is necessary or even helpful. And nothing can keep the redeeming water of baptism from identifying us as God's beloved.