Wednesday, September 06, 2006

My Testimony

I recently asked my readers to tell me how they view or define the sinner's prayer and altar calls. I was curious as to the opinion of those who read my blog, because I realize that my views oppose those of the vast majority of American Christian evangelicals, thought it seems it does not oppose the majority of my blog readers. . . at least the ones who answered my question. And I still love my fellow Christians who do differ with me on this :).

I've long wanted to write up posts on my testimony, the sinner's prayer and altar calls, and most especially on doubts about salvation. The topics are so intricately linked in my case, so it's hard to write about one without writing about the others. I haven't finished (barely started, actually. . . ) a post on the latter, but I finally have the former topics done. I'm hoping to publish the post on the sinner's prayer and altar calls tomorrow morning, but for now here is my testimony.

My dad "walked the aisle" at age 4, convicted of his sin by an altar call; his parents were not Christians, and he was attending a VBS with a friend. God can use altar calls and the like to bring people to Christ! But the altar call did not save him, nor did the "sinner's prayer" he prayed (as I would think all Christians would agree; I'm just placing the statement for emphasis). God worked in his heart (I would say in spite of the altar call. . . ) to convict him and bring him to faith. Conversely, my mother, who grew up in a (PCUSA) pastor's family, was not born again until college, but she never walked the aisle or prayed a formal "sinner's prayer." She can point to a few years in college and knows that "somewhere in there" she comprehended the gospel and came to faith, but she can't point to the day or hour.

My testimony is different than either of my parents. I came to faith at a very young age like my dad, but like my mom, I never walked the aisle. Unlike my dad, I did not pray the "sinner's prayer" when I came to faith. Instead, the sinner's prayer is the prayer I pray on an ongoing basis. Repentance is a continuous process for a Christian, and I am daily in need of crying, "Lord, I believe. I am guilty and need a Savior. Save me." That, in my estimation, is a sinner's prayer in the truest sense, not a canned set of words that I repeat after someone else.

I do not even remember the moment when I first comprehended the gospel. I, like Timothy, was a covenant child, knowing the scriptures from a child, making me wise unto salvation. The Greek in I Timothy 3:15 is literally infant or baby. I am not riding to heaven on my parents' coattails, though, and I can testify to a real saving faith that I possess. I am fully persuaded that I stand before God today spotless and clothed with Christ's righteousness. By God's grace I am justified and being sanctified, but I cannot point to the exact moment in which I was "saved" - I think "saved" is usually used in too narrow a sense anyway. I am being saved, and that is far more important than stressing over the exact moment when I first came to faith.

As most of you know, I'm Presbyterian in doctrine and I grew up in PCA churches, which means I've seen a lot of infants baptized ;). Many Presbyterian pastors (some of my former pastors among them) pray very specifically for the infant's salvation, that the child will come to know Christ at such a young age that he will never remember a day when he was not embracing the gospel in faith. I was not baptized as an infant (my credo-baptist friends breathe a sigh of relief. . . ), but my testimony is like the ones prayed for by my pastors. I know that my heart was regenerated at some point in time, but I know not exactly when. I do not remember a day when I did not believe on Christ for salvation.

I used to be sort of ashamed of my testimony. I'd attend youth revivals or VBS at a friend's church, and I absolutely hated it when we had testimony time. Most of the kids were from Christian homes, but they would still tell of making that "extra step" from head knowledge to heart knowledge, as they "asked Jesus into their hearts" when they were 5 or 6, formally praying a "sinner's prayer." I know that many covenant children do not have my testimony, and do have a more memorable moment of regeneration, so I'm not discounting the oodles of testimonies I've heard like the one above. But it didn't make it any less comfortable for me! In some Christian circles, saying you don't remember exactly when you first believed is sort of viewed like saying "I think I'm a Christian because I go to church."

I had a testimony-inferiority complex throughout childhood :(, something I hope to expound upon more in a later post on assurance of salvation. As I've grown in my faith, though, this inferiority complex has turned into an appreciation for the belief that budded in my heart at such a young age. Now I don't wish for a dramatic conversion story, but instead thank my God that He saved me at such a young age. It's a nonclimactic story, but it's also a beautiful tale of God's grace in my life.

Stay tuned for the "sinner's prayer," altar calls, and more. . .

13 comments:

Adrian C. Keister said...

I know it's not terribly funny, but I had to laugh when you wrote "testimony-inferiority complex." I know exactly what you mean. My testimony is not some hot-shot saved from drug-addiction-to-a-life-of-service kind of testimony, like some of my friends in college.

But I was saved (I'll use a very passive voice here!) around age 6 or 12, depending on how you count it. ;-)] Either case, there was no fanfare or anything.

But look at it this way: it's evidence of God's working, that you are not first-generation Christian. This is the way it's supposed to work. God does usually work through Christian families as the primary tool of evangelism.

In Christ.

Ashley said...

Your testimony sounds very similar to mine! My parents did not want me to ever know a time when I wasn't a Christian, and so I do not remember when I first heard and comprehended the Gospel, or when I "asked Jesus into my heart". My mom doesn't even remember - she purposefully forgot.

I too have struggled with "testimony-inferiority complex". However, mine has been brought about by others who have told me that I'm not really saved since I do not remember the exact day/time/whatever. I've been told that if I don't remember, then I was too young to really comprehend it, and therefore it was not valid. (I've also been told I'm a bad person for being baptized as an infant, but that's another story.) Anyways, all that to say - I appreciated this post for the idea of covenant children. I also love the idea of "I am being saved" - I think that's a great way to put it.

I look forward to reading your other posts. :-)

Anna Naomi said...

Great post, Susan! I too am one of those covenant children... I don't remember an exact time or day, but sometime when I was 3-4 mom told me that I prayed with her to accept Jesus on the way home from church one day. I don't remember a thing about it, however, and I used to really struggle because of it. I steadily grew as my mom taught me Scripture, and we had devotioins and such as a family. When I was around 12 I started getting a lot more serious about my faith, and started growing even more. Thanks for sharing your story!

Jessie said...

My friend Lydia (the one whose husband is starting the church in Hiram, GA) has a similar testimony to yours. She says she never remembers a time when she was not "saved."
Similar to Adrian, I was either saved at age 9 or 13. At age 9 (or was it 7?!?) I walked an aisle with my dad at a big meeting of some sort (maybe like Billy Graham or something, I don't know), and I was pronounced "saved," but I didn't come to a true understanding (or put very much into practice) of that until when I was 13. But then, I believe that God covenanted with Jesus for me from before the foundation of the world, so in a since I've always been saved, even when I didn't know it ; )
Thanks for sharing! I'd like to comment more later.

John Dekker said...

Yeah, I have a similar story to you Susan. Sometimes I've been tempted to make up an exciting testimony. ;)

These days, I usually say that I've been a Christian all my life.

Anyway, I'd recommend reading the chapter on "Conversion" in James Jordan's Sociology of the Church

And it's interesting that on your blog you tend to attract people who agree with you! :)

John Dekker said...

Sorry for the long post, but I thought you might be interested in this, which came from the article I thinked to...

The kind of Christian experience I may have had in college is not the norm for my entire life. This is the important point. The college-type Christian conversion experience may be a very important and necessary stage in my Christian development, but it would be wrong (even perverse) for me to try continually to keep up that kind of “lighthearted” Christian experience in the midst of a mature adult world, with all its cares, responsibilities, and tribulations.

The problem comes in the notion that this experience is the one and only conversion for one’s whole life. If we think that way, we always look backwards to that conversion. We want to recapture
the simplicity of that initial warm experience of the love and acceptance of God, and this is a mistake. It freezes faith at an immature level, and prevents us from pressing on to maturity. People influenced by this way of thinking tend to want to recover the experiences of their late teen years.

Dandelion Seeds said...

This is off topic, but I am writing to let you know that there is a 48 hour prayer chain started for Susan Godfrey (you are on her blog's list of friends). Please spread the word so we can cover this family in prayer.

In Him,
Amy

Sherrin said...

"Interesting testimonies" come with a price tag, as I have learnt from experience! I still struggle against sin patterns I developed over many years. The way you describe is much better . . . but I must remember that this is God's plan for my life so it must be good for me to have an "interesting testimony"! My friend Mike tries to get me to say more about my past, as he thinks it would make people respect me more now, but I prefer not to think about it too much! I do ask God to show me what to share, and how to think about it.

Susan said...

Adrian, your story reminds me of my pastor. He says that he has about 4 different "spiritual birthdays," and he's not even sure if any of those is the correct one. And I agree that my testimony is evidence of God's grace; I learned to see it that way after years of "testimony-inferiority complex." Though not all of my direct ancestors were Christian, many were, and I have quite a glorious host of "saints who have gone before me." :)

I remember having a discussion with you, Ashley, about others telling you that you weren't saved because you couldn't remember the "when." I can definitely identify with that, though I've never had someone personally confront me.

Anna, I know what you mean about comprehending the gospel young but not growing as much until a later age. That was definitely my experience!

But then, I believe that God covenanted with Jesus for me from before the foundation of the world, so in a since I've always been saved, even when I didn't know it ; )

I love the way you said that, Jessie :). Of course we must receive the gift of salvation by faith, but I love it that my salvation was sure and secure before I could receive it through faith! There's an old hymn that says, More happy, but not more secure - the glorified saints in heaven. What a beautiful truth :).

Okay, I'm glad I'm not the only one who has been seriously tempted to come up with a more exciting testimony, John :). Very interesting excerpt. . . thanks for typing it up.

Amy, I'm honestly not sure who Susan Godfrey is. Here name rings a bell. Hmmm. I will definitely be praying for her and her family, though. What a rough time.

Sherrin, I think your testimony is a wonderful picture of Psalm 40:1-2. Then look at verse 3: Many will see and fear, and put their trust in the LORD. Also I Timothy 1:15-16 comes to mind. Testimonies like yours are a robust picture of God's mercy and grace! But then, I may not have been sinned from more visible sins and lifestyles, but I certainly am being saved from sins that are every bit as repugnant to a holy God!

zan said...

Susan,

Thankyou for covering this issue. I, especially, look forward to the assurance of salvation post. Yesterday, I had an argument with my parents about eternal security. I think I have mentioned in the past that they have been researching Roman Catholism and thinking about converting. I have come to realize that there are a lot of truths to RC church, but they don't believe in eternal security which I did not know. I was almost in tears (was able to hold them back). I thought that if the RC's are right than salvation did not seem as beautiful as before.

Anyway, I think it is VERY providential that you are covering this subject. I didn't get to sleep until nearly 1:30am thinking about this. My dad is also trying to convince me of the reality of purgatory. I am so upset. Not much has actually been making my day lately. : (

My parents were SO reformed and were upset that I married a 4-pointer. They would tell my husband that he was ignorant because he didn't believe in 'limited atonement.' Now 3 yrs later they think reformed theology is a huge error and that the original reformers were in sin to leave the "true" church. I am getting so confused. I try to do enough reading and studying because their arguments are supported with scripture, but I don't have a lot of time and am not a very good arguer. My husband is furious because he sees me doubting everything I believe. He hasn't 'had it out' with my parents, but he is pretty close. I am VERY close to my parents so it is very upsetting.

Anyway, didn't want to go on and on. I am just glad that you are talking about this now and wanted you to know why.

I have a similar testimony as you. I don't know why pastors invite sinners to the altar. I once heard a pastor say that "God is not down front, he is up."My church will have some men and women in front of the church to meet with people who have questions, but they don't have a big portion of time during the service to invite people 'down front.'

I, also, have a "testimony-inferiority complex." ; )

Susan said...

You have such a fascinating background, Zan. Wow, you have some tough family situations. I will definitely be in prayer for you and your parents. That's hard.

zan said...

Yes, I do have a facinating background. I wish I didn't.

Jessica said...

Another late comment from me (there are a lot of those!)...but thanks for sharing all that you did in this post, Susan! I can entirely relate to the "testimony-inferiority complex"...I used to be that same way. Another great post!