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. . .