How I Got Saved at Age Six (and lived to tell about it)

I’m on retreat and was reflecting on my baptism. Here’s what I wrote:

I was six years old when I prayed the prayer I was told would allow me to become a Christian. It was a Sunday night in the little church I grew up in. Our children’s Choir was rehearsing on the stage because we had a program the next week. Twenty of us were sitting in those little indestructible wooden chairs while we practiced our two part harmony. A week or two earlier I had told my parents that I thought maybe I was supposed to walk down the aisle and make a public profession of faith. It had been after one of those particularly emotional invitation times when a lot of people were walking the aisle. I wanted in on the fun. 

Walking the aisle, praying the prayer to accept Christ, and being baptized, this was (and still is), a massive part of the Southern Baptist heritage – a coming of age ritual and the essential link to making Christianity personal. So I went home and told my parents I had a feeling I was supposed to walk down that aisle today. They took me to see the pastor. My parents were no dummies. This is how parents in our churches figured out whether or not you were just jerking their chain. If they said “Let’s go talk to the pastor,” and you were faking, that’d be the end of all that. As it turns out I guess I was not faking (it was as much of a surprise to me as them). So we went to see the pastor.

“Did you say the prayer accepting Jesus into your heart?” he asked me.

“Oh, yeah… sure I did that weeks ago.” Helpful hint: if a six year old finishes a sentence with “weeks ago,” he’s full of crap. I didn’t want to look like an idiot. How had I missed that step? This is all about the prayer. The light finally came on as I realized that walking the aisle wasn’t the key, it was the prayer at the end of the aisle that counted. How could I have been so stupid? Well, it didn’t matter because they bought it. Everyone was convinced that I was nine tenths of the way to born again, and at the age of six! I was a spiritual savant. Only one thing left to do now… have to walk the aisle and be baptized.

I was scheduled to be baptized that Sunday evening in the service right after our choir practice, and I was starting to feel the pre-game jitters. I decided that if I was going to go through with this baptism thing, I couldn’t continue my charade. I had to say the prayer before the baptism… this is huge for Baptists. If you get things out of order the baptism might not take. So I close my eyes right in the middle of the rehearsal while our director, Mrs. Ellis, was rehearsing the sopranos. I remember it because I said it fast. “God, I’m a sinner. I pray that Jesus will come into my heart and save me. I think that’s everything… Amen.” That was it. I opened my eyes and one of the six grade girls whose name was Stephanie was looking right at me. She had witnessed the whole thing.

Stephanie was a little rough around the edges and was apparently offended by my spontaneous prayer. “What the hell are you doing?” she said.

“Nothing I replied,” turning red. Welcome to the body of Christ.

When I climbed down the steps into the baptistery I couldn’t have weighed more than forty pounds soaking wet. I could barely keep my chin above the water and all the congregation could see was the top of my white haired head poking out of the water like a bobber. The pastor had to physically lift me by the shoulders and present me to the onlookers. “This is Tim Suttle,” he said, “He’s accepted Christ and has come to be baptized.” I was mortified. Why did he have to lift me up and show me off like I was his puppy? He dunked me and my parents cried. I was good and saved.

As I think back on it, I know that this was an arbitrary line, but I’m thankful for it. I was already a Christian, and have always been so. I was a Christian from birth for the same reason that Jacob and Esau were both Jews from birth. I was born into these people. Oh, sure. I could have walked away at any time. I still could. But there has never been a single day of my life that I have not been a part of the people of God. Twas ever thus; Twill ever be so. Still I’m grateful for that little church and the rituals they taught me.

 

About Tim Suttle

Tim Suttle is a pastor, writer, and musician. He is the author of several books: Shrink: Faithful Ministry in a Church Growth Culture (Zondervan 2014), Public Jesus (The House Studio, 2012), and An Evangelical Social Gospel? (Cascade Books, 2011). Tim's work has been featured at The Huffington Post, The Washington Post, Sojourners, and other magazines and journals. Tim is also the founder and front-man of the popular Christian band Satellite Soul, with whom he toured for nearly a decade. He has planted three successful churches over the past 13 years and is the Senior Pastor of Redemption Church in Olathe, Kan. Tim's blog, Paperback Theology, is hosted at Patheos.

  • http://towardfatherhood.com j oliver

    Hey Tims,

    Would you elucidate further on this post? I hold true that the Holy Spirit enters a person at a specific time (though some cannot pinpoint that time) as the seal of adoption. Were we born into Christ through heritage, adoption would be unnecessary. Salvation would be hereditary. Which I’m sure is not what you were getting at…but it does sound that way in the last paragraph.

    I was born into Christianity (the religion) like the rich young ruler, observing all of its rules and traditions from birth; but of course the choice to give Jesus my life, love and trust was my own.

    All that being said, I feel strongly that your heart is to lead well and teach truth from a free and humble heart; what was the deeper mission you wanted to accomplish with these words?

    - j oliver

    • Tim Suttle

      That’s actually a brilliant way to say it J. I was born into the Christian faith like the rich young ruler, or maybe like the prodigal son. That seems right to me. I think the “choice” language is tricky when it comes to soteriology – not wrong, but just tricky because you always have to say both sides. We choose and are chosen. I was saved back then to be sure. But I am also with Karl Barth who said we were all saved the moment Jesus came out of that tomb. This was an attempt to say both things at once, which is what I think we should try to do.

      There is this thing that happens to most of us, in our spiritual development when we choose to enter fully in to the faith that we have been given. (not all of us btw, I’ve often heard of such a gradual peaceful journey in which a “moment” was not discernible because people’s wills were so bent toward God all the way). Nevertheless, in this moment we are as much receivers as choosers. And we have always been receivers, and will always be. Then right away you have to say again that after that moment, the choosing never stops, nor does the receiving. I have to continue to choose it every day as I also acknowledge that it is somehow choosing me. I did not make my faith, my faith is making me. I am not generating my faith but receiving it from God and from the people of God and the traditions of the faith. This all started not at age six, but when I was conceived in the mind of the God who was, who is, and ever shall be.

      But there is usually some watershed moment when we all step across the line (the line is I think at least in some measure arbitrary). I wrote the post just so I could tell the story of the first of those moments for me. I was just thinking about it up at the abbey & thought I’d write it up. Hope that helps to clarify. Does that help? Yes? No?

  • http://towardfatherhood.com j oliver

    I’m not sure, TimS…I’d love to talk about it more in person. Is Karl Barth saying that “all dogs go to heaven,” because Jesus wrote us all a blank check? Or is this more a discussion of predestination, where some of us are born with faith in Jesus predetermined, and our choice is only when and how deeply we choose to engage?

    To illuminate things a bit, I should probably distinguish between “faith” and “adoption.”
    Though they’re almost interchangeable to those who truly understand, the word “faith” so often just connotes “religion” to the American public; for example, my dad will say, “Son, I’m so proud of you. You have your faith and your values and your family; you’re a good man.” He doesn’t mean that I’ve been adopted into the family of God through the blood of Jesus; he means that I go to church and try to do what’s right, like a “good” man should. That’s what words like “Christianity” and “faith” mean to a great many American humans today.

    When I say”adoption,” I mean that miraculous gate to the straight and narrow, to the end of all things, when the earth is restored, when Jesus reigns, when the sheep are separated from the goats, when Papa says, “Well done,” or “Depart from me,” to every human being he’s ever loved. It’s true that in every relationship – marriage, parenthood, friendship, and the ineffable link between a humble man and the loving God – there is give and take, form and forming. But in each, there is a starting point – a birth, a promise, a decision.

    This is where I want to make sure we’re on the same page: that there is repentance, there is adoption, there was a horrible price paid by Jesus, and that we humans will each choose to follow him into salvation or not, to our own eternal reward or peril. That we “must be born again.”

    This whole discussion also strikes a chord with me because when I was in my single digits I, too, prayed lots of repeat-after-me prayers for salvation at church camp. They felt empty and echoing. But when I finally understood what was what, I knew I wanted to follow Jesus. I prayed at age nine to be part of his family. I never asked again after that, because I knew we had communicated, and it was done. I was baptized because Jesus was baptized, and every new believer after him. It wasn’t silly or vain – or critical, for that matter. But it was The Path. Our Path. It’s the way of the people of God.


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