On April 10th, I sent out the following tweet:
I'm thinking of doing a long series of blog posts (more than I can tweet thoughts on) entitled "What Christians Get Wrong." No attack or insult. A space of curiosity and learning (which hopefully feels familiar by now). What topic would you include?
There was a good response, and each tweet showed a desire for the church to be better. I especially appreciated the ones who pushed back against the idea of "wrong." Sometimes I choose particular words because I don't give it enough thought. Other times, I realize a few might misunderstand, but the majority will know what I'm asking. Words are tough, even when you're a writer. These tweet responses and this series don't point necessarily to a wrong thinking so much as an incomplete one. Think how much better we could communicate with one another if we kept this in mind. I often say, the highest compliment I can receive is when someone tells me I made them think. Post by post, tweet by tweet, I want us to think through these topics, and consider ways we can show the love of Christ within them. Because for a Christian, that's the bottom line. Our foundation.
I want to share my initial thoughts here, not my well-researched, edited words meant to be published in a book someday. I've learned a lot about Christianity in my years of talking with others on social media, and I want to share what I've learned. In story form, not academic expertise. I'm setting a timer on these posts, so they'll actually be my thoughts, and not turn into a research project. Feel free to teach me about the things I don't have quite right. My inbox, comment sections, and private messages are always open.
No where does it say we have to ask Jesus into our hearts, or say the sinners prayer.
Christians can have this tendency to take stances on things that must seem sort of weird to an outsider. Christianese must sound foreign to those ears who did not grow up hearing our common phrases.
I asked Jesus into my heart at seven years of age. I walked down the aisle in a small country church, Mt. Pleasant, and prayed the sinner's prayer with Pastor Mike. He was new, but still knew the words I needed to pray to secure my salvation. A few weeks later, I was baptized by immersion at the church in town, First Baptist Church let us use their baptistry on Sunday afternoons as needed.
See how many church-y words I included there. Every one makes complete sense to me. What didn't make sense to me at the time was the idea that a Christian could be baptized as an infant. Steps toward making their faith a personal one looked different in other traditions. Things like first communion, first confession and profession of faith. Further, many of my Christian friends do not have this one solitary moment where they prayed a single prayer, that evangelicals know almost verbatim, to ask Jesus into their heart. I taught a class of students last night, and I knew a girl in the class had attended our youth profession of faith class the day before.
I'm going to get baptized, she said. My mom didn't make me do this; I made this decision for myself.
My first reaction was a desire to explain to her what I've learned. Every Christian ultimately answers the call of salvation for themselves. Our moms help, and a whole big group of others do too. Those who were baptized as infants walked a similar path, and it's a good, narrow path. Instead I just nodded. I hope our church, and her time under my teaching, can help her understand there are complexities to how we participate in the sacraments. More than one way she's been taught.
I read a book by Diana Butler Bass recently, Freeing Jesus: Rediscovering Jesus as Friend, Teacher, Savior, Lord, Way, and Presence, and time and again, she expressed surprise at the concepts she was hearing when she first attended a more fundamentalist college and church, after growing up United Methodist. She didn't remember a time when Jesus wasn't in her life, her heart. She never prayed a sinner's prayer, but knew in a grander way over the years, Jesus had certainly saved her from a life of sin.
It's not in the Bible, we say! We like to say that. I bristle when someone on Twitter says, "book, chapter, verse please." As if there's one single verse for every intricate nuance we develop in our theology. It doesn't quite work that way. Scripture is formative in its entirety, I can't recommend it enough, but we don't pick and choose a verse or passage to stand high and mighty over those who have grown up in different traditions. The idea of asking Jesus into your heart is there, if it's part of a package deal. We do want Jesus to live in our heart, to have the Holy Spirit sanctify us.
The end goal, the only thing I've built my life on, is knowing Jesus. "I want to know you, Jesus, my Lord" is a line from a City Alight song I've had on repeat. And we do know him, many, many people who grew up praying the sinner's prayer. It's not a bad concept in and of itself, if we realize the grave responsibility that comes after it. The same responsibility a family and church and community who baptizes infants and never prays quite like that has. Our responsibility is to introduce Jesus to our children. From there, to teach them how to walk with him. Our responsibility is to multiply disciples. We all share that.
That being said, there is a verse in the Bible I like to point to as a "sinner's prayer." It's not, so don't think I'm trying to prove anyone wrong (or right). But it's certainly an invitation. One I'm so very glad I accepted, when it was extended to me. One I understand a bit differently these days, but one that every Christian has been offered, and received.
“Come!” say the Spirit and the Bride. Whoever hears, echo, “Come!”
Is anyone thirsty? Come! All who will, come and drink,
Drink freely of the Water of Life! (Revelation 22:17 The Message)