Memoirs of a Former Christian: The Salvation Prayer


When I was a teenager in church, we had a formula for sharing our salvation story. We were told that it is important to have this formula in our heads so we’re ready to share our story to anyone who may ask. The formula was quite simple. What was your life like before, how did you come to know Christ, and how did your life change? My story was quite simple. I was raised somewhat religious. My family participated in many vastly different denominations as I grew up. I went to a vacation bible school with at a Baptist church, and I said the salvation prayer because the teacher told me to. The only significant change in my life was my involvement in youth groups. In fact, I had believed in Christ long before I said the prayer. The only reason I said it was because the pastor said that we should say the prayer if we’d never done it before. Then my name became a number. 17 children got saved at VBS this week, the pastor would proudly announce to the congregation. Praise the Lord.

            When I got older, I became a volunteer at this VBS, and I learned that like me, very few children understood what the pastor meant by this prayer. I met a small handful of girls who came forward every year to be saved. No one had explained to them that they only had to accept Christ once. I remember talking to a child who couldn’t have been more than six years old and trying to talk her into saying this prayer. I heard tales of children being offered candy for coming forward to be saved. Small children were bribed and manipulated for the sake of a number, a count of converts.

            It was our duty to bring these small children to Christ so they would go to heaven when they died. It seems that is all it was really about. Fire insurance. I never asked questions. I simply did as I was told and accepted the teaching of my leaders. Just like that little child who said the salvation prayer just because she was told to, I followed directions blindly. I was like a zombie.

God was never in my heart. I never felt the spirit move. I never heard God’s voice. I never spoke in tongues. I was never spiritual. But I followed the church because it was what I had been taught. I never considered that they could be wrong. I never considered that they could be lying. I never considered that they could be blind. It never occurred to me to question.

And yet, when I got older, I did question. I became an atheist.