I was saved when I was seven. We were holding a revival at Oak Wood Baptist Church in Ft. Worth, Texas and I walked down the aisle during the invitation; somewhere between the fortieth and forty-first verse of “Just as I Am.” At that altar I repented of my dastardly ways, prayed to receive Christ and was summarily baptized. It is a time I remember most warmly, as I truly felt God reaching to me and I responded to the best of my childhood ability. I am so glad my parents encouraged me. You can say what you want about childhood conversions but there is no doubt in my mind that I was saved when I was seven.
A couple years later I was just beginning my Sunday School career at the Oak Grove Baptist Church north of Pinckneyville, Illinois. We often participated in a corporate exercise called “When, Where and Why.” The idea was simple, all the elementary school aged kids got in a circle and when our turn came around we were to answer the following three questions: When did you receive Jesus? Where were you when your received Jesus? Why did you receive Jesus? The “When” responses were all recent, after all we were just kids and no one had been a Christian for very long. The “Where” responses varied but for the most part they happened at church, home or at camp. However, the “Why” was always exactly the same. Every Baptist kid I knew in the early ‘70’s got saved because we didn’t want to go to hell. Let me tell you right now, no one wanted to go to hell.
When I was growing up, hell got a lot of work in church. In addition to sermons about hell, there were Sunday School lessons about hell, songs about hell and movies about hell. The scariest movie of them all “Burning Hell” was released in 1974 and starred a horn-rimmed Baptist preacher from Mississippi named Estus Pirkle. While it didn’t win any Oscar’s, it was plenty horrifying to pre-teens from the Hooterville/Pixley Circuit and if you had some hell in you during the opening scene, it was scared out of you by the final credits.
If such means were crude evangelism tools, they were certainly effective. Did I mention that I got saved when I was seven years old? I also got saved when I was eight, nine, nine and a half, ten, twelve and twice when I was thirteen.
I have thought about all this over the years and here is my conclusion: I am grateful that Jesus saved me.
Rev. Shane L. Bishop as been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.