“Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?”
I must have said yes because the man asking me took hold of my nose and plunged me backwards into the warm ocean water of Magic Island.
This was me at the age of seven, being baptized into the Evangelical faith. Before that I remember my mother taking me aside and explaining to me that after the age of seven we start to get “dirty” and need a “washing.” For a few days after my baptism I remember counting the days afterward and trying not to sin (too much).
I was baptized at that age because it was the “age of reason”—the church we attended did not accept infant baptism. As a baby I had a “dedication ceremony,” at which my mother promised to raise me up as a good Christian. I think she had done well enough, at least to take me and my brother to church, and to teach us Bible stories. I used to love reading the Picture Bible she gave me, and instead of longing to be a superhero I wanted to be like Moses and Elijah, parting vast bodies of water, running faster than chariots, etc.
Somewhere along the line came a fascination with premillennarian eschatology—the end times. I remember several times when I was deathly afraid that I had been “left behind” in the Rapture. When I was older I remember reading and obsessing over books written by Hal Lindsey. Lindsey interpreted the Scriptures to fit to current events, and once predicted in his book The Late, Great Planet Earth that we would see the End of Days within one generation (forty years) after the founding of the State of Israel in 1948.
Following Lindsey, I thought that the European Union was the precursor to the renewed Roman Empire (I guess minus the UK now) that would be ruled over by the Antichrist. I also once tried to predict when the end would come. Christ said that no one knows the “day or the hour,” which I in my literalism interpreted to mean that I could predict the year and even the month. By some formula I predicted that the Rapture would come in mid-summer 1996. To my dismay the day and hour did not come (nothing happened at all that summer) and I felt the most disappointed about this while having to run during PE class the next school year
At some point my apocalyptic fervor commingled with a strong certainty that I was one of the Elect. I was overjoyed to be guaranteed a place in the Kingdom of Heaven. My renewed sense of piety inspired some idiosyncratic practices such as going without solid food from sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. Never mind that no-one ever fasted like that.
Unfortunately, this “Once Saved, Always Saved” mentality came with an antinomianism which turned me into a jerk. My duty was to evangelize the lost at my middle school through preaching and outward displays of piety. I spoke vehemently and tactlessly against Mormons, Catholics, and other heretics as judged by the Gospel According to Jack Chick. I passed out “contracts” which said something like “I, the undersigned, accept Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior,” etc. which I thought granted salvation to anyone who signed. My antinomianism took an anti-sacramental turn; at one point I stopped believing that any kind of sacrament or symbolic rite was necessary for Christians today, and adopted other stranger doctrines such as hyper-dispensationalism, which denies the relevance of the Gospels to Christians today and valorizes the epistles of St. Paul. In a word, I was in a weird place. I don’t blame my church or anyone else, really. In fact, the more I took part in youth group activities and made friends at church, the more I acted like a well-adjusted person.
After I entered high school, other worldly preoccupations such as participating in Speech and Debate Team, trying (and failing) to get a girlfriend, and doing poorly at school displaced any passion for Protestantism. Despite this, I still was, fundamentally, a believer, and this became the basis for my continued spiritual evolution.