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Rebirth – True Truth Continued   Leave a comment

This is part of a series What If Truth Went Viral. Check it out.

Nicodemus came to Jesus for answers and his first question was “How can I be right with God?” Jesus’ answer perplexed this teacher of theology. After saying “this is a true truth”, Jesus told him he had to be “reborn from above.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter his mother’s womb and be born a second time, can he?” John 3:4

Nicodemus chose to understand Jesus’ words literally. He assumed the expression “reborn from above” must refer to some kind of literal re-birth. There are scholars who will insist that Jesus’s choice of words forced Nicodemus in that direction, but I agree with other scholars who say Nicodemus did not wish to pursue the implications of the only other direction open to him. It is easier to scoff at the physical impossibility of a grown man reentering his mother’s womb. Jesus’ words can be brushed aside as ridiculous and absurd, if taken that way.

We have an advantage over Nicodemus. Reading John’s gospel, we know he has already identified Jesus as God. The creation of life was His work in the beginning, and that included creating spiritual life. We have also read that those who become God’s children are those born by a divine act of creation (John 1:12). Nicodemus had not had those lessons yet, so he embraced a crass literalism and scoffed at Jesus’ words, not because Jesus was wrong, but because Nicodemus didn’t understand him.

Jesus answered, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. What is born of the flesh is flesh, and what is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not be amazed that I said to you, ‘You must be born from above.’ The wind blows wherever it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but do not know where it comes from and where it is going. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” John 3:5-8

Once again, Jesus began His response to Nicodemus by indicating the true truth of what He was saying. He then answered Nicodemus’ objection Nicodemus: “… unless a person is born of water and spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (verse 5).

I believe we can safely reason that to be “reborn from above” is synonymous with being “born of water and spirit.” People ask, “What is meant by the terms “water” and “spirit”? Some take the term “water” to refer to natural birth, while they believe “spirit” refers to one’s spiritual re-birth from above. If this is what Jesus intended, then He said that a man must first be born naturally (“of water”) and then supernaturally (“of the Spirit”). According to my Bible guides, the support for interpreting “water” in this way is not strong and frankly I don’t see it as necessary for Jesus to argue the need for both physical birth and spiritual birth.

I personally favor understanding the terms “water” and “spirit” as one expression, “water and spirit,” which together refer to spiritual rebirth. Again, according to the Bible analysis I have available, several Old Testament texts seem to justify the conclusion that both “water” and “spirit” refer to one’s spiritual rebirth:

“’For I will pour water on him who is thirsty, And floods on the dry ground; I will pour My Spirit on your descendants, And My blessing on your offspring; They will spring up among the grass Like willows by the watercourses.’ One will say, ‘I am the LORD’s’; Another will call himself by the name of Jacob; Another will write with his hand, ‘The LORD’s,’ And name himself by the name of Israel” (Isaiah 44:3-5, NKJV).

“For I will take you from among the nations, gather you out of all countries, and bring you into your own land. Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them” (Ezekiel 36:24-27, NKJV).

This work of regeneration is also described in the Old Testament as the work of the “wind”:

Also He said to me, “Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: “Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.”’” So I prophesied as He commanded me, and breath came into them, and they lived, and stood upon their feet, an exceedingly great army (Ezekiel 37:9-10, NKJV).

The New Testament describes God’s work of salvation as the “washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit”:

For we too were once foolish, disobedient, misled, enslaved to various passions and desires, spending our lives in evil and envy, hateful and hating one another. But “when the kindness of God our Savior appeared and his love for mankind, He saved us not by works of righteousness that we have done but on the basis of his mercy, through the washing of the new birth and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us in full measure through Jesus Christ our Savior. And so, since we have been justified by his grace, we become heirs with the confident expectation of eternal life” (Titus 3:3-7).

I believe that the “water” of which Jesus spoke  here is also related to the “water” of baptism. The Pharisees are most concerned to know why John is baptizing (John 1:25). Immediately after Nicodemus’ meeting with Jesus, John’s disciples express their concerns to him about the rising popularity of Jesus. Jesus has been spending time with His disciples and baptizing (3:22). John’s disciples then protest to John: “Rabbi, the one who was with you on the other side of the Jordan River, about whom you testified—see, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him!” (3:26). I believe the Savior’s baptism and John’s baptism are, at this point in time, one and the same. It is the baptism of repentance, in preparation for Messiah’s coming. Baptism was a part of the message and the ministry of both John and Jesus, and baptism by the Spirit is what John said distinguished the Messiah’s ministry from his own (John 1:33). Thus, to be born of water and the Spirit is to be “reborn from above,” to be saved.

Now let’s be clear (especially since we’re dealing in true truth here). Baptism is a good work that we perform as a result of salvation. It does not impart salvation and to push that theory would be to argue against what Jesus told Nicodemus. John’s baptism was viewed as preparatory to the coming of the Savior. It was a baptism of repentance. By being baptized, one testified that he or she was renouncing Judaism (law keeping) as the means of their salvation. This was precisely why unbelieving and unrepentant Pharisees refused baptism:

(Now all the people who heard this, even the tax collectors, acknowledged God’s justice, because they had been baptized with John’s baptism. 30 However, the Pharisees and the experts in religious law rejected God’s purpose for themselves, because they had not been baptized by John.) (Luke 7:29-30)

Jesus was very careful to identity Himself with John and his ministry. If a Pharisee or anyone else wished to enter the kingdom of God, they must do so through the means God had appointed—identification with John and with Jesus, the One of whom John bore testimony.

I do believe baptism was expected, but Jesus did not emphasize human action, but rather the sovereign work of God in salvation. To be born from above is to be born of God. To be born of God is to be spiritually born by the work of His Spirit (born from above). Jesus then described the sovereign saving work of God through His Spirit by using the analogy of the wind.

The effects of the wind can be seen, but the wind itself is not seen. Neither can the wind be controlled. The wind goes where it wishes and does what it will. Men do not control the wind. The Spirit’s saving work is like this. The Spirit goes about His life-giving work, and no man controls Him. No one, by his own works or manipulation can direct the Spirit in His work. But when the Spirit brings about the new birth, the effects are evident. We know it is the work of God’s Spirit, unseen and beyond man’s control. In this sense, neither Nicodemus nor anyone else can save themselves, nor anyone else for that matter. Salvation is the sovereign work of God, accomplished by the Holy Spirit.

Pharisaism saw itself as the guardian of the Law of Moses. It viewed itself as the pure remnant of Judaism – the “gatekeeper” of the kingdom, governit it by the rules and regulations it had added to the law through oral tradition (see Matthew 23:13-15). Like his peers, Nicodeumus felt as though the Pharisees had the kingdom under control. Jesus shocked him by saying that part from being reborn from above, Nicodemus and his fellow moralists would not be seeing heaven anytime soon. In fact, Jesus was set to blow this myth right out of the water.

Posted June 17, 2016 by aurorawatcherak in Christianity

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Anabaptist Foundations   3 comments

We believe that the Baptists are the original Christians. We did not commence our existence at the reformation, we were reformers before Luther and Calvin were born; we never came from the Church of Rome, for we were never in it, but we have an unbroken line up to the apostles themselves. We have always existed from the days of Christ, and our principles, sometimes veiled and forgotten, like a river which may travel under ground for a little season, have always had honest and holy adherents. Persecuted alike by Romanists and Protestants of almost every sect, yet there has never existed a Government holding Baptist principles which persecuted others; nor, I believe, any body of Baptists ever held it to be right to put the consciences of others under the control of man. We have ever been ready to suffer, as our martyrologies will prove, but we are not ready to accept any help from the State, to prostitute the purity of the Bride of Christ to any alliance with Government, and we will never make the Church, although the Queen, the despot over the consciences of men.

Charles H. Spurgeon (New Park Street Pulpit, Vol 7, Page 225)

My spiritual antecedents were Alpine anabapists, similar to the Brethren, Amish or Mennonites. Spurgeon pretty much explains it, but William Cathcart makes the bold statement that all Christians in the 1st Century could rightly be called baptists (little b intended). So it’s not too surprising that when the catholic (little c intended) church was co-opted by the Roman Empire in the 4th century, that some Christians drifted to the edges and just didn’t participate in the Roman Catholic Church. They chose not to join the “catholic” (meaning universal) ecclesiastical system because they recognized a lack of adherence to early Christian standards. These “protestants” pop up in Roman Catholic history from time to time as heretics who refused to baptist babies.The Waldenses, Wyclifites, Hussites, and Brothers of the Common Life are examples. The Roman Catholic Church had plenty to say about them, none of it good.

Couldn’t these people get with the program? Society had decided that it needed a record of every man, woman and child in the Holy Roman Empire and the most convenient way for government to manage that was through the Church. Baptize your babies or we will destroy you as heretics!

Anabaptists were persecuted by the Romans, the Protestants and even the radical Anabaptists. They were also the original anarchists. They were loosely organized and focused on spiritual rather than civil reformation. They existed quietly for the most part, taking no part in government because they didn’t believe any human ought to have authority to control the consciences of others. That included government and any sort of ecclesiastical body beyond the local church or individual Christians meeting together for discourse.

We are not, contrary to popularly-taught history, descended from the radical Anabaptists that formed during the Reformation. Radical Anabaptism actually more resembled a cult than Christianity. Zwingli sought to create a reformation of the churches that would please the nobles. Thomas Munzer advocated for popular insurrection. The Alpine anabaptists rejected that. They insisted that the Church of Christ must first be a congregation of believers with hearts of faith, spiritual insight, obedient wills and real religious experience. They rejected compromise with the world and the reduction of Christian standards to the level of nominal, secular membership. They wanted a church consisting of only the faithful.

How that played out in practice could be seen in their baptismal rites. Infants could not exercise faith, so anabaptists rejected infant baptism as an empty legalistic ritual. The only practices worthy of the Christian church were those directly related to personal faith.

Although there is some evidence that suggests anabaptists existed at least since the 10th century Waldenses, history records that in 1523, Grebel baptized Blaurock as part of a community of brethren that began to grow distinctly away from the main Zwinglian Reformation. This community appears never to have been part of the Zwinglian organization. They grew up separately … or existed already, quietly, in deeping with their belief in not taking part of secular government. The Lutherans called them “rebaptizers” (ana – baptists), though the Alpine believers actually rejected that name because they didn’t see themselves as baptizing again. They believed that dunking infants in water could not rightfully be called “baptism” since there was no personal faith involved on the part of the recipient. They had a very strong Biblical basis for this. Adult baptism as a sign of fellowship in the pure church of Christ was the one and only baptism — not a second baptism at all. But the name stuck all the same.

These early anabaptists had some clear doctrines:

  1. The church should be entirely modeled on the New Testament, copying the apostolic pattern.
  2. The visible Church is composed only of believers, separated from the unbelieving
  3. This state of purity in the church was to be preserved by a rigorous use of discipline
  4. The Church must be completely severed from all entangling alliances with the State
  5. All Christians have the same functional rights and authority as the clergy.
  6. The Gospel is a “new law” to be followed literally and obeyed.
  7. Christians are to conduct their lives by the authority of conscience.

The first three and the 5th principles are discoverable in the Bible; in fact, it is virtually impossible to come away from an honest reading of the New Testament without those four principles principles.

The 4th principle stemmed from a history severe persecution by the State on behalf of the Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anabaptist organizations. They felt there must be no kind of government compulsion in spiritual matters. The churches would live, grow and enlarge their fellowship through faith and experience. The churches could influence the character of those who form the State, but its authority is an indirect influence of the conscience. In the sphere of religion, the State has no authority. Conscience is absolutely free.

The 6th principle explains the historic refusal of Amish and Mennonite to take oaths, participate in wars or take human life. The 7th principle speaks to our relationship with God Himself. The conscience is an inner sanctuary where the voice of the living God is heard. If the laws of the secular government do not ask me to violate the laws of God, good, but when they do … more on that later.

Those early anabaptists were persecuted and died for what they saw as eternal truth and everlasting righteousness.

Could we be that serious about our faith today, Church?

Anabaptists   Leave a comment

There are reasons I’m a Baptist by membership and here is one of them.

A young man grew up in our church, the son and grandson of devout Christians. When he was 8 he walked an aisle and made a public profession of Jesus Christ as Savior and was shortly thereafter dunked in the Chena River. When he was in high school, however, he came to doubt his Christianity. He decided he liked to be in charge of himself. He held this thought through high school into college.

He didn’t exactly quit believing in God. It is hard to live in Alaska and not at least think there has to be a higher order of intelligence behind the beauty here. That’s my own take on it from having been a completely unchurched teen when Jesus reached out to me. I always believed in some sort of high power in charge of Alaska’s beauty. For want of a better term, I called it God, but I by no means believed in the God of the Bible. It was more a god of my own design.

This young man continued to believe that there was something like a god and that being a good person was a good thing, but that whole Christianity thing — well, that put someone else in charge of his life besides him and he wasn’t interested. And he carried that attitude into college.

And then a relationship he had wanted very much ended abruptly and there was nothing he could do to stop it. He realized that as much as he had thought he was in control of his life, he wasn’t really in control of his life. Through that experience, he began to question whether rejecting Jesus as Savior was really the right way to go. Last summer, through the witness of his mother, he rededicated his life to Christian living.

But it wasn’t enough, he realized. He had actively said that Jesus was not God and could not be Savior and Lord of his life. He was sure now that he is a Christian, but as he started reading the Bible, he kept running across verses that said “If you deny Me before men, I will deny you before My Father.” He he knew he had done that. He began to question if that childhood experience of walking an aisle and being “baptized” had any validity.

So today, he gave his testimony before the church and was baptized, not only to assure that he was following Jesus in the appropriate steps of salvation and obedience, but as a public testimony of the inward change he has recently gone through.

Baptists maintain that baptism (full immersion) is an outward sign of an inward change and something to be done only by believers. We don’t baptize babies or very young children because we don’t believe they can grasp the concepts needed for salvation — sin, the need for regeneration, the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, repentance. Usually, the youngest candidates for baptism are six or seven and I can count on one hand the number of those very young candidates who are still in church in their 20s and 30s. I tallied up the baptisms at my current church and the majority of them  have been older than 16, which says we are either very good at reaching adults for Christ or that we encourage our children to wait until their salvation is real to them.

Baptists do not believe baptism is retroactive. If you walked an aisle when you were nine and were dunked, but didn’t accept Christ for real until you were 21, you should be baptized now as a believer. If you were sprinkled as a baby (like my husband), that was a pretty ceremony for your parents, but it didn’t mean anything to you, so if you’re 21 and you accept Christ (like my husband), you need to be baptized.

Notice that I didn’t say “re-baptized”. If the candidate that goes under the water is not a Christian, the activity was not a baptism. Only believers can be baptized. Non-believers seeking to please their parents or look good just get wet.

And that is one of the reasons I am a Baptist, because it is understood that this young man was being baptized for the first time, in accordance with New Testament teachings.

This is another one of those church discipline things that modern churches really need to look at. If we’re serious about our faith and want to reach the world for Christ, we must first make sure that we are following His example and the example of the early churches.

First Step is a Wet One   12 comments

Christianity is really pretty simple. Admit that you’ve disobeyed God and cannot fix that on your own, believe that Jesus Christ died for your sins, confess that belief where others can hear you, and you’re saved.

That simplicity can make salvation sound like a “get out of jail free” card. It costs the believer nothing to be saved because Christ did it all. Add to it that once you’re saved you’re always saved and cannot lose or even give away your salvation, and it sounds like a great deal.

And, it is! But make no mistake, Christianity will cost the believer something. That’s where the whole confessing part comes in. Undercover Christians aren’t risking a whole lot which is why Jesus said believers have to identify with Him and that they shouldn’t be surprised that their identification with Him was going to cost them something. “The world will hate you, because it hated Me first,” He warned in John’s Gospel

A friend of mine who spent a number of years in the Middle East tells me that the reaction to a Muslim attending a Christian church is actually underwhelming. At least in Turkey, it was. People didn’t get upset about it and the church-goer didn’t seem to think they were risking anything. Until … until they became a Christian in their hearts and then they faced a dilemma. They could continue to attend church and even talk about their newborn faith, but if they decided to be baptized, they faced being marked as an apostate by the local imams. Their families would disown them and sometimes attempt to kill them.

Why? Baptism in the United States is not seen as a big deal, but Muslims perhaps understand it better than we do. For the early Christians, baptism was identifying with Christ. The symbol of being immersed in water and being brought back up parallels Christ’s death, burial and resurrection. This is also, btw, why Bapists hold to full immersion baptism. If you read Acts, you quickly see a pattern emerge. A person accepts Christ and is baptized. It is rare not to see that pattern and that may just be that it wasn’t recorded, not that it didn’t happen. To the early Church baptism was very important. Why?

Baptism identifies us as partaking in Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection. It is a public event. It is a first step of obedience in the Christian life. In America, it doesn’t cost us very much to do it, but I know people who haven’t and won’t even though they claim to be Christians. What I’ve learned is that it comes down to a question of control for them. They’ll couch it in all sorts of other terms, but really, they don’t like the idea that they’re showing humility before God and that someone else has to lower them into the water and pull them back up. Obedience is not their primary focus.

In most cases, those Christians remain immature and stagnant in their faith. Just my experience, but I’m pretty convinced of it. Why? Because they refuse to obey at the very first step of their walk with God and the Christian life starts and ends with obedience. All other areas of obedience cannot even get started until they’ve gotten that one out of the way.

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