Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Is Yours the Gospel of the Born Again?

Technically, we could define gospel as the good news about Christ. Generally, that is what we focus upon as Evangelicals-- why not? Good News is in our name. I have begun to wonder if in doing so we have actually stripped the gospel of its power. We take it as a story, that if believed, results in a change of one's status before God from lost to found. We have pressed this line of theology hard since WWII, and it seems to me, we need to consider whether or not the fractured, frayed, weak condition of the Evangelical church is the result.

A noted internal study at Willow Creek a couple of years ago framed the issue quite well, for more than their own congregation, I think. Church-going Evangelicals look more and more indistinguishable from unchurced Harry and Mary everyday. Our approach to gospel isn't producing change in hearers lives. We have had, in fact, a fruitless season of harvest. I think we have entirely lost track of a simple verity: Jesus said we must be born again.

So then, what does it mean to be born again? Is it a Toyota moment? Not to many evangelicals would like the feeling of that! Is it just an idiomatic expression which refers to believing the story. If one believes, then our Cartesian soteriology assumes rebirth-- I believe, therefore I'm born again. We might not say it that way in our theological tomes, but I think that may be the practical reality of our approach to gospel. I don't think that's what Jesus had in mind, nor is it the picture the NT paints of the born again.

It seems to me that the born again should know they're born again, and that it should not be that hard for even the non-born again to perceive it. After all, there are effects on the mind and heart; there is an awakening of an intimate perception of the Father and the Son; there is the experience of change, akin to going from dry to wet when one jumps in a lake (not a very evangelistic image, I understand ;-) ). Jesus spoke of such in crystal clear terms in regard to Zaccheus, though wee man that he was.

It's hard for the promoters of that story, such as myself, to resign ourselves to waiting upon the Lord to do that secret Spiritual thing in the soul of people that truly makes them born again. We want to know right now whether or not the hearers of that story buy the story, and we want those folk to respond right now to the telling of it. The result has been an at first slow, but now precipitating decay into methodology that delivers assent to the story while downplaying the true nature of being born again. Is it any wonder the church looks so much like the world around her?

9 comments:

  1. As a former Baptist, we were taught to "pray the prayer" and your eternity would be secure. It is very hard in my "neck of PA" as I share Christ. I often hear as we visit for our bus ministry, "Yes, I asked Christ into my heart in S.S or V.B.S" as they cuss at their kids, proclaim that they don't attend church...ever, etc. Now that I am removed from that false doctrine, I see clearly the distruction it has done for centries. There has been NO CHANGE , NO FRUIT, yet they are (falsely) saved. How does the Holy Spirit convict when that teaching has been ingrained? I share my experience with them and what God revealed to me. We've had some visit, but it seems that there is a baptist waiting in the wings telling them they are secure. Very discouraging at times!

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  2. After reading this post Hebrews Chapter 6 pops into mind. The writer seems to echo the same thoughts in that there is a progression from salvation to bigger things in God. There should be a maturing from the salvation experience that produces fruit (Water Baptism, Spirit Baptism, Spiritual Gifts being evidenced etc...) As you say, we have become good at getting people to the salvation experience but that's just the first step. What must be done to encourage people to go on in that faith?

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  3. Ruth,
    This was a big issue for me when I was very young in the faith and involved with Campus Crusade for Christ. The 4 Spiritual Laws ended in the prayer, and most of those in the group were Baptistic in theology (eternal security, even if Arminian in every other respect). My questions about why so many who say the prayer don't go on to walk with Christ annoyed them, and their lack of a biblical answers annoyed me. Annoyance can only go so far! After repeated tongue lashings accusing me of being unsubmitted (the Holy Spirit came up in the course of things as well), I unsubmitted myself and left the group!

    Unfortunately, there was a whole host of folks that had been assured they were going to heaven, even though they really weren't interested in God, just because they said that stupid prayer!

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  4. Heanous,
    Thanks for reading, even when there isn't a new post, in like, forever! ;-)

    Your question takes us to the heart of the matter-- not how to fix the problem, but the thought that something we can do can solve it.

    There is no way for us to effect the secret Spiritual work of God in the soul other than sharing the word accurately, and being an example consistently. The word births faith and our example shows how, but the Spirit alone transforms.

    We can invite those that are responsive to Christ into our fellowship, into our ministry, into our lives, while we constantly encourage them. That's what Jesus did. The work that the Spirit does will be evident at some time and over time, rinse and repeat.

    The results may not fit nicely into our programming or give us measures that make us feel good about ourselves and our efforts, but that's as it should be according to God's design (1 Corinth 3:5-15). Some things are really out of our hands, and we must get comfortable with that, or we'll be tempted to build houses of straw on tissues of lies.

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  5. I already stopped using that prayer when I went to the seminary.

    I remember when I was in college, one of my schoolmate is asking me questions regarding faith (she's not a christian). Then another schoolmate joined our conversation and started answering the question of the lady. After that, I asked him a very absurd question, "Are you a Christian?". He answered, "Yes, oh, so you are a Christian too!". And that was after being together for almost 2 years. For 2 years, we never saw that the two of us were Christians. What a shame....

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  6. Marvin,
    Maybe we need a gang sign. ;-)

    Wait a minute, the Catholics already have one!

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  7. What a great post SLW. Lots of food for thought re discipling.

    Anthea

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  8. SLW,

    I liek this post, it's at the heart of what troubles me about the church today, As much as I agree with everything you say, I can't help but think of the thief on the cross. They sound like magic words, "remember me", of course we know how Jesus responds. So was the theif "born again"? And moments later the confession of the soldier, "truly this man was the Son of God", do those words come with the same response? Was he "born again"?

    Believe me when I tell you I've tried to answer the question, "When is someone saved?" and I've answered it with many different Scripture verses and many different ways, now my answer is Romans 10:9 with the addition "and live like you care about it"

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  9. Ian,
    I think your last sentence sums it up very well. I've always found 1 Corinthians 12:3 very helpful in conjunction with the Romans 10:9. The only proviso necessary to handle the thief on the cross would be to add "until you die." That would also embrace Jesus' commands to persevere.

    The long and the short of it is that if one has been born again, that new life within them will make itself known, it will grow and look more like Christ over time. When looking at a potential Christian, we need to stop trying to settle the issue with the amen at the end of the "Sinners Prayer" and let time tell. I think that is much more in line with the conditional remarks Paul laces his epistles with.

    Though faith and new birth produce instant reality that an individual can rely upon, time is the tester of illusions. Perhaps that is why such pains were taken to insure that those who led congregations were actually born again.

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