Ecclesiasticus 4:28

"Fight to the death for truth, and the Lord God will war on your side."

Ora pro nobis,

Most Blessed Virgin Mary, St. Francis de Sales, St. Thomas Aquinas, and St. Dominic. Amen.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Response to CQ--The New Birth Experience

This instalment is a little more difficult, because what we have here is a subtle blend of truth with error. You know, just the way the Devil likes it: enough truth to be convincing, but enough error to leave us confused or misled.

So let's examine this chapter, and sort the truth from the error, proclaiming the truth and correcting the error. You know, the reason why the Devil doesn't like me!

A note about CQ's article on the New Birth. This organisation takes a very non-sacramental view of baptism throughout, and in so doing, distinguishes baptism from the "second birth." However, Catholic theology is fully sacramental, believing that baptism is not simply a symbolic ritual, but that it actually does confer the graces that it symbolises. Namely, baptism is how one is "born again." Interestingly, almost all of the scripture passages that marshalls in its defence refer to baptism.

As usual,'s words will be in blue, and mine will be in white.

Chapter 8: Be Careful of Protestant Teachings
The New Birth Experience

In 1977 when the Philadelphia Conference was held at Wheaton College, Illinois, the main speaker and founder of these conferences presented an interesting, but certainly non-biblical, concept of the new birth experience. He stated that the new birth and conversion were different events in our Christian experience. "Conversion," said the theologian, "took place well before the new birth experience." He explained that conversion was the insemination (or seed sowing) of truth--which took place at the beginnings of our spiritual life. To illustrate he pointed to the length of gestation (time between conception and birth) in human beings and animals as an indication that conversion comes well before we are "born again." But this analogy cannot be accepted as truth because Jesus said otherwise.

Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3).

Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God (John 3:5).
This exposition of the gospel by Jesus includes forgiveness and character change.

While I'm not sure about equating the "new birth experience" with a conversion=conception, new-birth=birth analogy, part of me wonders whether's major problem here is with the labels the speaker gave to these realities, rather than with the theology itself. Personally, I would not refer to the interior transformation that God begins to work in one's life before he is "born again" as "conversion," but I will not deny that this process occurs. However, when in a person's life this occurs, and how long it takes, surely varies from person to person.

The "exposition of the Gospel by Jesus" to which CQ refers is, as I mentioned above, specifically a reference to baptism. This was the unanimous interpretation of the Early Church Fathers, of "born of water and Spirit." In baptism, performed with water, we receive the Holy Spirit, have our sins washed away, and become new creatures in Christ. is right, therefore, to assert that the New Birth includes forgiveness and character change: That's what it is all about.

Again, though, I might suggest that what the speaker at the Philadelphia Conference of 1977 might have meant by "conversion" is what theologians term "prevenient grace", which is God's giving of grace to a person to ready them for and draw them to salvation.

John the Baptist declared that the new birth includes forgiveness and the infilling of the Holy Ghost.
I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance: but he that cometh after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Ghost, and with fire (Matthew 3:11).
When we are converted we experience the new birth.

While nothing stated here is wrong per se, the line of thought following seems to combine the notion of the "new birth" (baptism) with the "baptism of the Holy Spirit", which is a rather different thing. In our water baptism, we do receive the Holy Spirit, and are thus born again--which sets Trinitarian Baptism apart from the baptism of John, but again, this is a different thing from what CQ seems to be discussing below:

Just as surely, the baptism of the Holy Spirit pinpoints sanctification--growing in holiness, for it is the Holy Spirit which sanctifies unto obedience and perfection of character.
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him (Acts 5:32).
I am not entirely sure what CatholicQuest is trying to say here, by saying that the Holy Spirit's presence in a life "pinpoints" growing in holiness (or, for that matter, how Acts 5:32 relates to that point). To "pinpoint" something means to specify a precise moment when it occurred, or the precise means by which something occurred. How does one then "pinpoint" growth? The sanctification of the Christian is an ongoing endeavour as he responds to the grace that the Holy Spirit within him brings, enabling him to live for God.

Yet many Protestant spokesmen greatly de-emphasize the transformation of character resulting from the new birth.

I can agree with that.

While Christ is the central focus of the New Testament, it is His saving and transforming power in the lives of all who believe in Him, which is emphasized as the result of the new birth experience.
Seeing ye have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit unto unfeigned love of the brethren, see that ye love one another with a pure heart fervently: being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever (1 Peter 1:22,23).
This new birth encompasses the whole of the "in Christ" experience that leads to a newness of life.
Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Paul especially emphasizes that transformation of character is the sure product of conversion.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature (Galatians 6:15).
This is precisely the Catholic teaching, and why the Protestant notion of "imputed righteousness" is false. God actually causes us to be holy, as we respond to His grace through our faith working in love (Galatians 5:6).

In Paul's letter to Titus, while denying that our works have anything to do with our salvation, nevertheless, he clearly related our new birth to regeneration and the renewal of our life.
Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost (Titus 3:5).
The ordinance of baptism is the symbol of the washing away of sin and coming to newness of life.

St. Paul is not saying that our works have nothing to do with our salvation. The Bible never teaches that, anywhere. What Paul is saying is that our own righteous deeds did not cause Jesus to come and save us, nor did they make us worth saving, as though we on our own merited the new birth. It is only through God's Grace that we are saved, but we must respond to that grace through our faith and works in order to appropriate that salvation.

Notably, though, Titus 3:5 is, in my mind, the second clearest passage in all of Scripture that points to the fact that baptism is what the Bible teaches as the New Birth: That is what "the washing of regeneration" refers to: or as the New Jerusalem Bible puts it,
It was not because of any upright actions we had done ourselves; it was for no reason except his own faithful love that he saved us, by means of the cleansing water of rebirth and renewal in the Holy Spirit.
It hardly gets any clearer than that: baptism is not simply a symbolic representation of the new birth; it is the new birth!
They refused to believe long ago, while God patiently waited to receive them, in Noah's time when the ark was being built. In it only a few, that is eight souls, were saved through water. It is the baptism corresponding to this water which saves you now--not the washing off of physical dirt but the pledge of a good conscience given to God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:20-21, emphasis mine).
Paul expresses this fact beautifully in the sixth chapter of Romans.
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? 4 Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 6 knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that henceforth we should not serve sin. 7 For he that is dead is freed from sin (Romans 6:1,2,4,6,7).
This passage clearly sets forth the fact that the new birth includes:

(1) Victory through Christ over sin (verses 2 and 6)

(2) The born-again Christian walks in newness of life (verse 4)
On what grounds does see Romans 6:1-7 as symbolic, rather than literal? It is somewhat interesting that they failed to cite verses three and five:
What should we say then? Should we remain in sin so that grace may be given the more fully? Out of the question! We have died to sin; how could we go on living in it? You cannot have forgotten that all of us, when we were baptised into Christ Jesus, were baptised into His death. So by our baptism into His death, we were buried with Him, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the Father's glorious power, we too should begin living a new life. If we have been joined to Him by dying a death like His, so we shall be by a resurrection like His; realising that our former self was crucified with Him, so that the self which belongs to sin should be destroyed and we should be freed from the slavery of sin. Someone who has died, of course, no longer has to answer for sin.
The bolded text is verses 3 and 5. Notably, they bring a literal force to the text. We were baptised into Christ's death. We have been joined to Him through that baptism. Paul isn't saying that the baptism symbolises that joining, but that it accomplishes it.

Baptism is the public acknowledgement that we have died to sin and become alive to forgiveness and the sanctifying power of Jesus Christ. Thus it was Jesus who declared that salvation is predicated upon genuine belief and baptism.
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned (Mark 16:16).
Baptism is much more than a "public acknowledgement". It is the New Birth itself, and the entry into the New Covenant in Christ.

Protestants who do not practice adult, believer baptism by immersion but rather practice infant baptism are rejecting the principles of Christ and His Word.

Here again (along with the bulk of this article) is definitive proof that is not Catholic. Not only do Catholics believe that Baptism is not merely a symbol, but we absolutely practice infant baptism. And lest we think that's tract, "Be Careful of Protestant Teachings" is simply a Reductio ad Absurdum for Protestantism's claim to "Sola Scriptura", CQ goes beyond simply saying that those who practice Infant Baptism are not practicing Sola Scriptura, but in fact have rejected the principles of Christ Himself!

It would be nice, of course, if they argued their point, rather than simply asserting it, but whatever. But if believer's baptism is the only valid form, then why was this not taught from the very beginning? Rather, infant baptism was practiced abundantly in the early church! Biblically, Jesus commanded that even children be allowed to come to Him--and Luke includes infants in that tale. The term "infant" in the Greek refers to babies who are still too young to speak (Luke 18:15-17. In rejecting infant baptism, is acting just as the disciples did--whom Jesus rebuked!). In Acts 17:33, Paul and Silas baptise the Philippian Jailer and his whole family! It does not tell us that they all expressed their faith--they were baptised under his headship. Moreover, it is very likely that there were children and babies in that family. Further, in Colossians 2:11-12 equates baptism with Jewish Circumcision, as entrance into the New Covenant. Thus, just as Hebrew children were circumcised as babies, so too are children of Christian parents. In fact, the only controversy in the Early Church about whether to baptise infants was not yes or no, but when? Do we wait the eight days that were required for circumcision, or not? The Church unanimously voted, "No--do it as soon as possible!"
"As to what pertains to the case of infants: You [Fidus] said that they ought not to be baptized within the second or third day after their birth, that the old law of circumcision must be taken into consideration, and that you did not think that one should be baptized and sanctified within the eighth day after his birth. In our council it seemed to us far otherwise. No one agreed to the course which you thought should be taken. Rather, we all judge that the mercy and grace of God ought to be denied to no man born" (St. Cyprian of Carthage, Letters 64:2 [A.D. 253]).
These are issues that have never been thoroughly addressed by the majority of Protestants. Scripture is absolutely adamant on these issues. The Bible teaches that those who are born again have victory over sin in their lives.
Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God (1 John 3:9).

We know that whosoever is born of God sinneth not; but he that is begotten of God keepeth himself, and that wicked one toucheth him not (1 John 5:18).
These great salvation principles were shared by Paul to the Roman believers.
Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Romans 8:12,13).
Once again there is no Biblical evidence of salvation while living in sin. We see that salvation is provided through the love and power of Jesus. This theme is reiterated in many parts of the Pauline presentations.
If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God. Set your affection on things above, not on things on the earth. For ye are dead, and your life is hid with Christ in God (Colossians 3:1-3).
It is essential that all reassess the centrality of the new-birth experience to salvation. There must be no continuing denial that conversion is the new-birth experience. There must be an understanding that the new-birth experience encompasses both our forgiveness and victory over sin. Through the death and ministry of Jesus we may have forgiveness of sins and victory over sin in our lives.

This may at first be difficult, but let us not forget that every command of Jesus comes with His loving strength and power to fulfill that command.

Here, teaches in line with the Catholic Church, about the importance of rejecting sin and living in Grace. Falling into Mortal Sin does indeed kill the life of Grace within us, requiring the Sacrament of Penance to restore us to our Covenant Relationship with God. We cannot ever believe the error that we are saved despite our sinfulness. All quibbling over "conversion" aside, the Bible teaches the necessity and the power of baptism in our lives. Let us therefore continue to consider ourselves as dead to sin but alive for God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:13).

(Category: The Church: Extra Ecclesiam Nulla Salus--The Church and other Christian denominations.
Soteriology: Salvation.
Catholic Distinctives: Sacraments--Baptism.)

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