The “New Birth”

13.) Do we recognize that the “New Birth” that Jesus was speaking of to Nicodemus is not merely water baptism, and when are people going to require that their leaders present evidence (in their lives/actions/speech) that shows that they have experienced the New Birth?

Whether or not the Churches of Christ have put an over-emphasis upon baptism through the years, our preaching and teaching regarding the institution have been more anthropocentric oriented than theocentric. We reduced it to a legal duty, or a meritorious act, that concentrated more on the human side than the divine. One evidence of this has been the number of people in later years who wanted to be rebaptized because they say they lacked knowledge when they were originally baptized.

Certainly we have not emphasized that baptism is a divine act of grace whereupon God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit so as to transform us into the image of Christ. It is not a legal duty, but is to be an expression of faith submitted to joyfully and thankfully for God’s grace and love in sending His Son that we might be saved, having our sins washed away, and it is an occasion which externally announces to others our desire to please God and transform our lives. Primarily though, it is an institution where God does something for us, not us for Him.

Back in the early 1800s when Walter Scott came up with his five-finger illustration of salvation he did us both a service and a dis-service. He helped us to clarify the response of man to God’s grace, but over the years the emphasis began to be put upon a lock-step plan and man’s duty to comply with it rather than God’s grace and that Christ is the savior, not our ability to comply with the plan. By the way, we changed brother Scott’s steps over the years. His were faith, repentance, baptism, remission of sins and the Holy Spirit. It was changed to faith, repentance, confession, baptism, and remission of sins. Even here is evidence of making salvation human centered.

As to leadership I see changes occurring and coming. Unfortunately, as is often the case in legalistic bodies, change comes about in a turbulent way with a lot of ache and pain rather than in a loving, orderly, reasonable, scriptural way. Legalists have little room for tolerance and they tend to react out of fear to any challenging or questioning of the status quo and create a crisis. Nevertheless, I am encouraged by some of the change that is occurring.


6 responses to “The “New Birth”

  1. Pingback: California Letter « One In

  2. Are you actually suggesting that anyone would take issue with the idea that in baptism there is an act of God “whereupon God gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit”? Because frankly, I think you are making it up. Perhaps the majority of the emphasis is not generally placed on this concept, but surely nobody in the CoC would disagree with it. It is what Acts 2:38 says, “repent and be baptized for the remission of sins and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Who would reject this teaching other than a Baptist, Calvinist, Roman Catholic, Jew, Moslem and such-like? Oh yeah, it would be the progressives who would reject it because they hold the Baptistic view that baptism is a mere symbol. Ok, I get it now. Carry on.

  3. rey – in answer t your question – there absolutely are members of the CoC who deny that the Holy Spirit lives in us. I was told in no uncertain words that the Holy Spirit only works through the Word, ie, we get it by reading the Bible. It is probably in response to the charasimatic movement but it is common in this area (NC) and I know of one group of elders in VA who hold that view.
    I think you have a misconception of at least the Baptist and progressive view. In my experience of 65 years as a member of the CoC it is the so called “mainstream CoC” that have rejected any indwelling of the Holy Spirit, not the Baptist or “progressive”. In fact this is one thing the progressives are refuting.

  4. Yes, members of the C of C to this day deny that “the gift of the Holy Spirit” is the Spirit Himself, they believe that the gift of the Holy Spirit is eternal life, salvation, the promise or the times of refreshing. When I was a child, 70+ years ago, this doctrinf was known as “valley fever” in the central valley.

  5. I realize that Baptists believe in an indwelling of the Spirit, but they never connect it to baptism in any way. Therefore, the word onlyists (who I’ve always seen as being on the cook fringe) and the Baptists are in agreement in rejecting the idea that in baptism you receive the Holy Spirit as a gift (which is what “gift of the Holy Spirit” means), the one because they reject that it takes place in baptism and the other because they reject the whole concept. The progressives (if Jay Guin is an example of a progressive) seem to be arguing for the baptist model where the Holy Spirit is said to be received at the point of belief not in baptism. If one wants to argue that they had best first declare Scripture to be errant and fallible so as not to kid themselves. My only hope is that progressives will be transparent in what they are arguing for and not pretend to argue for one thing while in reality trying to sneak in another (something I’ve grown to expect from progressives of all types, not just political ones but religious progressives too). Please just make sure to be honest and not pull a bait and switch.

  6. I don’t think baptism is a mere symbol.
    There are a number of believers in the one-cup sect of the Churches of Christ who think the Holy Spirit operates only through the written word.

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