Born again? Thoughts from Graham…

I was walking into Alresford town centre last week when, just as I passed the doctors’ surgery a man getting out of an enormous white van shouted at me ‘is there any difference between a new born Christian and a Christian?’ I hoped he wasn’t shouting at me, but he was. I wondered if this chap was wanting to engage me in a theological discussion, or just being provocative. It turned out he wanted a theological discussion, and he was being provocative. He was endeavouring to be challenging and promoting a number of perspectives, some of which I found quite bellicose.

I answered that I felt there was probably not a difference. I explained that I thought a Christian is someone who proclaims themselves a follower of Jesus and lives their life according to the set of moral, spiritual, and practical guidelines as enlightened in Holy Scripture. A new born experience is not a prerequisite of Grace – I was accused of ducking the issue, which I had, but life is so short I’m already 48 and who knows how much longer I might have to live. I was of course also completely ignoring any attempt to hermeneutic to death John Ch3 vs.3-5: Nicodemus is told by Jesus ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the Kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ Luckily for me, in Greek every word has about eight meanings – so born again, might mean born from above – this passage needs some delicate thought.

He didn’t like my answer. I was accused of completely missing the point and might as well take my clerical collar off, as there was – as far as he was concerned – clearly a difference. He continued to outline some of them, an ardent apologetic of doctrinal perspectives that undergirded a very exclusive view. He had a lot of opinions, many of them relying on scriptural nuances which I found hard to follow, but eventually it basically meant that he was probably the only person on the planet righteous enough to go to heaven. Priests were very low in the list of the righteous…. which I said was about the only thing he said which I could agree with.

I am afraid at no point in our discussion did we address the unfathomable delight that God might just inextricably love all humanity and the world. Jesus the neon-flashing-light of hope, that does not require a degree in theology to understand. Using certain biblical references as battering-rams does not make anyone the arbiter of Grace. Loving God and loving your neighbour are the only fundamentals one needs to comprehend. That is not to say a little study isn’t a good thing – I might try it some time, but doctrinal battlefields only make casualties. Discussions and expressions of viewpoints in a loving and safe environment, without seeking advantage, permits questions to develop, and growth to take place, to take place in love.

After all we are told ‘God so loved the world he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish’ – John 3 again vs.16. Jesus did not come to condemn the world, but rather and very importantly to save it.