Skip to comments.Are Catholics Born Again? (Discussion is applicable to Orthodox and Mainline Protestants as well)
Posted on 12/31/2008 4:38:01 AM PST by Huber
Are Catholics Born Again? | Mark Brumley | IgnatiusInsight.com
"Have you been born again?" the Fundamentalist at the door asks the unsuspecting Catholic. The question is usually a segue into a vast doctrinal campaign that leads many ill-instructed Catholics out of the Catholic Church. How? By making them think there is a conflict between the Bible and the Catholic Church over being "born again." To be honest, most Catholics probably do not understand the expression "born again."
Yes, they believe in Jesus. And yes, they try to live Christian lives. They probably have some vague awareness that Fundamentalists think being "born again" involves a religious experience or "accepting Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior." Many cradle Catholics, too, have had their moments of closeness to God, even of joy over God's love and mercy. They may even have had "conversion experiences" of sorts, committing themselves to take their faith seriously and to live more faithfully as disciples of Jesus. But the cradle Catholic probably cannot pinpoint any particular moment in his life when he dropped to his knees and "accepted Jesus" for the first time. As far back as he can recall, he has believed, trusted and loved Jesus as Savior and Lord. Does that prove he has never been "born again"?
Not "the Bible way," says the Fundamentalist. But the Fundamentalist is wrong there. He misunderstands what the Bible says about being "born again." Unfortunately, few Catholics understand the biblical use of the term, either. As a result, pastors, deacons, catechists, parents and others responsible for religious education have their work cut out for them. It would be helpful, then, to review the biblical--and Catholic--meaning of the term "born again."
"Born again" The Bible way
The only biblical use of the term "born again" occurs in John 3:3-5--although, as we shall see, similar and related expressions such as "new birth" and "regeneration" occur elsewhere in Scripture (Titus 3:5; 1 Pet 1:3, 23). In John 3:3, Jesus tells Nicodemus, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." The Greek expression translated "born again" (gennathei anothen) also means "born from above." Jesus, it seems, makes a play on words with Nicodemus, contrasting earthly life, or what theologians would later dub natural life ("what is born of flesh"), with the new life of heaven, or what they would later call supernatural life ("what is born of Spirit").
Nicodemus' reply: "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" (John 3:4). Does he simply mistake Jesus to be speaking literally or is Nicodemus himself answering figuratively, meaning, "How can an old man learn new ways as if he were a child again?" We cannot say for sure, but in any case Jesus answers, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, `You must be born again."' (John 3:5-7).
Here Jesus equates "born again" or "born from above" with "born of water and the Spirit." If, as the Catholic Church has always held, being "born of water and the Spirit" refers to baptism, then it follows that being "born again" or "born from above" means being baptized.
Clearly, the context implies that born of "water and the Spirit" refers to baptism. The Evangelist tells us that immediately after talking with Nicodemus, Jesus took his disciples into the wilderness where they baptized people (John 3:22). Furthermore, water is closely linked to the Spirit throughout John's Gospel (for instance, in Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:9-13) and in the Johannine tradition (cf. 1 John 5:7). It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that John the Evangelist understands Jesus' words about being "born again" and "born of water and the Spirit" to have a sacramental, baptismal meaning.
Other views of "born of water and the spirit"
Fundamentalists who reject baptismal regeneration usually deny that "born of water and the Spirit" in John 3:5 refers to baptism. Some argue that "water" refers to the "water of childbirth." On this view, Jesus means that unless one is born of water (at his physical birth) and again of the Spirit (in a spiritual birth), he cannot enter the kingdom of God.
A major problem with this argument, however, is that while Jesus does contrast physical and spiritual life, he clearly uses the term "flesh" for the former, in contrast to "Spirit" for the latter. Jesus might say, "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of flesh and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God"--though it would be obvious and absurdly redundant to say that one must be born (i.e., born of flesh) in order to be born again (i.e., born of the Spirit). But using "born of water and the Spirit" to mean "born of the flesh and then of the Spirit" would only confuse things by introducing the term "water" from out of nowhere, without any obvious link to the term "flesh." Moreover, while the flesh is clearly opposed to the Spirit and the Spirit clearly opposed to the flesh in this passage, the expression "born of water and the Spirit" implies no such opposition. It is not "water" vs. "the Spirit," but "water and the Spirit."
Furthermore, the Greek of the text suggests that "born of water and the Spirit" (literally "born of water and spirit") refers to a single, supernatural birth over against natural birth ("born of the flesh"). The phrase "of water and the Spirit" (Greek, ek hudatos kai pneumatos) is a single linguistical unit. It refers to being "born of water and the Spirit," not "born of water" on the one hand and "born of the Spirit" on the other.
Another argument used by opponents of baptismal regeneration: "born of water and the Spirit" refers, correspondingly, to the baptism of John (being "born of water") and the baptism of the Spirit (being "born of ... the Spirit"), which John promised the coming Messiah would effect. Thus, on this view, Jesus says, "Unless a man is born of water through John's baptism and of the Spirit through my baptism, he cannot enter the Kingdom of God."
We have already seen that, according to the Greek, "born of water and the Spirit" refers to a single thing, a single spiritual birth. Thus, the first half of the phrase cannot apply to one thing (John's baptism) and the second half to something else entirely (Jesus' baptism). But even apart from the linguistical argument, if "born of water" refers to John's baptism, then Jesus is saying that in order to be "born again" or "born from above" one must receive John's baptism of water ("born of water ...") and the Messiah's baptism of the Spirit (". . . and Spirit"). That would mean only those who have been baptized by John could enter the kingdom of God--which would drastically reduce the population of heaven. In fact, no one holds that people must receive John's baptism in order to enter the Kingdom--something now impossible. Therefore being "born of water . . ." cannot refer to John's baptism.
The most reasonable explanation for "born of water and the Spirit," then, is that it refers to baptism. This is reinforced by many New Testament texts linking baptism, the Holy Spirit and regeneration. At Jesus' baptism, the Holy Spirit descends upon him as He comes up out of the water (cf. John 1:25-34; Matt 3:13-17; Mark 1:9-11; Luke 3:21-22). Furthermore, what distinguishes John's baptism of repentance in anticipation of the Messiah from Christian baptism, is that the latter is a baptism with the Holy Spirit (Matt 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:31; Acts 1:4-5).
Consequently, on Pentecost, Peter calls the Jews to "be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins" and promises that they will "receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38), thus fulfilling the promise of John. Peter clearly teaches here that the "water baptism," to which he directs the soon-to-be converts, forgives sins and bestows the Holy Spirit. Christian baptism, then, is no mere external, repentance-ritual with water, but entails an inner transformation or regeneration by the Holy Spirit of the New Covenant; it is a "new birth," a being "born again" or "born from above."
In Romans 6:3, Paul says, "Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life" (RNAB). Baptism, says Paul, effects union with the death and resurrection of Christ, so that through it we die and rise to new life, a form of "regeneration."
According to Titus 3:5, God "saved us through the washing of regeneration (paliggenesias) and renewal by the Holy Spirit." Opponents of baptismal regeneration argue that the text refers only to the "washing (loutrou) of regeneration" rather than the "baptism of regeneration." But baptism is certainly a form of washing and elsewhere in the New Testament it is described as a "washing away of sin." For example, in Acts 22:16, Ananias tells Paul, "Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling upon his name." The Greek word used for the "washing away of sins" in baptism here is apolousai, essentially the same term used in Titus 3:5. Furthermore, since "washing" and "regeneration" are not ordinarily related terms, a specific kind of washing--one that regenerates--must be in view. The most obvious kind of washing which the reader would understand would be baptism, a point even many Baptist scholars, such as G.R. Beasley-Murray, admit. (See his book Baptism in the New Testament.)
In 1 Peter 1:3, it is stated that God has given Christians "a new birth to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." The term "new birth" (Gk, anagennasas, "having regenerated") appears synonymous with "born again" or "regeneration." According to 1 Peter 1:23, Christians "have been born anew (Gk, anagegennamenoi, "having been regenerated") not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and abiding word of God." From the word of the Gospel, in other words.
Opponents of baptismal regeneration argue that since the "new birth" mentioned in 1 Peter 1:3 and 23 is said to come about through the Word of God, being "born again" means accepting the Gospel message, not being baptized. This argument overlooks the fact that elsewhere in the New Testament accepting the gospel message and being baptized are seen as two parts of the one act of commitment to Christ.
In Mark 16:16, for instance, Jesus says, "Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved; whoever does not believe will be condemned." "Believing", i.e., accepting the Gospel, entails accepting baptism, which is the means by which one "puts on Christ" (Gal. 3:27) and is buried and raised with him to new life (Rom 6:3-5; Gal 2:12). Acts 2:41 says of the Jewish crowd on Pentecost, "Those who accepted his message were baptized . . ." It seems reasonable to conclude that those whom 1 Peter 1:23 describes as "having been born anew" or regenerated through the "living and abiding word of God" were also those who had been baptized. Thus, being "born of water and the Spirit" and being "born anew" through "the living and abiding word of God" describe different aspects of one thing--being regenerated in Christ. Being "born again" (or "from above") in "water and the Spirit" refers to the external act of receiving baptism, while being "born anew" refers to the internal reception in faith of the Gospel (being "born anew" through "the living and abiding word of God").
Moreover, baptism involves a proclamation of the Word, which is part of what constitutes it (i.e., "I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit"). To accept baptism is to accept the Word of God. There is no need, then, to see the operation of the Word of God in regeneration as something opposed to or separated from baptism.
Some Fundamentalists also object that being "born again" through baptismal regeneration contradicts the Pauline doctrine of justification by grace through faith. Implicit here is the idea that Christian baptism is a mere "human work" done to earn favor before God. In fact, Christian baptism is something that is done to one (one is baptized--passive), not something one does for oneself. The one who baptizes, according to the Bible, is Jesus Himself by the power of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 1:33). It makes no more sense to oppose baptism and faith in Christ to one another as means of regeneration than it does to oppose faith in Christ and the work of the Holy Spirit to one another. There is no either/or here; it is both/and.
The Catholic view of being "born again"
Following the New Testament use of the term, the Catholic Church links regeneration or being "born again" in the life of the Spirit to the sacrament of baptism (CCC, nos. 1215,1265-1266). Baptism is not a mere human "work" one does to "earn" regeneration and divine sonship; it is the work of Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, which, by grace, washes away sin and makes us children of God. It is central to the Catholic understanding of justification by grace. For justification is, as the Council of Trent taught, "a translation from that state in which man is born a child of the first Adam, to the state of grace and of the adoption of the sons of God through the second Adam, Jesus Christ" (Session 6, chapter 4). Baptism is an instrumental means by which God graciously justifies--that is, regenerates--sinners through faith in Jesus Christ and makes them children of God.
Catholic teaching is not opposed to a "religious experience" of conversion accompanying baptism (of adults)--far from it. But such an "experience" is not required. What is required for baptism to be fruitful (for an adult) is repentance from sin and faith in Christ, of which baptism is the sacrament (CCC, no. 1253). These are grace-enabled acts of the will that are not necessarily accompanied by feelings of being "born again." Regeneration rests on the divinely established fact of incorporation and regeneration in Christ, not on feelings one way or the other.
This point can be driven home to Evangelicals by drawing on a point they often emphasize in a related context. Evangelicals often say that the act of having accepted Christ as "personal Savior and Lord" is the important thing, not whether feelings accompany that act. It is, they say, faith that matters, not feelings. Believe by faith that Christ is the Savior and the appropriate feelings, they say, will eventually follow. But even if they do not, what counts is the fact of having taken Christ as Savior.
Catholics can say something similar regarding baptism. The man who is baptized may not "feel" any different after baptism than before. But once he is baptized, he has received the Holy Spirit in a special way. He has been regenerated and made a child of God through the divine sonship of Jesus Christ in which he shares. He has been buried with Christ and raised to new life with Him. He has objectively and publicly identified himself with Jesus' death and resurrection. If the newly baptized man meditates on these things, he may or may not "feel" them, in the sense of some subjective religious experience. Nevertheless, he will believe them to be true by faith. And he will have the benefits of baptism into Christ nonetheless.
A "born again" Christian?
When Fundamentalists call themselves "born again Christians," they want to stress an experience of having entered into a genuine spiritual relationship with Christ as Savior and Lord, in contradistinction to unbelief or a mere nominal Christianity. As we have seen, though, the term "born again" and its parallel terms "new birth" and "regeneration" are used by Jesus and the New Testament writers to refer to the forgiveness of sins and inner renewal of the Holy Spirit signified and brought about by Christ through baptism.
How, then, should a Catholic answer the question, "Have you been born again?" An accurate answer would be, "Yes, I was born again in baptism." Yet leaving it at that may generate even more confusion. Most Fundamentalists would probably understand the Catholic to mean, "I'm going to heaven simply because I'm baptized." In other words, the Fundamentalist would think the Catholic is "trusting in his baptism" rather than Christ, whereas the informed Catholic knows it means trusting in Christ with whom he is united in baptism.
The Catholic, then, should do more than simply point to his baptism; he should discuss his living faith, trust and love of Christ; his desire to grow in sanctity and conformity to Christ; and his total dependence on Christ for salvation. These are integral to the new life of the Holy Spirit that baptism bestows. When the Fundamentalist sees the link between baptism and the Holy Spirit in the life of his Catholic neighbor, he may begin to see that St. Paul was more than figurative when he wrote, "You were buried with Christ in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead" (Col 2:12).
This article originally appeared in The Catholic Faith (November/December 1999), pages 15-18.
If they have been regenerated by the Spirit of God they are.
The 'Greek' word is born "from above" NOT again!!! So naturally the answer is YES, all born in the flesh are born from above, just as was Christ. John 3:13 And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but He That came down from heaven, even the Son of man Which is in heaven.
It has been a long time since I have heard anyone express that level of understanding. I usually refrain from any discussions regarding “The Christian Walk through life” when this subject is broached, because most will reject and ridicule any interpretation other than the “born again” doctrine.
I was “born again of water and the Holy Ghost”(John 3:5) when I was baptized and, by the grace of God, my faith was reignited later on.
We plant seeds of truth when we can.
If one accepts the interpretation you are forwarding, one must also accept that there is a “store” of beings with the Father ready to make the pilgrimage on this planet. And if we are with YHVH before the birth, how long have we been with him? Are we part of the legions in the name EL-OHIM? Did YHVH literally rather than figuratively know us before the foundations of the earth were laid?
So many questions arise from the translation of one small phrase!
Therein lies the crux of the problem. Roman Catholics follow, properly so, the Petrine Doctine. He was appointed by Jesus, Himself. Saul, not so much.
This is more than simply a good article, it is a necessary article for both Latins and Orthodox, many of whom have no idea of how to respond to the fundamentalists’ innovative theological nonsense about being “born again”. Like so much Western protestant theology, it is born of two things, first, a compulsion to deny, and a misunderstanding of, the efficacy of the Mysteria of The Church and second, a reliance on very bad translations of the NT read out of the context of what The Church believes and believed at the time of the definition of the canon of the NT in, for the West, the late 4th century. For those who are interested, a reading of the works of +Cyprian of Carthage, +Clement of Alexandria and +Cyril of Jerusalem will be instructive in this regard.
In the meantime, there is this, from the “Baptismal Instructions” of +John Chrysostomos:
“Are we only dying with the Master and are we only sharing in His sadness? Most of all, let me say that sharing the Master’s death is no sadness. Only wait a little and you shall see yourself sharing in His benefits. ‘For if we have died with Him,’ says St. Paul, `we believe that we shall also live together with Him.’ For in baptism there are both burial and resurrection together at the same time. He who is baptized puts off the old man, takes the new and rises up, `just as Christ has arisen through the glory of the Father.’ Do you see how, again, St. Paul calls baptism a resurrection?”
The world is fortunate that the “born again” nonsense is embraced by, comparatively speaking, so few people, almost all of whom are North Americans (the truly astonishing cultural chauvinism of N. American fundamentalists to the contrary notwithstanding).
Thank you for this discussion. (I will stick around until the first insults fly. My pride tends to draw me into that sinful activity.)
Now for the idea that baptism represents birth, I would direct you to the first letter of Peter, 3rd chapter, where he states:
18 For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit;
19 in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison,
20 who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water.
21 Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you— not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,
22 who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him.
One, Baptism represents DEATH. Water was a righteous judgement on the world, and only those that put total faith and enter in the Ark of Jesus will be saved, and through a willing appeal to God. The rebirth is the death of the old self and renewal through Christ, by the actions of the Holy Spirit from above, as God has preordained from before the foundations of the earth, and this rebirth is shown by a life of good work freely and joyfully given by a servant of Christ.
Now if baptism is NECESSARY for salvation, then all of the righteous in OT Israel (who were not baptized in the name of ...) and the thief on the Cross will not be saved. Abraham, Isaac and Joseph not saved? As Paul states Abraham was saved by faith, not by baptism.
Necessary is not optional, but a requirement. Any that start putting in provisos for salvation without baptism are saying that it is not necessary.
But Christ Himself says that one must be born from above to be saved, thus baptism is not being born from above.
Oops, and to answer the title of the article, as someone that already said, those that are are. Those that aren’t aren’t.
You and I would be hard pressed to find signs that many Catholics in the upper echelons of the Dem party are saved (ie Pelosi and Big Ted, et al). Not saying they could not be, but the signs are not apparent, or they hide them well...
Um, what John Chrysostomos said holds just as nicely for the Protestant view. I think you might not understand what is meant then.
Does he say that the individual is changed? Yup. Does it say he is now washed clean of all sins? Not really. Does this support baptismal regeneration? I would have to say no.
Perhaps if you gave your impression of the Protestant view, I can understand your meaning better.
“Does he say that the individual is changed? Yup. Does it say he is now washed clean of all sins? Not really. Does this support baptismal regeneration? I would have to say no.”
And I would say that you have not read +Cyprian and +Cyril and +Clement. +John Chrysostomos alone doesn’t represent the consensus patrum. No individual father does. That an individual would represent the sum total of the Truth of The Church is an almost Roman Catholic notion. Its interesting, at least to me, to see these little flashes of a distinctly Roman Catholic mindset pop up in discussions with Protestants.
At any rate, take a look at these
“The dispensation of our God and Saviour concerning man is a recall from the fall, and a return from the alienation caused by disobedience to close communion with God. This is the reason for the sojourn of Christ in the flesh, the pattern of life described in the Gospels, the sufferings, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection; so that the man who is being saved through imitation of Christ receives the old adoption. For perfection of life the imitation of Christ is necessary, not only in the example of gentleness, lowliness, and long suffering set us in His life, but also of His actual death. So Paul, the imitator of Christ, says, `being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.’ How then are we made in the likeness of His death? In that we were buried with Him by baptism.” +Chrysostomos, “Homily on the Holy Spirit”.
And this from “Homily XL on First Corinthians” :
“As thus: after the enunciation of those mystical and fearful words, and the awful rules of the doctrines which have come down from heaven, this also we add at the end when we are about to baptize, bidding them say, “I believe in the resurrection of the dead,” and upon this faith we are baptized. For after we have confessed this together with the rest, then at last are we let down into the fountain of those sacred streams. This therefore Paul recalling to their minds said, “if there be no resurrection, why are you then baptized for the dead ?” i.e., the dead bodies. For in fact with a view to this are you baptized, the resurrection of your dead body, believing that it no longer remains dead. And thou indeed in the words makest mention of a resurrection of the dead; but the priest, as in a kind of image, signifies to you by very deed the things which you have believed and confessed in words. When without a sign you believe, then he gives you the sign also; when you have done your own part, then also does God fully assure you. How and in what manner? By the water. For the being baptized and immersed and then emerging, is a symbol of the descent into Hades and return thence. Wherefore also Paul calls baptism a burial, saying, “Therefore we are buried with Him by baptism into death.” Romans 6:4 By this he makes that also which is to come credible, I mean, the resurrection of our bodies. For the blotting out sins is a much greater thing than the raising up of a body. And this Christ declaring, said, “For whether is easier to say, Your sins are forgiven, or to say, Take up your bed, and walk?” Matthew 9:5 “The former is the more difficult,” says He, “but since you disbelieve it as being hidden, and make the easier instead of the more difficult the demonstration of my power, neither will I refuse to afford you this proof.” Then says He to the paralytic, “Arise, take up your bed, and go unto your house.”
“And how is this difficult,” says one, “when it is possible to kings also and rulers? For they too forgive adulterers and homicides.” You are jesting, O man, who sayest these things. For to forgive sins with God only is possible. But rulers and kings, whether it is adulterers whom they forgive or homicides, release them indeed from the present punishment; but their sin they do not purge out. Though they should advance to offices them that have been forgiven, though they should invest them with the purple itself, though they should set the diadem upon their heads, yet so they would only make them kings, but could not free them from their sin. It being God alone who does this; which accordingly in the Laver of Regeneration He will bring to pass. For His grace touches the very soul, and thence plucks up the sin by the root. Here is the reason why he that has been forgiven by the king may be seen with his soul yet impure, but the soul of the baptized no longer so, but purer than the very sun-beams, and such as it was originally formed, nay rather much better than that. For it is blessed with a Spirit, on every side enkindling it and making its holiness intense. And as when you are recasting iron or gold you make it pure and new once more, just so the Holy Ghost also, recasting the soul in baptism as in a furnace and consuming its sins, causes it to glisten with more purity than all purest gold.
Further, the credibility of the resurrection of our bodies he signifies to you again from what follows: viz., that since sin brought in death, now that the root is dried up, one must not after that doubt of the destruction of the fruit. Therefore having first mentioned “the forgiveness of sins,” thou dost next confess also “the resurrection of the dead;” the one guides you as by hand on to the other.”
He speaks in a similar vein in his “Homily IX on Hebrews”.
+John was as aware of the sin cleansing efficacy of baptism as the other Fathers.
If you believed the scriptures, you'd know differently...
Born again? In Baptism, but if you’re talking about returning to the Faith, the term we use is “revert.” And it usually takes a while and prayer from many people for hearts to be opened. What causes the falling away can be anything from laziness to being seduced.
A corporation is created. The founder states his son will soon be coming to lead customers, vendors and employees into a new place. The son arrives. Some of the corporation’s customers, vendors and employees accept the son and his new place. Other choose to remain with the original corporation.
When the son makes arrangements for his departure, he specifically chooses one of his faithful employees to carry on in his stead. The son gives this employee the keys to every door.
Sometime later, a hostile takeover occurs by one who claims he received a memo from the son. The memo, he claims, states some rules and regulations will be changed, others will be discarded.
Who is the rightful heir to the legacy? The man who was directly appointed by the son, in front of witnesses or some johnny-come-lately who claims he has a memo?
What’s your point???
Now your only defence is to call Paul's epistles lies...However Peter calls Paul's epistles, scripture...
Your stool doesn't have any legs on it...
Yes, through the Sacrament of Baptism. All who are baptized in the Catholic Church and other mainstream Protestant churches that the Catholic Church accepts are BORN again; they have a cleanly wiped slate and can begin a new life.