Saturday, August 23, 2008

Ronald Reagan Read It Right

When Governor Ronald Reagan was running for the presidency, the press ask him if he had been "born again" like President Carter. He responded with words to the effect, "In our heritage, we speak of repentance and baptism rather than being born again."

Mr. Reagan grew up in the Christian Church in Dixon, Illinois. When he was 11, he read That Printer of Udell’s by Harold Bell Wright and determined to be baptized into Christ.

Mr. Reagan made an important distinction in his response to the press. Such descriptions as being "born again" and "receiving Jesus as your personal savior" are culturally defined. They may mean one thing to a Catholic, something else to a Baptist and yet something else to a Pentecostal person.

While the figure of "being born again" was spoken by Jesus, it was not recorded by John for more than 50 years. By that time, the teaching of repentance and baptism for salvation had covered the Roman Empire. Understanding "being born again" was easy. It is what the believers had been doing for the previous five decades. The meaningful figure of "being born again" today is separated from its original setting and defined by what the speaker already believes.

To "receive Jesus as one’s personal Savior" is also defined by the religious background of the speaker. To many people, it is simply a moment in time when the candidate says, "Yes, Lord, I believe." But the definition does vary from speaker to speaker and church group to church group.

By contrast, following the resurrection of Jesus, the commands of repentance and baptism were commonly presented to the inquirers.

Peter said to them, "Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Act 2:38 NASB)

Repentance presupposes faith in Christ's resurrection. How could a person repent without faith?

But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike. (Act 8:12 NASB)

And he ordered the chariot to stop; and they both went down into the water, Philip as well as the eunuch, and he baptized him. (Act 8:38 NASB)

'Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' (Act 22:16 NASB)

Missing here is the user-defined "They received Jesus Christ as their personal Savior." This phrase does not have a New Testament equivalent.

Also missing is praying for Jesus to enter the inquirer's heart. Those wanting to make Christ their Lord are never instructed to pray the Sinner's Prayer or any other prayer.

The language of Luke is clear and unambiguous. The meaning is not culturally defined and does not change. It allows every budding believer to express his or her love for Christ who said, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

By contrast, the user-defined salvation language omits repentance and it omits immersion, the very words used by Luke, the reporter of conversions in Acts.

We must call Bible things by Bible names. For the followers of Jesus to ever be united, we need to begin with the initial step of becoming a Christian. If we can’t get the first one right, the rest doesn’t make much difference.

Thank you, President Reagan for clarifying the issue.


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