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The Litmus Test October 25, 2012

“If you tell me I have to be born again to enter the kingdom of God, I can tell you that you just have to sell everything you have and give it to the poor, because Jesus said that to one guy too. But I guess that’s why God invented highlighters, so we can highlight the parts we like and ignore the rest.”
– Rich Mullins


I recently read a quote from a preacher who was calling into question President Obama’s faith because Barack had never used “born again” to describe his own Christianity.  Calling oneself “Christian” was in no way sufficient, in this man’s eyes, to have a relationship with God.  One must consider oneself a “born-again” Christian to have one’s faith taken seriously.

In the Bible, in the 10th Chapter of Mark, a particular individual asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
The man is told to sell everything he has and give it to the poor.

In the Bible, in the 3rd Chapter of John, another man is conversing with Jesus about the kingdom of God. He is told by Jesus, “You must be born again.”

So in regards to being a part of God’s kingdom and/or inheriting eternal life, one time in one place, to one person Jesus says to sell everything and give it to the poor.
In regards to being a part of God’s kingdom and/or inheriting eternal life, one time in one place, to one personJesus says “You must be born again.”

Look people, we have no more “Biblical” bases (or put positively, “equal Biblical bases”) for telling people to be born again in order to be “saved” than we do in telling them to sell all their possessions to be “saved.”  Yet, somehow, one statement has been virtually ignored while the other has been made into a litmus test for one’s Christianity!

How can we not see the fallacy in our fundamentalist approach to scripture?!?!
Jesus was a master at using word pictures to make a point.  He certainly didn’t intend for these verbal flourishes to be made into infallible doctrines and qualifications to establish an “us vs. them” mentality.

If anyone says they believe you must be born again because “Jesus said so,” and doesn’t believe the same thing about selling all your possessions, well, we know they haven’t taken an honest look at their belief system.

One Wikipedia writer states:
“the phrase was not mentioned by the other Evangelists, nor by the Apostles except Peter. ‘It was not regarded by any of the Evangelists but John of sufficient importance to record.’ And, without John, ‘we should hardly have known that it was necessary for one to be born again.'”

Also according to Wikipedia, the widespread use of the term is relatively recent.  “Born again is a term that has been widely associated with the evangelical Christian renewal since the late 1960s.”

Look, I believe in being born again.  I believe I’ve been born again many times and in many ways.  I hope to be born again many more times in many more ways.  (FYI, this has nothing to do with my “after-life” destiny.)

Rich Mullins was a “Christian icon” for many evangelicals.  More and more, though, he ruffled the feathers of established religion with statements like the one above.  We sang his songs in our meetings, without realizing the full impact of where he was going with them.
Sometimes I catch myself shaking my head, wondering why people can’t see what’s right in front of them.
BUT, I must also wonder why I didn’t see what was right in front of me.  I must wonder how much more I do not yet see.  How much others see to which I am still blind.
All the more reason to limit these doctrinal litmus tests.  (Maybe more orthopraxy and less orthodoxy.)

I do think the time is long overdue to minimize the use of some of the christianeese that comes out of our mouths without thinking about it.
The time is long overdue to re-think our approach to our faith and our approach to the Bible.  (Those issues are repeatedly addressed in other posts on this blog.)
All this doesn’t mean a weakening of our Christian identity.  As Brian McLaren points out, this re-thinking should be the strengthening of a better Christian identity.**

It’s a struggle, sometimes, to not despond.
Instead, I must allow myself and others the grace to continue to grow.  The grace to learn.  The grace to not always need the answers.  The grace to continue to be born again…
And again.

– df

**Brian Mclaren talks about how we have chosen between a strong/hostile Christian identity and a weak/benign Christian identity, and then proposed a third way; a strong/benevolent Christian identity.  This is the theme of his wonderful book, “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?”

 

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