Issue #212 -------
October 3, 2005
Their redemption began when
they ceased to tolerate their slavery.
Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907-1972)
[regarding the bondage of the Israelites in Egypt]
For quite some time now I have been in rather frequent communication with a doctor in the beautiful blue grass state of Kentucky. We have had some great dialogue, and he was gracious enough in a recent email to assert that my teaching, as well as that of a few others, "has certainly helped me come out of my legalism, and has shown me a more Christ-centered way." It truly makes my heart rejoice when I hear that others are being brought closer to the Lord Jesus, in a more grace-centered, Christ-focused walk, through my meager efforts in this reflective ministry. I pray that God will continue to use these writings to touch the hearts and lives of those desirous of leaving their bondage to law and entering into the freedom of God's grace.
In that very same email to me, this dear brother shared with me the fruit of his study of the words of Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:5, and asked for my thoughts regarding his conclusions. He wrote, "Set me straight on this if you think I'm off the beaten path, but I believe this passage is non-specific to water baptism. This belief does not compromise my view of immersion in the process of salvation, however. I believe water immersion IS a part of God's plan of salvation. Indeed, I believe it is part of the 'birthing process.' If I were to teach a lost person the gospel of Christ, I would also teach him to be immersed 'in the same hour of the night,' so as to bury the old life and rise to walk in the newness of the new life. Yet, I am actually beginning to believe, from my study, that John 3:5 does not specifically talk about water baptism. I just want to be honest in my application of this passage. So, let me know what you think. You will not hurt my feelings at all."
The setting is the city of Jerusalem. It is the week of Passover; night has fallen over the city. This was earlier in the ministry of Jesus, not the final Passover week that occupies most of the gospel of John. During the night Jesus was visited by a man named Nicodemus, a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin (John 7:50). This is a remarkable encounter that speaks volumes about the hearts of both Jesus and this ruler of the Jews. "Here is an incident from the happenings of this Passover week which shows the Savior's kind and searching love" (Dr. Paul E. Kretzmann, Popular Commentary of the Bible -- The NT, vol. 1, p. 420). Nicodemus came by night to see Jesus, perhaps fearing his fellow religionists (as some scholars speculate), or perhaps merely wanting to approach Jesus when the crowds would not be pressing upon Jesus, thus affording himself an opportunity for much greater private discourse on matters he deemed important (as other scholars assert).
Nicodemus had obviously come quite some distance spiritually and theologically, much farther than his fellow strict religionists, for he testified, "Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him" (John 3:2). How much this man truly understood about the nature of our Lord and His ministry to mankind is unknown. He certainly recognized something special was happening in the ministry of Jesus, but most likely did not at this time perceive Him to be the long-awaited Messiah. Nevertheless, he had witnessed a power at work that he understood could only be evidence of the hand of God. Thus, he sought to learn more about this man Jesus, "a teacher who has come from God."
Undoubtedly, there was a great deal more to the dialogue between these two men than is preserved in Scripture. However, at some point in their conversation Jesus informed Nicodemus, perhaps in response to questions or concerns raised by the latter, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (vs. 3). Although we have all heard the familiar contemporary expression "born again" (as in a "born again" Christian), the actual expression in the Greek signifies a birth "from above" (or "from a higher place"). In other words, a heavenly birth, rather than an earthly one; a spiritual birth, rather than a physical one; a birth bringing one into the eternal realm, rather than a birth bringing one into the temporal realm. This Greek word, anothen (an adverb of place), "which the NIV and many others translate as 'again,' in the Johannine writings normally means 'from above,' and it should be rendered thus here" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 47). "This phrase 'to be born again' can also mean to be born 'from above.' The contrast between above and below explicitly emerges in verses 12-13" (Gary T. Cage, The Holy Spirit: A Sourcebook with Commentary, p. 469).
In response to our Lord's statement, Nicodemus asked, "How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born, can he?" (vs. 4). Some biblical scholars feel Nicodemus was confused by the Lord's talking of being "born." Perhaps he understood Jesus to be speaking of a physical birth. Thus, he wondered how an old man could once again emerge from his mother's womb. Others feel such a question is too ridiculous to have been seriously asked by such a prominent Jewish leader, and was more likely a question asked sarcastically, belittling the statement by Jesus. Both seem somewhat out of character with Nicodemus, at least with the Nicodemus who is presented to our view in this passage. There is another very real possibility, however. "Nicodemus's reply may be interpreted in two ways. At first sight he appears to be quite materialistic in his attitude, thinking that Jesus was advocating the impossibility of a second physical birth. On the other hand, he may not have so understood Jesus' statement. Perhaps he meant, 'How can a man whose habits and ways of thinking have been fixed by age expect to change radically?' Physical rebirth is impossible, but is spiritual change any more feasible?" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 47).
Therefore, one is not transformed by going back in time and being literally, physically reborn from the womb of one's mother, but rather by a spiritual birth from above. We must be spiritually transformed from above, rather than being physically reborn here below! Such spiritual transformation is HIS work, not ours ... a reality that does not readily register with those who have spent a lifetime devoted to self-actualization via works of law. Thus, it is no wonder that Nicodemus struggled with the concept of a birth from above. He had been conditioned by a lifetime in legalism that the goal of life eternal was to be acquired via his own effort at law keeping. The legalists today struggle with the same concept.
Born of Water and Spirit
Jesus' response to the question of Nicodemus was the following: "Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5, NASB). This is an extremely difficult passage to interpret, one which has generated tremendous debate among disciples of Christ for centuries. Charles Ellicott, in his commentary on John, says of this passage, "We are here on the borderland of a great controversy" (vol. 6, p. 398). The Pulpit Commentary states, "This memorable utterance has been the occasion of much controversy" (vol. 17, p. 114). Both of these brief, but highly accurate, comments are tremendous understatements of the historical reality. John 3:5 has proven repeatedly to be a source of heated theological debate among numerous factions within Christendom, especially with regard to the doctrine of water baptism, and, more specifically, with regard to the doctrine of "baptismal regeneration." In some sectarian circles, for one to even question the traditional interpretation of this passage is to risk expulsion from the group as a godless apostate.
There are many points of contention and controversy in this statement by Jesus. What is meant by "water"? What is meant by "spirit" or "Spirit"? Should the definite article be included in the phrase? Is this a validation of Christian baptism, or is some other baptism in view? Or, is baptism not even being taught here? Is the word "water" representative of something else entirely? Should this statement be regarded as pre- or post-Pentecost doctrine? If the former, is it even applicable to the church? These are just some of the many questions that have been raised over the centuries, and the responses have been varied. The major issues involving this particular verse, however, are centered around the significance of the phrases "born of water" and "born of the Spirit" (or "born of spirit"), with the former being the more hotly debated of the two. Before examining the many theories proposed over the centuries for the term "water," however, we need to note the major views pertaining to the term "spirit."
Most scholars believe the phrase refers to the Holy Spirit, as do most translations of Scripture in which it is rendered "born of ... the Spirit" (NASB, KJV, NAB, NIV, HCSB, ASV, RSV, CEV, and others). One fact that needs to be pointed out here, though, is the absence of the definite article before the Greek word pneuma. Therefore, the word "the" has been added to the English text in each of the above translations and versions. Also, by using the upper case "S" with the word, they are imposing an interpretation upon the text. The passage actually reads "born of water and spirit." No definite articles are used. Thus, to declare "spirit" to be "THE Spirit" (i.e., the Holy Spirit of God) is to insert a personal interpretation into the text. Even if such an interpretation is correct, it is not the work of translators to be interpreters. A few translations avoided this temptation, such as the NEB and NWT, just to name a couple. They have translated the passage more literally as: "born of water and spirit."
This is obviously not a minor difference, as the way in which one renders the Greek term pneuma ("wind, breath, spirit") will greatly affect the meaning and application of the passage. Dr. Alvah Hovey notes that the Greek scholar Weiss holds that "the omission of the article before 'water' and 'spirit' shows that water and spirit are contemplated generically" (An American Commentary on the NT, "The Gospel of John," p. 97). Thus, the statement by Jesus Christ, according to this view, would be with regard to a "spiritual birth," as opposed to the more specific "Holy Spirit birth," although the latter would certainly be the source of the former! "The word 'spirit' should perhaps be written without the article in English as well as in Greek, in order that it may denote in the simplest way the kind of source from which the new birth springs, though it is perfectly evident that no spirit save the divine could be thought of as that source" (ibid).
Another point that definitely should be made here is: "The absence of the Greek articles with the two nouns makes their unity more apparent" (R.C.H. Lenski, The Interpretation of St. John's Gospel, p. 237). The Greek grammatical construction definitely links the word "water" to the word "spirit" in a very close relationship. The phrase "water and spirit," without definite articles before either word, and with the connecting conjunction, definitely places the two before us as a unified concept. This is further made evident by the placement of the Greek preposition ek ("from out of" -- denoting origin or source). The phrase literally reads: "born from out of water and spirit." Again, the single preposition, rather than one before each term, links the two as a unified concept. In other words, these are not two separate births, but a single birth enhanced by two significant terms denoting source --- a birth (singular) from out of water and spirit. Some have tried to divide this passage into separate teachings regarding both water baptism and Holy Spirit baptism. There are NOT two births or baptisms in view in John 3:5, however ... only one!
To be "born of ... spirit" seems to suggest a spiritual birth/entrance into the family/kingdom of God, one that finds its source "from above." Being born from above indicates the Spirit of the Lord is intimately involved. We can safely declare, therefore, that those in the kingdom have experienced a spiritual birthing, one which has come from the eternal realm, and which is of Him. I think it safe to suggest the Holy Spirit is clearly in view here as the source of this spiritual birth, a view with which few biblical scholars would take serious exception.
The area of greatest conflict and concern through the centuries has been over how to interpret the phrase "born of water." The theories as to the meaning of this "water" in the context of this difficult passage, and how it relates to being "born of spirit," are legion. Notice the following major positions which have been advocated within various segments of Christendom:
FIRST --- The traditional, and by far the most common, interpretation has been, and is, that the "watery birth" refers to the waters of baptism, and the "spiritual birth" refers to the subsequent operation of the Holy Spirit upon the penitent, immersed believer for the purpose of effecting an inner transformation. Some scholars have a problem with this position as the Pentecost of Acts 2 was still some distance in the future, thus neither baptism into Christ, nor the outpouring of the Spirit, nor the gift of the Holy Spirit had yet occurred or were in effect. It is thus asserted this is more a matter of eisegesis (reading a view into a passage) than exegesis (extracting a view from out of a passage). Would the Lord really have been telling Nicodemus about a practice and promise under the NEW covenant (which was some distance in the future), when Nicodemus sought information as one living under the OLD covenant? Frankly, the critics have a point! The information imparted to Nicodemus needed to be immediately relevant to his own situation. Would a discussion with this Jewish leader of post-Pentecost practices under a new covenant have met that condition of immediate relevancy? Not likely!
Thus, we must ask: What information did Nicodemus need to hear that evening, and how would he have understood the words of Jesus to him on that occasion? Rather than reading and exegeting this passage through the eyes of the church of today, we need to read and exegete the passage through the eyes of Jesus and this Jewish leader back then. What did Jesus intend for Nicodemus to understand, and how would Nicodemus have perceived the statement of our Lord? These are the questions that must be asked and answered if we would truly understand the passage. Not what it may mean to us many years removed from that evening in Jerusalem.
Nevertheless, the traditional approach to this statement by Jesus Christ to Nicodemus has always been that it has reference to Christian baptism and the subsequent inner working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of those who have thus been added to the Lord and numbered together with the saved. Some, however, recognizing this as a contextual problem, seek to remedy it by referring to their view as the "Post-Pentecost" meaning and application of the phrase "born of water and the Spirit." This, of course, implies a "Pre-Pentecost" understanding of the words of Jesus as well, and necessitates Jesus speaking on more than one level that night (one meaning and application for Nicodemus, one for the later church that was yet to be established). Thus, it is asserted, His words have application to both covenants, and must be interpreted one way for Nicodemus, but another way for us today. Although, without question, many portions of Scripture (especially the OT prophecies) have multiple levels of application and fulfillment, the question remains whether this is true of the statement made by Jesus to Nicodemus that night in Jerusalem. The view of most scholars is that this indeed is the case.
If true, the "Pre-Pentecost" meaning of the term "born of water" would refer either to the baptism of Jewish proselytes, or the ceremonial washings of the priests, or the baptism of John, any of which are possibilities, given Nicodemus' obvious familiarity with all three. "The entire system of Jewish, proselyte, and Johannine baptisms was in the mind of both Nicodemus and Christ. These were all symbolic of the confession and repentance, which are the universal human conditions of pardon, and, as a ritual, were allowed to His disciples both before and after Pentecost, as anticipatory of the great gift of the Holy Spirit" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, p. 115). "The baptism of proselytes was already present to the thought; the baptism of John had excited the attention of all Jerusalem, and the Sanhedrin had officially inquired into it" (Ellicott's Commentary on the Whole Bible, vol. 6, p. 398). We know from Luke 7:30 that the Pharisees had rejected the baptism of John, and in so doing "rejected God's purpose for themselves." Thus, many see the "Pre-Pentecost" significance of our Lord's statement being a call to Nicodemus, a Pharisee, to submit to the baptism of John, thus exhibiting a confession and repentance that would result in being "born from above," a birth that had eluded Nicodemus by his own efforts at law keeping. Therefore, "Jesus asserted that the entrance into the kingdom of God that Nicodemus desired could not be achieved by legalism or outward conformity. It required an inner change" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 47).
SECOND --- Evolving from the above position (or perhaps, more accurately, devolving from it) is the view often referred to as "baptismal regeneration." This view places far more spiritual significance on the "waters of baptism," suggesting the Spirit of God saves ONLY through the agency of the waters of baptism. This has led some to make such extreme assertions as (1) "If you are standing in the baptistery, after having repented of your sins and having confessed the Lord Jesus, and if your faith is genuine, and then you die suddenly prior to being lowered into the water, you will go straight to hell," or (2) "If one is lowered into the water of the baptistery and dies suddenly prior to his nose breaking the surface of the water, he will also go straight to hell." Such a legalistic view of this new birth of which Jesus speaks places the fullness of the power to save in the WATER, and in the perfect completion of the act of being immersed in it. Such passages as 1 Pet. 3:21 -- "baptism now saves you" -- are wrested from their context to "prove" this position. Thus, a person is quite literally "born of water," with the Spirit operating only and entirely through that medium.
THIRD --- There is a growing number of biblical scholars, as noted above, who are strongly convicted that the reference to "water" has absolutely nothing at all to do with baptism, whether it be the baptism of John the Baptist (pre-Pentecost) or Jesus the Messiah (post-Pentecost). These are largely reputable individuals who are not out merely to refute the practice or necessity of baptism (although that is clearly the intent of some), but they genuinely believe that the traditional teaching regarding John 3:5 is incorrect. Some of their views and arguments bear closer examination. One such theory is that "born of water" is a reference to one's physical birth. The "water," therefore, would be a reference to the amniotic fluid found in the womb. This interpretation is mentioned by several noted scholars, among them Dr. A.T. Robertson in his classic Word Pictures of the Greek NT. There is somewhat of a twist on this view, and one which is held by almost nobody at all -- it is that the term "water" is a reference to semen, which was called "drop" in several rabbinic works and in parts of the Pseudepigrapha. The idea, then, would be that one was born of a "drop of water" (figuratively speaking).
The justification for this view is seen in the fact that Jesus utters the phrase in question immediately after Nicodemus raises the concern about returning to his mother's womb to be born again. It is theorized that Jesus was trying to show Nicodemus that although one must indeed be born into this world (a fleshly, physical birth) in order to be a "candidate" for the kingdom of God (after all, if one was never born, one obviously would not exist, and thus would never see the kingdom), much more than just a physical birth was required (otherwise all would enter the kingdom simply by virtue of fleshly procreation). There was also, of necessity, the need for a spiritual birth; a birth "from above" as opposed to an earthly birth (one "here below"). This is the real significance of the phrase "born of water and spirit" (or "the Spirit") according to this view.
The proponents of this interesting theory feel the Lord's next statement lends further support to their view --- "That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit" (John 3:6). In this passage, by the way, the definite article is employed (the phrase "born of THE Spirit" has the definite article present in the Greek ... this is also true of vs. 8). It is felt this additional statement by Jesus is provided as divine commentary upon the previous statement, and that the phrase "born of the flesh" is clarification of the phrase "born of water." An additional insight into this "born of flesh/water" view is that Jesus may also have had in mind the Jewish conviction that they were the favored ones of God by virtue of being the fleshly descendants of Abraham. In other words, they were part of the kingdom by birth. In John 8 the Jews made a big deal of being "Abraham's offspring" (vs. 33). "Abraham is our father" (vs. 39) ... "We were not born of fornication" (vs. 41). Thus, Jesus is said to be addressing this conviction of the Jews in His statement to Nicodemus that night -- being a child of father Abraham is sufficient unto salvation only when one is also a child of Father God ("born of water/flesh and the Spirit"). "Nicodemus, like all Jews, supposed that all who were born as children of Abraham would, as Abraham's seed, be citizens of the kingdom, but Jesus shows him that no one can be a new creature in Christ Jesus unless he is born anew" (B.W. Johnson, The People's New Testament with Notes, p. 333).
FOURTH --- Yet another view that is quite popular among some is that the phrase "born of water" is figurative rather than literal. Although the reference is to baptism (primarily that of John the Baptist since this dialogue between Jesus and Nicodemus occurred prior to the cross), nevertheless it has reference to the purpose of that immersion in water, and not the immersion in water itself. Indeed, immersion is not even mentioned here, only the water. John said, "As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me ... will baptize you with the Holy Spirit" (Matt. 3:11). "John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins" (Mark 1:4; cf. Luke 3:3). "John proclaimed before His coming a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel" (Acts 13:24). "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in Him who was coming after him, that is, in Jesus" (Acts 19:4). Since John's baptism was one of repentance, some see the significance of the "water" in this passage as symbolic of a "birth" unto a new focus and way of life; a turning away from a life of futility lived under law, to the embracing of the Coming One who would usher in a new kingdom characterized by grace.
Thus, to be "born of water and spirit," according to this view, was simply a figurative reference to a spiritual redirection of one's life; a sincere, penitent turning from one state of existence to another; a turning unto the One who would baptize with the Holy Spirit, thus bringing about that desired inner transformation of life of these who had come to Him in faith and repentance. "By repentance, old things pass away; by spiritual birth, all things become new" (The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 17, p. 156). "Being born of water means, of course, passing through the experience of repentance" (ibid). "The new birth is conditioned upon the repentance and confession of the individual in response to the appeal of God and by the transformation of life by the gift of the Holy Spirit" (The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 9, p. 47).
FIFTH --- Some suggest the notion that "water" is a reference to the Word of God. This view is strongly advocated by Dr. H.A. Ironside in his Addresses on the Gospel of John. He points to a number of Scriptures to justify this view, including John 4, in which Jesus tells the woman at the well she needs this water He is offering which springs up unto everlasting life. "What is the water that Jesus gives? It is the water of the Word" (p. 96). "And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost" (Rev. 22:17). Paul informs the Ephesian brethren that Jesus "cleansed" the church "by the washing of water with the Word" (Eph. 5:26). In John 15:3 the Lord informs His disciples that they are "clean because of the Word which I have spoken to you." Dr. H.A. Ironside therefore concludes: "So we are to be born again by the Word of God, brought home to our hearts and consciences by the Holy Spirit" (p. 97).
SIXTH --- One of the strongest theories is that the "water" is symbolic of the Spirit Himself, or that it is symbolic of an effect of the Spirit's operation in our lives. In John 7:37-39 we are informed -- "Now on the last day, the great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried out, saying, 'If any man is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, "From his innermost being shall flow rivers of living water."' But this He spoke of the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were to receive." Therefore, this "living water" was the Spirit Himself. Thus, in the phrase "born of water and spirit," these two words may simply be hendiadys -- different words referring to the same thing. If this view is correct, then "water" and "spirit" would both be references to a birth "from above" by the Holy Spirit. This was the view taken by John Calvin (1509-1564).
Far more likely, however, is that the word "water" represents an effect of the Spirit. The Bible is filled with earthly, physical concepts that are representative of the Spirit. In the very passage before us, we see the figure of wind employed to represent the operation of the Spirit. Indeed, the Greek word pneuma can be translated "wind" or "breath." In Matt. 3:11, John the Baptist said Jesus would "baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire." Many see the "fire" in this passage as figurative of the fact that the Spirit "pervades every part, refining and purifying the whole" (Clarke's Commentary, vol. 5, p. 531). In the very same way, it is felt that the water in John 3:5 "was only an emblem of the Holy Spirit ... which cleanses, refreshes, and purifies the soul" (ibid). "In other words, water is a figurative term for the purifying power of the Spirit" (Dr. Alvah Hovey, An American Commentary on the NT, p. 97).
There are great minds, noble spirits, and honest hearts on all sides of this issue. Without question, it is a difficult passage to interpret, and no mere man should dare to presume his understanding on the matter is infallible or inspired. I have attempted to present the major theories of interpretation in a fair and balanced manner, and will leave the reader to determine which seems the most reasonable. I think there are strong and weak points in each of them, and, frankly, am not personally convicted as to which is the correct interpretation. I believe some to be stronger possibilities than others, but the jury is still out in my own mind, to be perfectly honest.
The vast majority of biblical scholars down through the ages opt for some version of #1 above. The probability that there are at least a couple of levels on which the words of Christ may be interpreted with regard to baptism and the operation of the Spirit in the process of one's being born from above is very high, in my estimation. However, I find several of the other theories quite compelling (especially #3 and #6). At this particular point in my study of the matter, I am truly hard-pressed to choose between them. Thankfully, our perfect perception of this particular passage is not in any way essential to our salvation, as redemption is not knowledge based, but grace/faith based. Thus, if I die before having "figured out" John 3:5, I shall be welcomed into the arms of my Lord based on John 3:16. Praise God for His matchless grace and marvelous gift!
From a New Reader in Texas:
Dear Al, I really enjoyed your article on Nadab and Abihu --- Reflections #63. It was so refreshing to read a lesson on the true sins of these two guys, rather than read that they left us an example not to play instrumental music. I would like to be on your mailing list for Reflections.
From a New Reader in Indiana:
Hola, Mr. Maxey! I am a 16 year old Christian from Indiana. I've read your Reflections (my mom is subscribed), and I think they're great and would like to subscribe. Keep up the good work!
From a Minister in California:
Brother Al, I know that the Spirit of God is working in you because no human being could keep up such a high level of quality work as you do on their own. It's just impossible! As I've told you before, when we submit ourselves to God and let Him work through us, we are able to do more than we could ever possibly do on our own. I really appreciated the logical perspective you had on Christians serving their community through political office. I have been approached a couple of times about running for the local school board. I think the ultimate test is whether you are running for public office for your own ego, or to bring glory to God. Each time, I asked God to give me guidance through circumstances, and He has always made it clear that it was not a good time. If He indicates in the future that it is His will, I will certainly do so. Thanks once again for your Reflections ministry. It definitely ministers to my soul!
From a Reader in Florida:
Al, I just read your article "Church and State," and, again, you have presented some very thought-provoking points. I am an appointed member of the Board of Adjustment for the city in which I live. I have found that this political position has afforded me numerous opportunities to share Christ through the contacts I have been able to make. Our congregation recently had a "Friend's Day" for which the members invited their friends to attend Sunday morning services. The Mayor of our city and his wife were present as a result of my involvement in city politics and my inviting them. I believe we can serve the Lord and be an influence for good in every arena, even politics.
From a Reader in Texas:
As a person who has been politically active for the majority of his adult life, worked with a legislative research organization for over seven years and had reps in four states, I believe you have done a great job on presenting the case for the 1st Amendment in its original form. I have spoken with school administrators who genuinely think that "separation of church and state" is clearly stated in the 1st Amendment. I carried a copy of the Constitution with me for years to show what it really said, and then to see the look on their faces when they read the actual words was a real education within itself. This misconception has been taught in our public schools for years, and the churches have done nothing to counter it. The influence of David Lipscomb, and others within the Restoration Movement heritage (as well as other religious traditions), in discouraging involvement in the political process, plus this mistaken teaching on the Constitution, have all led to the mess we have in this nation right now.
There are now even certain church groups actively involved in promoting the separation of church and state (they are keeping the teachings of the church within the four walls of a building on Sundays, and within the four walls of a person's house). Most of these well-intentioned people have no idea where the phrase "wall of separation" actually comes from! They honestly believe it is within the text of the U.S. Constitution. They certainly do not know that Jefferson was just assuring one religious group, in a private letter, that they had nothing to fear from the federal government. Sadly, that is not the case today! We are but a few brief steps from having our federal government enter our church buildings and houses if any of us dare breach the commonly held definition of the "wall of separation." What a sad state of affairs our nation is in -- due to much misunderstanding of God's Word and of our own Constitution, and the intent of its writers. Thank you for your efforts and study!
From a Reader in Alabama:
You quoted from the Center for Biblical Bioethics' position paper that found most Christians deserting the political arena. I agree that is not a good thing for our nation. However, as with many things in life, there's already a pendulum effect at work with Christian involvement in politics that may take us much too far in the opposite direction. That's why, at the theologically conservative church I attend in a politically conservative state, it is very nearly a condition of fellowship that members must be Republicans. Those who are not soon learn to keep quiet about it. This high level of political involvement in the church disturbs me. Still, as disturbed as I am by the topic of politics and Christianity, I appreciate you tackling it. Love you, brother!
From an Elder in Texas:
Al, Thanks for your recent article on Christians and politics. I see no problems in a Christian becoming politically involved and being a force for good. In fact, it may even be an imperative for the church to have influence in matters of social justice. What really bothers me, though, is how easily some of our brothers and sisters blend their political opinions or their patriotism with Christianity. American civil religion is a popular alternative gospel, and one I believe we should guard against. Thank you for using your gifts of teaching and communication to bless so many people. I appreciate the opportunity to learn and to see things from different vantage points. God bless!
From a Minister in Kentucky:
Brother Al, I really appreciated your article on "Church and State." The thought comes to me that if God can use ungodly men as His servants to uphold the principles of law in civil society, even when those men are not aware of that fact -- and probably wouldn't want to be so used -- imagine what He can do with a faithful, godly man who is willing to be used by Him and who desires God to be glorified in his service in the public arena? But, that godly man must be willing to allow God to set the agenda for his service, and not seek to press his own agenda. I think this is where many people who seek to bring a Christian influence to bear on our government and country have erred, and thus had their efforts scorned and rebuffed. The only way we can ever rightfully expect to truly transform our government or our society is by converting people one at a time. This means that not only should Christians actively participate in their government, but all Christians should work diligently to change our society by the faithful proclamation of the gospel.
From a Reader in Louisiana:
Brother Al, That was excellent work on the separation of church and state. Sadly, people don't even know the history behind the First Amendment, and the liberal judges, and those who would remove God from our national fabric, have forced through the government the religion of no religion (especially Christianity). Until the citizens of this nation learn our history, we will be at the mercy of those who would rather destroy our history to control our future, than those who would learn from our history to secure our future. This article of yours should be put in every newspaper and magazine in America. God bless America -- God bless you!
From a Doctor in Kentucky:
Al, Do you ever feel as though you have an "Internet congregation"? Well, I can tell you, those of us on this end of things do feel as though you shepherd us! Your articles come every few days and whether we read all of them every time or not, there you are for us. Cecil Hook told me a couple of years ago that he felt like he was edified daily by his "Internet congregation." Although I believe the Lord intended a face-to-face setting for His local body, I certainly can see Cecil's point, and perhaps you can too now that you have been doing this for a while.
From a Minister in New Mexico:
Bro. Al, In Issue #209 -- "Behold the Pattern" -- you wrote of asking patternists to provide the pattern. Well, it's too late. God provided the pattern 2000 years ago in Jesus the Christ. The Pattern is a Person. Sitting here at my desk, I just couldn't resist pointing to the obvious!!
From a New Reader in (Unknown):
Hi Al, I remember you from our MarsList days. Unfortunately, however, I somehow found myself flushed from MarsList some years back. I like your writing. Would you subscribe me to your Reflections? Thanks!
From a Reader in Florida:
Dear Al, Congratulations on yet another well-written article (the one on church and politics) in your Reflections. The reader from Alabama who proposed that subject brought up a very good question, and you gave an eloquent answer about how much good can be done in one's community through involvement in a Christian manner. I grew up in a church that was attended by a few fundamentalists, just like the reader from Alabama mentioned, who where always quick to criticize another's beliefs. These people in my little church, so many years ago, didn't believe in watching TV or going to the movies or, as I recall, doing much of anything except being critical of almost everyone else! So, I learned at a very young age that you simply can't please some people, no matter how exemplary a life you try to live.
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