We last looked at the principle of the New Birth. One thing about Jesus’ teachings that impresses me is that if something were a parable, a story offered to illustrate a point, then He would say at the first, “the Kingdom is like thus and such. If there were a true story that He used, then, “There was such a man...” If He was saying that something is this or that way, then that’s what would come out. Like when a group of Jews “believed on Him” as far as opinions go, but still cherished their own sinful attitudes and ambitions, He told them that “You belong to your father, the devil.” God, the Father, has no part with such deceits, and those who hold to them have no right to call Him, “Father,” because it is the devil that is “the father of lies.” So, then, if we are to belong to God, and hear from Him, we need to be born again, by His Spirit, by faith. Faith, in this sense, is more a continuing process than a momentary decision; and the New Birth is, like natural birth, an event that marks a life, and not the whole life in itself.
Because of this, we don’t say that the New Birth is the Main Point, or the Final Experience, for anyone’s life. Two terms Jesus used for the New Life were to be born again, and to follow Him. Now, in the first, we don’t have O.B.s and midwives setting newborns in display cases, or sending out on the streets to fend for themselves, do we? That new life is rushed into the warmest, safest, and most nourishing environment they can arrange for it. Immediately they rub it down, clean its eyes, ears, and throat, make sure it can nurse, and (hopefully) give it right to its mother to start forming that lifelong bond that will be its lifeline for the rest ot its days in this world. For all these reasons, those who assume that once a person is born from above he or she is “good to go” are whistling in the dark. What we are looking at applies to everyone, born again or not, young, old, new Christian or aged bishop, so please read on
When a baby is first born, does it even know its daddy except as a voice, a presence, from somewhere out of reach? Maybe so, but never as a person! It needs to hear, but its ears are plugged. It needs to see, but its eyes are closed with the same “vernix” (cheesy gunk). Same with someone who is first trusting Christ as savior. God had been a Presence, to some degree, but until then, surely nothing more. He had been deaf to spiritual truth, blind to reality, and had never tasted the “sincere milk of the word of God.” He, or she, actually, had never even, really, been touched in a spiritual way. In all these ways a new Christian needs to be welcomed into a living fellowship to not only be cleansed in baptism, but to experience a Spirit-driven baptism into the body of Christ as an ongoing (not just occasional, weekly, or when convenient!) so that the Church, which is his/her mother, can clean out the ears and eyes, rub oil into the dry skin, and make sure that the babe in Christ is taking in an ample supply of the Word in all forms. No principle in the history of the Church has been proven so important, and none so neglected in these recent years!
The Irish in Ireland’s “Golden Age,” in which the Church there was growing to such strength that they would be able to re-introduce Christianity and scholarship to Europe, had a principle which they had learned from the Egyptian Christians. That of a “soul friend.” For each new Christian, and each new monk or student at the monasteries, it was a first priority to find one who would be more than a pastor, or a tutor or mentor, but someone of real wisdom, Christian experience, and insight with whom he could share the issues of his soul. It was important to know the basic teaching of the Church, as much of the Bible as possible, and the writings of those days that survive reflect an astounding depth of Bible knowledge and understanding. But just as, or even more, important were the things that are too often neglected today: Real self-knowledge before God, honest, heart-deep prayer, worship, and meditation, such as never seem to really make the translation from a book we can set aside at our pleasure. Some things are best learned face to face, heart to heart, and the successes that History recounts of Ireland’s “saints and scholars” owes greatly to that one practice. So to the Church the message is to stop pretending to be an institution, organisation, or social club, and be the loving mother that Jesus calls us to be. If any be newly born into the Kingdom, or anybody else who, though a Christian has not done so, make it a matter of urgent prayer, that you might find a soul friend. Someone who will not religiously “lord it over” you, but gently support you at your weak points, guard where you are hurting, and help you to grow strong in the love and wisdom of Jesus and, while you are praying, ask Him to help you grow into such a friend yourself. We need so many!