Some time ago I was invited to a Rotary Lunch with a well-known female Muslim speaker. In the course of discussion following her presentation, the ex-Governor General, Archbishop Peter Hollingworth, who was also in attendance, made reference to the importance of distinction between cultural religion and religion of faith. I have used this distinction in my reflections I’ve shared with you over the past weeks.
Jesus teachings were primarily about addressing the problems that arose out of the misconceptions that surrounded these two perspectives of religion. He lived in a society highly shaped by religion as culture.
- We can remember, the cleansing of the temple, where sacrifices of animals meant the temple had become a market place for selling animals as opposed to being a house of prayer.
- Also Jesus confronting the religious leaders who loved saying prayers in public while dressed in religious garb rather than retiring to the privacy of their own hidden room where only ones heavenly father truly knew what was ones heart.
- We could name many other examples, but suffice it to say Jesus constantly sought ways to bring before people the reality that there was so much more to faith than merely conforming to the religious ethos of their national religious culture.
The heart of the problem of cultural religion is found in the story of his instruction to Nicodemus, where he points out that one must be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven.
BEING BORN AGAIN
Let’s pause for a moment and reflect upon this notion of being born again. I would want to start by observing that the process of life is a continuous process of being born to newer and greater potentialities of human experience. Physical birth is really only a moment in a process. Life has been developing in the womb for 9 months. Birth is a moment in a greater process.
Hence birth is the process of life. A child learns one step at a time to walk and talk, to dream and imagine, to accomplish a range of basic skills, transform into puberty, grow into adulthood, fall in love, give birth, mature with wisdom, review one’s life and prepare for one’s final departure. Each step is a birth to something newer and greater about the process and possibilities one might discover about the human experience along the way.
Jesus was adamant that spiritual awareness was the heart of human experience and the life of faith.
For the fullness of human life we need birth or an awakening to this awareness of experience.
This is his born-again experience. However, it is not the end in itself...
It is the vital birth that provides the key for meaningfully integrating all of life’s experience into the cohesive unity that is the essence of our Christness nature.
LIFESTYLE OR EXPERIENCE
Sadly conflict has arisen in the Christian community over this issue. I contend that the difference of opinion has emerged over failing to distinguish between experience and life style.
Some people have found that for them the notion of being born again has arisen out of a pronounced experience of spiritual awakening, so powerful that they determine that anything less than something similar to their own is disingenuous. They immediately reject others claims to a genuine spiritually shaped faith experience.
The positive of their approach is that they continue to highlight the possibility of ever deeper and broader spiritual gifts. The danger in this position is that experience itself has become the object of their religion.
The different approach to being born again as simply experience, is focusing upon an awakening to the spiritual perception of life that transforms one’s life style. Being born again is merely the beginning, and means little if one does not grow in the way of a spiritually shaped life.
Far more than noting the gifts of the spirit, if these gifts are not developed and incorporated into the fullness of life style, then one would have to question what the point of them was.
We would be talking about a still-birth
The spiritually awakened life is in fact a friend of the total human experience. It has the potential and means to enhance and enrich all life experience. It is the gift that integrates all of life as a harmonious unity, for life is spirit. There is danger in this approach for it is vulnerable to merely blending into the cultural norms of behaviour that can far too easily be no more than a representation of the popular culture.
If we are to seriously reflect upon this teaching of Jesus to be born again, we probably need to learn from both views I’ve spoken of.
The notion of being born again as experience is important, but never as one approach. It may start as a sudden awakening, but it needs to be continually refreshed though the regular engagement with spiritually renewing practices throughout ones’ life. For some people they were always drawn to a spiritual experience but in a gradual and regular encounter with the divine.
The notion of being born again as a process of living is vital for we are talking about a spiritually shaped life. Grounded in the humble laying of ones’ life daily before the Lord so that all that we do is seasoned by this encounter will impact upon the way we live.
Being born again and again and again becomes our process of ensuring we remain the salt of the earth.
A light of the world.
We learn to walk the way of the cross.
Various terms are sometimes used to speak of a life without the grounding in spirit; such as, the non-spiritual being a ‘flatland world’. A world without its full dimension. Sometimes a world that is ‘spiritually bankrupt.’
It is a great tragedy to witness people using religious labels from a cultural point of view for their own ends. And too often for negative or destructive ends.
Jesus saw the danger of this in his day. Sadly the same hazard continues in our own day.
To be born again to a whole new world of love and faith is a wonderful gift when you capture Jesus vision.
It opens ones’ mind to seeing heaven actually already in our midst as we enter more deeply into the life of spirituality.
He who has eyes to see with let him see
He who has ears to listen with, let him hear