Monday, 4 March 2013

More on conversion

Following on from my last post the idea - and necessity - of conversion is not new. First and foremost it is in the bible and secondly it comes from Jesus himself where he tells a startled religious teacher Nicodemus that unless he is "born again (from above)" (John 3:3) he cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven. But it is also in the early church. Here is Basil of Caesarea a 4th century bishop and saint writing to baptism candidates (remember they were adults who came forward to be baptised). He writes:

"How then shall we become like him (Jesus) in his death? By having been buried with him through baptism. But how does this burial take place? What benefit has this initiation?

First of all one must break with one' life of the past. This is impossible, unless one is born again, as the Lord said. For regeneration, as is evident from the word itself, is the beginning of a second life. Consequently, before beginning this second life, we must bring the first to an end. As in the double course (where the competitors must run to the turning point and back to the start again) a halt, a brief respite separates the outward run and the return, so also for a change of life it seemed necessary that death intervene between the two lives, to make an end of all that went before and a beginning of all that follows."
St. Basil: On the Holy Spirit

We have lost this very important aspect of the Christian life where people are challenged to make a new beginning in life - symbolised by baptism - where they die to the past and begin a new life with Christ. I know the phrase "born-again" is much maligned, misused and misunderstood, but it belongs to Jesus who wants it to belong to us and the church. And he is pretty categorical about it too. For unless we are "born-again" we will miss out on something pretty important. Nothing less than the Kingdom of God.

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