He was Irish and he was eloquent. He pastored a large downtown United Church in London. He held many parishioners whom I loved in the palm of his hand. But he could not pilot them safely to shore.
Friends of the family had heard of the uncommon faith encounters of Doug and Hilary. They decided to cool the enthusiasm about the “born again experience” by sending a tape of one of this man’s sermons to us.
Everything in that message built up to the assertion that the term “born again” had only been mentioned once in scripture by Jesus in John 3, and there it had been mis-translated. The Lord had not said “born again” to Nicodemus, but rather “born from above”. Yeah, so what?
In either rendering from the original language it was clear that the Teacher of all teachers was saying that a second life-giving experience was essential, and that that transaction was as mysterious as the winds.
But let us keep going and look at scriptures affirming this strange entrance into acceptance with God. The Psalmist said it in Psalm 51. Jeremiah said it in chapter 31. Ezekiel said it in chapter 36. John the Beloved in his Gospel said it in chapter 1. Peter the Big Fisherman said it in his First Epistle chapter 1. Paul said it in Galatians chapter 6 and in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. The anonymous writer to the Hebrews said it in chapter 8. James the brother of the Lord said it in chapter 1.
There you have 8 different sources together with Jesus speaking to the new birth, new begetting, new creation or new covenant written upon the heart by God’s own sovereign act. You see, it is not all up to us. There is tremendous hope in this fact, and particularly when the Psalmist reminds us that the Eternal One is plenteous in mercy (Psalms 86 and 103).
This Irishman, this pulpit-weaver of words, will stand out in my memory as one with grand homiletics but lousy Bible comprehension and delivery (hermeneutics). Friends, beware of enticing words and agendas of men.
A Texas preacher, far less sophisticated, by the name of Bert Clendenning told an arresting story coming from an unforgettable dream. He saw a handsome young man walking across a frightening area of burning ground. He had a look of grim determination upon his face. He would stop and reach down and pull up a head out the flames, examine it, then put it back down and try again. The dreamer had the impression that the place represented Hell. He asked the young man about his purpose.
“I am looking for the preacher who steered me wrong. He’s gotta be here too.”
(Note: The term “pilot” in this context has always fascinated me. Perhaps it started with reading the book Sky Pilot released in the early 1900’s by a Canadian Prairies preacher and author (Presbyterian) using the pen name Ralph Connor. He offered some of the earliest and best of so-called Christian fiction.)