By Walid Shoebat
“Are you born again” or is it “repent and be baptized,” that is the question.
The Jesus-style question I ask my Evangelical brethren is: 1) What do you mean by being “born again”? 2) Show me where in the history of Christianity was this question “are you born again” ever asked?
Indeed, Christ spoke of a new birth, but Christ never instructed anyone to witness by simply focusing on a “conversion experience” but by a conviction of your sin and the need for The Savior, Jesus Christ.
Once the questioner does his homework with question #1, what you will quickly discover answering question #2, is that the motto only came in the last couple of centuries relating to anyone having a ‘conversion experience’.
There is no scriptural text that says “you need to be born again” that is void of Baptism:
“Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:5-8)
Peter confirmed: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
Asking the question “are you born again” only began two centuries ago, it was never used throughout history until during the 18th and 19th centuries with the Great Awakenings in the United Kingdom and North America spearheaded by John Wesley, George Whitefield, Jonathan Edwards and later on Billy Graham.
If the question is asked to a Christian, it is only asked to see whether a person is Evangelical or an apostolic succession Christian, whom according to Wesley were outside the Kingdom and needed a ‘conversion experience’ similar to theirs.
Therefore, it was directed specifically to convert Catholics. If this movement was not solely directed at Catholics, how many in Wesley’s time can anyone find converts from lets say atheism, Islam or Buddhism? It was only created to hit other Christians to denounce their apostolic succession affiliation.
But the problem was that the founding fathers of evangelicalism, in their last years, they retreat from evangelicalism’s stark certainties. John Wesley for example, who was the originator of the movement was the Billy Graham of his day “rode 250,000 miles … and preached more than 40,000 sermons”. Wesley never seems to have attained the inner peace and was a walking contradiction. John Wesley writing to his brother Charles in these stark words said:
“I do not love God. I never did. Therefore I never believed, in the Christian sense of the word. Therefore I am only an honest heathen.”
Yet at the same time, Wesley, to people felt it necessary to still preach his message:
“And yet I dare not preach otherwise than I do, either concerning faith, or love, or justification, or perfection . . . I want all the world to come to what I do not know.”
John Wesley’s disciples were no better. Westley Hall, one of Wesley’s first converts while they were both students at Oxford. Auspiciously enough, Hall married Wesley’s sister Martha; but then, after a string of seductions among his flock, he began to preach a gospel of polygamous deism and finally deserted Martha after most of her ten children had died, fleeing to the West Indies with another woman.
His nephew Samuel Wesley had the same troubles to finally realize he needed to convert to Catholicism and was condemned by the whole movement.
Yet even “baptism in the Holy Spirit” which this movement sprouted was influenced by Catholic and Anglican mystical traditions on John Wesley‘s doctrine of Christian perfection or entire sanctification, from which Pentecostal beliefs on Spirit baptism developed. John Fletcher, Wesley’s designated successor, called Christian perfection a “baptism in the Holy Spirit” and that is where the term came from.
Billy Graham who used this “are you born again?” motto ended up revealing that he truly believed that people can be saved without believing on Jesus and that Muslims and Buddhists are “saved”. From when one exposes real history from Martin Luther to Billy Graham, the common answer is always “I am going to give them the benefit of the doubt,” a “benefit” which they would never extend to the Pope.
This is the background of where “are you born again” came from. Faithful apostolic succession Christians are usually annoyed by the question.
I am. I left Evangelicalism and became Catholic for the same reasons that I have seen enough heresies, schisms and strife to only be accused of these things for being a Catholic defending my new faith.
It is not the sins, but the utter heresies which were spouted by all the so-called reformers, puritans and Great Awakenings. I saw a system that strictly came from Germany, to England then to America which has a monopoly on all Christendom that says, if you do not fit, you are out.
Am I saying that Evangelical Christians are heretics? No. God will judge each and every individual on the basis of what they knew be they Pharisee or Samaritan, Catholic or Protestant …
This “born again” experience gained momentum taking with it 285 million (13.1% of the total Christian population) and 4.1% of the total world population. Yet throughout the history of the church, prior to evangelicalism, with both Catholic and Protestant, the rite of initiation, that is, spiritual regeneration was via the sacrament of baptism by the power of the water and the spirit. This in fact, remains the common understanding in Roman Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Oriental Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, Lutheranism and in much of Protestantism.
Evangelicals simply hijacked that term and redefined it. This is a historic fact, no offense. But saying this will garner me the false accusation of being ‘divisive’ and ‘hateful’. My question is, why would someone (who knows I am Catholic) challenge my faith asking me such a question “are you born again?” when all I am doing is defending my faith as being born again through Water and Spirit?
The other fact is that Christ Himself when He spoke of this new re-birth, He linked it to baptism. Yet the high-jackers insisted it is only “a personal relationship with Jesus Christ“. The bottom line is this: this two-century old twist came to attack that Catholics as none–Christian. So who attacked who? A Christian is defined by both (spirit and baptism) throughout Catholic and mainline Protestants who all believe that salvation comes when “someone is joined by grace to Christ”. While someone might think that baptism is works, but the whole feud over works is easily resolved in that it is Christ’s works (not our works) in us, is what truly saves.
The question then becomes is this: why insist that all Christians follow their formula of joining the “born again” movement?
Answer: to create additional schism from the mainline Protestant denominations or to schism from the apostolic succession churches, claiming that these, all of the sudden, are no longer Christian.
But is that true? Again, a Christian is someone who is joined by grace through Christ.
Why then not ask a better question: are you joined by grace through Christ? Or as Peter did: “have you repented and been baptized?” Or as Jesus did “Are you born again through Water and Spirit?”
A true Catholic would say “yes”. A true Orthodox would say “yes” and a true Protestant would say “yes”.
Why then create divisions instead of unite under the grace of Christ?
The answer is simple. Again, it is a schismatic movement which began last couple of centuries by heretics who insisted that ANYONE who is saved must be connected to a certain conversion experience and is how they are “born again.”
And this is why the Evangelical movement has had the most schismatic results than any other religious movement in history. Ever wonder why there are so many nit-picking?
Even when they bring the gospel to its simplest form which one can memorize and recite by heart as the sinners prayer from a booklet. If that is all one needs to do, endless schisms will arise in Sunday school while they collectively read the Bible. I never once sat in a circle where they read verses and found so many disagreements which by the time the ring around the rosy was done, that the last individual ended up contradicting the first. Many of these think that by democracy one finds truth.
Most Evangelical pastors I met call on everyone to use only the Bible and to never divide. Fact is that they find many angles to divide, while insisting that they are the only ones who follow the original church in its purist form.
This is why I left the movement after having been connected with top evangelical leaders to only see a movement that operates through arm-twisting and are infused with the spirit of debate and argumentation.
These abrogate levitical laws to a point of insisting that “God is completely done with the law”. But they have an exception of some sort, for a tax levy, which they vehemently defend, of course. They insist everyone pays 10% of their income to advance their cause by a system, which in the first place, was strictly derived from a Levitical law. This, all the while they speak of their denunciations and expose Catholic indulgences.
All Christians believe that the Old Covenant foreshadowed the New. In the Old Covenant it was the rite of circumcision. In the New, Christians are circumcised in the circumcision of Christ when they are buried with Him in baptism. This is expressed in Col 2:11-12 in which Baptism replaced circumcision:
In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of flesh in the circumcision of Christ; and you were buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead.
Circumcision foreshadowed baptism. Romans 6:4 confirms baptism is necessary for this covenant: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death …”
The “Born Again” movement claims that we are born again only by a “conversion experience” while scripture clearly includes literal “baptism” in “water” as this new birth.
Only a schismatic rebellious spirit rejects what is as clear as the sun and is what Christ said in John 3:5: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.”
All early church fathers believed it is literal water (1).
The key in not following schismatics is to beware from anyone who says that the church fathers are not essential for Christian upbringing.
I can relate to this in this week’s experience with one schismatic named Dr. Michael Brown who supposedly entered our life to help us get “straight” with God, so he claimed. Amused at the prospect I entertained Brown, but could not tolerate him for more than two days worth of exchanges where whatever he said was “from God” and whatever I said was outright wrong for it simply does not agree with his spirit. This is the man who started a movement where Holy Spirit is “wine,” and worshippers are to imbibe Christ to become “drunk in the spirit.” He argues against one of his critics Calvinist John MacArthur who critiqued Brown’s movement as heretical:
“Does he embrace the glorious things the Holy Spirit is doing worldwide, resulting in the salvation of tens of millions of souls, or does he write them off as the result of emotionalism and deception?”
In other words, the conversion experience and numbers to this schismatic group is evidence that God is involved.
So if any trend becomes ‘large enough,’ ‘experiential enough’, then it must be the move of the Holy Spirit.
To say no, they claim is “throwing out the baby with the bathwater”. This, regardless that scripture warns of the leaven (bathwater) that destroys the whole batch (baby) where the baby dies and is not only buried but ends up in hell.
They argue that despite the heresies and demonic manifestations that “genuine works of the Spirit” should not be called “charismatic chaos.”
But what they do not recognize is that even the “glorious things the Holy Spirit is doing” are not even so glorious and have nothing to do with the Holy Spirit. What is the use of drinking water with a drop of cyanid?
It is bathwater. How could God be in anything where a schism is created one after another?
Yet when one points the problems they instantly label you as “divisive” when all you are doing is exposing their endless divides.
This type of Evangelical argues, that salvation, from the apostolic succession perspective, is just too difficult, which involves the dreaded sacraments. What they miss is that the road to salvation with apostolic succession churches is as if one gives you a key to unlock a door. The road of salvation with the Evangelicals is as if one gives you a treasure vault to open, except that you have to figure out the 3 digit combination on your own.
What are the odds of guessing a 3 digit combination to unlock a vault? You do the math.
It is here where the devil thrives. Once each individual interprets the whole of scripture as he personally sees fit, even regardless to all the supposed supervision by pastors, the combinations and endless theologies one can come up with, could end one straight to hell.
People could combine verses where once saved is always saved, while others conclude pre-destination, and then schisms come from this, to create a newer brand of schism they call aggressive New Calvinism.
Others read the text and believe in a sort of revivalism, which is littered with unguarded religious experiences and are very critical of intellectual teaching and knowledge.
From there came Progressive Evangelicals, also known as the Evangelical left which identifies with women’s equality, pacifism and social justice. These flood the evangelical market where gay acceptance has become rabid.
From post-conservative Evangelicals also sprouted out Open Theism which triggered the most significant controversy about the doctrine of God that God’s most fundamental character trait is only love. These flood the evangelical market where no one can make any common sense on serious theological issues or even can try to convince them that Joshua killed the Philistine children as well as the adults.
These would quickly brand you ‘judgmental’ for exposing the truth. Most Evangelical movements emphasize on conversion experiences, reliance on private interpretation of Scripture and then to convert all others by dumping sacraments (which baptism is) and traditions of the established churches.
It is as if the Nazis put all the church fathers books into one big bonfire so that when you refer to church fathers, it matters not; yet at the same rate claiming that they adhere to the purist form of the faith as it was in the first century.
Imagine when marriage is no sacrament? Breaking sacraments severely damages salvation:
… Divorce does injury to the covenant of salvation, of which sacramental marriage is the sign. Contracting a new union, even if it is recognized by civil law, adds to the gravity of the rupture: the remarried spouse is then in a situation of public and permanent adultery … (Catechism of the Catholic Church)
Good luck trying to convince these that divorce is an injury to the “covenant of salvation”?
They sort of figuratively burn the church fathers at their imaginative steak, because fathers like Ignatius of Antioch speaks of such schismatics. Keep in mind, Ignatius died in A.D. 107 and was close to the time of the apostles. He wrote:
Do not err, my brethren: if anyone follow a schismatic, he will not inherit the Kingdom of God. If any man walk about with strange doctrine, he cannot lie down with the passion [of Christ]. Take care, then, to use one Eucharist, so that whatever you do, you do according to God: for there is one Flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup in the union of His Blood; one altar, as there is one bishop with the presbytery and my fellow servants, the deacons.”
-Epistle to the Philadelphians, 3:2-4:1, 110 A.D.
Had such heretics walked into a time tunnel to live history from Genesis to Revelations, it would be as if Cain’s fruit sacrifice mattered little, wine instead of their grape-juice mattered little, the mark of Ezekiel with the Taw on the forehead resembling the cross mattered little, Gideon’s army were soldiers drank with their tongues as a dog laps from those who kneel down to drink, mattered little, Moses striking the rock twice mattered little, eying the bronze serpent mattered little, putting real lambs blood on the doors and lintels mattered little, baptismal by water mattered little … and all what mattered is that they had Yahweh in their hearts.
Biblical and historic truth reveals that conversion experience is not before baptism. This renders Paul’s words as absurd. If church fathers have infinitesimal importance, why do these then seek their own church fathers? The answer will reveal, that no matter what side the Christian follows, the interpretation regarding scripture, must come from either Church Fathers or the Protestant reformers or the Fathers of the Great Awakening of the eighteenth and nineteenth century.
This is the bottom line.
The lie that was peddled with “scripture alone” was not the issue. The real issue is whose interpretations of scripture does this modern “born again believer” follow.
No matter what, the scripture does not exist in a vacuum; the Church is the Christian plus his Bible.
No matter what grease one applies to the slippery-fish, there is no way around the Jesus-style checkmate; “all I need is the word of God” becomes obsolete to only face reality; all we need is the correct interpretation of the word of God, and there is only one source: the church fathers, that stems from the apostolic-sucsession.
And today, all these schisms claim they were inspired by the same Holy Spirit?
And we ask; does this not constitute blasphemy of the Holy Spirit?
Nothing has changed, but simply put, each branched into indefinite sub branches and sub-sub branches.
Instead of confessing the sin, we have thousands of controversies and tens of thousands of denominations each with hair-splitting arguments over the scriptures which the primitive church had already interpreted through the Holy Spirit and set the record straight once and for all.
The key to resolving all these troubles is to stop focusing on what they are all fighting over. From Messianic to Evangelical, Baptist to Lutheran, Pentecostal to Calvinist, they all should stride to pilgrim back to the primitive church without avoiding Rome.
It was Rome where Paul pilgrimed to from Jerusalem.
To the Gentiles is Rome as to the ancient Jew was Jerusalem. There is no escape from this historic reality and is why we even have books like Romans.
The Jesus-style question still stands: how did the primitive church understand the basics of any doctrine?
Many realize that there is no escape, we must deal with the issue on how the primitive church interpreted scriptures.
For example, one of our critics, Calvinist apologist James White who understood long ago the folly of ignoring church fathers. White however, only uses selective quotes from Tertullian, Augustine and others, while apologist James McCarthy considers the whole primitive church completely “irrelevant”.
But this argument creates a Jesus-style question which still stands from time immemorial: did Christ fail building His church until Calvin or Jonathan Edwards showed up?
There is only one way to answer this question. This is, that the Calvinist Mr. White had to show that Christ did not fail. But the only way to respond to this challenge was to deliberately twist what the first Christian said, or even omit, or else, Jesus then failed and His entire Messianic Kingdom is rendered obsolete.
It is for this reason that the advocates of “the church fathers matter not” are caught in the same Jesus-style checkmate and is why their argument needs not be addressed.
But debating these is as if one is playing chess with man’s destiny. The Calvinist believes that even his lies are destined.
But God arranged history in a way that makes it easy to generate countless Jesus style questions with a checkmate on every move the schismatics and the sophists make. To say that the church fathers are absolutely irrelevant (as many argue) creates another Jesus-style question that is also impossible to answer: how do we then know what Christians believed for fifteen centuries and confirm the Church Christ promised to establish “I will build My Church”? It is here where Catholicism and Orthodoxy thrives debunking the born again system.
To answer this question, what then must we say of Justin Martyr? Taking one theological argument as the Eucharist during 151 A.D., what baffled my mind when I was Evangelical:
“not as common bread, nor common drink do we receive these; but … as we have been taught, the food which has been made into the Eucharist by the Eucharistic prayer set down by him, and by the change of which our blood and flesh are nourished, is both the flesh and blood of that Incarnated Jesus.” Justin Martyr (151 A.D. His First Apology 66, 20).
The “born again” crowds would say that this is unimportant. These choose the sacrifice of Cain while they denounce the sacrifice of Abel. Malachi 1:10-11 insists that the gentiles (church age) will burn literal incense. To these schismatics this too does not matter.
We find such references confirming the Catholic Eucharist being the real presence from St. Ignatius of Antioch (110A.D.), St. Irenaeus (140-202 A.D.), Tertullian (155-250 A.D.), Origen, St. Clement, St, Cyprian … Try to google this to see how James White responds and there you find complete silence.
And so the Jesus-style question compounds. If St. Irenaeus refers to previous teachers “as we have been taught” (as in the past), he was the student of Polycarp who was also “taught in the past” directly from St. John the apostle. The latter wrote major parts of scripture. John was there during these times when these books were etched. Never once did John object to what was taught.
Even Christ Himself when He appeared to John never once complained to the Seven Churches about any of these teachings. Polycarp was the student of John the apostle. This is no small matter considering how he was martyred.
It is rather amazing to see how God operated to redeem us. Such an event only occurred once and to one choice: St. Mary. Likewise, when it comes to interpreting the major doctrines, The Holy Spirit operated once and for all, in the first church to establish all essential doctrine. To deny this becomes as serious as denying the Virgin Birth, which the Church only had a few words to prove her virginity from the Old Testament. Therefore, it is impossible to enter without the fathers giving us the key instead of allowing every man to try and open a vault by having everyone privately figure out a 3 number combination.
I do not need to listen to endless debates about Baptism. When it comes to the primitive church and the heritage which gladly adopted me, that when it comes to a sacrament like partaking in the Communion, where St. Ignatius (110 A.D.) had no doubts that:
“[heretics] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they do not confess that the Eucharist is the Flesh of Our Savior Jesus Christ.” (His Letter to the Smyrnaeans 6, 2)
Here is the primitive church, which the ‘born again believer’ was supposedly chasing after his entire life swarming threw the world looking for the greenest of grass, would render such denial of sacraments as “heresy”.
Do I need to say anymore?
(1) Justin Martyr: “As many as are persuaded and believe that what we [Christians] teach and say is true, and undertake to be able to live accordingly, and instructed to pray and to entreat God with fasting, for the remission of their sins that are past, we pray and fast with them. Then they are brought by us where there is water and are regenerated in the same manner in which we were ourselves regenerated. For, in the name of God, the Father . . . and of our Savior Jesus Christ, and of the Holy Spirit [Matt. 28:19], they then receive the washing with water. For Christ also said, ‘Unless you are born again, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’ [John 3:3]” (First Apology 61 [A.D. 151]).
Irenaeus: “‘And [Naaman] dipped himself . . . seven times in the Jordan’ [2 Kgs. 5:14]. It was not for nothing that Naaman of old, when suffering from leprosy, was purified upon his being baptized, but [this served] as an indication to us. For as we are lepers in sin, we are made clean, by means of the sacred water and the invocation of the Lord, from our old transgressions, being spiritually regenerated as newborn babes, even as the Lord has declared: ‘Except a man be born again through water and the Spirit, he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’” (Fragment 34 [A.D. 190]).
Tertullian: “[N]o one can attain salvation without baptism, especially in view of the declaration of the Lord, who says, ‘Unless a man shall be born of water, he shall not have life’” (Baptism 12:1 [A.D. 203]).
Hippolytus: “The Father of immortality sent the immortal Son and Word into the world, who came to man in order to wash him with water and the Spirit; and he, begetting us again to incorruption of soul and body, breathed into us the Spirit of life, and endued us with an incorruptible panoply. If, therefore, man has become immortal, he will also be God. And if he is made God by water and the Holy Spirit after the regeneration of the laver he is found to be also joint-heir with Christ after the resurrection from the dead. Wherefore I preach to this effect: Come, all ye kindreds of the nations, to the immortality of the baptism” (Discourse on the Holy Theophany 8 [A.D. 217]).
The Recognitions of Clement: “But you will perhaps say, ‘What does the baptism of water contribute toward the worship of God?’ In the first place, because that which has pleased God is fulfilled. In the second place, because when you are regenerated and born again of water and of God, the frailty of your former birth, which you have through men, is cut off, and so . . . you shall be able to attain salvation; but otherwise it is impossible. For thus has the true prophet [Jesus] testified to us with an oath: ‘Verily, I say to you, that unless a man is born again of water . . . he shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven’” (The Recognitions of Clement 6:9 [A.D. 221]).
Testimonies Concerning the Jews: “That unless a man have been baptized and born again, he cannot attain unto the kingdom of God. In the Gospel according to John: ‘Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’ [John 3:5]. . . . Also in the same place: ‘Unless ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye shall not have life in you’ [John 6:53]. That it is of small account to be baptized and to receive the Eucharist, unless one profit by it both in deeds and works” (Testimonies Concerning the Jews 3:2:25–26 [A.D. 240]).
Cyprian of Carthage: “[When] they receive also the baptism of the Church . . . then finally can they be fully sanctified and be the sons of God . . . since it is written, ‘Except a man be born again of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God’” (Letters 71:1 [A.D. 253]).
Council of Carthage VII: “And in the gospel our Lord Jesus Christ spoke with his divine voice, saying, ‘Except a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ . . . Unless therefore they receive saving baptism in the Catholic Church, which is one, they cannot be saved, but will be condemned with the carnal in the judgment of the Lord Christ” (Seventh Carthage [A.D. 256]).
Cyril of Jerusalem: “Since man is of a twofold nature, composed of body and soul, the purification also is twofold: the corporeal for the corporeal and the incorporeal for the incorporeal. The water cleanses the body, and the Spirit seals the soul. . . . When you go down into the water, then, regard not simply the water, but look for salvation through the power of the Spirit. For without both you cannot attain to perfection. It is not I who says this, but the Lord Jesus Christ, who has the power in this matter. And he says, ‘Unless a man be born again,’ and he adds the words ‘of water and of the Spirit,’ ‘he cannot enter the kingdom of God.’ He that is baptized with water, but is not found worthy of the Spirit, does not receive the grace in perfection. Nor, if a man be virtuous in his deeds, but does not receive the seal by means of the water, shall he enter the kingdom of heaven. A bold saying, but not mine; for it is Jesus who has declared it” (Catechetical Lectures 3:4 [A.D. 350]).
Athanasius: “[A]s we are all from earth and die in Adam, so being regenerated from above of water and Spirit, in the Christ we are all quickened” (Four Discourses Against the Arians 3:26 [A.D. 360]).
Basil the Great: “This then is what it means to be ‘born again of water and Spirit’: Just as our dying is effected in the water [Rom. 6:3; Col. 2:12–13], our living is wrought through the Spirit. In three immersions and an equal number of invocations the great mystery of baptism is completed in such a way that the type of death may be shown figuratively, and that by the handing on of divine knowledge the souls of the baptized may be illuminated. If, therefore, there is any grace in the water, it is not from the nature of water, but from the Spirit’s presence there” (The Holy Spirit 15:35 [A.D. 375]).
Ambrose of Milan: “Although we are baptized with water and the Spirit, the latter is much superior to the former, and is not therefore to be separated from the Father and the Son. There are, however, many who, because we are baptized with water and the Spirit, think that there is no difference in the offices of water and the Spirit, and therefore think that they do not differ in nature. Nor do they observe that we are buried in the element of water that we may rise again renewed by the Spirit. For in the water is the representation of death, in the Spirit is the pledge of life, that the body of sin may die through the water, which encloses the body as it were in a kind of tomb, that we, by the power of the Spirit, may be renewed from the death of sin, being born again in God” (The Holy Spirit1:6[75–76] [A.D. 381]).
“The Church was redeemed at the price of Christ’s blood. Jew or Greek, it makes no difference; but if he has believed, he must circumcise himself from his sins [in baptism (Col. 2:11–12)] so that he can be saved . . . for no one ascends into the kingdom of heaven except through the sacrament of baptism.
. . . ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (Abraham 2:11:79–84 [A.D. 387]).
“You have read, therefore, that the three witnesses in baptism are one: water, blood, and the Spirit (1 John 5:8): And if you withdraw any one of these, the sacrament of baptism is not valid. For what is the water without the cross of Christ? A common element with no sacramental effect. Nor on the other hand is there any mystery of regeneration without water, for ‘unless a man be born again of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God’” (The Mysteries 4:20 [A.D. 390]).
Gregory of Nyssa: “[In] the birth by water and the Spirit, [Jesus] himself led the way in this birth, drawing down upon the water, by his own baptism, the Holy Spirit; so that in all things he became the firstborn of those who are spiritually born again, and gave the name of brethren to those who partook in a birth like to his own by water and the Spirit” (Against Eunomius 2:8 [A.D. 382]).
John Chrysostom: “[N]o one can enter into the kingdom of heaven except he be regenerated through water and the Spirit, and he who does not eat the flesh of the Lord and drink his blood is excluded from eternal life, and if all these things are accomplished only by means of those holy hands, I mean the hands of the priest, how will any one, without these, be able to escape the fire of hell, or to win those crowns which are reserved for the victorious? These [priests] truly are they who are entrusted with the pangs of spiritual travail and the birth which comes through baptism: by their means we put on Christ, and are buried with the Son of God, and become members of that blessed head [the Mystical Body of Christ]” (The Priesthood 3:5–6 [A.D. 387]).
Gregory of Nazianz: “Such is the grace and power of baptism; not an overwhelming of the world as of old, but a purification of the sins of each individual, and a complete cleansing from all the bruises and stains of sin. And since we are double-made, I mean of body and soul, and the one part is visible, the other invisible, so the cleansing also is twofold, by water and the Spirit; the one received visibly in the body, the other concurring with it invisibly and apart from the body; the one typical, the other real and cleansing the depths” (Oration on Holy Baptism 7–8 [A.D. 388]).
The Apostolic Constitutions: “Be ye likewise contented with one baptism alone, that which is into the death of the Lord [Rom. 6:3; Col. 2:12–13]. . . . [H]e that out of contempt will not be baptized shall be condemned as an unbeliever and shall be reproached as ungrateful and foolish. For the Lord says, ‘Except a man be baptized of water and of the Spirit, he shall by no means enter into the kingdom of heaven.’ And again, ‘He that believes and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believes not shall be damned’” [Mark 16:16] (Apostolic Constitutions 6:3:15 [A.D. 400]).
Augustine: “It is this one Spirit who makes it possible for an infant to be regenerated . . . when that infant is brought to baptism; and it is through this one Spirit that the infant so presented is reborn. For it is not written, ‘Unless a man be born again by the will of his parents’ or ‘by the faith of those presenting him or ministering to him,’ but, ‘Unless a man be born again of water and the Holy Spirit.’ The water, therefore, manifesting exteriorly the sacrament of grace, and the Spirit effecting interiorly the benefit of grace, both regenerate in one Christ that man who was generated in Adam” (Letters 98:2 [A.D. 412]).
“Those who, though they have not received the washing of regeneration, die for the confession of Christ—it avails them just as much for the forgiveness of their sins as if they had been washed in the sacred font of baptism. For he that said, ‘If anyone is not reborn of water and the Spirit, he will not enter the kingdom of heaven,’ made an exception for them in that other statement in which he says no less generally, ‘Whoever confesses me before men, I too will confess him before my Father, who is in heaven’” [Matt. 10:32] (The City of God 13:7 [A.D. 419]).