How did we get to the place church culture focuses on being 'born again' rather than making disciples?
I made a statement last week that Jesus never told us to get people born again. That is true. He had a private conversation one night with a man named Nicodemus, recorded in John 3, in which Jesus explained what happens when a person believes with the intent to become a disciple, likening it to being born a second time, but by the Spirit of God not regular birth. That is true.
That was one private conversation between Jesus and 1 man, not a teaching. There is no parable to the masses about a born again mustard seed. There is no 'Sermon on the Born Again Command'. It was a private conversation late at night between 2 people and never was that conversation repeated or enlarged upon as a general teaching or command, nor seen in the other gospels nor epistles.
Yet a whole church culture has been built around the efforts to get people born again with the goal of 'closing the deal' by getting someone to "pray the prayer of salvation" with us. WRONG! THAT ISN'T IN THE BIBLE.
What did Jesus really say?
"All authority is given to me both in heaven and in earth. Go therefore to all nations...teaching them to observe and to do all things I've commanded you..."
In Acts 2, when Peter preached at Pentecost, did he ask everyone 'with every head bowed and every eye closed' to pray a prayer (along with the 120 so no one would feel embarassed) so they'd be born again? When Peter went to Cornelius' house in Acts 10 to tell them about Jesus, did he ask for a show of hands for all who wanted to pray a "prayer of salvation" so they'd be born again?
No where do we see any of the apostles preaching being born again, nor leading them in a seeker friendly non-embarrassing "prayer of salvation." The prayer of salvation is one of those man-made doctrines that people assume is in the Bible, but isn't.
The reason you don't see it in the Bible is the apostles were obeying Jesus. Jesus said "...teaching them to observe and do all things I've commanded you", and within Jewish culture of the day, it is automatic that the discipleship process is relationship based. In other words, they can't observe and do all things Jesus commanded me unless they observe me doing all things He commanded me!
THAT is the Great Commission, to let others see Christ in us so they may learn from us. Paul said imitate me as I imitate Christ, and when people express amazement over that statement it reveals they don't understand the culture of the kingdom of Jesus. Paul was merely restating the Great Commission - observe and do what I observe and do. (I Corinthians 4:16, 11:1, Ephesians 5:1, Philippians 3:17, etc)
Oriental culture - Israeli culture
Israeli culture is oriental. That is why Israel is said to be in the Middle East. China and Japan are called the Far East, but Israel is still in the east, it is oriental. Thus we see customs like bowing at the waist from Abraham through the gospels, in some cases people meeting Jesus by falling to the ground in obeisance to Him just as we see in Oriental royal court protocol. Ancient Chinese art shows their leaders seated on a chair carried on poles on the shoulders of servants, and we see the Ark of the Covenant carried on poles on the shoulders of the priests in the Old Testament. Israel is Oriental.
Another part of being Oriental is the honoring of parents and elders, this honor flowing outward from home and family to others through multiple generations. The older are expected to train up the younger, and having a meal at one's house is the highest form of fellowship there is.
Gnosticism revisited, the making of false brethren
Greek culture however is not based on relationships, it is idea based, concept based, mental ability based.
When Paul was in Athens, Greece in Acts 17 he preached Jesus just as he had done elsewhere, but this time they laughed at him when he brought up Jesus being raised from the dead, while others asked him to return the next day to share more about his concepts and ideas.
They had no intention on believing in Jesus, they just wanted to hear new ideas, new teachings, filling their itching ears and journals with revelations from this new teacher. As a result we don't find a strong group of believers in Athens. There is no letter to the Athenians. They just wanted to hear ideas.
A little history
As the church became more Gentile/Greek in culture in the late 200's and early 300's AD and less Jewish/Oriental, it became more intellectual and less relationship based. The church met in homes for the first 300 years, not due to persecution as some would suppose, but because the first church in the house was Adam, Eve, and the Lord, for where 2 or more are gathered He is in their midst. He invented home and family. The early synagogues were meetings in homes with several families, so at Pentecost they just continued what they had been doing, meeting in homes. God has never left the home and family as His primary and preferred way of bringing revelation and the knowledge of God into the earth.
By the 300-400's AD Christianity had been legalized and Christians were called out of home meetings to meet in former pagan temples along side existing pagan temples still in operation, which were auditorium and podium structured. In those structures a single priest had to be in charge to lead the people, thus the function of pastor was elevated for the first time in history to be the lone voice of God week to week.
Rather than being participatory in nature as the home meetings where, the auditorium requires just 1 person to speak, sharing concepts and ideas with the masses assembled. Ideas from the pulpit require no relationship with anyone, for they are just principles, concepts, thoughts on how to tackle this or that problem. Notes are taken, journals filled, but they are merely 'new revelation', not something lived out in relationship with others.
That is the point where an emphasis on being 'born again' separated from being a disciple. Up until that point being a disciple meant you were born again. But when Greek thought started dealing with ideas and concepts from a pulpit rather than in home and family based demonstrations of how to live and walk with God, the concept of being born again came to stand alone as its own doctrine, now separated from the process of discipleship.
First relationship is with the Lord, and if flows from there
When the gospel gets dissected into ideas and concepts alone rather than ideas and concepts imbedded within the discipleship process involving multigenerational relationships, we end up with an anemic body of Christ that is used to being spoon fed ideas, but with little practical knowledge on how to walk with God in those concepts. People who are hungry for God find themselves hungry for more but don't know why. Their heads are filled with God's concepts, why aren't they happy? Why do they feel so empty?
Today many in the body of Christ are discovering they are hungry for God though they go to church. They are tired of being fed principles and concepts they've heard many times before; they are looking for relationships and real 'meat' in their faith.
"Teaching them to observe and to do all things I commanded you" requires you see in me what He commanded me. The Great Commission is about walking with God within relationships, flowing from the individual in the home and outward to naturally existing spheres of relationships - family, friends, neighbors, co-workers - which are seen throughout the gospels and New Testament letters.
Next week I'll share prophetically some things the Lord has told me this year about what He is doing in the body of Christ, and what we'll see in the coming years, which will tie this series together. Until then! Blessings,
www.cwowi.org and email me at firstname.lastname@example.org