Minutes With Messiah Logo

Qualifiers

by Tim O'Hearn

We use qualifying phrases all the time. Sometimes it is for clarity, such as “working dogs” as opposed to “show dogs.” Sometimes it is to express an unlikelihood, such as a “decent Ford vehicle.” In religion-speak we sometimes use qualifiers that are confusing. Are they making a distinction, or are they merely redundant?

One example is a “born again Christian.” When I hear that phrase I want to ask why the person feels it is necessary. Do they think there are two kinds of Christians: born-again ones and non-born-again ones? How does one become a non-born-again Christian? And if there are not two types, then why use the phrase in the first place? All you do is confuse nonbelievers.

The whole issue centers on a phrase Jesus used in talking to a Pharisee named Nicodemus. This man had come to Jesus by night, perhaps out of fear of being seen, perhaps because it was a convenient time to catch Jesus alone. Jesus told him, “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (Jn 3:3) Later he says, “Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.” (Jn 3:7)’

Notice in this latter verse, Jesus did not consider not being born again an option. There are not two types of Christian, the born again and the not-reborn. There is just the one type.

So why do people use the phrase, and confuse people into thinking there are two types of Christian? And why do they jump on an obscure phrase like this? Why not refer to themselves and others as “disciple Christians” or “witness Christians?” There is more scriptural justification for using those descriptive phrases than “born-again.”

A similar phrase is “a baptized believer.” While there are those who, in the face of all scripture, believe it is possible to be an unbaptized believer, this phrase seems to be more often used by those who don’t believe there is such a distinction. They appear to use the phrase not as a distinction between baptized and unbaptized believers as Christians, but rather between baptized (and therefore Christian) believers and unbaptized (and therefore not yet Christian) believers. Again, though, why use the qualifier to make the distinction?

On the Pentecost after Jesus died, the people asked, “What shall we do?” Peter answered, “Repent and be immersed, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for remission of sins.” (Acts 2:38) Years later a jailer in Philippi asked it more emphatically. “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30) Paul’s answer obviously included baptism; otherwise the jailer would have no reason to submit to what he probably saw as primarily a Jewish practice. Both Acts 2:38 and Acts 22:16 associate baptism with forgiveness of sins. Based on those three scriptures, it would be just as logical to speak of a “saved believer” or a “forgiven believer” as a “baptized believer.” We don’t use the first two qualifiers, so why use the latter?

The whole purpose of qualifiers is to make distinctions, but in the church we have no need for qualifiers. On U.S. Navy ships, the only time a person is allowed to wear civilian clothes while underway is for chapel services. This is because “there is no rank in the church;” there is no reason to wear uniforms that may distinguish and divide. Paul said it a different way. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28) He is not saying that we have to put away all national or biological distinctions in our lives; that would be impossible. Rather, he is saying there is no need for qualifiers in the church. There is not a distinction between Jewish Christians and gentile Christians. We don’t say, “She is a female Christian.” Like “born-again Christian” and “baptized believer,” such qualifiers are unnecessary. So why use them?