It is fitting that we should read about new birth on Trinity Sunday, and be reminded that, "That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit." Nicodemus asked the question,"How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born?" The answer that Jesus gave him was about the invisible work of the Holy Spirit. Invisible and yet observable in effect; for the Holy Spirit's working cannot be seen, but his work can be seen when a man is born of water and of the spirit; for he is a new man in Christ, literally a new creation. "If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (II Cor. 5:17) Adam was a creature, and his offspring are creatures, but not individually created as much as creatures by derivation, in that each new human being is the result of a man knowing a woman (one hopes, his wife). But, in the new birth, each person is a new creature, individually created by the breath of God with that new life that we receive from the Risen Christ, that new life that is eternal and will survive our death, so that our mortal nature becomes a seed planted to be raised as Christ is risen, that is life immortal. "Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him." (Rom. 6:9)
Currently, among the Reaaserter camp, we find that some who call themselves "Anglican" do not understand that John chapter three, where Jesus speaks of the new birth, is referring to baptism. No doubt, they have never learned the genuine Anglican Catechism, embracing, as they do, over the last thirty years a book that has new things instead. But, here is what the authentic Anglican Catechism says:
QUESTION. What is your Name?
Answer. N. or N. N.
Question. Who gave you this Name?
Answer. My Sponsors in Baptism; wherein I was made a member of Christ, the child of God, and an inheritor of the kingdom of heaven.
In baptism we were adopted through Christ, born of water and the Spirit as children of God.
This is clear from the sixth chapter of Romans:
What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. (vs. 1-4)
Well I understand why the Evangelicals interpret the new birth as that moment of conscious conversion, for in a sense it really feels like a new birth of sorts: This I know from my own experience. And, it likely completes something valid and real that was planted in baptism, even though it may appear to unsympathetic critics as merely subjective. I understand why they resist the ancient teaching of the Church that the new birth is in baptism, because their experience of conversion just had to be what Christ spoke of. But, the new birth is objective, and we must interpret John chapter three by Romans chapter six. The new birth is into the newness of life, having been buried with Christ by baptism into death, and raised to walk in the newness of life. That is objective and real; and for an Anglican it should contain no contradiction that we accept the teaching of the Catholic Tradition regarding the meaning of Scripture, and that we rejoice when a person's dormant faith comes so alive in his soul that he can mark it as a beginning. But, it is the grace of his baptism awakened by the Holy Spirit, so that his conscience, with all his heart and soul, renders him like the prodigal son who came to himself, and went home to his father.
And, baptism brings us to the nominal theme of Trinity Sunday.
We must look at the words of the Risen Christ at the close of the Gospel According to Matthew, where we read the Great Commission:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach (μαθητεύω, mathēteuō, make disciples of) all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. (Matt.28:18-20)
This new birth involves the full revelation of the Name of God. And, before proceeding, we must answer yet another objection some have. They have noticed, as have we, that in the Book of Acts baptism was said to be in the Name of Jesus Christ (Acts 2:38), or the Lord Jesus (Acts 8:16, 10:48, 19:5). But, they do not understand. They make the mistake of assuming that Luke's designation of Christian baptism reveals the formula, or the actual words that were spoken, which is not at all what the text actually says.
When the Book of Acts reveals what happened in those earliest days, Luke is making clear that the baptism was not that of John the Baptist, but rather it was Christian baptism. Since the word "Christian" appears only once in that whole book, as something that came about after many people were baptized (11:26), it was not yet customary to say "Christian baptism" as opposed to "the baptism of John." But, that this is the meaning is clearly drawn from the nineteenth chapter. "Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus." Would those who think they are using the formula of Acts by rejecting the commandment of Christ at the close of Matthew's Gospel, not have made the same argument if "Christian" had been a more fully established word from the start? Would they not likely insist that the formula should be "I baptize thee a Christian?" Dom Gregory Dix discovered an ancient baptism liturgy in which the Trinitarian formula appeared as part of a long prayer that was, as a whole, in the Name of Jesus Christ. This makes perfect sense.
The formula for baptism is "In the Name of The Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost (or Holy Spirit)." The revelation of this Name, indeed, this One Name, is the end result in Matthew's Gospel, of all that Jesus did and said. Now, we know God. The revelation of this One Name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, could not be given to us before the Incarnation of the Word; the Name could not be revealed before Christ's atoning death in which he took away the sins of the world; the Name could not be revealed until after he defeated death itself and rose from the grave. The Name could be revealed only after we see the full picture of the Son, in his complete victory for our sakes over sin and death, having cast out the prince of this world in his Passion and Resurrection. And, it had to be revealed right then, just before the Ascension and the ten days when the disciples were about to stand on that bridge between the coming of the first Comforter and the coming of the other Comforter; that is, between the coming of Christ our Advocate (παράκλητος, paraklētos I John 2:1), and the coming of "the other Comforter" (same word, παράκλητος, paraklētos, John 14:16,17), the Spirit of Truth.
God the Father has been perfectly (Heb. 1:1f) revealed by the Son; and the Father and the Son are known only through the Holy Spirit (John 15:26). Therefore, the revelation of the Divine Name is also the revelation of our salvation, for the revelation of the One Divine Name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit came only out of the mouth of Jesus Christ after he had accomplished all things, and was ready to go back to the Father in order to send the other Paraklētos. The new life, into which we are born again in baptism, is eternal life; that eternal life is to know the God of this revelation intimately.
And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever; even the Spirit of truth; whom the world can not receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you. ..And this is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent. (John 14:16,17; 17:3)
Eternal life is to know the Spirit of Truth, for he alone reveals the Son. It is to know the Son, for he alone reveals the Father. It is to know the Father. Our salvation and eternal life is to know the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.
Hear what the Prophet Jeremiah foretold, as the substance of the New Covenant:
Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt; which my covenant they brake, although I was an husband unto them, saith the LORD: But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, Know the LORD: for they shall all know me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them, saith the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more. (Jer. 31:31-34)
This is salvation and eternal life.
This is also universal, to be proclaimed in all nations; for it is in all nations that we are to make and baptize disciples. "For the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea." (Hab. 2:14) In recent years we have read of false teachers (such as one Bishop Swing of the Episcopal "Church") tell us that Christianity should no longer be a missionary faith, and that we should respect the alleged right of all people to have their ancestral gods. Thank God St. Patrick did not think so, or my Irish ancestors would have continued the practice of human sacrifice, burning people in the Wicker Man. The Gospel is not a form of oppression, but the only way out of the darkness into the light. "But thus shall ye deal with them; ye shall destroy their altars, and break down their images, and cut down their groves, and burn their graven images with fire...And ye shall overthrow their altars, and break their pillars, and burn their groves with fire; and ye shall hew down the graven images of their gods, and destroy the names of them out of that place. " (Deut. 7:5, 12:3). It is a service, it is compassionate, to liberate people from the cruelty of paganism, and to bring to them knowledge of the true God. When the Church built its new shrines on the sites of old pagan shrines, it practiced wisdom; for the old ways of darkness were replaced by the worship of the loving God of salvation. In the old places of dread and darkness the Church built new places of joy and light.
We have been given a mission, whether or not the world and its defeated prince approve. The Church has that same mission in all the world that Christ gave in a special way to St. Paul: "To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me." (Acts 26:18)
Baptism in the One Name, revealed by the Risen Christ, is entrance into the New Covenant, into death to sin and the newness of life, into the knowledge of God. It is for all nations. To proclaim the Name of The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit is to proclaim our only hope and our only salvation. Only the Risen Christ could reveal it, and so prepare his Disciples to receive the Holy Spirit on Pentecost. We know the Name not in some academic or theoretical sense, but rather because The Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit have been revealed in the coming of one Paraklētos, Christ our Lord who defeated sin and death in his passion and resurrection, and the coming of the other Paraklētos, the Spirit of Truth who gives life and power to the Body of Christ. The revelation of the Trinity is the seal of our salvation history and it is our life here and now.