I had a “born again” experience.
It had nothing to do with a powerful preacher with a voice of peculiar cadence. It had nothing to do with any big crusade. It had nothing to do with some sort of hyped up atmosphere. It had nothing to do with responding to an altar call (btw, can anyone tell me exactly what is wrong with asking at a meeting if anyone wants to know Jesus and then asking them up for prayer? People go on as if this is a foul satanic thing to do). There was no atmosphere “manipulated for maximum emotion”.
I had the born again experience without even going to any sort of church meeting. I hadn’t been to any form of service for years - probably since I was thrown out of the church choir as a child for not attending the church except when the choir sang.
I had it after lots and lots of discussion with a friend about Christianity and Jesus (I had been very anti-Christian). Sometimes the discussion would stretch through most of the night. Many people, I found out later, were praying for me. It took time. And thought. And in the end my own belief systems (New Age sorta things) seemed to collapse and I was convinced internally (without external proof) that Jesus is the Way, and that what my friend had with Jesus was what I wanted.
And so, with him, and another friend, I “prayed the sinners prayer” without expectation of anything. Immediately I was flooded with a deep feeling of peace, comfort, and hope. Wow. That was, in brief, my “born again experience”.
It was real, it was utterly convincing, it was entirely unexpected. No evangelistic hoax. No exaggeration from “knowing” what a born again experience should be. Just me, God, and God’s mercy and tenderness and welcome.
None of that goes into the theology of what it is to be born again. According to Catholic teaching I was not born again. Since I had not been baptised I had not entered in on the path to eternal salvation. So, according to catholic teaching, was the peace, comfort, hope, forgiveness, freedom etc that I felt at that time, that changed the way I lived, just a falsehood. After all, in catholic teaching, without baptism I wasn’t born again, forgiven, or anything similar.
So, after years of being anti-catholic, I am now in RCIA - still very surprised to find myself on this path. Even though I was baptised later I may have to be baptised as I haven’t got a piece of paper to prove it. And the church I was baptised in doesn’t do pieces of paper to prove it. So even now the catholic church doubts whether I have taken this step one on the path of salvation which in many ways I find very insulting.
What do I now believe about the “born again” experience? It was real. God was there. We were 2 or 3 gathered in His name. God was active within me. The peace within, the deep feeling and appreciation of his forgiveness and mercy, they were real, all the more real for being completely unexpected.
Though the catholic church may tell me that baptism frees us from sin and through baptism we are reborn, becoming members of Christ, I KNOW I met with God that evening, without being manipulated by anything or anyone. I know his mercy was real. I know that he held me in his arms and welcomed me that evening. I can either say it was real or say it was not real - and disregard years of walking (sometimes well sometimes very poorly) with Jesus, prayer, study, being a deacon, preacher, worship leader, etc and they that they were all rubbish arising from a man who wasn’t a member of Christ or incorporated into the church.
Forgive me if I am wrong, but I choose reality. After my conditional baptism (if it occurs), confirmation, and first eucharist I might change my mind. Let’s see what changes occur then.