Regeneration is the theological term applied to the idea of new birth in the gospels and signifies the recreation of fallen human nature by the action of the Holy Spirit (John 3:5-8). This spiritual necessity stated by Jesus is restated and re-enforced in the epistles under such concepts as transformation, new creation, and "new man" (Romans 12:1-2; Ephesians 4:23-24; Colossians 3:10; Titus 3:5). The regenerate are radically renewed; the old life is over and a new life is begun (Romans 6:3-11; 2 Corinthians 5:17; Colossians 3:9-11).
Christian writers of the 2nd-4th centuries developed their understanding of regeneration around the cleansing and rebirth experienced in baptism, the Eucharist, and for some, a rebirth into heaven--in martyrdom. They most commonly used the phrase "restoration of the image of God," which had been disfigured by sin, to describe the process. The 16th-century Protestant reformers produced a more systematic outline of the "order of salvation" in which they emphasized the concept of justification and incorporated regeneration as an aspect of the whole. Focusing on the forensic aspects of salvation, they saw men and women as reckoned righteous through Christ. However, they taught that the old nature remained and the bondage of the sinful human nature continued to plague Christians so that they repeatedly sin.
For Anabaptists, regeneration held a place of priority in the conversion process. The Schleitheim Confession (1527), the earliest corporate Anabaptist statement, reflects this emphasis on regeneration in its first article, declaring that baptism shall be given only to those who know true repentance and amendment of life--that their sins are taken away and they walk in the resurrection (CRR 1:36). This implies a relation to the living Christ and a life reflecting that relation in the here and now.
The thrust of Anabaptism generally was to assert that divine grace and human faith quicken new life in the individual so that a life of holiness may be produced. True repentance is made evident by new life, which is the sign of regeneration, the activity of the Holy Spirit in the believer. This is a corollary to Anabaptist emphasis on the visible church, holy living, and the way of peace. Walter Klaassen summarizes the position as follows: "We find ... the conviction that once God works in human life by his Spirit an ontological change takes place. They are changed into divine beings after the image of Jesus. There is, therefore, also a rejection of Luther's view that even a Christian is at the same time a sinner and justified." (CRR 3:42).
Differences in emphasis upon the way in which regeneration occurs have led to tensions among Mennonite and Brethren groups in modern times. Some groups, influenced by Pietism and revivalism, emphasize regeneration or new birth as an immediate experience when the faith of the believer takes hold in a moment of quickening. Others maintain that regeneration is a quiet process which occurs as its result of growing faith. Still others associate it with baptism as the culminating act in a process of faith.
Bender, Harold S. "Walking in the Resurrection: the Anabaptist Doctrine of Regeneration and Discipleship." Mennonite Quarterly Review 35 (1961): 96-110.
Dyck, Cornelius J. "The Life of the Spirit in Anabaptism." Mennonite Quarterly Review 47 (1973): 309-326.
Yoder, John H., ed. and trans. The Legacy of Michael Sattler, Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 1. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1973.
Klaassen, Walter, ed. Anabaptism in Outline: Selected Primary Sources, Classics of the Radical Reformation, vol. 3. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981: 41-117 passim.
Lederach, Paul M. A Third Way. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1981.
Adapted by permission of Herald Press, Harrisonburg, Virginia, and Waterloo, Ontario, from Mennonite Encyclopedia, Vol. 5, p. 756-757. All rights reserved. For information on ordering the encyclopedia visit the Herald Press website.
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MLA style: Alderfer, Owen H. "Regeneration." Global Anabaptist Mennonite Encyclopedia Online. 1989. Web. 21 May 2013. http://www.gameo.org/encyclopedia/contents/R4457ME.html.
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