What is the Ordo Salutis in Christianity


“Rebirth” is a religious and culturally secular symbol for the dawn of better times, in which what was once lost is regained: Paradise, classical antiquity, the early Christian community. It was in this sense that the renaissance of the late Middle Ages was spoken of or, for example, the Luther renaissance in theology of the early 20th century. The term goes back further; Greek Palingenesis (Heraclitus, Pythagorean, Plato, Neoplatonism: cosmically extensive new creation or reincarnation of the soul or transmigration of souls). The term is also used in political science, sociology, geology and biology. “Rebirth” is a term that heralds change and arouses hope for better days or expects a new form of what has become.

In Protestantism, the concept of rebirth is primarily associated with the memory of the "ordo salutis" (the order or the stages of the path to salvation), as it played a special role in → Pietism and in awakening movements through post-Reformation orthodoxy: Proclamation of the divine word, repentance and penance, conversion, rebirth and sanctification of life. In a strongly emotionalized way, the idea of ​​rebirth has captured the → Mennonite Brethren in Russia, and, under the impression of intensive evangelism, also parts of the Mennonites in → North America in connection with the evangelical "born-again" movement in the so-called Bible belt or of the Spirit charismatic-Pentecostal movements of carried away Mennonites in → South America and Africa. The rebirth is often part of the biography of a Christian, fixed in time and stereotypically reported. What is astonishing, however, is that in the leading representations of Mennonite theologians (Gordon D. → Kaufman, Thomas N. Finger, A. James → Reimer and J. Denny Weaver) finds no entry in the registers on "rebirth" and is rarely used the more frequent term "regeneration" (regeneratio). However, C. Arnold Snyder is productive for the historical part, Anabaptist History and Theology (1995). Thomas N. Finger is less concerned with rebirth, but with → justification and “new creation” in his Contemporary Anabaptist Theology (2004). In general, the concept of rebirth has been carefully discussed in modern Protestantism since Friedrich Schleiermacher, the “Moravian Higher Order”, in the treatises of systematic theology or dogmatics (e.g. Paul Tillich, Emil Brunner, Wolfgang Trillhaas, Otto Weber opposite this term: Karl → Barth, Hendrikus Berkhof). Since then, the "rebirth" has characterized on the one hand an emotional meaning that goes to the limits of a egoistic piety and on the other hand the attempt to gain meaning from it independently of human effort or participation. Emil Brunner showed a clear path, drawn from Reformation justification: like justification based on faith alone, it is not thought of as life towards God, but from God (Emil Brunner, Das Gebot und die Ordnungs, 143). Neither the conversion that leads to rebirth, nor the rebirth itself is an act that requires the sinner to actively participate in his salvation. Although rebirth is an act that embraces and changes the person who is being born again, it is not an act in which the person is called to help create the conditions for his new birth in order to ultimately achieve salvation.

1. Rebirth as an eschatological event

Rebirth is an event in which God turns to people who have become estranged from him and creates a presence in the spirit in which everyone who sees himself in this situation behaves differently than before, for example no longer above the other rules, but serves others, does not have his own life at his disposal, but becomes available for the love of God that turns to him. Rebirth is not a psychologically explainable, empirically demonstrable, subjective experience, not an ontologically comprehensible event, but a state filled with the divine spirit in which salvation has reached man without the latter being able to do anything for it. Rebirth means “the whole of salvation” (Wilfried Joest, RGG, Art. Rebirth). It is the creation of a new life (2 Cor. 5:17). It unites all stages of the process that leads the sinner to salvation: above all justification, reconciliation with God and walking in a new life (sanctification). The gradual Ordo salutis describes a process "which is very reasonable, but neither reformatory nor biblical" (Brunner, Das Gebot und die Ordnungs, 88). Baptism is added to the rebirth, it is "the bath of rebirth" (Tit. 3, 5), in it the rebirth is sealed in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (Rom. 6, 3 f.), And in it takes it Church as a "spiritual community" (Tillich) or community (koinonia) of the reconciled (Paul Lehmann) takes on its special shape. The new birth is solely and exclusively the work of the Holy Spirit - in detail as well as in its importance for the church (Joh. 3, 6 ff.). Theologically it has its place in pneumatology: the doctrine of the present application of salvation to the sinner through the → Holy Spirit.

The experience of the presence of God is perceived in faith and fundamentally changes people. What often sounds linguistically like an imperative is fundamentally indicative, the "new reality" that changes people's consciousness, orientation and actions. This is what makes people different, an otherness that appears on a path on which the kingdom of God begins to open step by step, an eschatologically qualified path - here not always manageable, often still dark and arduous, but on which the promising insight arises that, despite all irritations and doubts, it will lead into the kingdom of God, into a world that will be completely different (Tillich, Systematic Theologie, Vol. 3, 250). Otto Weber put it this way: “The rebirth belongs to the reality that is only present to us as expected”, the reborn “lives from what comes to him, not from what is found in him” (Weber, Dogmatik , Vol. 2, 401). This eschatological understanding of rebirth (Mt. 19, 28) contradicts the order of stages of the Ordo salutis and criticizes the Christian's constant circling around himself with which he wants to secure his rebirth. This eschatological accent is also the reason why people cannot be divided into the born again and the non-born again. Neither one nor the other can dispose of their status for themselves and claim belonging to one or the other for themselves. At the same time, it is the message that applies to the individual as well as to the world in which each individual lives. The salvation that heralds and is realized in it releases the individual from the world, but it does not leave the world to itself, but transforms it into the appearance of the divine kingdom (Weber, Dogmatik, Vol. 2, 401). These critical considerations can be viewed as a consensus that has emerged from dealing with a disparate biblical finding in recent times.

2. Justification and rebirth in Anabaptism

In research, the opinion is growing that the Anabaptists criticized the Lutheran doctrine of justification, but nevertheless understood the core of this message, only expressed it in their own way and filled it with life. They clashed with the forensic terminology in which the doctrine of the justification sola gratia was brought up in the opinion dispute of the Reformation camp in a form that rigorously excluded any kind of human participation in the reception of salvation. The → Anabaptists, like other radical reformers, saw in this steep form of criticism of the righteousness of works a narrowing of Reformation renewal and advocated an understanding of justification that thematized the fullness of new life as the promised new creation of the creature. "The radical reformers agreed with Luther that the grace of God which grants saving faith is a 'prevenient' faith (it 'comes before' faith, and cannot be 'earned' by good works). Nevertheless, they insisted that saving grace is also an 'efficacious' grace which has the power to remake human nature. Thus the radical reformers could speak of 'rebirth', 'regeneration by the Spirit', and the 'new life' which emerged as the result of the action of the Holy Spirit ”(Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology, 45). The sources of the Anabaptists do not always speak such a clear language that any human involvement in this “transformative” act of rebirth is excluded. The human being can react to this changing event, but not contribute anything to its success. The Anabaptists were often tempted to express their criticism in the mode of meritorious fairness and to emphasize the imperative more than the indicative. Actually, however, they did not want to express what conditions the sinner had to fulfill in order to be gracious to God and to obtain forgiveness of sins. Rather, they wanted to describe what undeservedly happened to them and how they moved and had to move in this new situation, the presence of God. The earliest evidence of her Reformation experience can be found in the letter from the circle around Konrad → Grebel in Zurich to Thomas → Müntzer (1524) in connection with → baptism. Baptism was what it meant, namely "that one should die and should sin and walk in nüwe deß läbens and spirit" (Leonhard von Muralt and Schmidt (ed.) History of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, 18). The promise of wanting to walk in a new life could be made when they were baptized, but no one can give themselves a new life. It is "new creation" (Gal. 6:15). The Anabaptists thought of the expansion of the understanding of justification already described and, with their new way of life, publicly brought the liberating power of the forgiveness of sins to fruition. For them, justification was not only the gracious judgment of God that the sinner was right for him, but the event in which the promise of salvation and the realization of salvation coincided. Her whole life was shaped by the divine devotion and became a testimony to the divine saving action. Seen in this way, the conceptuality in which conversion and rebirth were brought up in the history of piety appeared to be more appropriate than the juridically sophisticated language of the forensic doctrine of justification, even though Hans Krüsi in his concordance on faith and baptism had agreed to Luther's doctrine of justification in a simplified forensic version ( Heinold Fast (ed.), Sources on the history of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, Vol. 2, 268). The fact that the post-Lutheran disputes in the Reformation camp were conducted, among other things, between supporters of a forensic understanding of justification and proponents of an effective, life-effective understanding of justification could be interpreted as a confirmation of the Anabaptist criticism of the Reformation doctrine of justification. As much as the normative character of the doctrine of justification was emphasized, it must not be overlooked that precisely this doctrine was a newly discovered source of Reformation plurality. This applies not only with regard to the top sentences of theological argumentation, but also with regard to the various efforts to insert these sentences into an expanded overall interpretation of the understanding of salvation.

The polygenetic origin of Anabaptism (→ Anabaptist research) meant that various traditions of piety and church practice found their way into Anabaptism: in Switzerland a communalist-congregational ethos and understanding of freedom, in Upper Germany a mystical piety, in Central Germany an apocalyptic expectation , which was associated with mystical piety, in the Netherlands and Low Germany a mixture of devotio moderna, apocalyptic and humanistic ideas. The Reformation understanding of salvation found its different language and explication in the inclusion of these different, often intermingling, but also contradicting traditions of piety. As strong as the differences became apparent, these efforts had one thing in common: They wanted to express the experiences in the presence of God, which had opened up to them in an undeserved way.

Menno → Simons, who is one of the few who wrote a special treatise on the Rebirth (approx. 1539) and had written writings on the new creation, spoke of the "time of grace" that had dawned and opened a new life. That means that God has undeservedly turned to the sinner, the sinner is right to him and accepted by him. Someone whom God turns away in anger will feel differently and shape their relationships with those around him differently than someone whom God directly encounters and is turned towards: undisguised by the hierarchy of the clergy and unencumbered by social pressure. As Paul Tillich understood the fundamental knowledge of the Reformation, the presence of God is grace (Tillich, Ges. Werke, Vol. VII, 196). The act of grace encompasses both, not only God's independent action, but also the creative power of human love. Faith and love are one, with the faith that God gives, love for one's neighbor also takes shape. Menno Simons is able to grasp the center of his Reformation faith more clearly than in the concept of justification: “The rebirth only occurs where a person begins to visibly prove his faith in his life, where the new change becomes perceptible “(Christoph Bornhäuser, Life and Teaching Menno Simons´, 80). In this idea, says Bornhauser, remnants of old-faith legalism are still in effect, rebirth is understood as a requirement and not really as a gracious event. Indeed, the way Menno Simons speaks of rebirth often confirms this allegation. But the arguments fluctuating between meritorious terminology and Reformation knowledge of justification, as observed by Bornhauser in Menno's writings, could indicate that he does not describe the conditions that are essential for rebirth to occur and must be created by man, but that he only describes what has taken place in the rebirth and still takes place if it is understood as a gift of grace from God. The imperative that is formulated in this context is a requirement based on the indicative, not a requirement that the indicative must first bring about.

Whether it was the expectation of the Last Judgment with the martial images of the final battle of the powers or the perception of the Christ event in the abyss of the soul, even the Monophysite doctrine of the incarnation of Jesus (without accepting the flesh of Mary), the figure of love in reconciled community and theirs Effectiveness in the world, the impression was always given that the graciously experienced presence of God was the driving motive in the thinking and acting of the Anabaptists. This presence was experienced as the beginning of the new creation, as promised in the Scriptures. Orienting oneself in this "spiritual community" (Paul Tillich), a new territory, was not easy for many Anabaptists, especially since they came from the lower educated classes and had no theological tools. Even the few theologians who existed among them did not belong to the elite of their time and had great difficulty asserting themselves in the vehemently conducted disputations. They too lacked, as S. Hoekstra once attested to Menno Simons, the “genius for creating new concepts” (cf. Cornelius Krahn, Menno Simons, 129). This explains the pointed, polemically pointed and often clumsy language of the Anabaptists, their apt catchphrases and also theologically contestable, contradicting arguments, their often desperate attempts to redesign their lives up to their readiness to martyrdom for the new To take on the will of faith. Like rebirth, → martyrdom, which led to death, was perceived as an eschatologically impregnated event in which salvation for man is fulfilled in all its richness. In this way the Anabaptists tried to expand a forensically narrowing doctrine of justification and often gave rebirth a key position in their understanding of salvation.

3. A New Creation will replace the Old World

Is rebirth not primarily understood as a step of the individual on the way to salvation, but as an event that takes place in the world but is not of the world, as an eschatological event that includes the individual and the church? and extends to the world, is ontologically or empirically undetectable, but leaves traces of God's love in this world, it becomes a basic event of Christian faith: it is connected to the ground of salvation, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and it is promised to all people from the coming kingdom of God. It is the spiritual impulse that is effective in people, in the Church and in the world and urges a change in earthly conditions towards brotherhood, charity and peace. This was the thought behind the fourth assembly of the World Council of Churches in Uppsala in 1968 (→ Ecumenical Movement), which was convened under the motto: “See, I am making everything new” (Rev. 21, 5). It reflected the path that the churches had taken, on which they found each other and developed an awareness of a pneumatic reality that bound them all together (in deliberations on justification, baptism, renunciation of violence). In this way, a broader understanding of rebirth has emerged, and on this way we must continue to work on the specification of theological terminology: for the personal, ecclesiological and missionary or ethical dimension worldwide (Thomas N. Finger, Hans Küng), for justice and peace in a world close to despair. Rebirth is a symbol of hope for the redemption of what has grown old.

Literature (selection)

Christoph Bornhäuser, Menno Simons´ life and teaching. A struggle for the foundation of faith (around 1496–1561. Neukirchen-Vluyn 1973. - Emil Brunner, The Commandment and the Ordinances. Draft of a Protestant-Theological Ethics, Nachdr., New York 1932. - Fernando Enns, The Justification Event in the Interpretation of the Mennonites, in: U. Swarat, J. Oldermann and D. Heller (eds.), Accepted by God - transformed into Christ. The doctrine of justification in the multilateral ecumenical dialogue, Frankfurt / M. 2006, 155–176 - Heinold Fast (Ed.), Sources on the history of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, Vol. 2: Ostschweiz, Zurich 1973. - Thomas N. Finger, A Contemporary Anabaptist Theology. Biblical, Historical, Constructive, Downers Grove, Ill., 2004. - PM Friesen, The Old Evangelical Mennonite Brotherhood in Russia (1789–1910) in the context of the overall Mennonite history, Halbstadt 1911. - Joint declaration on the doctrine of the justification of the Lutheran World Federation and the Catholic Church, Frankfurt / M. 1999. - Norman Goodall ( Ed.), B. Report from Uppsala 1968, Geneva 1968. - Wilfried Joest, Art. Rebirth, in: RGG, Vol. VI, 3rd edition, Tübingen 1972, 1699 f. (III. Dogmatic). - Controversies of research, in: Mennonitische Geschichtsblätter 2014, 131–170. - Cornelius Krahn, Menno Simons (1496–1561). A contribution to the history and theology of the baptized, Karlsruhe 1936. - Paul Lehmann, Ethik als Answer. Methodik einer Koinonia-Ethik, Munich 1966. - Howard John Loewen, One Lord, One Church, One Hope, and One God. Mennonite Confessions of Faith, Elkhart, IN, 1985. - Gerhard Maier (ed.), Baptism - rebirth - conversion from an evangelistic perspective, Lahr-Dinglingen 1980. - Leonhard von Muralt and Walter Schmid (ed.), Sources on the history of the Anabaptists in Switzerland, Vol. 1: Zurich, Zurich 1952. - C. Arnold Snyder, Anabaptist History and Theology. An Introduction, Kitchener, Ont., 1985. - Hans Georg Tanneberger, The Anabaptists' Imagination of the Justification of Man, Stuttgart 1999. - Paul Tillich, Systematic Theology, Vol. III, Stuttgart 1966. - Ders., Gesammelte Werke, Vol VII, Stuttgart 1962. - Wolfgang Trillhaas, Dogmatik, Berlin 1962. - Otto Weber, Basis der Dogmatik, Vol. II, Neukirchen, Kr. Moers 1962.