Did you hear about Pastor Marty Minto, also a radio talk show host, who was asked by a caller if he thought the Pope was going to heaven, and answered that if he was born again, and believed Christ died for his sins, etc., that he would? He was fired from his job at the Evangelical Christian radio station WORD-FM in Pittsburgh, because such an answer might alienate some listeners. I kid you not.
Of course, we are told that the Gospel will be an offense to those that are perishing, but I think in this case there is a misunderstanding of terminology. Being, "born again," has come to take on a cultural meaning that is not Biblical. It is equated with certain denominations or factions of the church, and therefore seems to exclude others. It is used politically as a pejorative and coupled with words such as radical right, and fundamentalist extremist.
Few mainline Protestants or Roman Catholics who are genuine believers would describe themselves as "born again Christians." But if they are genuine believers they ought to. If the Biblical concept of being born again is properly understood, then any person of any denomination or no denomination at all, that believes they are saved from the just penalty of their sins only through the redeeming work of Jesus Christ, offered to them by grace and received through faith, ought to be comfortable referring to themselves as born again.
I think if Pastor Minto hadn't used the words, "born again," but had instead merely said that if the Pope had faith in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, he would have been fine. But the words born again made his answer explosive.
Let's look at where these words are used in Scripture.
1 There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him."
3Jesus answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
4Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?"
5Jesus answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, "You must be born again.' 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
9Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?"
10Jesus answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? 11Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended to heaven but He who came down from heaven, that is, the Son of Man who is in heaven.[a] 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in Him should not perish but[b]16For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. 17For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. have eternal life.
18"He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. 21But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God."
If I had to sum up the subject of these verses in one word, I would choose the word faith. If I had to quickly sum up what being born again has to do with faith, I would say, "You have to be born again in order to have faith." The whole idea here is that one cannot even see the Kingdom of God unless one first has been born again. One could also put it this way, "If one has faith, then that one must have been born again."
Being born again is not unlike being born the first time, in that the one being born does not choose to be born, nor does he choose the time and circumstances. In both our physical births and our spiritual rebirths, God decides all that. Being born again is not about denominations or altar calls or sinners' prayers, though it made lead some to participate in those kinds of things. What being born again is about is the rebirth of the spirit of a man, woman or child so that he or she can see the Kingdom of God, understand the Gospel message, desire God, be moved to repentance and come to faith. It is the opening of the eyes of the spiritually blind, and the unstopping of their ears.
I think if Pastor Minto was asked if he believed Dory Zinkand was going to heaven, he would have given the same answer. It isn't his place to say who has genuine faith and who does not. God is the judge of that. But as a pastor, he certainly can give a Biblical answer to what genuine faith and genuine conversion is like. I wouldn't consider it disrespectful at all if he gave that answer in regards to me, and from what I know of the late Pope, I don't think he would, either.
Below are some questions from the Westminster Shorter Catechism that give Biblical answers to questions about redemption, faith and repentance. I copied these from the Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics site, and if you go there, you can read it with notes that refer to Scripture proofs. Note especially Question 31, which deals with the born again concept by the name effectual calling.
Q. 30. How doth the Spirit apply to us the redemption purchased by Christ?
A. The Spirit applieth to us the redemption purchased by Christ, by working faith in us, and thereby uniting us to Christ in our effectual calling.
Q. 31. What is effectual calling?
A. Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.
Q. 32. What benefits do they that are effectually called partake of in this life?
A. They that are effectually called do in this life partake of justification, adoption, and sanctification, and the several benefits which in this life do either accompany or flow from them.
Q. 33. What is justification?
A. Justification is an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in His sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone.
Q. 35. What is sanctification?
A. Sanctification is the work of God’s free grace, whereby we are renewed in the whole man after the image of God, and are enabled more and more to die unto sin, and live unto righteousness.
Q. 36. What are the benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification?
A. The benefits which in this life do accompany or flow from justification, adoption, and sanctification, are, assurance of God’s love, peace of conscience, joy in the Holy Ghost, increase of grace, and perseverance therein to the end.