Happy “spiritual birthday”! Do you celebrate the day on which you became a Christian? Or perhaps the day that you got baptized? Some people do. Why have one birthday every year, when you can have two!
“Spiritual birthday” is a good example of a word that has acquired a lot of different senses depending on which Christian denomination is using it. For some Christians it refers to the day (or the anniversary of the day) that someone decided to be a Christian. It’s hard to argue with that logic—if there’s a bigger reason to throw a party than someone wanting to be a Christian, I haven’t heard of it!
Now, not all Christian denominations embrace this concept of “making a decision for Christ” at a specific point in time. Mostly it’s evangelicals and other conservative or fundamentalist Christians who affirm this idea of a definite conversion at a specific point in time. For example, in the 1977 citation in sense 1 below, you can read about Billy Graham stating his understanding that it is possible to pin down that “decision for Christ” to a specific hour! I’ve even seen Bibles that have a space on one of the first pages where you can write down the date and place that someone “became a Christian.” See senses 1 and 2 for more information about this meaning of “spiritual birthday.”
An alternative interpretation of “spiritual birthday” relies on a date that’s much less subjective: the date on which a person was baptized. Baptisms are pretty easy to confirm as far as when they happened, since usually there are witnesses and maybe a certificate. Christians might still disagree with one another with regard to whether baptism involves a dunking, a dipping, or a sprinkling, but everybody agrees that you have to get wet. The spiritual birthday commemorates that special watery event!
So you can see how “spiritual birthday” is defined by different Christians depending on which event is regarded as the formal “start” of one’s Christian life: the decision for Christ, or the baptism into the family of Christ. Both are pretty solid causes for celebration.
Senses 3 and 4 below have more information about “spiritual birthday” referring to baptism.
I know that I personally “accepted Christ” dozens of times growing up, and there’s no way I could list all those dates and times. But if you ask me when I was baptized—boom! Not only do I have the date, but I have documents! I’m one of those lucky Christians who has been baptized twice: once when I was a wee baby, and then again when I had been an adult Christian for a few years and wanted to affirm baptism as a personal choice. When it comes to baptism, I think the important thing is that everybody involved is there to celebrate what it means to belong to the church. Another great reason to throw a party!
Regardless of how a person might define their spiritual birthday, there is an underappreciated aspect of it that a lot of us might be interested in: when you have a spiritual birthday, then you can calculate your “spiritual age” based on that birthday. And here’s the kicker: your age as calculated from your spiritual birthday is younger—sometimes much younger—than your chronological age! And in fact, some Christians do calculate their “spiritual age” and enjoy keeping track of it. I discovered several quotations of people mentioning how they tracked their age from their conversion or their baptism, though it ended up that I only included one of these quotations in the definition; you can see it in sense 2, the quotation for 1873. In that example, the man is 66 years old when he truthfully writes in his diary, “This is my spiritual birthday—forty-two years old.”
How about you? Do you celebrate the day on which you decided to become a Christian, or maybe the date of your baptism? Have you been to a “spiritual birthday party” recently? What was it like?
• 1824 Gospel Advocate (5 Nov.) 338 : The converts whose spiritual birthday happens in these seasons of religious revivals, are not all of the same sentiments. 1876 Yates, Shepherd Memoir of Miss Shepherd of Cheadle 137 : It is very comforting and satisfactory to a child of God who can go back to the time and place, and all the interesting circumstances, when God pardoned his sins and set his soul at liberty. There are thousands who enjoy this blessed privilege, and they look upon the day of their conversion as their spiritual birthday. 1881 Williams Biographical Encyc. of Connecticut and Rhode Island 24 : There was a day in the spring term of his Sophomore year which he was wont to count as his spiritual birthday, and which was noted above all previous days by a believing acceptance of Christ as a Saviour and Lord and in which he felt himself to be a renewed child of God, a redeemed disciple of Christ, and consecrated to his service. In July of the same year he was baptized by the Rev. Dr. Gano, and received into the membership of the First Baptist Church in Providence. 1900 Railway Signal (Aug.) 150 : But one Friday morning, … he asked pardon for past sins. He gave himself right away to the Lord. He told Him he would freely give up wife, mother, everybody and everything and follow Him. Then came a wonderful change. His mind was relieved. His heart leaped for joy. Tears of grief were turned into tears of joy…. This Friday—February 26, 1886—was a red letter day in his history. It was his spiritual birthday, never to be forgotten. 1977 Graham How to Be Born Again 000 : Is there one definite point in time, one hour of one day of one year when a person can say, “That was when I was born again”? I know many people who can point to that time and say with assurance, “That was my spiritual birthday.” 1985 Smith Evangelizing Youth 122 : First, be sure he has a Bible and that he writes in the front the date of his “spiritual birthday.” That “birth certificate” can be a real encouragement on the days when the doubts come. Then help him set some goals for the first seven days of knowing Christ. 2000 Bickel, Jantz God Is in the Small Stuff 29 : The most personal spiritual celebration you can observe is the spiritual birthday of each family member. What we mean by spiritual birthday is this: On what day did you and others in your family first invite Jesus Christ into your life?
• 1867 Bibliotheca Sacra XXIV. 323 : Charles Wesley, we are told, never allowed a birthday to pass without writing a cheerful hymn. His verses beginning, “O for a thousand tongues to sing,” were written on the anniversary of his conversion, his spiritual birthday. 1873 Minutes of the Annual Conferences of the Methodist Episcopal Church 50 : Charles Crittenden was born in Clinton, Conn., in 1805. He was converted at the age of twenty-four years [in 1829]…. In his diary, under date of October 29, 1871, occurs the following: “This is my spiritual birthday—forty-two years old.” 1912 Griffis A Modern Pioneer in Korea: The Life Story of Henry G. Appenzeller 67 : The date of his conversion, October 6, 1876, he annually celebrated as his spiritual birthday. 1923 Anderson The Hobo: The Sociology of the Homeless Man 256 : Certain missions celebrate the “spiritual birthdays” of these converts. A bouquet of flowers is placed on the pulpit and a special program is arranged in honor of the occasion. The anniversary of the conversion of a permanent convert is a time of rejoicing. 1979 Rickerson Family Fun and Togetherness 72 : “Spiritual Birthdays”: We feel that the day our children were born into God’s family is more important than the day of their physical birth. We always decorate the house, have a birthday cake, and many times have friends in to help us celebrate. 2009 De Moss Choosing Gratitude 114 : One of the occasions I make a big deal about each year is my “spiritual birthday,” the day I first consciously trusted the Lord Jesus to save me.
• 1957 Williams Worship and the Modern Child 107 : But it will mean a lot to him if his Baptism Day—his spiritual Birthday, so to speak—can be treated as an outstanding event in his life. It could be marked by a small gift, or a special cake, or an outing, or a little friend to tea—anything that will kindle his interest and help him to accept his baptism, and ask questions about it, as naturally as he accepts his birthday. 1979 Lutheran Standard XIX. lxix : Do you celebrate the day you were born into the family of God? The day you were baptized is your spiritual birthday.
• 1834 Coleridge in Friendship’s Offering and Winter’s Wreath 163 : “My Baptismal Birth Day”—Lines composed on a sick bed, under severe bodily suffering, on my spiritual birthday, October 28th. 1898 J. of the Twenty-First Synod of the Holy Catholic Church vols. 21–26 55 : Such associations warn us to make our natural birthdays fasts rather than festivals, and suggest that our spiritual birthdays, the anniversaries of our baptism, should be our festivals. 1962 Ferm Encyc. of Religion 164 : For some time January 6 had been observed as Christ’s spiritual birthday or date of his baptism, and there is evidence that it was also celebrated by some as the day of his natural birth. 2004 Habenicht, Burton Teaching the Faith 345 : Encourage families to celebrate “spiritual birthdays” (dates of baptism) as well as regular birthdays.