If you are a parent, I wonder what you would have done if one of your children as a baby had resisted eating solid food and wanted to keep with a diet of just milk? I am pretty certain that you would eventually have been so concerned that you would have taken them to the doctors to find out what the problem was. A child failing to move from milk to solid food won’t be able to grow to physical maturity.
The writer of the book of Hebrews had the same concern about many people in the church he was writing to, that they weren’t maturing in healthy way, but spiritually rather than physically . Just listen to his words.
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness” (Hebrews 5:11-13 NIV).
The problem in this ancient church was that there were a group of people who frankly just couldn’t be bothered putting any effort into growing towards spiritual maturity. The writer is blunt about the problem “you no longer try to understand.” As a consequence, of their indifference about spiritual growth they remained perpetual spiritual babies never progressing beyond the basics of Christianity.
We could say that the problem of perpetual spiritual immaturity has been a perpetual problem in the church. NT Wright is probably best known for being one of the top Biblical scholars today, but he was also a bishop, someone responsible for the spiritual condition of the churches in his diocese. He found that to be a frustrating experience because so few could be bothered with putting any effort into growing spiritually.
Here is his assessment:
“Why is it, in the twenty-first century as in the first, that so many Christians are not only eager to stay with a diet of milk, but actually get cross at the suggestion that they should be eating something more substantial? This is a question that has puzzled and bothered me for years. In my own country I meet a settled prejudice, even among people who are highly intelligent in other areas, who work in demanding professions, who read serious newspapers and magazines and who would be ashamed not to know what was going on in the world, against making any effort at all to learn what the Christian faith is about. As a result we find, both inside the churches and outside, an extraordinary ignorance of who Jesus really was, what Christians have believed and should believe about God and the world, how the entire Christian story makes sense, what the Bible contains, and, not least, how individual Christians fit in, and how their lives and their thoughts should be transformed by the power of the gospel.”
Let’s try to answer Tom Wright’s question. Why are there so many spiritually immature believers around?
Well I think there are two basic answers to that question.
Firstly, there are people who don’t know how to grow spiritually, they don’t know how to find and digest good spiritual food. Churches here have a culpability. Churches through their preaching, teaching and small group ministry should be providing people with spiritual food that will enable people to grow toward maturity. When someone attends church regularly, they should come to know how to grow spiritually and what the next steps they need to take are to do that.
You have maybe heard us talk already about a DISCIPLESHIP PATHWAY here at Westlake. What that basically is, is us as a church taking our responsibility seriously about providing good spiritual food and trying to be clear to people about how they can grow spiritually. We are going to be rolling this out after the summer. Our plan and prayer is that no one who comes to Westlake won’t have spiritually nutritious food to help them grow and that they will understand what they need to do to keep on growing towards maturity.
The writer of Hebrews has reminded us of the other reasons that there are so many spiritually immature people around, its indifference and apathy. Its not that they don’t know how to grow, or don’t have the access to resources to help them grow, they truth is that don’t want to grow.
There are Christians who just can’t be bothered doing anything more connected to spiritual growth than turning up at services and passively listening. (Even doing that regularly is becoming less common) As a pastor I can try through my preaching and teaching to give everyone who comes to Westlake “solid food” As a church we can provide a framework and resources to help people grow towards maturity. BUT, and its one of those BIG BUTS, all of that will be of no help to you if you don’t have the desire and determination to go beyond the basics and grow into spiritual maturity.
As part of the roll out of Vision 2020. We are going to be challenging everyone to move from milk to maturity, to move beyond the basics of Christianity. To do that in the autumn we will be looking in depth at how to grow as a disciple and at Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount and what it means to take Him seriously about how we should live as his disciples.
But its up to you as to whether you will grasp the opportunity of this “solid food” and move from milk to maturity. No one can do that for you? So will you be content with milk, or will you grasp the opportunity to grow towards maturity.