Hebrews 5:11-6:2</b> -- "Concerning Him we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith towards God, of instructions about washings, and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment."
The purpose of pastors and leaders is not to maintain, but to equip and perfect the saints for the ministry. We have to overcome the hindrances to growth. We have to be concerned with being like Jesus, and help others to become like Him also.
See Ephesians 4:11-16 and 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
Paul’s idea of the Church is a body with life within that never stops growing. It is not like a baseball that, though it is thrown strongly, after a while comes to a stop. That is what happens when the Church becomes too institutionalized. An institution is ruled by its constitution and bylaws. Usually, if there is any life in it, institutionalism kills it. This is not to say that institutions are wrong, but that we have to be very careful and aware of this peril. History is the witness. Groups that started with life, ended like a baseball when the inertia had ended.
CHILDHOOD: WHAT IS IT?
1. For Paul, the evidence of childhood in Corinth was their division. In Galatia it was their legalism. To the writer to the Hebrews the evidence of babyhood was that they always needed milk and never became spiritual fathers. Apparently, in a large segment of the church today we have the same situations.
2. Today we have divisions worse than the Corinthians. Denominationalism, jealousy, disputes, dissentions, and factions are common. Not only between church and church, but also within the same church or denomination.
We see many people in the church world who are adamant about following after certain teachers or ministries even to the dividing of friendships. We are witnesses of many local congregations that divide and keep dividing themselves endlessly. Therefore, the problem is not denominational differences only, but childhood. Belonging to the same denomination is not a guarantee that there is not going to be division. Division, enmities, jealousy, strife, etc., are called “the works of the flesh” in the epistle to the Galatians. The church today looks like a large kindergarten. Perhaps we don’t fight because we are rebellious, but because we are children.
3. Legalism: Children must be ruled by laws. As children naturally grow older and become more mature, they no longer are ruled by laws, they become ruled by their inner knowledge of right and wrong. Example: children usually do not understand why parents tell them not to play with scissors. All they hear is the commandment “thou shall not play with scissors.” They do not understand why they can’t cross the road by themselves. All they know is the commandment “thou shall not cross the street alone.” This rule by commandment is because the child has not developed the skills’ or knowledge, or maturity to make the proper decisions because of immaturity. But as the child grows, its skills, knowledge, and maturity increase and they now are capable of doing those things without constant supervision because they are maturing. As a matter of fact, we expect them to grow up and become mature enough to be guided by their inner decision making ability and if they don’t we consider them to be abnormal or even retarded in their normal development. As they grow up, they become free from the laws we establish for them as children or babies. This is the meaning of Galatians 5:18, “…..but if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” To grow is to get freed from legalism, because our inner life in Jesus guides us “into all truth” and “teaches us all things” (I John 2:27).
Paul is one living example: I Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23. It seems that for an adult nothing is forbidden, but his inner common sense will tell him what is good and expedient and what is not. The adult person is no longer under the law “thou shall not touch the scissors”, but he won’t be playing with the scissors. The fact there is so much legalism in churches and groups is another evidence of our childhood.
4. The issues we fight over also tell us the level of our spiritual growth. Children might fight over simply an inch of Coke in their glass, while adults would prefer peace even if it required giving away their own Coke. We sometimes fight for the amount of water used in baptism and we forget that love is more important than speaking in tongues, prophecy, wisdom, faith, etc., not to mention the amount of water used for baptism.
A child has a very narrow mind.
5. The childhood state in the church is also seen by the fact that if someone wants to grow into a higher ministry, he or she must leave the church and go to a seminary or Bible school. Therefore the church is only for children. Spiritual growth in the primitive church happened in the very bosom of the church itself. You could become an Apostle right in the church in Antioch.
6. The need for para-church organizations for youth work, students, athletes, businessmen, prisons, teenagers,etc., would not be needed if within the church all of those ministries could be developed. Even the radio, television, and evangelistic teams would be able to spring up from the local church if life and growth were possible in that institution, without having to start a new institution to be able to develop a new ministry. Anyway, thank God that, though independent, we have those blessed groups and ministries.
7. The lack of spiritual growth made us use the word “grow” for other things, like numbers. To say we are growing as a church today means only that we have people. To say “we were one hundred, now we are five hundred” is not necessarily an indication of growth, may simply be one of getting fat. One hundred without love, then five hundred without love, is just more of the same quality. Cemeteries also grow numerically. If we have more babies and the others do not grow spiritually, then we are just getting fat, and when we need more ministers (or the ones we have leave), we have to import new ones from outside.
8. Our attitude toward God is also evidence of childhood. Always asking and always coming to receive, to be blessed, is a characteristic of childhood. In the natural, as we grow up, we tend to become more oriented toward the giving of ourselves instead of simply getting all the time. Have you ever noticed that parents seem to be constantly giving and their children seem to be constantly asking and wanting to be blessed? When I was a child I was always asking. Since I have become a parent, I am always giving of myself for others benefit. The child comes to be loved. The grown up comes to give love. One comes to be helped, the other comes to help. One comes to be comforted, the other comes to do the comforting. One comes to be ministered to, the other comes to do the ministering.
9. Our testimonies can be signs of childhood also. Most testimonies are like this: “Thanks to God because He gave me, … healed me, … blessed me, … provided for me,… me, me, me,…… This is very self-centered like a child.
Our testimonies should be more mature like this: “I came to bless Him. Thanks be to God because He has enabled me to give, to provide for others, to serve others, to minister to others, etc.”
10. Children seem to be constantly relearning the same elementary teachings of Jesus. Repentance, faith, baptisms, the receiving of the Holy Spirit, seconding coming, resurrection from the dead, and eternal judgment is mostly what the church is hearing. If to believe in salvation, the Holy Spirit, healing, and second coming is the FULL GOSPEL, how can we grow to maturity in Christ? The primitives in the early church received all of that in the first day of their conversion. On that day they repented, believed, were baptized, received the Holy Spirit, and got ready for the second coming and judgment, all in one day! The writer to the Hebrews admonishes us to “leave the elementary teaching…..and press on to maturity…” (Heb. 5:11-6:3).
11. The childhood in the church has changed the real ministry of the pastors. Pastors are for the “perfecting and equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.” It is not to simply maintain and entertain the saints by getting them to come to the meetings, visiting them, and being glad when they attend the meetings and give in the offering. As a matter of fact, in the New Testament you only see the ministry of the pastor mentioned twice. There are to be many ministries functioning in the church all with the purpose of equipping the saints to function as mature ministers unto God and others. All elders are to be functioning in one of the five gifts from Jesus to the church. That way the full ministry of Jesus comes to the people, not just that of the pastor.
I trust that some of the issues in this article will prompt us to look at our own life and see if we are growing in our spiritual life, or are we still showing signs of spiritual childhood.
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Rob Board Ministries
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