Thursday, May 18, 2017

Arrested Development

We live in a time and in a Church that appears to suffer from arrested development. American Christianity seems to be like a river a mile wide and an inch deep. There is the problem of terminology, of course. What once was standardized -- "justification", "sanctification", "ecclesiology", "exegesis" (especially in comparison to "eisegesis"), "hermeneutics", and so on -- is now forgotten, ignored, undefined, or, perhaps, so variably defined as to have lost most of its meaning. Essentials like the Gospel, the Trinity, the authority and reliability of God's Word, the doctrine of Original Sin, justification by grace through faith, even the Resurrection are no longer essential to many and, for far too many, no longer even true. The language of Christianity -- "Christianese" -- is fairly common, but we're still not speaking the same language. Then there are the forces of the world at work, trying to shape and distort "the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints." (Jude 1:3) They do it from without, using the courts and public opinion and emotional pressure to try to force Christ's Church to change its orthodoxy (right doctrine) and orthopraxy (right practice). They do it from within, tares among the wheat, urging the church to be more like the world in the name of "Christian values". So we end up with churches with lots of people who are largely shallow in their grasp of orthodoxy and orthopraxy -- arrested development.

The author of Hebrews was busily explaining the deity of Christ and comparing Him to "the order of Melchizedek" (Heb 5:1-10) when he appears to stop in his tracks and tell his readers,
About this 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 need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Heb 5:11-14)
What is that? Arrested development. "You ought to be teachers by this time." They're not. "It is hard to explain." Why? "You need milk, not solid food." What's up? What has made these early Christians so anemic, so dull of hearing, so baby-like? According to the text, it is arrested development. "Solid food," he says, "is for the mature," and they are not mature. What makes someone mature? The mature are "those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil."

They say, "You are what you eat." Sure, a proverb, but often true. Christianity in America has largely laid off the rich food of the Word, the meat, the real nourishment that comes from delving consciously, carefully, and continuously into Scripture. Much like the public school system, we've opted more for the "least common denominator" approach. You know ... teach at the level of the lowest person. Similarly churches tend to preach and teach at the level of the lowest person. The outcome is the lowest level.

Scripture says we should be trained by constant practice for "powers of discernment". This produces maturity and allows for "solid food". "Milk", on the other hand, is what is necessary for those who are "unskilled in the word." So instead of providing constant practice, instead of equipping the saints, building up the body of Christ, and building to spiritual maturity (Eph 4:11-14), we remain children, "tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes." (Eph 4:14) Arrested development.

Now, I'm not keen on bringing problems all by themselves. I'm not happy when others point at issues and provide no solutions and I don't like to do it myself. Clearly, there is a solution here. Instead of being children, instead of failing to preach and teach the Word in order to mature and build up the saints, we ought to ... well, preach and teach the Word. A focus on skills in the Word and training by constant practice is the solution to this problem of arrested development. The only question is who is going to take up the solution? Are we simply going to be satisfied with our own arrested development?

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