Marks of Smoking Flax

June 27th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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The Puritans left behind a great store of wisdom—rigorously theological, warmly devotional, and always centered on Christ and his gospel. Sadly, given the diminishing attention paid to language, grammar, and the humanities, they are less accessible to modern audiences than they deserve. Still, there are a few Puritan works that are short and simple enough that I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest every English-speaking Christian read them. John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress would head the list, undoubtedly. But not far behind would be the wonderful little classic The Bruised Reed by Richard Sibbes.

 

Sibbes takes as his text Isaiah 42:1-3,

 

Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight;

I will put my Spirit on him, and he will bring justice to the nations.

He will not shout or cry out, or raise his voice in the streets.

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.

In faithfulness he will bring forth justice.

 

and from it shows the tender, loving grace of Christ, the Lord’s servant, towards his people.

 

If we’re honest about the struggle—the war our flesh and the Spirit wage within us, the temptations we face, and (all too often) our falls into sin—we will soon feel discouragement and doubt. Will we ever be sanctified? Will the war ever cease? Can I be sure of my salvation when I struggle so? Hear how Sibbes describes this struggle:

 

Some think they have no faith at all because they have no full assurance, whereas the fairest fire that can be will have some smoke. The best actions will smell of the smoke. The mortar wherein the garlic has been stamped will always smell of it; so all our actions will savour something of the old man. (45)

 

But how may we know that we are truly Christians, and not hypocrites hiding behind a profession of faith? “In a gloomy day there is so much light,” Sibbes writes, “that we may know it to be day and not night; so there is something in a Christian under a cloud whereby he may be discerned a true believer and not a hypocrite” (37-38). A smoldering wick, though it show no flame at the time, nevertheless bears the mark of heavenly ignition. And once lit by heaven, according to the promise given in our text, Jesus will not suffer to see it extinguished, but will fan it into flame once more.

 

With this in mind, Sibbes suggests ten marks of “smoking flax,” that is, of a smoldering wick. When the marks are present, when we see these rules at work in our lives, we can be sure God’s irresistible grace is at work within us to mortify sin and raise us to newness of life. He is actively forming Christ in us.

 

  1. “If there be any fire in us, it is kindled from heaven.” The light kindled in us by the Father of lights, Sibbes reminds, is the same light as in the Word. We must have heavenly light to discern heavenly truth. If we accept the Word as true, receive it, and seek to see its truth lived out in our lives, God’s light has surely “sparked” the interest within us.
  2. “The least divine light has heat with it in some measure.” Sibbes goes on to say, “Light in the understanding produces heat of love in the affections.” As we grasp biblical truth, it affects more than just our intellect; slowly but surely we begin to feel the fundamental structures of our hearts changing, until our affections are in line with the truth we profess. We value supremely what is supremely valuable; we treasure Christ above all. Here Sibbes follows Augustine’s famous dictum: “As a man loves, so is he.” Our affections truly determine our nature.
  3. “Where this heavenly light is kindled, it directs in the right way.” The world clamors for our attention, and many forces seek to direct us: media, politics, culture, friends and family. However, a true Christian will always look to God’s light as revealed in Scripture first and foremost. Sibbes offers a helpful analogy to distinguish between those who had a moment of intrigue when hearing the gospel, and those whose hearts were truly set aflame by God’s grace: “The light which some men have is like lightning which, after a sudden flash, leaves them more in darkness. They can love the light as it shines, but hate it as it discovers and directs.” If we say we like Jesus well enough, but bristle at his teaching (or the teaching of his prophets and apostles), we hate God’s light as it discovers and directs; if, however, we trust his light to guide and direct even when we struggle to understand the why, we prove ourselves to be smoldering wicks at least.
  4. “Where this fire is, it will sever things of diverse natures, and show a difference between such things as gold and dross.” If God’s light is at work within us, and as we trust it to direct us, it will reveal impurities within us. We will allow it to separate flesh from spirit, to help us identify and ultimately mortify what is carnal.
  5. “So far as a man is spiritual, so far is light delightful to him.” When God’s light reveals uncleanness, immorality, and sin within us, we receive the rebuke with joy. “Wounds from a friend can be trusted” (Proverbs 27:6), and what better friend have we than God himself, speaking through his Word? Our affections have been changed, so we delight most in Christ, and delight to be like him in increasing measure. Whatever tends to that end, we welcome with joy. If, however, we feel the sting of rebuke and resist it—draw the shades of our heart to keep the light out—it is likely we remain unregenerate. “There is nothing in the world more uneasy than the heart of a wicked man made to listen to spiritual instruction, until, like a thief, he puts out the candle so that he may sin with less restraint.”
  6. “Fire, where it is present, is in some degree active.” Grace works. Even in the midst of sin, when our flesh seems to be all-conquering, there is a “contrary principle, which breaks the force of sin, so that it is not boundlessly sinful.” The true light will flicker even in our darkest moments.
  7. “Fire makes metals pliable and malleable.” And so grace, where it is active, makes our hearts soft and prepares us to be changed. However, “Obstinate spirits show that they are not so much as smoking flax.”
  8. “Fire, as much as it can, sets everything on fire.” Grace, where it is active, will make everything in us gracious. All will tend in a Godward direction, to the fame of his name. As Paul puts the same principle, whatever we do, we will do to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31).
  9. “Sparks by nature fly upwards.” Our desires and aims will mount upward, toward heaven. A person cannot desire the holy unless grace is at work, “for we cannot desire anything which we do not believe first to be, and the desire of it issues from love.” Sibbes notes these desires must be (1) constant, for this shows their supernatural origin, (2) directed to spiritual things such as faith and love, not because of a pressing need or emergency (in which case the desire is selfishly motivated), but “as a loving heart is carried to thing loved for the sake of some excellency in it,” and (3) accompanied with grief when the desire is hindered—that is, when sin masks Christ’s loveliness.
  10. “Fire, if it has any matter to feed on, enlarges itself and mounts higher and higher, and, the higher it rises, the purer is the flame.” Where grace is truly active, it grows in measure and purity. “Ignis, quo magis lucet, eo minus fumat (As fire gives more light, it gives less smoke).” If we are truly in Christ, we will grow more like him; when we see no growth in grace, we show we are not so much as smoldering wicks. As one contemporary pastor puts it, “It’s okay not to be okay, but it’s not okay to stay that way.”


Psalms, Hymns, and Songs from the Spirit

May 2nd, 2017 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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As I mentioned in my last post, I’d like to offer a series of short reflections on worship, spurred in part by two interesting posts by Tim Challies (1 2). I don’t intend this to be a polemical series, but do want to offer some thoughts on the ongoing “worship wars.” Thankfully these have stilled for the most part, but I’m not always sure why the ceasefire. In many cases, I don’t think it has come from a sustained theological reflection, but rather simple exhaustion and a (wholly appropriate) desire for unity. But theological reflection is a good thing, so that’s some of what I’m aiming for today, as I zero in on one of the benefits Challies sees in switching from a hymnal to projected lyrics: variety.

 

Now, I love hymns, and believe strongly that we should be singing them regularly. I even argued in my last post that these are the songs I am absolutely sure I want my children to learn by heart, whereas my current favorite Crowder tune will only make it into the car CD player for a few weeks or so. However, there is a danger with our beloved hymns, that we will mistake style for value. What makes the great hymns great is their robust theology, deep pathos, and (in most cases, but not all) enchanting melody. Those are essential qualities. But if we’re not careful, we might begin to assume that some incidental qualities—instrumentation, presence of rhyme, song structure—belong in the essential category as well. We can see this tendency in our phrase “modern hymnody,” which seems to be applied to songs that employ rhyming and follow a set structure (no bridge being the key piece here, as far as I can tell). I’m not sure why this sets apart a song as a hymn, when other songs (that don’t rhyme, have bridges, etc.) have equally robust theology, deep pathos, and enchanting melody.

 

And here’s where variety comes in. When we make the incidental essential, we limit the acceptable variety among our songs. Only those that bear the incidental marks pass through the gates. Paul encourages us to speak to one another in “psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Ephesians 5:19). Much scholarly ink has been spilled over the precise meaning of each term (though “psalms” seems pretty obvious). Whatever the difference between “hymns” (which in Greek simply means “song of praise”) and “songs” (assuming, as many scholars do, that “from the Spirit” modifies all three terms), what is clear is the presence of variety. There is something different about the three, whatever it may be. When we begin to limit variety, especially for incidental reasons, we neglect Paul’s instruction here. Our God is a God of endless creativity—as his wondrous creation proves—and we honor him when we put that same creative spirit on display in our worship.

 

Of course, it is just possible that “variety” should encompass songs of varied theological depth. (Gasp! Heresy!) Give me just one moment before you hurl the stones. I’m taking my cue here from the presence of that tiny word “psalms” in Ephesians 5:19. I know of no one who would seriously argue that we shouldn’t use Psalms in our worship, and many would argue (rightly, I think) that we should use Psalms as our blueprint for worship. If you’ve read Psalms, you know how wondrously diverse they are. Some are richly theological, and others are, well, a bit sentimental. Some trace redemptive history carefully (foreshadowing the cross time and again), and others focus on a single moment or issue. Is it possible that our worship today should do likewise? Isn’t there time for repetition (as in Psalm 136)—so that we can really meditate on a single profound idea, like God’s steadfast love—just as surely as there is time for rapid theological reflection (as in Psalm 107)? Isn’t there time for raw emotion (as in Psalm 126), just as surely as there is time for heady instruction (as in Psalm 78)? And, of course, the Psalms invite us not just to praise and thank, but also to confess and lament, which in itself will add much-needed variety to our Sunday mornings.

 

As we “sing and make music from [our] heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:20), let’s do so with a body of songs as richly diverse as the human experience and as wondrously creative as the Being they exalt, to the glory of our triune God, who is worthy of all praise. Soli Deo gloria.



The Family Hymnal

April 18th, 2017 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Recently Tim Challies put out two excellent blog posts on “What We Lost When We Lost Our Hymnals” and “What

We Gained When We Lost Our Hymnals.” The posts are balanced (as the titles suggest) and thoughtful. I think he is correct when he suggests that it would be unwise to return to the hymnal on the one hand, and equally unwise not to think through the implications of losing the hymnal on the other. These two posts sparked me to consider our worship practices, so I plan to use my next few posts to offer some scattered reflections on worship, using Challies’ thoughts as a springboard.

 

Challies ends his list of what we lost when we lost our hymnals with the “ability to have the songs in our homes.” Most families of yore would purchase a hymnal to bring home with them (we have at least two old hymnals in our home, for example) so they could sing the same songs at home that they were singing at church. The words were there, the melody was there, and—if you had somebody who could play piano—even the music was there. Families could gather around the piano (or just around the coffee table) and sing “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” or “O Sacred Head Now Wounded” during their times of family worship. Now no one gets to see the music (few of our musicians even read music anymore), much less take it home with them, which means we’re left with singing the melody (as we remember it) a cappella or putting on a CD Spotify or a YouTube clip. That is something lost, indeed.

 

Of course, the issue runs a bit deeper than this. It’s not just that we don’t have music in front of us anymore. After all, very few can read music, so what good would it be? (In fact, Challies argues that when we lost our hymnals, we lost the ability to harmonize. I’d quibble with him here, as I think we’d have lost our ability to harmonize regardless, because our culture no longer values Fine Arts owing to its narrow-minded focus on STEM education. But that’s a soap box, so I’ll step off and just rant in my own head.) No, the deeper issue is that we don’t really have songs to sing during family worship anymore. Most contemporary songs (and I’m an unapologetic defender of contemporary music, mind you) are difficult and boring when sung a cappella; they require instrumentation. In addition, like culture’s Top 40 chart, the songs rotate incessantly (more on that in another post). Just as soon as the whole family knows one, we’re onto the next.

 

And, of course, this means we vet songs much less carefully, so we always run the risk of teaching our kids a song that really isn’t worth singing. There have been some truly awful songs sung widely since the CCM movement began in earnest. It’s not that there weren’t some truly awful songs written in the 1800s too; it’s just that they were winnowed over time, thank God.

 

So what do we do? If family worship is an absolutely indispensable—though neglected—grace, and singing is an indispensable part of it, how should we proceed?

 

I think the answer is pretty simple, really. Get a hymnal, and use it at home. In other words, let’s not let this be one of the things we lost when we lost our hymnals. Despite being a big fan of the “latest and greatest,” I want my kids to learn the hymns of old at home. Why? I can think of at least three reasons.

 

  1. They aren’t learning them enough at church. There are a lot of reasons for this, and I’m certainly not wanting to stir up trouble—“Like one who grabs a stray dog by the ears is someone who rushes into a quarrel not their own” (Proverbs 26:17)—but it’s true. I want my kids to have deep roots in the faith, roots that run deeper than their or my generation. I want them to feel a connection to Christians throughout the centuries—Francis, Luther, Wesley, Watts—and singing the songs of bygone generations is one of the best ways to do it. (Reading is an even better way, but that’s another soap box.) If I have any concern that they’re not going to learn the words well at church—well enough to draw on them in moments of praise, wonder, doubt, grief—then I’ll ensure they get them at home.
  2. I want them to learn vetted songs only. I’m fairly theologically astute, and I’m sure I could separate the wheat from the chaff easily enough, but I am also a product of my time and culture. I have blindspots that I’m unaware of—that’s what makes them blindspots—so I need the benefit of multicultural, multigenerational input. If I’m going to ensure my kids memorize certain songs, I want them to be the very best songs. I don’t want them to waste any time or brain space on transient lyrics.
  3. I want them to have a shared vocabulary with many other Christians. The songs we sing in church are so important because it is one of the primary ways we learn theology. Ask me about the incarnation, and I will immediately blurt out, “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see.” Get me thinking about the wonder of the crucifixion, and I will tremble in awed whispers, “Alas! and did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?” Throw me in the fiery furnace, and I will shout triumphantly, “When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie, my grace all-sufficient shall be your supply.” And the Christians around me will, in each case, nod understandingly, or perhaps even start to hum along. I want my kids to have that same experience (much more so than I did, in truth!), to be able to draw from the same well. That won’t happen with the flavor of the month song that happens to be playing on K-Love right now (not belittling K-Love or those songs, mind you).

 

In sum, this could be something we’d lose now that we’ve lost our hymnals, except we can’t afford to lose it. Get a good hymnal. Learn the songs if you don’t know them already. And—most importantly by far—sing them together as a family when you gather daily (or as near to it as you can muster) for prayer, study, and worship.

 

“Oh, that with yonder sacred throng, we at His feet may fall! We’ll join the everlasting song, and crown Him Lord of all!”



Tendentiously Tense

May 13th, 2014 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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My brother was a gymnast, so my whole family was interested in the sport and watched it avidly, especially during the Olympics. I can keenly remember watching the Magnificent Seven win the gold in 1996 while we were on summer vacation. My favorite event, by far, is the balance beam. To execute any of those maneuvers on the floor seems challenging enough; to perform them on a four-inch-wide beam defies understanding. To undertake the sublime knowing that a small misstep will send you tumbling to one side or the other—that is remarkable.

 

It’s not much different in the Christian life.

 

Theologians, amateur and professional, attempt the sublime—to put into words the wonder of the incomprehensible God—knowing that a small misstep will send us crashing down into one error or another. The balance beam is an apt metaphor for theology because so much balance and precision are needed. I know of no heresy that isn’t simply an overemphasis on a truth that must instead be held in tension with other truths. So to synthesize the riches of God’s counsel on any issue feels like landing a complicated maneuver on a four-inch-wide beam.

 

Witness the great Trinitarian heresies of the first few centuries after Christ, which all either overemphasized the one-ness of God (as in modalism) or the three-ness of God (often by denying equality among the three persons, as in Arianism). Just a short while later, new heresies arose with regard to the two natures of Jesus—some overemphasizing his divinity, others his humanity. The great creeds of the historic church are great precisely because they embrace the tension.[1]

 

The problem remains today. While debates on the Trinity and Christ’s two natures persist to some extent—among Oneness Pentecostals and Mormons, for example—these debates have been largely settled within historic Christianity. But that doesn’t mean we are no longer in danger of falling off of any balance beams. Consider just a few issues today where overemphasizing one side will lead to an ignominious tumble.

 

  1. God’s Holiness and Love. There seems to be an overwhelming desire to reduce God to one of his attributes, or at least to elevate one to a position of primacy. The heart of God’s character is love, some might say, which has to inform our every discussion about him. Overemphasizing this leads to libertinism or universalism with alarming frequency (witness Rob Bell or Madeline L’Engle for the latter, and many discussions of same-sex marriage for the former). Others would point to God’s holiness as his primary characteristic (as in Islam), leading to a vision of God that is harsh and distant. God, however, reveals himself in Scripture to be both simultaneously. John the Elder can affirm with equal emphasis that God is light and God is love (cf. 1 John 1:5; 4:8). God does not act in holiness at some times and act in love at other times. When he acts, he acts in perfect holiness and love (and goodness and wisdom and power and knowledge etc.) always.
  2. Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility. Does God sovereignly ordain every act in history—including the acts of humanity—so that nothing happens which he does not will to occur? Or do humans possess genuine freedom so that they can thwart the divine will by their choices? In other words, does human freedom limit God’s sovereignty or does God’s sovereignty limit human freedom? (Talk about a false dichotomy!) Pelagians, semi-Pelagians, and Open Theists would all affirm the latter, arguing that if humans do not possess “genuine” freedom (i.e., power of contrary choice), then they can bear no responsibility for their actions. Hyper-Calvinists and fatalists affirm the former, such that humans really do not have freedom (but who are we, o humanity, to talk back to God?). Scripture, however, affirms both divine sovereignty and human responsibility (cf. Acts 4:27-28). What Scripture affirms as compatible, we should also—even when it involves logical tension!
  3. Justification and Sanctification. Some prefer to emphasize God’s saving grace, whereby God justifies sinners, adopting them to sonship through the blood of his Son, offered freely in love. Others emphasize God’s sanctifying grace, whereby God transforms sinners into the likeness of his Son, so that they are holy even as he is holy. Both represent a truncated gospel. Emphasizing the former over against the latter leads to libertinism and passivity; emphasizing the latter over against the former leads to legalism and dead religion. Interestingly, almost every epistle is written to combat one or the other of these extremes. Jude and James come out strongly against the libertinism of emphasizing saving grace only, while Galatians and Colossians vehemently oppose the legalism of emphasizing sanctifying grace only. (Of course, the New Testament writers are wise enough to communicate both simultaneously: witness the transition from Galatians 4 to Galatians 5!) We should do likewise.

 

These are a few representative examples, but many more abound. One can easily discern the temptation to embrace tendentiousness instead of tension in issues as wide-ranging as women in ministry, charismatic gifts, end times, and even worship practices. (I will leave it to the reader to determine where overemphasis commonly occurs in each of these areas.)

 

Even this brief scan of some common, shall we say, unplanned dismounts would seem to counsel caution. We must consider the whole counsel of God and give due emphasis to everything Scripture says on an issue. If we are going to insist on any point, we should insist on maintaining the balance. In other, more alliterative words, we should strive to be tendentiously tense.



[1] Note especially how the Athanasian Creed expresses the tension inherent in both of these issues.



Essential Unity

September 11th, 2012 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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Attributed to Augustine, the old adage says, “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” I suspect the wise Christian will heed this advice. Though one wishes to believe that all Christians will agree on every point, our finite and limited perspective will never allow us to have complete understanding of the depth of God’s revealed Word. As such, Christians will disagree at various points along the theological spectrum. The question that then arises is how do we distinguish those areas about which all orthodox Christians must agree (unity) from those about which we may, in a spirit of charity, differ (liberty). I suspect the gospel serves as the dividing line between those issues that are essentials and those that are not.

 

In his epistle to the Galatians, Paul uses strong language to denounce the unorthodoxy he sees creeping into that church’s thinking (cf. 1:6-9; 3:1). In this example we see the proper means for separating the essential from anything less. One would, I assume, place circumcision on the list of non-essentials. Yet in this letter, Paul argues vehemently for the unimportance of circumcision, consigning to hell (pronouncing anathema) those who force it on Gentile believers. Now, I believe neither circumcision nor uncircumcision matters at all (Galatians 6:15). Still, it mattered at that moment and in that church because it compromised the gospel. If Gentile believers had to become Jews first in order to become Gentiles, then we are saved not by grace but by our works, by upholding the law (an impossible task). Thus, in this setting, circumcision proved essential because the gospel itself was at stake, and so Paul gives no liberty to the Judaizers plaguing the Galatian church (and also publicly rebukes Peter for similar reasons). I think this framework allows us to distinguish the two classes of theological topics.

 

One might worry at this point that too many doctrines be relegated to the non-essential; after all, what bearing does the doctrine of the Trinity or of Christology (both doctrines many Christians hold to be essential) have on the gospel? But upon closer inspection, we see that each doctrine does cause the gospel to stand or fall. Take Christology as an example: as Gregory of Nazianus argued during the fifth century, “what is not assumed is not healed.” That is, if Christ has not become fully man (including body and mind), he has not fully healed humanity. Indeed, it was precisely Christology’s relationship to atonement (the gospel doctrine) that led Anselm of Canterbury to ask and answer the question “Why did God become man?” Only man can pay the penalty for his sins; only God can offer the infinite penalty needed. Thus, only the God-man (Christ) could effectively satisfy the wrath of God. In my estimation, then, those doctrines necessary to maintain the orthodox gospel are essential, and those that are not, are not.



On Theological Reflection

October 31st, 2011 | Posted in Blog | No Comments
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There has emerged the growing feeling that theological reflection is at best academic and at worst harmful to Christian community. What is needed is a return to the simple faith of children, we are told, devoid of intellectual pride and pedantry. Can’t we all simply love Jesus and leave it at that? That intellectual pursuits have inherent danger is clear enough—of the making of many books there is no end—but does this danger prohibit all such reflection? Surely not. After all, sex has danger enough attached to it, and few among us are clamoring for an absolute abstinence. Likewise rigorous theological reflection.

 

Indeed, even a cursory reading of Scripture would suggest that a certain intellectual rigor is required of us: are we not to love God with all our minds? And Peter’s point about Paul’s letters—difficult to understand, but surely worthy of close examination (2 Peter 3:16)—would seem to be true of much of the sacred writings. Who among us would count Ezekiel or Ecclesiastes as light, easy reading? But these, as all Scripture, are God-breathed and useful for edification (2 Timothy 3:16), and therefore must be studied with care and precision. To the rubbish heap we may quickly consign any approach to Scripture that minimizes the challenge of reading works culled from millennia and widely divergent cultures, or suggests that the attempt to do so somehow involves arrogance or incipient humanism.

 

Perhaps we see this most clearly in the letter to the Hebrews. Our anonymous author sets about his task of demonstrating the superiority of the new covenant to the old, in an effort to strengthen wavering believers to remain in the faith—and not return to Judaism—despite intense persecution. His third argument, beginning in chapter five, highlights the superiority of our High Priest to the priests of old. Jesus does not belong to the transient—and now obsolete—Aaronic priesthood, but rather to the eternal priesthood of Melchizedek (5:10).

 

And as quickly as he introduces the topic, our writer abandons it, knowing he will lose his intellectually lazy readers: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand” (5:11, NIV). Though by this time his readers should be teachers—theologically astute, capable of handling the word of truth correctly—in fact they are still infants, in need of theological breast milk. Solid food, on the other hand, is for the mature, “who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil” (5:14). Paul makes a similar point to the Corinthian congregation: “I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3a). That we are called to maturity and not perpetual infancy, to be spiritual and not worldly, is axiomatic. So perhaps we should move beyond the mindset of these intellectual toddlers—childish, not childlike—and strengthen our digestive abilities by mature reflection on the Word of God.

 

Impressively, this is precisely what our writer offers his wayward flock. Rather than re-teaching the elementary truths of the faith—“repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (all easy themes we’ve long since mastered, I’m sure)—he presses on to his original topic. After challenging his congregants to examine themselves to see if they are even in Christ (6:4-8), he spends a considerable amount of time detailing the typological relationship between Christ and Melchizedek (7:1-28).

 

More than a few of us probably have little understanding of typology or Melchizedek—and are as lost as he feared his readers would be. And perhaps that is the point. What our writer—and God himself, who inspired him—considered indispensable to the faith, we have neglected to the point of ignorance. And here is just one example among hundreds in God’s Word. To our peril, have we cut ourselves off from teaching we desperately need to grow in Christ? Have we compounded our sin by ridiculing or dismissing those who seek to remedy this error? May it not be so: “Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case” (6:9).