by Al Maxey

Issue #570 ------- March 29, 2013
Tell me what you eat, and I
will tell you what you are.

Anthelme Brillat-Savarin (1755-1826)

The Bottle-Fed Church
Moving from Milk to Meat

There are few things more precious than a baby. Puppies, kittens, little bunnies, a soft, cuddly child -- we are naturally drawn to their innocence and warmth. We just want to hug them, and doing so lifts our spirits and puts a smile on our faces. Yes, they require a lot of tender, loving care, and they can sap one's energy quickly, but the joy they bring into our lives far outweighs the trouble. Mark Twain (1835-1910) perhaps summed it up best when he wrote, "A baby is an inestimable blessing and bother." There is just something magical about a baby's smile; about their babbling and laughter. It melts our hearts. James Matthew Barrie (1860-1937), the Scottish author and dramatist who is perhaps best known to us for his immortal play "Peter Pan," wrote in that same work, "When the first baby laughed for the first time, the laugh broke into a thousand pieces and they all went skipping about, and that was the beginning of fairies" [Act 1]. Let's face it -- babies are cool. We love them. Where would we be (literally) without them!

On the other hand, we expect these little ones to grow and mature. Although we sometimes hear a mother say she wishes her child could "stay little forever," she doesn't really mean it. If her child, in fact, failed to develop normally, she would be the first to seek professional help for this abnormal condition. No cost would be spared to find a solution to the problem. So, why do we seem to overlook this serious abnormality within the Family of God?! We have almost come to accept spiritual infancy among our spiritual siblings as the norm, when, in fact, it is something that ought to horrify us and motivate us to action. Yes, when people are initially brought into God's Family, they are "babes" in Christ, and, like babes, they need to be treated with special care. Their diet will be basic until they develop to the point where they can process the solid foods the Father brings to His table. "Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation" (1 Peter 2:2). Yes, it is normal for infants to be "on the bottle" or "at the breast," but it is acceptable only for a limited period of time. The goal is to grow, to develop, to mature. If that does not occur, there is a serious problem. Sadly, this problem exists in the Family of God ... and always has! Too many of our brothers and sisters have failed to grow out of spiritual infancy. They are still in diapers, they are still in need of constant attention, they are still bawling when their needs are not immediately met, they are still bottle-fed. They are no longer cute and cuddly.

The apostle Paul understood that when dealing with new converts to Christ he had to be wise and discerning in his teaching. In writing to the brethren in Corinth, and reflecting back on his ministry among them, he stated, "I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it" (1 Cor. 3:2). Why? Because they were at that time "mere infants in Christ" (vs. 1). There was nothing wrong with this. After all, as Peter noted, infants crave and are in need of "pure spiritual milk." It gives them the nourishment they need at that time in their lives. However, the goal is that "by it you may grow up," as Peter noted. Paul was wise in giving milk to the new babes in Corinth, as they were not yet ready for the "meat" of God's Word. However, he rebukes these brethren when he added: "Indeed, you are still not ready" (1 Cor. 3:2). Enough time had passed that they should have moved on to more substantive truths and practices. However, they were still babies on bottles -- a reality reflected in their behavior. Their quarreling and factions and schisms were evidence that they had failed to mature spiritually. Instead of behaving as responsible adults, they were tearing at one another like toddlers fighting over a toy. Their development in Christ had been arrested; they were still infants.

The writer of the NT book of Hebrews (in my view, this was most likely Apollos -- Reflections #128) also lamented this deplorable situation among too many of the brethren. This was even worse, however, for these brethren were returning to a state of infancy after having tasted of the meat of the Word. "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. 5:12-14). The writer then immediately warns his readers, at the beginning of the next chapter, that once they "have been enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the Word of God and the powers of the coming age," it is impossible to bring them to repentance once they fall away (Heb. 6:4-6), for they have rejected God's best blessings. Thus, in Heb. 6:1-2, he implores them to "leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity." In other words, it is time to lay aside the milk (although there is nothing wrong with milk -- it's just not suitable as the sole diet of an adult) and move on to the meat of the Word of God. In so doing they will mature, growing spiritually healthy and discerning. Paul told the Ephesian brethren that they must "no longer be infants," tossed here and there by all manner of strange teaching, but rather must "grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ" (Eph. 4:14-15). Bottle-fed Christians and congregations are immature Christians and congregations, and, as such, are easily victimized by the false teaching and deceitful scheming of those who would prey upon them. It is with the maturity that comes of a daily diet of more substantive spiritual food that we are equipped and enabled to "distinguish good from evil."

There are a number of lessons to be learned from these passages in which a contrast is made between those whose diet is milk and those whose diet is meat (figuratively and spiritually speaking). First, those who are called to teach the Word must be aware of and sensitive to the spiritual and intellectual condition of those whom they are called to teach, and must adjust the content and methodology of their teaching accordingly. Matthew Henry (1662-1714), in his Commentary on the Whole Bible, astutely observed, "It is the duty of a faithful minister of Christ to consult the capacities of his hearers and teach them as they can bear" [e-Sword]. "Truth is to be administered with a practical regard to the receptive powers of the student, just as the administration of bodily food must have regard to the digestive capacities of those who need it: milk for children, meat for men" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 96]. This metaphor (the milk-meat dichotomy with respect to teaching) was quite common in the ancient world, including the writings of Philo, the Mishnah, Macrobius, Sallustius, Epictetus, and the Corpus Hermeticum (which dates from the early Christian era). In all of these sources the basic message is essentially the same: "The wise teacher will endeavor to distribute to each the food suited to his condition" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, p. 149]. "It is the part of the wise teacher to accommodate himself to the capacity of those whom he has undertaken to instruct, so that in dealing with the weak and ignorant, he begins with such principles as they are able to understand, and does not go higher than they are able to follow" [David Lipscomb, A Commentary on the NT Epistles: 1st Corinthians, p. 47].

A second lesson we dare not miss here, though, is that no teacher of God's Word should ever be satisfied with leaving his students in the infancy stage (nor should any disciple be satisfied with that). The goal is growth. The ideal is not to dwell upon the foundations of His Word, but rather to build upon them. The writer of Hebrews enumerates a few of these foundational truths (the "elementary teachings"): repentance, faith, baptism, laying on of hands, the resurrection and judgment (Heb. 6:1-2). There is certainly nothing wrong with knowing about these matters, and even reminding others of them on occasion, but we must remember that they are foundational truths, and if our focus becomes fixated solely upon the foundation we will never progress to the process of building upon it. To change metaphors: milk is good (even for adults), but if milk is all we drink (if it constitutes the entirety, or the majority, of our diet), and we never move on to solid foods, then we will quickly become malnourished as adults. To grow and mature properly we need more than the basics! This is true in virtually every area of life. Unfortunately, many in the church never get past the basics, and this lack of spiritual maturity is painfully and pitifully apparent in their attitudes and actions. "It is pitiful and painful to reflect upon the prevalence of spiritual obtuseness in our own age" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 21, p. 148]. Yes, "infancy has its charms, but not as a permanent state. Continuous spiritual infancy is unnatural and sinful. A permanent milk diet in the spiritual life indicates a stationariness which is unhealthy and culpable" [ibid, p. 149].

"Milk represents traditional teaching, that which has been received and digested by others, and is suitable for those who have no teeth of their own and no sufficiently strong powers of digestion. This teaching is admirably adapted to the first stage of Christian life, but it cannot form mature Christians" [Dr. W. Robertson Nicoll, The Expositor's Greek Testament, vol. 4, p. 292]. Such persons can't handle the "meat" of the Word, and typically choke on it. All they can stomach is pabulum. "Instead of becoming adults, able to stand on their own feet, select and digest their own food," they remain in spiritual infancy, feeding from a bottle [ibid, p. 291], or being spoon-fed by those who, for whatever perverse reason, choose to keep their adherents in a state of dependency upon them. It is pitiful to behold such babies in the Body of Christ, but they exist all around us, and are a testimony to the sad fact that too many disciples refuse to grow and too many teachers refuse to challenge these "sucklings" to said growth. Thus, in every congregation of believers we find not only those who are mature, and who can feast upon the meat of the Word of God, but also the infants who choke on and spit out anything other than the most basic, fundamental, traditional truths, and who are constantly whining and crying when their needs aren't met, and who must continually have their hands held and their noses wiped.

A third lesson we may perceive in this study, especially from the context of Paul's epistle to the brethren in Corinth, is: when we fail to grow in grace we will inevitably fail to show grace. Although babes have many superb qualities that we should seek to imitate in our lives, it is nevertheless true that they are completely self-centered. This, of course, is both normal and natural in this early stage of development; indeed, it is essential for survival. However, when an adult remains arrested or fixated in this stage, it is not a pretty picture. When Paul rebuked these brethren for being spiritual infants, he stated that the evidence of this was their quarreling and strife over their own self-interests (1 Cor. 3:1ff). "These men were in a low state of Christian development, their growth in grace having been arrested. ... Under such circumstances, personal progress and church progress were impossible" [The Pulpit Commentary, vol. 19, p. 100]. When you find a congregation at war with itself (or with other congregations), you have found an assembly of selfish, and most often self-righteous, babies! Sometimes the best remedy for such a state of spiritual infancy is a good swat and a good scolding. Paul delivered both to the "cradle roll class" of babies in Corinth, yet he did so with love and with the goal of motivating them to maturity.

Brethren, there is a time and place for giving a disciple of Christ milk. Those whom we seek to disciple, and those who are new in their walk with the Lord, need the pure milk of foundational truths and principles. We, as disciplers/teachers, should be discerning in our work with such precious souls, not imparting to them that which they are unable, at that stage in their development, to digest. On the other hand, we must never be satisfied with leaving them in that stage for any longer than necessary. As quickly as they are able, we must help them grow out of infancy, childhood and adolescence, and into the joys of spiritual maturity. As they grow, so must our teaching (as well as our methodologies). Yes, understand the vital importance of foundational truths, but don't dwell on them; rather, build on them! Repentance and baptism are important doctrines up to a point; they are the milk, and they have their place in our infancy stage. The meat of the Word, however, is LOVE. When we are finally able to digest that truth, and apply it to our lives, we have found the maturity our Father seeks from His sons and daughters (see: Reflections #568 -- "The Perfecting of Love"). May God help us all to move from milk to meat. In so doing, perhaps our local assembly will look less like a nursery full of bottle-fed babies, and more like a seminary filled with meat-fed, Spirit-led grownups!

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Readers' Reflections

NEW WINESKINS ARTICLE -- If you are not familiar with the publication New Wineskins, I would urge you to check it out. There are some fabulous articles on there by some of the great leaders and thinkers and visionaries in the Body of Christ today. You will be both uplifted and challenged each month by their insights. Keith Brenton is doing a fabulous job managing this ministry, and I applaud and commend him. My article for the March issue just came out -- Discipleship and Discipling -- and I pray you will be edified by it. Please bookmark the New Wineskins web site and put it with your "Favorites." You will want to visit it often ... as I do.

From a Reader in Arizona:

Al, I am writing to say that your latest Reflections -- "God, I'm Mad At You" -- is the best explanation of the feelings of disciples about the pain and heartaches we all encounter that I have ever read!! Perhaps your own pain at your grandson's serious health condition was the impetus for writing, but I think the Holy Spirit made clear to your heart what needed to be said and then led your mind to choose the appropriate words. I see your Reflections article as being just one more example of our God bringing something good out of something bad. The book of Genesis ends with Joseph telling his brothers that their evil actions were used by God to bring about the saving of many people (Gen. 50:20). That ending of the first book of Scripture points to the death and resurrection of Jesus -- the ultimate reversal and subsequent triumph. The Lord brought Joseph out of a prison, and Jesus out of a tomb. This has led to a message for Resurrection Sunday (Easter) that I had not planned! Brother, I am looking forward more and more to one day meeting you!!

From a Minister/Author in California:

Your article "God, I'm Mad At You" was an excellent piece of writing, Al, and deals with a subject many have shied away from because they, frankly, didn't have any answers! Your article is so well written, and I thank you for it. In fact, I am going to use it in my preaching, and just wish that I had had this article to include in my book "Storms of Life" before it was published! Thank you, brother!

From a Reader in Connecticut:

"God, I'm Mad At You" is an excellent lesson for every Christian who has ever felt the sting of death of a loved one or some other harsh reality of our mortal lives! As a former funeral director, relatives would often look me in the eye when they first saw their deceased loved one (sometimes the deceased being a child) and ask, "WHY?!" No schooling or training ever prepared me for an answer to this question, and I was paralyzed with fear every time I was asked. How I wish I had been able to put into words what you have so eloquently done in this article. This issue of your Reflections will become one of your most important and timeless ones!! Blessings to you!

From a Reader in New Hampshire:

Please send me a copy of your audio CD set titled: The Nature of Man and His Eternal Destiny. My check is enclosed. Thank you so much for making this important study available to your readers!

From a New Reader in Tennessee:

I would like to get on your subscription list for your Reflections. I am a member of one of the One Cup/No Classes congregations here in ---------. Through my own studies, I have now been put on a "watch list" by this church because of my questioning of certain traditional teachings that I have now learned are not based on Scripture. So, I am very interested in studying your discussions and staying current with your articles.

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

Some of your scholarly interpretations of the Bible have helped me immensely. I greatly appreciate your knowledge and open-mindedness in discerning the true meaning of verses and concepts. Thank you! The very first article of yours that I discovered on the Internet was your scholarly "Analysis of Adultery," as that term is used in the Bible -- Reflections #208. It was very helpful to me personally, and a study I shared with the members of the divorce support group I'm in. May God bless you, your family, and your ongoing ministry.

From a Reader in Texas:

I usually don't have much to do with Facebook, but just a little while ago I found your posting about your Reflections article: "God, I'm Mad At You." I have not yet received it by email, which is where I usually read it, but I went ahead and went to the web site of this article and read it early because it is very timely in speaking to our own family circumstances. For a long time, I have almost daily ranted and raved in attempting to pray, and then always feel the need to apologize to God right before going to bed. There are a LOT of people, some whom I know, who are having this same crisis of faith because of "unanswered prayers." Thanks for hearing God, and for sharing the insights He gives you!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

I have been listening to Joel Osteen recently. If you are not familiar with him, he is always positive in his messages, and he also promises all kinds of good blessings to those who hear him. I thought this was good (although some of the Scriptures he uses don't really apply) until I began reading some of the comments of his followers. I have never heard such unrealistic expectations in my life! One has to wonder what their reaction is going to be when all these "blessings" don't happen! Al, thank you for this latest Reflections of yours, for it helps us to put things in their proper balance.

From an Elder in California:

Just read your Reflections -- "God, I'm Mad At You! Where Have You Been?! Don't You Care That My World Is Falling Apart?!" I know from personal experience that people ask these questions of God. When I was a young man, I lost my first son at 3 months and then a second son at 6 months! HOW could a loving, caring God possibly let this happen?!! I questioned Him, I cursed Him, and I just plain hated Him. I spent hours at my sons' graves crying and cursing God for what He had let happen to me. It was not until I was much older that I was able to once again search for God. When I did, He made me realize that He was now caring for my two little sons, and that if I just followed His calling I would once again be reunited with them for eternity. No matter what else happened here on this earth, I had two of my family who would not suffer any more and who had made it to Heaven. What a comfort and what a joy to know that God cared enough for me that He saved my precious children! There is no way now that I could ever doubt the wisdom and love of my Father in Heaven. May God bless your efforts on His behalf.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

It has been over 11 years since I lost my wife, and I still have to fight off feeling angry over why God did not answer my prayers! However, I had a vision (only one) of her and she told me how happy she is in Heaven. Now my prayer is to go on and be with God and my wife. We do not know the happiness waiting for us!! Thank you, Al, for putting in words what we all will at some point go through if we live long enough. You and your family will from now on be in my prayers each night! Thank you again for your teaching.

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

There have been so many times in my life that I have been mad at God! When our daughter died of breast cancer. When our son severed all contact with us. Severe health problems for both my wife and me. All we can do is continue on the path given to us and keep the faith, knowing that the end will be so much better than the present. God bless you, brother.

From a Reader in Michigan:

There was a time, about five years ago when my wife died, that I felt defeated, and my prayers were filled with sarcasm. All the previous "prayers of the righteous" availeth not so much, and I wondered what great cosmic scale would have been forever out of balance had God simply answered my prayers like I wanted! Of course, my prayers were myopic. Death was fast approaching; time really was of the essence; I didn't have all eternity to wait for healing. Even now, I still struggle with prayer. I often wonder: why bother? If His will and mine coincide, well, then, good for me. But, God will do His will regardless. I can't stop Him by merely not praying. And if our wills do not coincide, well, then, good luck with that! "A man reaps what he sows." Prayer doesn't seem to affect that much!

From a Reader in [Unknown]:

I really appreciated your Reflections article "God, I'm Mad At You," as my wife and I have been struggling with employment issues. I also found Les Ferguson's Facebook page and his Blog Site ("Desperately Wanting To Believe Again") as well. I have received a lot of welcome encouragement from both of you! Many thanks to you both!

From a Reader in Texas:

My Lord has broad shoulders! If I get mad at Him now and then, He can take it, and He still loves me! Keep up the excellent work, brother!

From a Reader in Australia:

Thanks for your article "God, I'm Mad At You." I liked it. One of my questions is: "God, why don't you lead sincere, godly people away from deceptive false teaching about their salvation?" I once asked Jim McGuiggan the same question, and he said, "I don't have the answer. All I know is that no one God wants in Heaven will miss out, and no one God doesn't want in Heaven will be there!"

From a Reader in California:

All through my life, I have, like you, gone through some awful storms, and have "been there" as a nurse (RN) when tragedy happened to others, whether they be strangers, friends, family or even members of my church family. I could always tell which people "went to their knees" in prayer, and which did not. I will never forget the nursing supervisor who gathered the ICU staff together and prayed as my mother's heart beat for the last time. Having God in our lives means that we are never alone when storms overwhelm us and "deep calls to deep."

From a Reader in Arkansas:

This issue of Reflections ("God, I'm Mad At You") really hit home big time for me! I've struggled with this problem a lot in my Christian life, and I have often feared that my faith would disintegrate in the face of a genuine tragedy. Sometimes it has been easier not to pray, than to try praying and not get the help I'm looking for. This is hands-down the best article I have read on the subject, and you describe so well things I have personally felt. Thank you for handling this subject in such a meaningful and straightforward way. I really appreciate knowing that these feelings are shared by others.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Thank you for your article "God, I'm Mad At You." When my 9-day-old grandson got sick and almost died, I was mad at God for months! I remember telling God, "I want to pray, but I have nothing to say to You! How could You let him go to the brink of death and put all of us through that?!" I felt all the emotions you described in your article. In time, I made my peace with Him, and felt guilty that I ever doubted Him. I still don't understand the why of it, however, although your article reminded me that God's plan sometimes doesn't match with ours.

From a Reader in Georgia:

Wow! Every time I read something along the lines of your last Reflections, it stirs me like probably nothing else. I grew up in the Churches of Christ in NE Arkansas -- it doesn't get much more conservative than that! We attended church three times a week, VBS, revival meetings, etc. Every time the doors were open, we were there. However, when I was 10-years-old both of my parents were killed in a private plane crash (and they didn't find them for over a year). I don't think I quit believing in God -- I just didn't care what He thought anymore! I went through the religious motions as long as I could, and then just lost it all for 20-something years. Then He showed up! I'm talking about "Book of Acts" showed up -- stuff I was taught not to believe in. He came for me. I can take no credit here. But, brother, when the Man shows up, He gets your attention. I often wonder if those that suffer the most, He visits the most. Who could have endured what Paul did without knowing and experiencing Jesus ... being spoken to by God ... being drawn up into heaven?! I wish I hadn't gone off the deep end back then, but I did ... and the Life Guard came and rescued me. I was sinking deep in sin, far from the peaceful shore. Yep ... been there! Thanks for your reminder in this article, brother.

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