Friday, April 1, 2011

Hebrews 5: New Believer's Orientation Course

Heb 5:12-6:3 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. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 

The mark of maturity is the power of discernment between good and evil. When we see a believer still unable to discern good from evil, we should not condemn them but instruct them for they are still babes in Christ. Just as in the natural, we do not condemn a toddler who cannot walk properly but instead patiently instruct and encourage him or her, so we need to be patient with new believers and not immediately pounce on them and condemned them for all eternity based on our "adult" standard of righteousness. As the writer to the Hebrews observes, young believers are "not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness" (5:13) because they  know only the "elementary teachings about Christ" (6:1).

What are the "elementary teachings about Christ"? The writer to the Hebrews lists 6 important doctrines which can be grouped in three transformational orientations:
(1) Orientation towards God: repentance and faith
(2) Orientation towards Church: baptisms (John's & Christian baptisms) & laying of hands (for receiving the Spirit)
(3) Orientation towards the Future: resurrection & eternal judgement

A new believer must be properly orientated ("orientation" is a good word for novice) towards God Himself, God's community and God's future. These 3-dimensional transformation is basic and elementary but yet many Christians are not taught these basic life orientations that will empower them to move on to spiritual maturity. Perhaps, this may be the reason we have so many overgrown spiritual babies in our churches!

Orientation towards God: Repentance from dead works (self-efforts) and faith (trusting in God) are basic attitudes that will strengthen our orientation towards God. Repentance from "dead works" suggests relying on God's grace rather than self-efforts for justification before God. And faith is the foundational attitude in our relationship with God, for "without faith it is impossible to please God" (Heb 11:6).

Orientation towards God's Community: Going through water baptism is not optional because it properly orientates us towards God's kingdom as expressed in the local assembly of believers, be it in a traditional or missional setting. Church is not a building but the faith community and this can be found anywhere and everywhere: homes, workplaces, prisons, schools and campuses. Where there is a gathering of believers, there is the church because Jesus says, "I will be in their midst". The laying on of hands is the second act of incorporation into God's community after water baptism.  It symbolizes acceptance by the community and also empowerment of the Spirit for ministry. Every Christian who joins the church must have hands laid on them by the receiving elders to equip them by the Spirit to go out into the community as God's people, wearing the badge and uniform of the Kingdom of God.

Orientation towards God's Future: Lastly, a new believer that is properly orientated needs to have a future (eschatological) vision. This is supplied by the teaching about the hope of resurrection (not just immortality, but immortal bodies, a new heaven and a new earth). This is tempered by the sober realization that one day, we shall all stand before God in the last judgment, where all the dead will be resurrected for accountability and judgement. But for those who put their trust in Christ, it would be a judgment of rewards, not retribution.

Father, help us move on from these elementary truths so that we may be able to move on towards maturity with the power to discern good from evil. Amen.