I’ve been thinking a lot lately, which may surprise some of you, but may not cause others of you to even blink an eye. For the past week or so, I’ve been reading the book of Hebrews and a passage struck me in a light that I have not seen it in before. It’s a passage that is quite familiar in evangelical Christian circles.
About this we have much to say that is hard to explain, since you have become dull in understanding. For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic elements of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food; for everyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is unskilled in the word of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, for those whose faculties have been trained by practice to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us go on towards perfection, leaving behind the basic teaching about Christ, and not laying again the foundation: repentance from dead works and faith towards God, instruction about baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgement. And we will do this, if God permits. [Hebrews 5:11-6:3]
We all read this and recognize that we need to move on to solid food and not just drink the milk any longer. However, too often, we have neglected what the author goes on to say are the basic teachings – “repentance from dead works and faith towards God”, “instructions about baptisms”, “laying on of hands”, “resurrection of the dead”, and “eternal judgment”. And as I think about what churches teach about the most, it is these very things that come to mind. A couple summers back, I went to see a couple of seminary students be assessed by the classis to which they belonged. One of them delivered a brilliant sermon but was highly criticized because he did not say anything about Christ dying on the cross for our sins and the need for human response to this. This experience left me puzzled and wondering if that was the only thing sermons could be about – Christ dying on the cross for our sins. Not that I have anything against Christ dying on the cross for our sins, but according to the author of Hebrews, maturity cannot occur when only this is preached. But over and over again, this is what is taught in denominational churches. There must be something more, something beyond the basic teaching, something that will lead us into perfection. And I think this is where the emerging church is quite helpful. They are leading people to maturity because they are not simply about the basic teachings of the faith; they have moved beyond that to a realm unfamiliar and uncomfortable for many denominational churches. The are pointing people to God with the integration of the arts, with an emphasis on spiritual practices, and with a keen memory for the past. We need the foundation to be laid; I will not deny that. But it has been. Therefore, let us cease from continuing to lay the foundation, and let us start building the walls of the temple, a place where God can reside and dwell among us, not in just a building, but among the body of believers. A dozen foundations will be worthless if nothing is built upon them. This is what the emerging church is doing well and we would all be better off if we began paying attention to it.