All these scenarios are excruciatingly weird, and yet at the end of Hebrews 5 the Apostle uses exactly this kind of imagery to chide his hearers. They have clearly been Christians for some time, and so ought to have moved on from the basics. In fact, he says that by this time they ought to be teachers (verse 12). They should be sitting down to order the 12oz rib eye steak with fries and pepper sauce, and yet he says that they are so incapable of that that they should still be on baby food (verse 12).
But what is that baby food? At the beginning of chapter 6 he tells us that it is the elementary doctrines of Christ (verse 1), which would include the fact that Jesus is fully God and fully man; that he was born of a virgin; that he died according to the Scriptures; that he is the Saviour of the World; that he rose on the third day for our justification; that he is seated at the right hand of God and rules over the nations; that he will at some point in the future come to judge the quick and the dead; that his kingdom will have no end. Basically everything about Christ that is contained in the Nicene Creed.
He goes on to tell his hearers that they should stop trying to re-lay the foundation of the house and get on with building the thing (verse 1). What is that foundation? The fact that we were dead in trespasses and sins and have been saved by faith in God (verse 1). He even includes instruction about washings (or baptisms) and the laying on of hands. These things, says the Apostle, are the basics: church baby food.
The point he is making is that there are things which are foundational to Christianity, but whilst these things are essential – the baby will die without getting food fit for him or her – their purpose is to form a firm foundation with which to build upon, and not to be a foundation which we keep on laying and laying and laying ad infinitum.
What is interesting about all this is that for many Christians and many churches, the things that the Apostle mentions as being food for babies are the things that they assume are meat for adults. I know of churches where the congregation listens week after week, month after month, year after year to baby food. It is presented in a very weighty – or we might say “meaty” – manner, with the gravitas that the foundational matters deserve. But according to the Apostle, it is weekly milk and not weekly meat.
I suspect that millions of Christians find themselves in a similar position. They hear sermons on the deity of Christ, or justification by faith alone, or the death of Jesus on the Cross, which are all needful from time to time to remind us of the foundations of our faith. Yet the Apostle says these things are basic and we need more, otherwise it’s like signing up for a course in advanced mathematics and getting times table revision every week.
But if those fundamental truths mentioned above are milk, what then is the meat? Are there things even more weighty than them? The answer is no, it’s not that they are weightier. Those foundational truths are as weighty as things get. However, solid food is simply the things that we are meant to learn having been taught the basics.
He tells them the answer to this in verse 14:
“But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
Meat, or solid food, is therefore wisdom and discernment built upon the foundational doctrines. Another way of stating this is that the solid food is the stuff that Paul talks about after the “Therefores” in his letters. For instance, in his letter to the Ephesians, he devotes the first three chapters to talking about the foundations of the faith, before going on to state at the beginning of chapter 4:
“I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
His message throughout the rest of the Epistle is basically, “now go and build on this foundation using wisdom and discernment in all areas of life.” And so he goes on to instruct his hearers how they should speak, how they should think, how they should walk before God. He tells them that since they are no longer in the kingdom of darkness, they ought not to behave as if they were, but rather they should live like the new creations that they are.
He then goes on to some specific examples. How wives should relate to husbands. How husbands should relate to wives. How parents (and fathers in particular) should relate to their children. How children should relate to their parents. How slaves should relate to masters. How masters should relate to slaves. And finally he issues a pre-battle speech, telling the Ephesians who and what they are up against, how they ought to prepare themselves, and how they should pray like furies. And then he’s done.
All that is the solid food, and yet what Paul gives is not an exhaustive list of rules of conduct, but rather a set of overarching principles which – if we have digested our milk – are meant to form the basis of us going on to learn how to use wisdom and discernment in any and every situation we find ourselves in. I think that much of the modern church falls into a number of traps, and each one of them hinders our ability to exercise this solid food of wisdom and discernment, and so prevents us from being the people that God wants us to be in relation to the world around us.
As I have mentioned earlier, there are churches that give out nothing but baby food. Week after week the people are fed with foundational doctrines, and the church pats itself on the back that it is preaching on the weighty matters. Well those matters are of course weighty – infinitely so – but since they never go beyond that to teach their people how to live as Christians, according to the Apostle this is not maturity but perennial babyhood.
Then there is the church that has taught the foundational truths and has moved onto the solid food stage, but instead of teaching wisdom it turns Paul’s general principles into a set of rules to be used in every situation. I have lost count of the number of times I have heard or read this type of thing: “This is the way and the only way to deal with a child in situation X”; “This is the way and the only way to divvy up male and female roles”; “This is the way and the only way that children should be taught” etc. This may be many things, but it isn’t wisdom and discernment. It is counterfeit wisdom and discernment because it pretends that all life situations can be lived according to a formula which apparently worked for one family in situation X. So far as this is “meat” it is so in the same way that the meal I had on the second night of my honeymoon was meat. It was billed as a steak, and it undoubtedly came from a cow. But it was more the part you’d normally use for making shoes than making steaks.
Real solid food in the life of a Christian and in the life of the church is therefore this: after setting out the orthodox doctrinal position of the church, and ensuring that the entire congregation understands and accepts this as foundational, the church needs to be helping its people to development discernment and wisdom. How is this to be done? The same way that Jesus “increased in wisdom and in stature, and in favour with God and man” (Luke 2:52). By searching the Scriptures, by asking questions, and by seeking understanding.
New converts need to be given milk. They need to be taught the elementary doctrines of Christ until it becomes part of their DNA. Once it is, they need to be moved onto solid food, which is to say they need to be taught the great overarching principles of living like a Christian, in such a way that their “powers of discernment are trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” Understanding and acting on this principle is surely key to how bright our light shines in this world.