I recently attended a local theology conference. As one who is called to teach God’s Word, the speaker made a statement that really resonated with me. The speaker said it is time for the church to move from biblical literacy to biblical fluency. My first thought was “Absolutely, it is way past time!” However, my second thought was “Have we even reached the level of biblical literacy?” It seems that so many in the church are just at the level of biblical familiarity, and I’m referring to people who have been in the church for years, not new converts. This is not a new problem. Hebrews 5:11-14 says
About this we have much to say, and it is hard to explain, since you have become dull of hearing. 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. (Hebrews 5:11-14 ESV)
The author of Hebrews has just been explaining that Jesus is the great high priest after the order of Melchizedek. (If you know who Melchizedek is you are probably past biblical familiarity.) He then interrupts his teaching to admonish the hearers on their lack of basic biblical knowledge. These believers need milk, not solid food, because they are still infants in the faith. Note the author says, “Everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness.” Why do some people lack skill with the Word of God? Why do some people never get past the level of biblical familiarity? Why do some people never get past biblical literacy to biblical fluency?
I would like to suggest three reasons why many believers have not moved past biblical milk to biblical meat and potatoes.
- They prefer milk to solid food.
- They have only been fed milk.
- They have never fed themselves.
Milk Instead of Solid Food
Preferring milk to solid food is evidence of biblical laziness. In Hebrews 6:1-2 the author lists some elementary doctrines.
Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. (Hebrews 6:1-2 ESV)
These basic doctrines include the contrast between faith and works, baptism, ministry, resurrection, and judgment. Included in these are the concepts of sin, grace, election, regeneration, justification, propitiation, expiation, wrath, substitutionary atonement, and imputation. Systematic theology terms we are dealing with, but are not limited to, are theology proper, anthropology, soteriology, ecclesiology, and eschatology. If you read these words and your brain starts to hurt and you want it to stop, it may be that you prefer milk. Going beyond milk requires too much thought, too much study, and too much work. You’ve never developed a taste for solid food because solid food takes too much time to prepare. You would rather quickly pour a glass of milk and down it. Your church may have robust teaching and preaching but you only drink the milk and rarely sample solid food. You only show up for the teaching that interests you. If you don’t see any relevance to your life in the teaching that is offered you skip it. Maybe other things in your life take precedence over solid food. You can get up early and get to work because you need the money, but you can’t get up early and get to church or make it to bible study. Are there opportunities for biblical learning offered by your church you just dismiss? This isn’t even drinking milk; this is skipping a meal. (I won’t address it here but it raises the question of why you aren’t getting spiritually hungry.)
Milk Only Menu
Another cause of biblical immaturity could be where you are going to eat only has milk on the menu. Attending a church that never goes deep into God’s Word could also be a sign of biblical laziness or biblical ignorance. Maybe you don’t know there are churches with a full menu, churches that preach and teach the “whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27), or maybe you do know they exist but you don’t like that many menu choices. You want to stick with basic topics or teaching that doesn’t challenge you in any way. Churches with a limited menu teach on topics that are “relevant.” The people need to know how to make their lives better. There is more teaching on family than faith, children than Christ, and doing than doctrine. There may be some doctrine but the doctrine is divorced from the rest of the Scriptures. Favorite doctrines are taught with the emphasis on how it benefits you. For example, the teaching is on spiritual gifts with no teaching about the giver of the gifts, or the teaching is on the grace of God and how you can make the most of it. The gospel may be presented as a way to have your best life now. True growth can only come from churches that are committed to teaching all of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Still Spoon Fed
Learning to develop a taste for solid biblical food and attending a church that serves solid biblical food will move you from biblical familiarity to biblical literacy, but if you want to move from biblical literacy to biblical fluency you must learn to feed yourself. This does not mean you stop being fed by your local church because it is the local church that teaches you how to feed yourself, and the local church continues to introduce you to new biblical foods. Also, the local church ensures you stay away from foods that claim to be biblical but are not. We all need the accountability of the local church. What feeding yourself means is you also pick up your own spoon and start to dig into the Scriptures. You take the time to regularly study your bible, read theological books (not just Christian living books), and listen to reputable preachers and teachers. You begin to hear God speak to you through his Word, not just through your pastor or bible study leader. Hebrews 5:14 speaks of this.
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:14 ESV)
You become mature. Your powers of discernment, which refers to your ability to hear God speak in his Word, are trained by the constant, regular practice of studying God’s Word at church, at bible study, and on your own. The ability to distinguish good from evil means we can see things as God sees them. This is the same thing Paul tells the Roman church in Romans 12:2.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2 ESV)
We renew our minds by being immersed in the Scripture and the result is we discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. In other words, we begin to think like God thinks. We certainly can’t think what God thinks (Isaiah 55:9), but we can transform our minds to his way of thinking. We can develop a strong biblical worldview. This is called biblical fluency.
Let’s encourage those addicted to milk to try some strained peas then solid food. Let’s all strive to move to biblical fluency. Make it a priority.