“The cow is of the bovine ilk, one end is moo the other milk”. A rather simple poem by Ogden Nash – straight forward and to the point. However, today the issue of milk is no easy matter. There is whole milk, 1%, 2%, Skim Milk, Protein Milk made with soy, and powdered milk. It’s no longer a simple matter to say, “Pick up some milk while you’re at the store.”
In the setting of scripture, two apostles use an analogy of milk in two different ways. Both writing to a community of believers and both using the idea of milk as a nutrient to get their point across. The apostle Peter uses milk in a positive way simply referring to the idea of being “born again”. And as new babes must suckle at their mother’s breast for initial nourishment for survival, so should those “born again” in Christ, seek the pure spiritual milk that will allow them to “grow up to salvation…” (1Peter 2:1-3). The issue is no so much the initial state of belief as it is the need for and imperative nature of growing through proper nourishment. It is pure milk that is the emphasis.
In 1 Corinthians 3:1-3, the apostle Paul uses the concept of “milk” in a negative sense. Christians who should be well beyond the elementary feeding of milk should, by now, be on to solid food. But, as Paul notes, “You were not ready for it.” In fact, being drawn to a personality and not to the power of the gospelhas created jealousy and strife. Evidence that they are not thinking spiritually but merely in a human manner. Yes, Paul wishes that he could provide them with solid nourishment, but it is evident by the immature thinking and acting that they are not ready.
I suspect in many churches the two scenarios presented by Peter and Paul are playing themselves out. There are those who provide new believers with the nourishment they need to begin their spiritual journey, and there are those who find that “milk” is all they have to offer and people are stagnating in their growth. Oh, they may be psyched and enthused because of a personal allegiance or stimulated by enthusiastic activity, but they are not maturing in their relationship to Christ. They are confusing activity with accomplishment.
This issue here is discipleship. A disciple is a follower-learner of Christ. Often times the concept of discipling stops with the following part and takes weak stabs at the learner part. The focus becomes distorted and the emphasis of growing people in the knowledge of God becomes simple social club activities where glad handing is the order of the day and not growth. Yes, it’s true that there needs to be a fellowship of the faith, but that is the by product of discipleship not the means of discipleship.
Some friends of ours have been attending a local church that my wife and I had attended for a while. They were going through a new members class and the question came up about teaching even if you did not subscribe to the full compliment of the denominations belief system. They were advised that having a “different” belief about certain doctrines is fine as long as they did not lead people to question their allegiance to the denomination. Does that not sound like Paul’s problem with the Corinthians? Arguing over personal allegiances, in this case a denomination, and forsaking genuine growth in Christ.
In every denomination or “convention”, there are going to be misguided allegiances because of immature growth. But, as Christians, we are not following a denominational agenda, we are following Christ. In one of the blogs I read regularly, there was a letter from a pastor that was posted for comment. The pastor had voted for Obama. Some people in the church felt betrayed because of Obama’s obvious stance on abortion and thinking their pastor would surely not support that view, so they left the church. The pastor, who had tried to keep his voting choice “secret”, was devastated that people, when they learned of it, would have such a drastic reaction.
When I read that post I thought two things. One, why did the pastor feel like his choice had to be a secret? And two, only people still strapped to the nursing bottle of milk would leave a fellowship without having a dialogue about why the pastor made this choice.
Growing people in Christ, examining the depth of Scripture, is what leads to a healthy environment for dialogue and questions. Did the pastor make the right voting choice? In my opinion, no. But does that automatically mean he is “pro-choice” and not “pro-life?” Only an open and frank dialogue could determine that. Does that mean that his “faith” is less valid than my faith or that of another? Absolutely not. But when you give people only milk, they spit-up from time to time and react. Would dialogue and discussion kept those people from leaving the church? Perhaps not, but at least the opportunity would have been there to make an intelligent decision.
Everyone should have the opportunity to develop a strong biblical belief system. Not just adopt another persons system or that of a denomination. That kind of development only comes from an open and honest conversation and dialogue about scripture. That is what allows people to grow up to salvation.