Editor's Note: With this issue of Watchman, we welcome aboard brother Jeff S. Smith as our Solid Food columnist. Jeff is a very talented writer, and a studious man. In my association with Jeff, I have been impressed with his logical mind, his strong spine, and his quiet good humor. While he is just now joining our magazine on a monthly basis, he has written several good articles for us in the past. We look forward to his more regular contributions! If you don't know Jeff well, be sure to visit our page of Biographical Sketches to learn more of him and his work for the Wonsely Drive congregation in Austin, TX. Meanwhile, here is his first article under the byline "Solid Food."
Hebrew writer was compelled to interrupt his explanation of the priesthood of Melchizedek to chastise his readers, whom he surmised would find such a subject beyond comprehension. The fault for this ignorance lay not in the writer, he asserted, but the reader, whose ability to grasp the scriptures had not grown properly. Although he had much to say about Melchizedek, he was hesitant to begin because his readers had become dull of hearing (Heb. 5:11).
We are more likely to hear about dull speakers and writers than dull listeners these days and certainly there are plenty of them to go around. What makes a dull listener? In this passage, dullness of hearing has nothing to do with ones physical ability to hear, but ones conscious ability to listen. As people who sit to close to concert speakers wind up with hearing troubled by an incessant buzzing in their ear drums, so do certain disciples find themselves unable to concentrate upon the preached message.
Many things contribute to dullness of hearing today, including all those stimuli competing for the attention of men and women. In my library is a copy of Hardemans Tabernacle Sermons which were delivered in a packed Ryman Auditorium in Nashville over three weeks in 1923. Each night, for three weeks, people thronged in that old theater to hear brother Hardeman speak. The photograph of this event is at once encouraging and disheartening. To imagine a time when a gospel preacher could fill such a facility with people hungry to listen is amazing. To understand how far removed we are from this era is heartbreaking. Some will blame television and movies, video games and the automobile and it is clear that all these inventions compete for peoples attention (2 Tim. 3:4). Too, the prosperity of this generation has made many self-assured and disinterested in a spiritual message that includes correction and sacrifice (1 Tim. 6:17).
Dullness of hearing is a particular problem even among members of the church of Christ. How many of us miss gospel meeting opportunities because we are more interested in doing something else? How often do some brethren excuse their absence from the regular worship service by announcing they will be attending a sporting event, concert, graduation or reunion?
Since I was in school, the authorities have been telling us that the attention span of Americans is shrinking. If you have read this far in the article, you have surpassed the expectations of many educators. Preachers are thus challenged: Do you give in to the shrinking attention span and switch to sermonettes or do you attack the problem and seek to improve it with challenging, yet accessible lessons? In many outposts, the dullness of hearing represented by diminished attention spans has been coddled and exacerbated. Sermons have shrunk in duration, scripture content has evaporated, gimmicks have been adopted. The result is that the Christian mind has been lobotomizedsermons of depth and challenge cause eyes to roll into the back of the head and minds to wander to happier thoughts, like the jokes we heard in last weeks sermon. Where the Hebrew writer chastises his audiences dull hearing, many preachers today simply adapt and dumb it down. Shame on them.
One of the saddest things I sometimes witness is an older couple with their grown child, who because of a mental impairment, still requires constant supervision. Although an adult, he yet has many of the attributes and limited intelligence of a child. Such a one is not to blame, but deserves our consideration and compassion. The problem the Hebrew writer is exposing in chapter five is a self-inflicted spiritual retardation. Some who should be full grown by now are yet no more able than a babe in the faith.
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need some one to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil (Heb. 5:12-14).
The elementary principles of our faith (listed in chapter 6:1-2) form the milk of the word which is the diet of babes in Christ. Many pulpits are adulterating this milk with junk food, empty spiritual calories, in the form of sermons short on scripture and long on anecdotes, grin inducing jokes and tear jerking tales. Whereas spiritual infancy should be a limited period, many never progress beyond it. They look like full grown Christians but would stumble and fumble if challenged to defend their beliefs (1 Peter 3:15).
The key to progressing beyond the milk of the word to solid food lies in grasping the scriptures and applying them. I have a friend who can apply a paint brush to a piece of canvas and produce something beautiful and precise. If I pick up the same brush, I simply make a mess. Not only do I lack the knowledge of his craft, but any experience in it as well.
As exercise builds bodily muscles, so the exercises of a sanctified conscience against temptation builds spiritual might (1 Tim. 4:8, Eph. 6:10). Sometimes dullness of hearing is best expressed when men are hearers but not doers of the word (James 1:21-25). They are always learning and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7), being led away by various lusts, against which they are practically defenseless due to their ignorance.
As the twentieth century slips into the shadows of history, the church of Jesus Christ is challenged to be more than the artificial churches around her. Rather than reflect a dumbed-down theology, she must restore her attention to the finer and deeper details of Gods blessed word. Christians must demand the whole counsel of God be preached and evangelists must refuse to provide anything less even when threatened with unpopularity or unemployment (Acts 20:27, 2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Lord willing, in the coming months, this column will mine the scriptures and seek to bring some of those things hard to explain into better focus. Only through challenging our minds and souls will we grow. If we fail to progress, we will regress or digress.
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