On obvious-but-true “aha” this morning for me: Our tastes change as we grow older.
When I was a kid, my Christmas was all about 1) the presents, 2) vacation from school, so I could play all day, 3) the Charlie Brown Christmas Special, and d) those candy-cane cookies Mom would make every year. The songs Santa Baby and Santa Claus is Coming to Town could have been my anthems.
Now, my holiday season is increasingly about a) being with my family, b) traditions, c) great savory food, and d) a warming of my Spiritual life with God. When I was a kid, these things meant nothing. Now, they mean everything. Now, the texts of Silent Night and Hark the Herald Angels Sing make me weep.
In 1 Peter, chapter 2, the Apostle begins to explain what the fruits of a well-lived Christian life should be. “Put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation— if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Pet. 2:1-3). Peter spent the first chapter explaining to us that through belief and faith in Christ we have been “born again” by the Spirit. We truly are “newborn infants”. But, an infant that stays an infant is a terrible tragedy. The intent of God is that we grow up.
What is this “spiritual milk” that Peter speaks of? Martin Luther points it out: “This milk is nothing but the Gospel … it is also the food that nourishes us when we arrive at maturity … It is not enough to hear the Gospel once; we must ever make use of it, that we may grow.” This is why we’re to read our Bibles every day, and why our church services (if they are well conceived) are re-enactments of the Gospel: God’s greatness, our praise, our realization of our sin, our repentance, the receiving of absolution, the Word preached, the Lord’s Supper received, our commission re-charged. We need to hear this gospel to be saved (Romans 1:16), but we also need to abide in this gospel to grow.*
And when we’re new to the faith, the Gospel tastes like candy canes and cookies! Then, when we’ve walked with Christ for years, the Gospel is a strip of the finest filet, the bitter tannins of a great zinfandel, and the richness of a dark-roast espresso.**
I am startled a bit by Luther this morning. You see, I’ve always held “seeker sensitive” churches in a degree of contempt. I am disturbed by churches that major in a Christmas cookie gospel, but don’t do the work of truly making disciples – leading their people into depth and maturity in their faith (Hebrews 6:1). I have even been a proponent of simply preaching the hardest truths of Christ to everyone in the church, regardless of where they are in their faith journey.
But Luther cuts me to the quick! “If we preach that Christ died for us and rescued us from sin, death and hell … this is delightful and sweet like milk … Christians should first be given the weakest drink, and that is milk … mere sweet, rich grace … we should bear for a time with young Christians, and proceed tenderly with them.” For Luther, the presentation of the gospel for the seeker and the new believer is focused and targeted. Not compromised, but taken from a specific part of the “menu” of Biblical truth.
He continues: “But later, the cross also must be preached, that we are to suffer as Christ did – this is strong drink, it is strong wine.” That sounds good to me!…but I’m not a spiritual kid anymore. Luther tells me that I need to get over myself, and let the kids be kids! It would be pretty fruitless to try to get a four-year-old to meditate with me on the deepest meanings of homoousios. To stick with Jesus being God’s son, coming to the world to bless and and assure us of heaven…that may be the right “course” to serve up to the young ones.
To close, one more Luther-sim (this is so great!): “Preach gently to the young and weak Christians, let them be carefully fed, and grow fat in the knowledge of Christ. Burden them not with strong doctrine, for they are yet too young, but after they have become strong, let them be slaughtered and sacrificed on the cross.”
(Remind me to make a Christmas card with that text next year!)
E * O
* Luther: “The breasts that yield this milk and the babes that suck are the teachers and preachers of the Christian Church.” A challenging word for those of us serving the local church!
** I have no spiritual analogy for the fruit-cake, except maybe false doctrine.