By Dan Nehrbass
Saturday, January 01, 2005
The believer's motivation to obey God
Doug Walton said that the sermons at our church were full of "milk for baby Christians," and that he would prefer more meat from the pulpit. The Dawsons actually left our church because they wanted more meat. And even from the more satisfied members of the congregation I've heard the comparison between Pastor Chuck, who is meaty, and Pastor Glen, who is milky.
I was aware, of course, that this milk-meat metaphor has a Biblical origin (as, presumably, were most parishioners) but its exact meaning has never been clear to me. And as one who has evidently perpetrated some of those sermons, I have to confess that milk was not my intention. Usually I'm doing all I can to be meaty. But sometimes it's difficult to tell the difference between the two. And I'm not alone in this confusion. When I've asked church members to explain the difference their responses seemed to be based not on what "milk" and "meat" were, but what they accomplished, in other words, on the feeling one gets after a sermon. If listeners felt good, it was probably milk. If it made them feel convicted of sin it was meat.
I don't believe, however, that an emotional response to a sermon was the Biblical authors' intent when drawing the comparison between milk and meat. Offering an alternative explanation, one person told me that milk is the basic teachings of Christianity, and meat the deeper stuff. This suggestion seemed helpful at first, and indeed is supported by Scripture. I recalled Hebrews 6:1 where the author encourages us to, "leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and faith in God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." Previously he had said that his readers ought to have become teachers but were still infants. They still needed milk; not solid food (Heb. 5:11-14). It seems that the author has clearly indicated here that the elementary teachings are milk. But this created further confusion — the six things he mentions as elementary seem to exhaust much of my theology. If I have gained a good understanding of repentance, resurrection, judgment, faith, baptism, and the laying on of hands, what else is left? And if Hebrews 6:1 is a catalog of elementary teachings, then why didn't the author speak with the same specificity regarding the non-elementary teachings, so that I would have an easier time preparing meaty sermons?
A different perspective was offered me when someone suggested that the sermons delivered by Pastor John (at the large church down the road) are the essence of meat. John is known for his Biblical knowledge, his apropos Greek and Hebrew references, as well as extensive explanations of the geographical and historical backgrounds of his messages. Preaching through Acts 14, for example, he mentioned that Paul and Barnabas were hailed as gods in Iconium because the city was afraid that they would repeat the mistake of their ancestors, who supposedly ignored a visit from the gods. Throwing light on a passage like this was surely, this person said, the epitome of a meaty sermon. But is it?