By Mike Willis
When a child is born,,the parents generally try to create a healthy environment in which the child can grow into maturity. Many of us have seen home environments which destroy the child physically, emotionally, -and spiritually. A young child in our area was recently put into scalding water for wetting her pants; she is physically scarred but the extent of her emotional scars is still unknown. Some children who are never physically abused are scarred emotionally by verbal abuse, criticism which destroys their self-esteem, neglect, and other forms of abuse. Some children are torn apart emotionally by divorce. As parents, we have a responsibility to make the home an environment in which our children can grow into maturity without being scarred for life emotionally, physically, or spiritually.
Every time a person is baptized into Christ, he becomes a newborn child of God (Gal. 3:26-27; Jn. 3:3-5). Sometimes the church provides such a poor environment for these spiritual babies to grow into maturity that they are scarred or destroyed. I would like to suggest some things which are necessary to have the kind of environment in which a child of God can grow into maturity.
1. Proper spiritual food. Even as a baby needs food for growth with different kinds of food at different stages in life, so also does the child of God need spiritual food to grow. The food which is necessary for growth is the word of God (1 Pet. 2:1-2). The diet of spiritual food must be geared to the need of the person – milk for the babe and meat for the more mature (Heb. 5:13-14). Through the teaching of the word, the child of God can learn how to cleanse his life from sin (Psa. 119:9), to prevent committing sin (Psa. 119:11), to put greater emphasis on spiritual matters than physical things (Psa. 119:25 – that his soul not cleave to dust), to build a hope for eternal life which comforts him in the hours of his affliction (Psa. 119:49-50), to hate every false way (Psa. 119:104), to find direction in life (Psa. 119:105, 130), etc.
Recognizing how important the word of God is to the development of the child of God, we see the need for a well-rounded program of Bible instruction in the local church. If the church is going to provide an environment in which spiritual babies may grow into maturity, they must have a good program of Bible instruction. They must provide classes for the new convert as well as the aged saint.
Churches which allow their pulpit to be filled with lessons not solidly grounded in the word of God are creating an environment in which their babes in Christ will starve to death spiritually. Anecdotes, humor, positive thinking philosophy, nor any other thing can do for the Christian what the Bible can. A child of God must be rooted and grounded in the truth that he might not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). If we judge that a mature Christian needs to be able to discriminate between the Lord’s church and denominationalism and to understand the differences between liberal churches and faithful congregations, we must make this a part of our teaching program. In the name of “balanced preaching,” some have completely eliminated from their teaching programs any thing which emphasizes the uniqueness of the Lord’s church or teaches our children the truth on the “issues” which have divided God’s people in our own day. By protecting these weak Christians from “controversy,” they have robbed them of part of what they need to grow into maturity as Christians. Many churches are full of weak, immature Christians who would choke to death spiritually on the kind of preaching which exposes denominationalism and liberalism. An environment which systematically eliminates preaching which exposes denominationalism is not the kind of spiritual environment in which healthy Christians can be produced!
2. An atmosphere of love. A child who grows up in a home which is full of fussing, fighting, and child abuse is scarred. What kind of atmosphere for spiritual maturation is a congregation which is full of internal strife and turmoil because Christians have not learned to get along with each other? Paul warned of the impact this kind of environment would have on Christians, “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another” (Gal. 5:15).
Some churches have dwindled down to nearly nothing and still seem blind to the cause of their problems. Several strong-willed brethren are constantly “biting and devouring one another.” Business meetings are conflicts instead of men pooling their knowledge and resources to see what can be done to cause the kingdom of God in their area to grow. One by one, conscientious Christians who desire love and peace leave the congregation to attend elsewhere; some quit attending anywhere.
A warm spirit of brotherly love is needed in the local church; it is necessary to provide the kind of environment in which new-born children of God can grow into maturity. Christian people, therefore, should share each other’s sorrows and joys (1 Cor. 12:26); they should be hospitable people (Heb. 13:1-2; 1 Pet. 4:9). New Christians are able to grow in this kind of environment.
3. Discipline. Every home must have discipline. I can remember the impact of some of my father’s discipline on the family. On one occasion, he spanked my older sister when she thought she had gotten too big to spank; the rest of us walked the straight and narrow for many weeks as a result of that spanking. The chastening of the Lord is needed in the Lord’s church as well. Hebrews 12:5-11 contains an extended discussion of the benefits of the Lord’s chastening to produce the peaceable fruit of righteousness in the hearts of his children.
Sometimes we Christians have to serve as God’s instruments to chasten each other. “Brethen, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted” (Gal. 6:1). To think that I might live my entire life so perfectly that I never need to be rebuked is unrealistic. I was baptized at 12 years old; should I live to be 70, I will have been a Christian for 58 years. How likely is it that I will live 58 years without doing something which might necessitate my brethren calling upon me to repent? We need to create an environment in the church in which a brother can be rebuked for his sin and restored to his Lord without being driven away from the local church.
Brethren who are caught up in sin must be rebuked and called to repentance. Nevertheless, we must communicate to them our genuine love for their soul as the reason for our rebuke. We should have no spirit of vengeance or hatred! This kind of atmosphere is necessary for children to grow.
Something is happening to confession among brethren. How long has it been since you have seen a brother come forward and confess his sins? Have we created an environment in the local church in which people are too proud to admit they have sinned? Have we become so spiritual that no one in the local church ever falls into sin? Have we become so hardened in sin that we can go through the motions of worship, knowing of what sins we are guilty, but have no remorse for our sins and make no efforts to quit practicing them? We need an atmosphere in which any Christian can come forward and confess his sins, knowing that the Lord will forgive him and the brethren will have a greater respect for him because of his honesty in dealing with his sins.
4. Exercise. Most schools have a physical education department to provide opportunities for children to get the physical exercise they need to grow physically. Christians need to exercise in godliness (1 Tim. 4:7-8). Through exercise in godliness, one learns to distinguish truth and error (Heb. 5:11-14). We need to provide opportunities in the local church for Christians to exercise themselves in godliness. The man who becomes strong in prayer must practice praying; the man who is good in the pulpit must have opportunities to preach; the good song leader must have opportunities to lead singing.
We need training classes which give young men an opportunity to go before a congregation to make announcements, lead prayer, wait on the table, teach classes, and preach. We need an environment in the congregation in which a man who makes an effort is encouraged to keep trying, even when his performance of the activity was not the very best. When he makes a mistake, we need to pat him on the back and encourage him to try again. When he is obviously working in areas in which he can never succeed (Paul recognized that not all of God’s children could be teachers, 1 Cor. 12:29; I know that not all of God’s children can be song leaders), we should honestly and gently direct his energies toward activities in which he can succeed. This is the kind of direction and training needed for young Christians to grow.
One of the greatest weaknesses which I have witnessed among the churches has been the tendency for good, sincere Christians to sit back and allow stong-willed, belligerent brethren to create an atmosphere in which growth cannot occur. Righteous brethren are not looking for a fight or conflict. Consequently, they are reticent to become embroiled with brethren who are strong-willed and belligerent. However, our faithfulness to Christ demands that we make the local church such that a new-born Christian will have an environment in which he can grow into maturity. Whatever changes are necessary to create such an environment must be made; otherwise the church will not survive. In a spirit of love and good-will, brethren must make the necessary changes for this kind of atmosphere to exist where they worship. Is the local church where you are attending a congregation suited for a young Christian to grow? If not, what are you doing to correct the situation?
Guardian of Truth XXXII: 5, pp. 130, 150-151
March 3, 1988