CultureWatch

Bill Muehlenberg's commentary on issues of the day...

Kindergarten Christianity

Jan 3, 2014

We all know that babies, toddlers and very small children are pretty helpless and hopeless at looking after themselves. They need all sorts of help, and all sorts of care. Early on they need everything – they need to be fed, clothed and looked after. And even as five or six year olds they are still very much dependent on others.

They cannot feed themselves, and/or need to be spoon-fed. They cannot support themselves, or look after themselves, or do much of anything without the close help and supervision of adults. Of course all this is simply the process of growth and development.

We all start out as helpless babies who need heaps of care and attention, but the normal baby keeps growing, becoming more and more independent, self-sufficient, and capable of looking after himself over the years. This is true in the spiritual world as well.

Brand new Christians need lots of help and support. They may start on very simple spiritual foods and exercises, but eventually should become mature, self-sustaining believers who are in a position to help others. That is the way it is supposed to go that is.

What is so very tragic is the fact that in so much of the Western world we would have to characterise much of the church as little more than a day care centre, with most Christians never progressing beyond the baby, toddler or kindergarten stage.

We have millions of believers who may have been saved decades ago, but are still acting like spiritual infants. They have not grown much, they have not progressed much in their walk with Christ, and their spiritual condition is rather anaemic and shallow.

They have not become genuine disciples in other words, and they are still stranded in a spiritual infancy. They can’t even handle the deep truths of God as revealed in Scripture. Indeed, many of them hardly even read their Bibles, barely pray, or engage in in-depth fellowship.

No wonder they are still floundering around as babies. They have not moved beyond the nursery. They are all stuck in day care. They are permanent residents of Christian kindergarten. Sadly this is so very widespread today in our churches.

As I said, there is a place for infancy. When you are a spiritual baby, then spiritual milk is of course quite appropriate. Peter speaks to this truth here: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:2-3).

But all babies are meant to move on. No one wants to see a ten-year-old or twenty-year-old baby in the physical world. Nor is it fitting in the spiritual world. That is why Paul chews out the Corinthians in this regard. It is time for them to move on:

“Brothers and sisters, I could not address you as people who live by the Spirit but as people who are still worldly—mere infants in Christ. I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready. You are still worldly” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

The writer to the Hebrews makes the same case: “We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity” (Heb 5:11-6:1).

The question arises here: just whose fault is this? I would argue it is the fault of both individual Christians in the pews, and the pastors in the pulpits. Regardless of what is being taught from the pulpits, believers have a responsibility for their own personal growth and development. They cannot blame the pastor or the church for their own unwillingness to take the necessary steps to achieve genuine spiritual growth.

We all know that regular reading of the Word, regular prayer times, and regular times of corporate fellowship and worship are essential in the spiritual development of any believer. Without taking the basic and essential steps of growth and discipleship, we will remain spiritual pygmies.

And far too many Christians feed only on spiritual junk food. Instead of proper Christian nourishment the regular diet of many is pop Christianity. Books about being a better you, having a nice self-image, and even losing weight for Jesus, make up far too many reading lists of emaciated believers today.

No wonder they are still babies unable to take strong meat. They have preferred to read all this bubblegum theology and cotton-candy spirituality. Instead of using their minds for the glory of God they have allowed their minds to turn to mush as they waste time playing FB games, watching vacuous television preachers, and soaking up countless hours of soul-destroying TV.

But our pastors and church leaders have a lot to answer for as well in this regard. All too often they are quite happy to contribute to this spiritual juvenile delinquency. They avoid theology and doctrine like the plague, believing it is too heavy, or too controversial, or too divisive, or too irrelevant.

Instead they want to be cool and hip and trendy. So there will be plenty of rock bands and entertainment. Lots of strobe lights and smoke machines. Lots of fun, lots of jokes, and lots of cool stuff. Celebrities will be paraded in, and ‘sermons’ amount to little more than self-help chats, feel-good therapy sessions, or moralistic stories.

The Bible will seldom be heard, and when it is used, just a few non-offensive verses might be cited. Expository preaching is non-existent, and doctrinal preaching will be shunned. Thus most folks in the pews will be perpetual babies, never being properly fed and never growing up.

Thus the churches become mere day care centres where adolescents and toddlers and other immature types are looked after, entertained and amused. The preachers of course don’t want to rock the boat or upset anyone or offend anybody, so they will keep things at a constant kindergarten level.

And these churches may be large and busy places. The masses love this sort of thing. They love all the entertainment, the celebrity culture, and the easy believe-ism. There is no hard word preached. There is no mention of any biblical terms that might offend anyone, such as sin, hell, judgment, the wrath of God, denial of self, or the crucified life.

One is reminded of the word of Yahweh as spoken through the prophet Jeremiah: “The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and my people love it this way. But what will you do in the end?” (Jer 5:31). My people love it this way. Yep, says it all.

And the leaders love it that way too. It is the easy way. The popular way. The way to have megachurches where the crowds keep pouring in. But it is the way of death. It is not the stuff of Christian discipleship. It is a spiritual kindergarten.

The last great command Jesus gave in the gospels was this: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).

We are called to make disciples. We are called to help believers become mature, solid and committed disciples of Jesus Christ. They should not be babies, but grown men and women who know their faith, know their Bibles, know their theology, and know their Lord.

Instead we have millions of Christian toddlers feeding on milk and spiritual junk food. No wonder the church in the West is so ineffective, so marginalised, and so laughed at. Kindergarten is fine for kindergarteners. But it is a lousy place for mature adults.

We desperately need mature Christian disciples, and we need committed disciple makers in the pulpits. Let me close with a few words from some great giants in the faith:

“Probably the most widespread and persistent problem to be found among Christians is the problem of retarded spiritual progress. Why, after years of Christian profession, do so many persons find themselves no farther along than when they first believed?” A. W. Tozer

“Here is the reason why we have such a host of stillborn, sinewless, ricketty, powerless spiritual children. They are born of half-dead parents, a sort of sentimental religion which does not take hold of the soul, which has no depth of earth, no grasp, no power in it, and the result is a sickly crop of sentimental converts. Oh! the Lord give us a real, robust, living, hardy, Christianity, full of zeal and faith, which shall bring into the kingdom of God lively, well-developed children, full of life and energy, instead of these poor sentimental ghosts that are hopping around us.” Catherine Booth

“Avoid a sugared gospel as you would shun sugar of lead. Seek the gospel which rips up and tears and cuts and wounds and hacks and even kills, for that is the gospel that makes alive again. And when you have found it, give good heed to it. Let it enter into your inmost being. As the rain soaks into the ground, so pray the Lord to let his gospel soak into your soul.” C.H. Spurgeon

“A cheap Christianity without a cross will prove in the end a useless Christianity without a crown.” JC Ryle

“I hear some ministers today who continually preach only a positive message. To hear them tell it, every Christian is receiving miracles-everybody is getting instant answers to prayer-everybody’s feeling good, living good, and the whole world is bright and rosy. I really wish all those good and healthy things for God’s people, but that’s not the way things are for a great number of very honest and sincere Christians. How sad to hear such shallow theology being pushed from pulpits today. It’s an insult to a lowly Jesus who became poor, who died a failure in the eyes of the world. It is this kind of materialistic preaching that has so ill-prepared an entire generation of Christians to endure any kind of pain.” David Wilkerson

“The early church was married to poverty, prisons and persecutions. Today, the church is married to prosperity, personality, and popularity.” Leonard Ravenhill

[1822 words]

11 Responses to Kindergarten Christianity

  • Thanks for this Bill, the “prosperity, personality, and popularity” Gospel I find offensive, when I think of, pray for and support our persecuted brethren.

  • thanks Bill. oh look It would be funny if it wasn’t so tragic. I’m blessed that I’m not under some mega forward moving powerful machine that we can’t stop now we’ve come this far thingamy bobbitty? But, very challenged to work out my own salvation with fear and trembling. And to pray for the brethren.
    Love ya’ work

  • I agree with everything you’ve said here Bill, but wonder if the once saved always saved theology has anything to do with the current Laodicean attitude. Actually in the letters to the seven churches Jesus brings up something He hates and that is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans. That doctrine is now largely taught that the gospel of Christ has made the law of God of no effect; that by “believing” we are released from the necessity of being doers of the Word. This is the doctrine of the Nicolaitans, which Christ so unsparingly condemned. The answer to why the church is lukewarm and crippled is found in Revelation 3:14-22. Keep up the good work Bill you are a blessing to many.

  • I am rightly convicted that I have been shallow in my pursuit of the Lord…the last 6 quotes speak to the general malady that many Christians suffer from, but A.Z. Tozer’s and Dave Wilkerson’s specifically touched me, “Why, after years of Christian profession, do so many persons find themselves no farther along than when they first believed?” A. W. Tozer and “It is this kind of materialistic preaching that has so ill-prepared an entire generation of Christians to endure any kind of pain.” David Wilkerson. Your “Culture Watch” messages (epistles) have gone a very long way in helping my re-establish my steps. God bless you, friend.

  • Greg Sadler above mentions the dangers of a once saved, always saved, mind set. As Dr Lloyd-Jones once put it, that doctrine is right, but it shouldn’t be stated like that. We trust that God will make sure that we persevere, but we also have to make sure that we do.

    The point that Bill makes about the shallow reading material that many Christians enjoy, if they in fact read at all, is very pertinent. The plethora of books which try to deal only with a particular problem or which are superficially “spiritual” is a great concern. Encouraging Christians to read the Puritans, for example, even in modernised form, is sometimes a very discouraging pursuit. There is plenty of good easy to read material around, including biographies and the works of J C Ryle for example.

    I am blessed with a weekly church service where we use a modernised, very biblical Anglican liturgy, sing doctrinally-rich traditional hymns at considerable volume without singers leading out the front, hear two and more often three Bible readings, and hear good expository sermons. To some people that kind of service is boring, but even new Christians often take well to that kind of fellowship meeting. To most of those present the service is enjoyable but not entertaining. A little bit of self-discipline is needed, but that is part of making it all very worthwhile.

    There are plenty of good biblical mature Christian gatherings out there with different worship styles, but there are also far too many of the other kind.

  • I need this encouragement too, I think back to being self-satisfied that I`d been enjoying milk shakes.

  • Thanks for quoting Matt. 28:18-20 Bill. For I believe therein lies the solution to the infant believers. I have asked most places where I spoke (in my work with Campus Crusade) how many of you were discipled then taught to disciple another and helped to get started? Less than 4% indicated that was the case. Are people being taught to be disciple makers in our churches and theological colleges today. If not, few will. Rev. Don Kiziar planted a Church in Oregon with the plan of just doing one to one disciple making, in 10 years the church grew to 1000 disciples! This is what we need to be, multiplying disciple makers. Discipling people well and sending them to win and disciple others. Check out the book T4T – Koorong have it.

  • A dear friend and pastor, now since called home, once stated to an adult Bible study, “I am your drill sergeant.” This didn’t sit well with my WWII veteran father. But then he didn’t understand the full implication of that analogy, and neither did I until recently. A drill sergeant is a trainer, who must prepare his charges for battle, and who will fight that battle at their side. The church today (as in many times in the past) does not want drill sergeants, but generals, buddies, CEOs, soothesayers, marryers and buryers, etc., because Christians don’t want to do battle and so also don’t want to be prepared for it. To prepare for battle means that battle is inevitable.

  • Great post! Very true and troubling. There is a term, that a certain group in the blogosphere use to describe many of the churches in these days, “Sunday morning Night Clubs”. Most noticeably, besides the lights and music, it’s the inappropriate dress attire coming through the doors.

  • Greg Sadler:

    “I agree with everything you’ve said here Bill, but wonder if the once saved always saved theology has anything to do with the current Laodicean attitude.”

    I agree with David, that the shorthand expression doesn’t help much. The doctrine of “the perseverance of the saints” is a little better, but it really needs to be explained as
    “the perseverance of God with His saints, so that they will continue to be sanctified throughout their lives, by the daily working of the Holy Spirit, to attain the goal of being fully like Christ when He returns”.

    What Bill has written expresses the lack of sanctification of nursery-grade Christians.

  • Feeling challenged. Thank you.

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