Nature shows us clearly that living things reproduce themselves. This process generally produces a baby that is feeble and needs nurture from its parent. The “Living Christian Faith” will also reproduce itself and this will result in “babes in Christ” who need nurture and help to grow to greater usefulness in the church. Babies often require much sacrifice and work on the part of their care givers. We must understand how to care for the babies that are born into our number and be willing to make the sacrifices needed.
We may ask the question, “Who is a babe in Christ?” The easy answer is, “Those who have been born again.” Birth always produces a baby. So those who have come to Christ, whether from our own families or from our communities, are babes in Christ.
Heb 5:13 tells us, “For every one that useth milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe.” This is given in the context of Christian people who should have been grown up spiritually but still needed someone to nurture them like a baby. So babies are not always those who most recently came to know Christ. Some babies are persons who have been in the church for a while but are unexercised in the Word. “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb 5:14).
Another kind of baby is the carnal ones. “And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as unto spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as unto babes in Christ” (1 Co 3:1). Apostle Paul recognized the carnality in the Corinthians and adjusted his message to something similar to how you would address babies. He chided them for this carnality and called them to Christian growth. We should expect that at times we will be called to relate to carnal Christians and we will need to relate to them much the way you do to the “babes in Christ.”
Still another kind of baby may be the feeble ones found in 1 Corinthians 12:22 “Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary.” Sometimes we find strange people in the church, people whose ways and thoughts are so different from ours. Could they be some of these feeble ones? Maybe these feeble ones are the special needs people among us, the handicapped, the emotionally weak ones, the ones who seem to need to be carried along.
This may look like a burdensome task when we look at the whole scope of needy people. We might be tempted to shrug our shoulders and say, “That’s not for me to help these babes in Christ mature.” We possibly get weary of all the sacrifice it takes and in desperation spout off, “It’s time they grow up once and handle this on their own.” But let me remind us that it is very important that we hear the babies cry among us, or else we are a dead or dying church! Notice too, the seriousness of our calling to help the young in the faith. “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea” (Mt 18:6). This verse should sober us and help us to be careful how we relate to the young in the faith. We need a renewed zeal to faithfulness in helping all the “babes in Christ” toward maturity.
So then, how can we help the “babes in Christ” mature? First, we must understand the value of teaching. The young in the faith must have the Scriptures explained and illustrated. We must take time to answer their questions. Understanding their level of vocabulary in Biblical terms and concepts is also important. Some terms that we readily understand are new to them.
1Pe 2:2 tells us that we should all “As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby.” The Word then is the primary element needed for growth and maturity. Notice our calling in the Great commission, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen” (Matt 28:19-20). Let’s never tire of teaching and preaching the simple truths of the Gospel!
We should also understand the place of patience and love toward the young in the faith. Can we truly understand them and give them some space to grow in their experience? Can we love them even in their immaturity? In a natural sense, parents smile with approval when their baby does things that babies do. Do spiritual babies ever see our smile of approval toward them even in their immaturity?
One of the great hindrances to extending loving patience toward the young in the faith is the concept that if one person does something in our congregation, we all should be able to do it. This idea leaves no room for growth but rather sends everyone toward the lowest common denominator in the group.
One of the hard questions we face when we extend patience and give time for growth is the question, “How much time should we give for growth?” One way to answer this is to watch for even small areas of growth and maturity. If there is growth, maybe more time and encouragement is needed. Finally, we must be careful that this point doesn’t just make room for immaturity that never grows up.
Having made the last point, we hasten on to say that law is also important to help growth and maturity. Laws help us know what is right and wrong and where we should be in relation to that law. Law brings security and liberty when we know that we are in obedience to the law. It also helps us to identify our carnality. It shows us the ugliness of sin and selfishness. Without law, carnality is allowed to run unchecked and unquestioned.
With any law also comes consequences for breaking the law. Discipline is needed to keep the church pure. It is wise to explain to those new in the faith what happens when we sin and disobey. They should understand church discipline. We should never be ashamed of a Biblically disciplined church and should never think that discipline stands between us and a fruitful ministry to save souls.
Church standards should be Biblical and have references to teach the principles behind applications. Some things in our practice are more from tradition than from Bible truth and we should be able to clarify that. To make an issue appear to be a Biblical fact that is a traditional practice will often confuse and possibly unsettle the young in the faith. We should also be careful how many unwritten rules we have of significant importance. When a seeker aligns himself with what is written in our standard and then discovers he has violated an unwritten rule that is significant enough to affect his church membership, we may well give occasion for offense and turning back. We should address any issues of need early on in instruction class and not wait until near the end and spring surprises on them.
Another important issue to think about is the place of forgiveness and restoration when they fail. The young and feeble ones will at times fail. Let’s be careful not to crush them or cause them too much sorrow that they turn back. Gal 6:1-2 tells us, “Brethren, 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. Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.” They need our loving reassurance that we know they can do better and eventually be more faithful.
May we never be guilty of gossip about their failures. One of the things we like in a congregation is closeness of fellowship, but this very closeness can scare the young in the faith especially if they are from the community. Theyvlook on and say, “Everyone knows everything about everyone.” So may we be wise enough to keep this closeness in a right way that welcomes the “babes in Christ” to join in this closeness.
Christian service opportunities will also help the young in the faith mature. Reaching out to help other people helps us to mature. We must use discernment in how much we ask of them while they are immature. But we should also avoid the snare of letting them coast along unexercised and unused. We should get them to lead singing, have devotions, go along to street meetings, etc when we can.
Last of all, we should learn to be spiritual fathers. “For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel” (1co 4:15). The church needs more church fathers who take the care of the young in the faith as a personal calling. It is much easier to be a teacher who appears at class time, shares the lesson and then goes home. But fathers have their children with them for all of time. The child’s actions affect the family name. The future of the child affects the parents’ happiness. So the wise father pours himself into providing all his child needs to grow up to Godly maturity. Would to God that we would have more of these church fathers among us!
We should also consider several hindrances to the young in the faith. Carnality allowed in the older ones will discourage the young and tender ones. “Babes in Christ” sometimes have a greater love for separation, a greater appreciation for simplicity, and a more sincere desire to obey the standards than do some of the long-time saints. They are often sensitive to this and very alert to how we relate to it. Carnality in leadership is especially devastating to the young ones.
Inconsistencies will also turn the young ones away at times. Maybe we make room for Mennonite fads but get hard on fads from the world. Possibly we adhere to the letter of the law but forget to heed the spirit of the law. We ask our members to not purchase SUV’s. Wouldn’t the spirit of this rule also keep us from purchasing other expensive “acceptable” vehicles with all the latest accessories?
Idolatry will hinder the young in the faith as they try to grow in their relationship with God. Idolatry has been defined as “things we spend money and time on that God has no interest in at all.” How much time and money may a Christian spend on 4-wheelers to rip around on, motor homes, fishing boats, expensive china to set around for pretty, chrome on our trucks and exhaust pipes to sound “nice”? Do we really think God in Heaven smiles upon us when we use His resources for such things? Does He look on, while others are dying without the Gospel, and say, “There is my child, my child who loves me and works for me”?
One last hindrance we should consider is strife within the brotherhood. Often in church struggles and divisions, the young in the faith lose out the most. They pay the highest price. Will our struggles cost some dear soul their home in Heaven? Finally, all men must answer before God for their personal choices but this does not excuse us from our part in discouraging or turning them away. God help us to greater levels of faithfulness in serving God and helping the young in the faith mature into men and women for God.