Pressing beyond the foundation
What is doctrine? Most clearly, it is not only God’s revealed will for His people, but more specifically it is God’s requirements and the characteristics of those who are truly His. Those who are false professors will not remain consistent with God’s doctrine, nor will they follow nor care to heed it, and those Christians who fall short will be brought up by His doctrine, if they are truly His, because He disciplines His children, not allowing any of them to fall from His hand. And thus God’s doctrine is important, because it is something that is outside us, and yet is for our very best. But so few can tolerate God’s doctrine because it directly contradicts the doctrines of men, and the philosophy that the world adheres to as universal truth (this being that God is whoever you want Him to be apart from His Word). And what is so very sad is the reality that it is the church who fails to hold to even basic points of God’s theology- things that are not even vague- and that in the name of “love,” being no more consistent with God’s Word than the world is. Instead of wondering “What does God say?” they would rather find “What I think God wants for me,” this being based on what their fleshly lusts direct. But God does remain quiet on the matter of His doctrine, nor does He handle His own Word lightly, as it is clear throughout the Bible that we are to ever diligent in learning and applying it more and more, not less and less, seen especially here in the beginning of Hebrews 6…
“Therefore leaving the elementary teachings about the Christ…”
The first question to ask about this is “What is this statement of fact ‘there for’?” As in, why does he say this? As we have covered in the previous posts from the context of Hebrews, the Gospel is dependent upon an accurate understanding of His Word, not based on circumstances or feelings, but rather the clear reality of the saving work of Jesus through the specific and legal work of Christ on the cross, fulfilling each requirement of God’s Law, all while maintaining His own righteousness, being the perfect “high priest” for those who could not do what He did, and all of this summed up in Hebrews 5:9-10, “And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation, being designated by God as a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.” Such a narrow and necessary process even the basic Gospel followed through, is it not? And this so that we who claim to believe it would not be ignorant, but rather intentional and understanding in our profession of faith in “the Christ,” rather than those who profess in ignorance to their own destruction. And the writer could have gone on! But as it was, the Hebrews were like many Christians today, who simply did not find the time nor find it necessary to pursue the Gospel farther than a basic understanding. And this has bled into the severe, in that the church is now to the point of becoming so intentionally ignorant of even basic truths found in the Scripture, that they accept openly abject immorality so as to appear tolerable (at the most!) in the eyes of the world, so as to avoid persecution.
What are “the elementary things” he speaks of here? The apostle Paul uses the word “ἀρχή” which plainly means “the beginning of [our teaching about the Christ]…” It is very important to note that Paul does not speak of the “basic things of the Gospel” in a negative sense, as much as he is telling them that the fact that they linger in the “ABCs” of the Gospel is a negative thing. We should not be so falsely amazed by the work of Christ that it is a detriment to our pursuit to understand more of what Christ said. And there is a parallel to this, which is the word “στοιχεῖον,” which refers to something as “rudimentary” or basic as well, only more in the sense of “natural” or more particularly “something you should know.” This is seen in an interesting fashion in the prior chapter, in verse 12, where the writer says “For through by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” What is interesting about this is that the writer uses both “ἀρχή” and “στοιχεῖον” (“elementary principles”), or “basic, natural things you should know by now.” If they claimed to be Christian, then it would be only natural to expect that they would understand the high priestly work of Christ, and His intercessory work for those who are the children of God, and yet these Hebrews (who should have known these things to the point of becoming teachers) did not know them, or remember to pursue them. To put this into perspective, it is essentially pointing out the error of the church, in that they are the exact opposite. They essentially say to God “You can’t expect the average Christian to be a theologian, can you?” When in fact what the writer is stating here is that very thing, “You ought to be teachers, per the natural and expected progression of your understanding of God’s doctrine!” It is indeed expected that a Christian be a theologian, and based on the context of what he says here, it is a requirement for the saint to be an ever expanding theologian, to the point that they should be teachers to those less exposed to the Word than they currently are. This does not mean all should be pastors, as James warns about this, saying “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” (3:1) This also does not exclude what the writer of Hebrews says here. How do we make sense of the two? James refers to these “teachers” as “we,” regarding those who had instructed the congregation(s), being the apostles/preachers of the Word who were starting churches throughout the area. The word is translated “teachers” in Hebrews 5:12, while being translated “masters” in the KJV, and I think this paints a better picture of us to understand the balance between the two points. The writer states that the experience of the Hebrews should have led them to such a point in their learning that they would have the knowledge of a teacher, being those who can educate the newer saints in Christ, should the need arise, while James warns that not all should desire to become pastors of a church, because these who lead congregations will incur “stricter judgment.” To assume it means anything else to the contrary would be to state that the average Christian should never teach, and thus they should never share the Gospel to anyone, as that would be teaching someone of the saving work of Christ. And so each saint ought to be a theologian, and for the select few, these should desire to be pastors, as James does not condemn such an office, but rather reveals the higher accountability, as Jesus says in Luke 12:48, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
But we see another usage of “στοιχεῖον,” found in Galatians 4. He says in verse 3 “So also we, while we were children, were held in bondage under the elemental things of the world.” The word “elemental” is the same word as “elementary” in Heb. 5:12, but this is referring to the “elemental things of the world.” This in its proper context refers to our “adoption” as sons of God, being still under the “guardians and managers,” these thing sin and the Law, to put it plainly. We were under sin, keeping us from being righteous before God (as the heir who has not inherited what will come to him from the Father, who has set a “date”). We are indistinct from the slave, being under subjection of those over us. Likewise we are under the Law, which bounds us under condemnation because of our inability to keep it with any sense of consistency. However, when the “date set by the Father” comes, He sends His son (that “high priest”) who was born “of a woman,” being a human as we are, and “under the Law” as we are, in order to fulfill the requirements of the Law that we could not keep, so as to redeem us from under the Law and under our sin which arises from our inability to keep that Law like He did, with the result that we now inherit the salvation through Christ. To make it plain, we were sinners like everyone else, however God sent Jesus to separate us from sin, and thus to separate us from the slaves of sin, so as to make us saved, giving us a part of that inheritance (sonship in Christ). This is summed up in verse 7, “Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.”
But those “foolish Galatians” (3:1) desired to go backwards, an offense worse than that of the Hebrews, in that they wished to be like the slave again, bound under the Law and thus bound to condemnation. They wanted to go back to the “shadow of things to come” (Heb. 10:1), which is like the child who inherits his father’s fortune throwing it all back in the father’s face and saying “No! I will do it my own way!” A story of which would be deemed noble in the eyes of the world, since it promotes independence from God, as though we have any righteousness of ourselves. They wanted to throw away eternal life, in so much as they forsook the life God provided for their own path. “But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain.” (Gal. 4:9-11) And thus we see the urgency of the writer to the Hebrews (possibly Paul himself), in that he did not want the Hebrews to fall into the same trap as the Galatians, who did so “quickly” (Gal. 1:6).
And thus the writer says quite plainly “Move on beyond the basic Gospel,” because the theology of the Bible extends far beyond “You’re saved through Jesus and get to go to Heaven!” Someone who holds to that alone cannot be Christian, because a profession of absolute dependence on Jesus Christ is entirely dependent on your understanding of who He actually is. If you do not know who He is, how then can you claim to believe Him? How can you claim to love Him if you do not do what He says, nor care why He said it? And such summarizes the primary error throughout the entire history of the church, as they want everything to do with getting to their version of Heaven, and very little to do with obeying Him around whom the whole of Heaven is focused upon. There is no valid “Ticket to Heaven,” as such a thing reduces the blood of Christ to a “free pass” given for no particular purpose with no real change in our lives here on earth, whereas the doctrine of Christ teaches a life of submission to God on earth and a sacrificing of all things to Him, with very little said about Heaven, except all of the focus upon Him who sits on the throne. A “Ticket to Heaven” and “adoption of sons” are two entirely separate things, as the first results in no change (lukewarmness) while the latter is a complete death to self and resurrection to life, becoming a “new creature.”
“Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” In other words, “Be a true Christian, being that adopted son, who is not satisfied with mediocrity as the rest of the world, but is that “new creation” which lives as such, ever growing and never stagnating, being proven as a son of God, not merely one who acknowledges that there is a God. He tells the church to become theologians, and to set an example for the rest, so that they do not become as the Galatians who wanted to go backward. And the only way to avoid going backwards is to advance in forward, which is the very meaning of “repentance from sin.” To stop going in the wrong direction, but instead to turn around and charge in the right direction, never stopping nor turning back. “And this we will do, if God permits.”
“To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: The Amen, the faithful and true Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God, says this: ‘I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot; I wish that you were cold or hot. So because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth. Because you say, “I am rich, and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,” and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me. He who overcomes, I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also overcame and sat down with My Father on His throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” – Revelation 3:15-22