I love candy.
My sweet tooth is a generational curse. My pops effectively trained up his child in the candy he should eat, and even though I’ve grown older, I have not departed from it. However, and I say this to establish myself as an authority on the subject, I am well acquainted with the pleasures and the pains of candy: the buzzing charge of the sugar rushing to your head, followed by the abrupt intersection with reality.
The sugar crash.
It’s strikingly analogous to some experiences with Christianity. And we shouldn’t be surprised by the results of stuffing our members full of sugar and pushing them out onto the mission field. After all, I’m sure you’ve seen sterling results from stuffing your child full of sugar and pushing him out onto the baseball diamond: he generally bats and fields pretty well in the first few innings, but come the 9th inning, the bench is among the most optimistic of places you’ll find him.
But we pastors also want our members to perform well in the first few innings. So I confess, the energy drink methodology is tempting: deliver positive, uplifting, and relevant messages in servings the size of 5-hour shots. And I don’t mean to say that sermons that are positive, uplifting, or relevant are inherently bad, I simply mean to communicate that those ingredients are sugar and not substance. Good enough if sprinkled on top, but potentially rotting if the main course.
And if they are the main dish, then when these church services, worship communities, and Christian camps conclude, and the mundane and monotonous realities of the real world punch us in the gut, we crash. The Sunday morning roller-coaster ride comes to a halting stop and getting off the ride, we throw up the insane quantity of candy we consumed.
The Hebrews experienced something of a sugar crash. Here is what’s happening in the letter to the Hebrews: after the outbreak of Christianity, we learn that some Christians in this church have been beaten up and thrown in jail for being Christians. The social pressure for Christians is to return to Judaism, and some are “falling away” (Hebrews 6:6). For this church, the first inning is over and the sugar is beginning to rot.
Some of these folks have a belly full of sugar, evidenced by their desire to return to their childish former ways. But they need milk, and eventually they need to mature to solid food (5:12). So like a good dad lovingly instructs his son that he needs to eat a steak cooked medium-rare for dinner, the author continues by saying, “Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, and of instruction about washings, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment.” (6:1-3).
Now, this command to graduate from the elementary school of Christ into secondary schooling, let’s talk. This is not a command to move beyond the gospel. It’s just as sugary on that side of Candyland as it is on the other. Instead, this command is a motivation to move deeper into the gospel. Follow me, here.
The original Greek word for “elementary” used here is a reference to “beginning.” This “beginning” doctrine of Christ, then, is rightly interpreted as an Old-Testament Jewish view of the coming Messiah. The writer of this epistle is telling them to abandon the Old Testament ceremonies and step into the depths of the gospel- it’s as if they’re dipping their toes into the kiddy-pool of the gospel, and he’s telling them to cannonball into the sea of the gospel! He’s instructing them to leave the former religious principles that they had built their life upon before meeting Jesus, because it’s looking like a corporate sugar crash.
Now, most of our members in the 21st century don’t fall away from Christianity because of the allure of Old Testament sacrifices and Levitical high priesthood practices like the church in this letter. But the tendency still remains to fall away into former life principles that we had built our lives on before meeting Christ, whatever our sugar may be. The Junior-High student rides the wave of the Bible camp skit for the weekend, and breaks his new resolutions before the first bell on Monday morning. The young adult comes down from the high of Thursday night college ministry before the Friday night party. The zealous new attendee runs out of steam before baptism weekend.
What distinguishes sugar crash(tianity) from Biblical Christianity is the content of the gospel. In instructing the Hebrews to move past the elementary doctrine of Christ, the writer is not suggesting they need to stop talking about the cross and begin a teaching series on supralapsarianism. Neither is the writer telling the church to get over doctrines like the atonement and begin Bible studies on historic premillennialism. Of course, your teaching series and Bible studies on academically oriented topics may be, I’m sure, helpful. This just isn’t the pedagogical arc of this particular passage.
It can be tempting to move past the gospel, as if such geography existed beyond it. Likewise, it can be equally difficult not to err on the other side by resorting to feeding the sheep with sugar. But, gospel-centered pastor, I want to encourage you to set your feet in concrete: the writer isn’t exhorting us to leave the gospel (“the elementary doctrine of Christ”) and move forward to more intellectually demanding doctrines (“maturity”). Neither is the writer exhorting us to leave the gospel (“the elementary doctrine of Christ”) and move backwards into sparkling superficiality (“immaturity”). Instead, the writer is exhorting the Hebrews to leave their former Judaic lifestyle (“the elementary doctrine of Christ”) and move on to gospel-centered Christianity (“maturity”).
Permit me to, in the spirit of encouragement, creatively rephrase the opening clause of Hebrews 6 exegetically in light of this subject: “Therefore, let us leave sugar crash(tianity) and go on to gospel-centered Christianity.”