A few days ago, browsing through a magazine, I read an article that described the importance of brand loyalty to corporations. Many companies are trying to influence children and teenagers towards their products, hoping they can make customers for life. Looking back at my years in university and high school I can see that this was true even then. There were many times when a company would come to campus and give away whole boxes of their products. During my first year at McMaster University I got more deodorant, razors, shaving cream and aftershave than I knew what to do with. The latest players in this game, apparently, are condom companies, which are always eager to sponsor giveaways and health classes in high schools and even middle schools, giving out their products to whoever wants them. There is great competition to be the company that has their condoms dispensed in vending machines in high school bathrooms. Beer companies are another example of corporations that try to target their future customers while they are still young – too young to be using their products!
The Bible draws the comparison of new Christians to children. Paul said that before a Christian is ready to chew on solid food, he first needs to drink milk. In Hebrews 5:12 Paul writes, “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” While in this chapter he is challenging the Jewish believers, the point is clear that young Christians begin their new lives with a need for milk and slowly mature in their faith until they can chew on solid food.
During this period of growth, it seems that any number of teachers, books and programs are competing for “brand loyalty.” Just as a thirteen year old schoolboy has no idea how to fairly evaluate one brand of prophylactic device from another, in the same way a new Christian has little ability to discern what is good from what is bad. There is a sense in which their loyalties are up for grabs, and further, in which their future theology is up for grabs. Anyone who has been a Christian for any length of time can think of at least a few friends or acquaintances who have become believers, only to be influenced towards unscriptural theology.
In recent days I have had the opportunity to write or speak with several people who suffered through deep, discouraging doubts about the Christian faith and a common theme quickly emerged. The story was eerily similar. A person became a believer and immediately began to devour the Bible. Their initial enthusiasm towards the things of God lasted for months, and in that time they loved to be in the Word and to learn whatever they could. As time went on, they began to read Christian books, to listen to Christian teachers on the radio or to watch preachers on television. Within a short period of time, they were ravaged by doubt either about their salvation or about Christianity as a system of beliefs. All of these people had found teaching that seemed to be consistent with the Bible – it was laced with quotes from Scripture and filled with the terms consistent with the Christian lexicon – yet this teaching pulled them away from God. All of them had lacked the discernment to know true teaching from false. And of course neither would not expect new believers to have deep discernment.
I encouraged all of the people I was privileged to speak to and was pleased to see what all of them have emerged stronger from their time of trial. It was an encouragment for me to speak to these people and to see the power of God in pulling them through. Truly God is true to His promise that He will never leave us or forsake us.
It might be a temptation to condemn all teaching outside of the Scripture as an unnecessary danger, yet I believe this would be a case of “throwing out the baby with the bath water.” To refuse to acknowledge that we might be able to learn from other believers is to deny that God has shared important doctrines and assurances with other Christians – ones that He may not share with us. At the same time, it is crucial that new believers are discerning in whose teaching they submit to.
All of this shows the importance of mature believers mentoring those who are mere babes in the faith. Once a Christian has matured, he has a responsibility to share with others what God has taught him. He should watch over his friends, keeping an eye on who is influencing them and suggesting authors and ministries that will edify instead of destroy.
As an aside, I would like to ask for your help.
Several weeks ago I began work on a new web site which will be a repository for book reviews. I will be collecting reviews from around the Internet and linking to them from this site. Of course this site will not be completely objective, but will present reviews that are consistent with a conservative, Protestant understanding of Scripture. It is my prayer that this site will help guide Christians, both mature believers and recent converts, to books that will edify them, while at the same time warning them away from books that may prove destructive to their faith.
This site may need a new name. I am currently using garlandofgrace.com (there is nothing there yet) for the name – a name I love because of its roots in Proverbs, but it may not mean anything to many Christians. So if there is a name you can think of that would be better, I would love to hear it. I would like it to be a .com domain and it must be available. You can do a search here. If your name is chosen by myself and possibly by a jury of some description, I’ll be happy to send you something for your trouble. Looking at my shelf I do not have a whole lot to offer, but how about an autographed copy of Led by the Spirit by Jim Elliff.