First Principles

First Principles

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on unto perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment. And this will we do if God permit” (Heb. 6:1–3).

Brass tacks

Read too much into this world and you’re likely to come away with this notion that it’s all been cycling along according to some “fixed” law of gravity and that everything we encounter and in turn proffer as proof is essentially randomness doing its thing. And while randomness does indeed deserve a seat at the table, a place in our equations, the idea of supernatural agency, miracles—an unseen realm—looks to be supreme and illogical folly. Pulling apart the mysteries and substances of the universe leaves the nonbeliever satisfied with their worldview and also requires that the believer change their way of looking at the world (and subsequent interpretation of the Bible) to be more in line with observable facts. That is, if they choose to read and/or listen to the aforementioned material.

When the writer of Hebrews lines out the first principles, if you will, of “the doctrines of Christ,” they imply that these things should be firmly set, taken for granted (in a good way). It reads “leaving the principles” and then moving on qualifies it with “if God permit.” Dial it down to your own life, abandoning the audience of the Book of Hebrews and focus in on yourself. Has God permitted you to move on from the first principles? Do you even know what they are? Do I? Of course, they bring up things like “the foundation of repentance” and “faith toward God.” It talks about such fundamental things as “baptisms” (plural) and some other things that the writers of antiquity have pulled apart since the time of Christ and before. These are the“principles of the doctrine of Christ.” These are the fundamental things on which our faith rests and relies. David asks “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3) It’s those very things that become hazy and indistinct when once one would read too much into what the world puts forth and proffers as proof; as something more fundamental than the things of Christ. Evidently the writer of Hebrews was interested in moving “on unto perfection.” That can’t happen unless we all agree. And if you’re struggling with belief in God, make sure it’s not because you simply want your own way.

Iron nails

“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted of the good Word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:4–6).

All of the things to which we are referring in the top passage are part and parcel of “the doctrine of Christ.” I can imagine that there are other subordinate doctrines and I can’t think right now where I’d look for a list of all them—in order of importance, of course. And of course we’re talking about “moving on unto perfection.” Christ tells those of the church of Ephesus that they “have left [their] first love.” (Rev. 4:4b) He continues on with the prognosis and antidote to their, what? Losing their salvation? It says “or else I will come unto thee quickly and remove thy candlestick out of his place, except thou repent” (Rev. 4:5). That’s what it looks like. Certainly, the doctrine of loss of salvation (I’m sure it has a theological name) has its place in the conversation. Verses 4 through 6 point to that reality. Putting Christ to “an open shame” implies that the individual who has enjoyed a taste of what Heaven has to offer has gone back, and with eyes wide open reopened the wounds Christ sustained in order to deliver to us this reality. This is why it’s so, so important to not sin. Paul asks “How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:2) A point of contention among modern day, watercooler Christianity is the idea of losing one’s salvation. Numerous stories of de-conversion (Christian back to non-believer) read like a running headlong away from the Father. Those who know these individuals surely feel the sting of losing a brother or sister, but only Christ knows if they’re truly gone (see Rom. 10:6). And if we’re still grappling with these empirical things, on the fence about so simple a reality, then how can we move on again unto perfection? “It is Christ that died, yea rather, that is risen again, who is even at the right hand of God, who also maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34). All it took was His death and resurrection to make available these eternal things and even then there’s only so much of Heaven we can take while we’re on this earth. And we should always be wanting more and more, just so you know. But Jesus cannot be crucified again. Moses’s act of striking the rock a second time was emblematic of putting Jesus to death again (see Ex. 17:5–6; Num. 20:9–12) and the punishment was severe. Did Moses lose his salvation? No (see Matt. 17:3). He wasn’t allowed to go into the Promised Land, however.

A golden spike

All that aside, I feel that it’s so easy to neglect these first principles—the things that comprise our first love. So take some time and give them their due. Look at Him; talk to Him; tell Him you love Him. Write out ten things for which you are grateful, every day for one month. If you know the Lord, rest in the atmosphere that your relationship provides. Reading all you can about all you can may well leave out the knowledge of God—the fact that He exists and that He loves you. Of course it’s important to learn and to grow—especially in our chosen fields. But moving on unto perfection in God’s kingdom, as the writer of Hebrews was encouraging us to do, requires that we maintain our first love and first principles. Who knows what it will look like when the Body of Christ walks in that perfection?

In May of 1869, the two sides of the newly laid transcontinental railroad were going to connect in Utah. A golden-tipped railroad spike and laurelwood tie were made for the occasion. Telegraph wires were attached to each object and the operator sent out countdown messages at intervals to those listening. The United States, Canada and the UK were all listening in, waiting for the silver-headed hammer to set the last spike. Instead, the individual who swung the hammer missed and those nations ended up not hearing the sound of a golden-tipped, custom-made railroad tie uniting the eastern and western halves of America’s railroad concern. All they heard was “DONE.” The operator hadn’t noticed that the hammer had missed and, presumably, dented the laurelwood tie. All the ceremony leading up to it was merely a massive waste of time.

Paul says that the world “waiteth for the manifestation of the sons of God” and that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth together until now” (Rom. 8:19b, 22). In other words, it is past time to be walking in these first principles of love, wisdom and discernment. These are simple enough and yet powerful enough to bring about widespread change. To where the whole world will hear about it for sure.

Hapax Legomenon Part 2

Hapax Legomenon Part 2