It won't be long I will be back in the birthing room--the physical one--as my wife and I prepare to welcome the newest addition of our progeny. As overwhelming and exciting as being in the birthing room is, it also compares greatly with being in the spiritual birthing room. Having been there more times than I can count now, I have seen a plethora of people come to know Jesus Christ in repentance and faith.
Just as newborn people are called babies, so newborn Christians are rightly called "baby" Christians. In so many ways, newly birthed Christians are like newborn babies. They need constant attention, constant care, and constant love. To not receive those things can spell certain disaster.
In my developmental psychology class in college, there was a study about several newborn babies that, after they were born, were withheld attention, love, and nurture. They were only given the bare necessities to live--diaper changes, milk, and baths. They were not held, talked to, rocked, cuddled, or snuggled. What happened to these babies? They failed to thrive. Unfortunately, to prove many of the points of the study, the babies were allowed to linger for several months at this horrid level of care, and many of the milestones that would characterize normal development were not there. Even so, many of these babies were near death before they were cared for in such a way that they would thrive again.
In the same way, the church must cultivate such an environment that "baby" Christians will thrive. However, the church so often expects adult behavior out of spiritual youngsters. Children are a flurry of emotions; one moment they are up, happy, excited about what is next to come, anxious, and motivated. The next moment, they are down, depressed, sad, frustrated, and amotivated.
The church should more closely match its treatment of "baby" Christians as those spiritual youngsters and adjust expectations accordingly. What a joy it is in those first few days after conversion to know for certain that God is your Father and Christ is your Savior and brother! The joy inexplicable of knowing your sins are forgiven! The delight of knowing prayers are received warmly and expectantly!
However, knowing the new believer has experienced the goodness of the Father and wants to behave as an obedient child, he has little experience in doing so. The new convert has much love in his heart and a tender conscience for God, but he does not understand the warfare of daily sanctification, the necessity of mortification, the intense battles of holy living, nor the necessity of Christ's sustaining power.
When he falls, he falls hard. As a child he depends too much on his feelings and too little on the internal realities of the faith. Children are prone to temper tantrums as are new converts, in a sense. The simplicity of newfound strength and the brightness of joy in the initial expression of grace and forgiveness are quickly robbed by low times of disobedience and the easy feeling of separation anxiety. Encouragement comes as quickly as discouragement, yet knowing little, he thirsts to know more, just as a child, asking a million questions in one sitting.
Babies are difficult to care for, but in our homes we cultivate a loving atmosphere that they might thrive. We would not think for one moment to abandon one of our own children, cause them to fend for themselves, or expect them to behave as adults. Yet this is often what the church does. Instead of helping them to reach milestones in accord with their level of faith, rather we force feed, making them "grow up" faster than intended.
Dan Edelen, in a recent post that spurred my thinking again on this topic, sums up this problem well:
How hard then to look at someone who appears to be an adult on the outside, yet is a child in the Faith. We don’t look hard enough for the spiritual child in them. We assume because they’re an adult on the outside that their faith matches that external appearance.More thoughts later.