There is no doubt that Heb 6:1 - 2 is oddly phrased to our modern ears, and that it sits in one of the most controversial texts in the NT; appearing to endorse a strong view of backsliding/apostasy that suggests loss of salvation. At the same time, it is clear that the six principles are deeply embedded in the chief examples of gospel preaching in the Acts, especially in Ch 2, Ch 10 and ch 17.
So, as we continue to look at theological systematisation and our understanding of "the faith, once for all delivered to the saints," this topic unavoidably comes up.
Let's refocus the text:
Heb 6: 1 Therefore let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity [or, perfection], not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, 2 and of instruction about [baptisms], the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. 3 And this we will do if God permits.
Does this mean, we abandon the "foundation" six listed principles in going on towards the goals of perfected maturity?
Let's ponder the foundation metaphor, as it is instructive:
Having gone to the effort and expense of laying down a foundation, do we then abandon it, walking away and doing something elsewhere, unrelated? Clearly not, the foundation supports and sustains the stability and soundness of a building, as Jesus famously noted in the closing metaphor in his Sermon on the Mount:
Matt 7: 21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ 23 And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
Build Your House on the Rock
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
The Authority of Jesus
28 And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, 29 for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes.
Where, a key tie-in is in Matt 3, with the teaching of John:
Matt 3: 1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said,
“The voice of one crying in the wilderness:
‘Prepare1 the way of the Lord;
make his paths straight.’”
4 Now John wore a garment of camel's hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6 and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.
7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them,
“You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. 9 And do not presume to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father,’ for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. 10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
11 “I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
Notice, his call to repentance (thus to genuine faith, the other side of the coin), his practice of baptism, turning the proselyte baptism rooted in the story of Naaman into a sword pointed at the uncircumcised hearts of the native Jews he here calls a brood of snakes, his pointing to coming wrath to be fled (thus, implying resurrection and judgement). He goes on to -- under protest that the baptism should be the other way around -- baptise Jesus, only to see the Heavenly Dove Descending with the Voice of approval, this is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased, hear ye him.
So immediately, the microcosm-holographic principle is already at work:
Microcosm/Holographic principle (for Bible & Theology): "Macrocosm and microcosm refers to a vision of cosmos where the part (microcosm) reflects the whole (macrocosm) and vice versa." The hologram is such that a small part has in it the whole image though in less defined detail:M/H 1] In theological systematics there is a concept that God's attributes are mutually present and point to or imply one another, they do not merely happen to fit together somehow. Similarly,
M/H 2] in Bible study/exegesis/ Biblical theology the whole counsel of God lurks in any given text, and each such text contributes to the seamlessly woven whole. Further to this,
M/H 3] each aspect influences all and all influence each. It is in that context that
M/H 4] the whole counsel of God on a given matter is a powerful synthesis in which parts and wholes intersect and interact.
That is how scripture interprets scripture, it is why it took generations for the greats to develop a sound, aptly phrased systematic framework and it is why this must ever be in balance with the particular texts and the flow of biblical history.
As a consequence in theology, the genuinely great are in fact highly authoritative as teachers, they simply know much in a complex, sound synthesis, which in turn is built on the apostles and prophets with Christ the cornerstone. Unfortunately, we must be warned against instability and ignorance wrenching text and sense to their own ruin and that of those who are misled by such. And yes, all of this is hard to follow or accept in this current day. Nevertheless, the complex systematic deep knowledge and experience of genuine experts counts, counts deeply beyond what they can articulate.
Likewise, the premise of repentance is transformational change of mindset and so of life involving inextricably entangled gospel ethics, which is reflected in the enacted metaphor of baptism in water and in the cloud:
1 Cor 10: 1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers,1 that
-- our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, 2 and
-- all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, 3 and
-- all ate the same spiritual food, 4 and all drank the same spiritual drink [--> parallel to the Communion meal]. For
-- they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. [--> Christ implicitly present in the OT]
5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown2 in the wilderness.
6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. 7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”
8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.
9 We must not put Christ3 to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.
11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.
12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
So, now, let us re-examine a now familiar infographic:
We here see Daniel's recounting of Nebuchadnezzar's dream and his prophecy of Messiah and Kingdom of God/Heaven . . . a key feature of the Gospels and Acts. Immediately, messiahship, gospel, mission to the nations, culmination are all eschatological, are all bound up in fulfillment of OT prophecy. No wonder the opening bat, captain's knock sermon by Peter on that first Pentecost Sunday recorded in Ac 2 was cast in light of such fulfillment in these last days, no wonder 1 Cor 15:1 - 11 is about "according to scripture." And we have already seen the triune God and the pivotal role of the incarnate Son as Messiah at Jesus' baptism. All of which are prefigured in John the Baptist's preaching and by obvious extension the understanding of even the leaders of Israel who came to him to be baptised, only to be sternly warned.
So, we can lay to rest one side-track already.
Of course the six principles of discipleship foundation are profoundly hebraic and would invite addressing ceremonial washings, the story of Naaman, Jewish proselyte baptism, John and Jesus, Moses, cloud and sea. But now transformed by eschatological fulfillment, Messiah has come, he is the unifying cornerstone. And the apostolic deposit carries forward the message to the world, complete with its integral ethics that bring forth the fruit of repentance, calling the comfortable to flee the coming wrath.
The six principles are indeed the word of the beginning of Christ.
So, we should study them, recognising how naturally an integrated framework emerges, one that unsurprisingly looks a lot like the themes, biblical references and structure in the Nicene Creed. Also, with a profound respect for the foundational nature and authority of the scriptures where we find the holy teachings.
But what of perfection/apostasy?
Obviously, John took a pretty grim view of the leaders of religion in his day: brood of poisonous, treacherous snakes, who has told you to flee the coming wrath?
Similarly, we cannot escape the force of Paul's warning to the church, based on the mixed many who passed through the Red Sea and were under the cloud. He plainly spoke of outbreaks of apostasy and gross immorality. He warns, and such are pretty directly echoed in Hebrews 6.
The minimum we can see is that tardiness in spiritual growth is of the same essence of and carries already the taint of gross immorality and apostasy. It can be taken as an early fever warning of a spiritual complaint that could ruinously spin out of control. So, instead, we must seek to grow in God's grace, truth, love, purity, power. We must be careful to see to fruit meet unto repentance.
These, are general.
To become specific, let us turn to what is credibly a preserved circular letter to the churches (and which gives us a window into the much broader context of what was said by the living C1 apostles to those they taught and trained):
Eph 2:4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. [--> eternal purpose]
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. [--> salvation by works schemes are fatally flawed. Good works are the FRUIT of repentance, not the substance]
10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. [--> so, there is a path laid out for us to follow]
Already, we are saved by God's grace not by works but to do good works laid out in advance. These are all implicit in the six principles, which pivot on Christ the chief cornerstone and fuse the hebraic prophets and inheritance with Messiah and gospel as eschatological fulfillment looking to culmination. Where, too, this text must forever remind us of how confused foundational things were 500 years ago, such that we saw a major contention and split over justification by faith and linked issues. Yes, we can fail to soundly lay a foundation for discipleship.
And so we come to the operational form of the gospel-witnessing church's mandate, a literally cosmological view:
Eph 4: 9 ( In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?2 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds3 and teachers,4 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,5 to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity.
20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,6 which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.
Already, we see the framework, one that gives focus to what perfection is: "the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ" pervading and transforming all things, and also highlights the integrated complementarity by which each of us contributes to and is nurtured by the whole.
Where, of course, that fulness principle is systematic and integrative, articulating the core gospel regarding the faith once for all delivered to the saints to quite literally everything.
Let us note a sample of how the apostle draws in the span of practical life through these principles, hinting of a fortiori reasoning, and the like, such are yardstick examples not an exclusive, exhaustive list:
4: 25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.
26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil.
28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need.
29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.
30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.
31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.
32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.
5: 1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
3 But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
4 Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. 5 For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous ( that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
6 Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
7 Therefore do not become partners with them; 8 for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.
Walk as children of light 9 (for the fruit of light is found in all that is good and right and true), 10 and try to discern what is pleasing to the Lord. 11 Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. 12 For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. 13 But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, 14 for anything that becomes visible is light.
Therefore it says,
“Awake, O sleeper,
and arise from the dead,
and Christ will shine on you.”
15 Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, 16 making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.
17 Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit, 19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, 20 giving thanks always and for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, 21 submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.
So, the perfection and warning about apostasy are already implicit in just the first of the six principles, repentance. However, for reasons of clarity, it may be helpful to draw them out. Where, obviously, going on implies that the foundation was soundly laid, now build on it.
But, last but not least, John's rebuke to the leadership in Israel -- brood of vipers -- raises the case of unsound or incomplete foundations needing to be properly laid.
Including, obviously, in our day. END