Since 2015, Chad and his wife Marcia have trained retrievers through their company, Walker Retriever Complex. Their goal? “To ensure that every pup is well trained and their owners are properly trained to handle them in any situation and setting. This training ensures a stable and obedient environment upon returning home, as well as the ability for every pup to enjoy life with each step their family takes.”
If you’ve ever trained (or tried to train) a dog, you know it requires a lot of patience and understanding as you begin with the basic commands and move to the more complex ones. Considering the number of loyal companions and champions they’ve successfully trained over the years, patience and understanding seem to be something Chad and Marica have in spades.
NO MATURITY WITHOUT UNDERSTANDING
Recently, Chad and Marcia signed up to go through The First Principles, a series of dialogue-driven lessons geared toward establishing participants in the essentials of the faith and what it means to be a disciple (or apprentice) of Jesus and His teaching by reading and understanding scripture.
Why does it matter whether we’re established in the essentials of the faith? The introduction to the series explains:
It is absolutely critical that we become established in our faith. If we do not, all sorts of strange teaching will fill our new faith with ideas that are far more compatible with our culture or previous religion, than with the true Christian faith.
Paul spent significant amounts of time making sure that his churches were established in the faith. He visited them, sent team members, and sent letters to strengthen and stabilize the churches. These letters became the heart of the New Testament.
We cannot expect to become mature in Christ unless we are established in the faith. But most of us do not even know what that means or how to know if we are solidly established in the faith. Most of us were not taken through an orderly (catechetical) training process when we became Christians.
In his prep work for the first lesson, Chad came across Hebrews 5:11-14:
We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Chad read on further.
It is clear from this passage that it is impossible to move on toward maturity without carefully understanding the first principles. In every generation of churches since the time of the New Testament, believers were expected to learn these first principles. In the early church, before new believers were accepted into the church, they needed to learn the didache (“the teaching”). “The Didache” was a summary of the basic teaching of the New Testament—the first principles.
MAKING THE CONNECTION
As he reflected on that statement, Chad had an “Aha!” moment. Learning the first principles is a lot like dog training. How so? Here’s how Chad makes the connection:
Typically, when people call me because their dog is having problems with their training, I find that the real problem is not the dog but how the dog was trained. The owner wants to get ahead of everything and get to the more advanced skills (i.e., the “fun stuff”) instead of spending the necessary time and energy on building the foundation of basic commands. By putting their dog in this situation, what ends up happening is the dog makes a lot of mistakes because those basic commands were never solidified. The dog ends up not knowing what to do and loses confidence. Often the dog doesn’t do anything out of confusion or fear of doing the wrong thing. The pup doesn’t thrive and can’t move on to more advanced training.
When I begin training, I start with Phase 1: the Basics, and I don’t move on to Phase 2 and the more advanced commands until the basic commands are solidified, and I know the dog is confident in and complying with them. What I’m looking for with the dog is a clear understanding and clear ability to obey the commands before moving forward.
This process is very similar to discipling people. We have to start with the basics of our faith, the first principles. Those who don’t know the basics of their faith end up lacking confidence in it. Not knowing what to do, they sometimes do nothing at all. With dogs, they will continue to grow in their training while obeying what they learned in Phase 1. As we teach the fundamentals of the faith, we can move people through their growth while being obedient and accountable to what they learned from the first principles. Then they can be rooted, built up, and established in their faith (Col. 2:6-7). Like a dog who thrives because it is well trained, people will thrive and flourish in their discipleship as they mature and increase their ability to handle more complex things on top of the solidified foundation of the first principles. In both cases, the result is a dog or person who is confident in what they do and obedient to the skills they have been rooted and built up in.
Whether it’s training a dog, a new form of martial art, gardening, or learning a new language, you have to start with the basics. When you get the basics down, you build the necessary foundation for the more advanced aspects of whatever skill or knowledge you want to learn. So it is with our spiritual formation. We simply can’t move to more advanced aspects of our faith without understanding the basics.
EQUIPPED WITH A STRONG FOUNDATION
What difference would it make if more people in your church followed the same process of Jesus and the Apostles in establishing believers in the first principles? You would likely see more people thinking intentionally and critically about the things that form the foundation of the faith. You would see more conversations about the impact of these fundamental principles and how they grow and mature us. In short, you would see more people equipped with a strong foundation in their lives to serve them for a lifetime.
Maybe you’re a Christian leader who wants to see more growth and fruit in life change among those you serve. Or perhaps you’re a new believer who needs to have these first principles laid carefully for the first time or, for whatever reason, need to have them laid afresh. Whatever the reason, The First Principles series will surely challenge and train believers to understand the things Jesus and His Apostles considered essential.
ARE YOU READY?
If you’re ready to establish yourself and others in the first principles, contact Lauren Linz (firstname.lastname@example.org) from our team to learn more about how you can engage others with core biblical ideas that apply to your mind, heart, and life.
Chris Loux, Communications Director, CityChurch Network