Milk Before Meat—But Meat
by Robert L. Millet
from the book More Holiness Give Me
Shauna asked, "What do you mean?"
"Well, if we had chicken, the baby had chicken. If we had potatoes, the baby had potatoes. If we had beans, the baby had beans."
My wife asked, "You mean when the child was a little older?"
"No," she said, "when we brought the baby home."
Shauna asked delicately, "Is he, uh, still living? Is he all right now?"
The young mother answered, "Oh, yes, he gained twenty pounds in no time at all."
There's a lesson there. Some foods are not only inappropriate but dangerous for an infant to eat. So it is with our spiritual digestive system and our growth to spiritual maturity.
Just as it would be unwise for a college student who had very little math in high school to jump into an integral calculus class, so too there is, in a manner of speaking, a system of gospel prerequisites.
The Savior taught that gospel prerequisites should be observed when teaching or learning sacred things (Matthew 7:6-7). After having spoken of the profound truths associated with his own suffering in Gethsemane and thus of our need to repent, the Lord warned:
"And I command you that you preach naught but repentance, and show not these things unto the world until it is wisdom in me. For they cannot bear meat now, but milk they must receive; wherefore, they must not know these things, lest they perish" (D&C 19:21-22).A person who knows very little about our doctrine, for example, will probably not understand or appreciate our teachings concerning temples, sealing powers, eternal life, or the potential godhood of man.
When a proper foundation has been laid, the truth can then flow more freely. The apostle Peter is said to have explained to Clement of Rome:
"The teaching of all doctrine has a certain order, and there are some things which must be delivered first, others in the second place, and others in the third, and so all in their order; and if these things be delivered in their order, they become plain; but if they be brought forward out of order, they will seem to be spoken against reason."(1)After I had been on my mission for about fifteen months, I was assigned to work in a beautiful section of Connecticut. My companion, a nice fellow to be sure, had one problem that affected the work somewhat—his mind was never with us. He always seemed to be off in another world. One day in early summer we arrived at the door of a small but lovely home. A woman who appeared to be about thirty-five years old opened her door and unlatched the screen door. "Yes? Is there something I can do for you?"
It was Elder Jackson's turn to be the spokesman. "We're missionaries for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes called the Mormons. We have a message about Christ we would like to share with you."
She looked us over very carefully. "I don't think so. I have my own faith."
My companion, who probably wasn't paying attention to what she said, went silent. After waiting uncomfortably for at least ten or fifteen seconds, I blurted out, "And which church do you attend?"
She came right back: "I didn't say I attended a church—I said I had my own faith."
Somewhat surprised, I responded, "Could you tell us about your faith?"
"I don't think I want to," she said. "You would make fun of me."
I assured her we would not. "What is your faith?" I asked.
"Well," she timidly declared, "I believe the physical body is the temple of God and that people ought to take better care of their bodies. For example, I think it's wrong for people to smoke or drink." I commented that we felt her thinking was right on the mark.
She continued, "Well, there's more. I don't drink coffee or tea." Then she asked, "What do the Mormons believe?"
It was difficult for me not to speak out, but I felt I ought to allow Elder Jackson to engage what was obviously a great teaching moment. I could almost see the wheels in his mental machinery turning. He answered, "Well, we believe in baptism for the dead."
The woman carefully pulled the screen door shut and latched it. Before closing the main door she said, with a pained look on her face, "That sounds sick."
I had some idea of what she was thinking and of how bizarre these Latter-day Saints appeared to be. Mostly I was stunned. Before we left the porch, I turned to Elder Jackson and asked in utter disbelief, "What were you doing?"
He seemed offended. "We do believe in baptism for the dead, don't we?"
"Yes, we do, Elder Jackson. So why didn't you tell her about polygamy?"
His response was even more stunning. "I thought about doing that next, but she closed the door."
"Elder," I said, "this lady lives the Word of Wisdom."
"I thought that was odd," he replied as we walked to the next door.
This woman had essentially answered the door with her tin cup and said, "I thirst." We had answered, "We can fix that," and proceeded to drag out the fire hose and drown her in the living waters. It wasn't that the woman was not bright enough to understand the concept of salvation for the dead. The problem was that we had not laid a proper doctrinal foundation, and reflecting Peter's words, our message seemed to be spoken against reason.
There is indeed a system of gospel prerequisites. Milk must come before meat. As we grow in holiness, it is vital that we grow steadily and surely, feeding regularly and consistently upon the foundational doctrines of salvation.
My experience has been that people who want to spend their time studying materials beyond the standard works, who feel that the scriptures and the words of living prophets are too elementary for them, are usually spiritually unstable, and their influence for good is minimal. They generally do more to sow discord in a ward than they do to build unity and strengthen the Saints.
The prophets and apostles have a much clearer perspective on what should and should not be taught than most of us will ever have. By traveling throughout the earth and meeting regularly with the Saints, they sense the "bearing capacity" of the people, what we are and are not prepared to receive. We would do well to use the teachings of the general authorities as a gauge of the readiness of the people.
On the other hand, while we must see to it that our growth in understanding is steady and sustained, we must be stretching, expanding our views, and opening our minds to new truths and new applications. That is, we need to partake of milk before meat, but eventually we need meat.
We must be willing to think, to open ourselves to new insights, to broaden our scope, if we truly desire to make a difference in the kingdom of God. The Lord and his Church desperately need members who are committed to the faith and have a testimony of the gospel. But of even greater worth are those who know the gospel is true and also know the gospel.
President Joseph F. Smith explained that "The man who professes a testimony, and who assumes that his testimony embraces all the knowledge he needs, and who therefore lives in indolence and ignorance shall surely discover his error." And then comes this poignant message: "Of those who speak in his name, the Lord requires humility, not ignorance."(2)
Elder B. H. Roberts said: "Achievement in divine things, progress in the knowledge of them, comes only with hard striving, earnest endeavor, determined seeking."
Elder Roberts continued:
"Men seem to think that because inspiration and revelation are factors in connection with the things of God, therefore the pain and stress of mental effort are not required; that by some means these elements act somewhat as Elijah's ravens and feed us without effort on our part. Just now it is much in fashion to laud 'the simple faith'; which is content to believe without understanding, or even without much effort to understand. I maintain that 'simple faith' (which is so often ignorant and simpering acquiescence) without understanding of the thing believed, is not equal to intelligent faith, rational faith, in which the intellect as well as the heart has a place and is a factor."(3)Because we do not dispense large portions of meat does not mean that we should not personally be striving for deeper understanding; the gap between what we are learning and what we teach may well grow larger as the years go by. The portion of the word to be given to the Saints may not change appreciably, but we shouldn't always be teaching on the edge of our knowledge.
In recent years the Brethren have pleaded with the Saints to teach the gospel, to focus on doctrine, to emphasize substance, to stress the principles and precepts that lead to a change of heart and growth and salvation.
There is a discipline imposed on those called to lead or teach in the Church to use time wisely and to see that what is said and done in our meetings leads to enrichment, edification, and spiritual growth.
We are obligated in the Church to speak by the power of the Spirit. We are commanded to treasure up the words of light and truth and then give forth the portion that is appropriate and needful on every occasion."(4)The scriptures and the words of the prophets have an eternal relevance and thus a life of their own. Each one of us brings to our most recent reading of scripture new challenges, new accomplishments, new insights, and hopefully new eyes that now see more clearly than the last time we engaged that particular passage. Constant review of basic principles constantly brings increased spiritual insight. We reduce the realm of the unknown not by wandering in it but by feasting on our knowledge of that which God has already revealed.
No matter the depth of our personal searching after the meat of the plan of salvation, true spiritual maturity will be manifest in our continued return to the milk that provided substance for our souls in our formative years. I have a love and depth of appreciation for the scriptures now that I simply could not have understood thirty years ago.
I think I would be correct in suggesting that the institutional Church is not responsible to teach very much meat; the Church teaches largely the milk of the gospel. Thus, it's foolish for members of the Church to become either disenchanted or discouraged because they aren't hearing deep doctrine preached in sacrament meeting or receiving new historical or doctrinal truth in Sunday School each week.
The Church is, in many ways, like a university, a place where a person should learn to learn. We need not find fault with the Church if things are too simply presented or if matters seem repetitious. The gaining of meat becomes an individual responsibility, a personal quest.
"God's earthly kingdom is a school in which his saints learn the doctrines of salvation. Some members of the Church are being taught elementary courses; others are approaching graduation and can do independent research where the deep and hidden things are concerned. All must learn line upon line and precept upon precept."(5)Let us consider what might be called the parable of the hidden treasure. The kingdom of heaven is like a man who learned of pearls of great price buried in a field. After barely breaking the surface of the ground, he came upon not a pearl, but a valuable stone.
The man led his friends to the field, and other stones of like worth were uncovered, all barely beneath the surface of the ground. Indeed, as often as a person chose to drop his trowel into the field, he was almost assured of a valuable find.
Then one day a certain man went to the field alone, a man who had previously uncovered many valuable stones. As he sank his shovel into the earth and pushed beneath the accustomed level of digging, he happened upon a larger variety of stones, and pearls and gems of even greater value.
Upon telling of his discovery, many were heard to say, "We have enough! Are these our stones not of great worth? Are they not to be had through digging near the surface?"
A few of his friends, however, rejoiced with him in his prize and sought the same with eagerness. These made the extra effort to dig deeper, made similar finds, and were richly rewarded.
Blessed is that man who seeks deep to find and know the word: unto him is given the "greater portion of the word, until it is given unto him to know the mysteries of God until he know them in full" (Alma 12:10).
1. "Clementine Recognitions," III, 34; cited in Nibley, Since Cumorah, 97. [back]
2. Smith, Gospel Doctrine, 206. [back]
3. Roberts, Seventy's Course in Theology, 5:iv-v. [back]
4. McConkie, "Seven Deadly Heresies," 80. [back]
5. McConkie, Doctrinal New Testament Commentary, 2:324. [back]
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