A sad reality I encountered in West Africa was the infant mortality rate. At that time, fifty percent of all infants died before the age of five. Infant mortality was so common in some areas that parents did not name children at birth. Naming was delayed until parents believed children would live. Survival was as significant as birth.

In my college days in Nashville, Tennessee, over one hundred congregations of the Church of Christ existed in that city. At that time factual estimates suggested half of all immersed into Christ never worshipped. About fifty percent of immersed believers expressed little or no interest in the church. The spiritual birth rate was incredible. The spiritual survival rate was deplorable. Even if the single criteria for spiritual development was church attendance, the spiritual survival rate was still deplorable.

As Christians, we need to do all possible to increase the spiritual birth rate. We need to do all possible to help people find Jesus as Savior and receive the forgiveness of sins. Every person needs the forgiveness provided by Jesus' blood. Every person needs the hope provided by forgiveness. No one should be denied eternal opportunities.

We also need to do all possible to increase the spiritual survival rate. New Testament writers placed enormous emphasis on spiritual survival. No epistle suggested this to Christians: "You had enough faith in Jesus to be immersed. You have done quite enough! Nothing else is necessary! Do not spiritually grow! Stay as you are!"

Peter told young Christians to understand they were spiritual infants. They were to long for the word's pure milk and spiritually grow (1 Peter 2:2). Paul told Christians in Corinth to be mature in their thinking instead of being children (1 Corinthians 14:2). They needed to become men and put childish things behind them (1 Corinthians 13:11). Paul told the Christians in Ephesus not to be easily deceived children, but to mature to the fullness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13,14). Paul explained his goal to Christians in Colossae: to present Christians complete in Christ (Colossians 1:28). A major theme in New Testament epistles is spiritual maturity. Spiritual survival that resulted in spiritual maturity was as important as spiritual birth. It still is.

"Is spiritual maturity that important? Must we be that serious about nurturing Christians? Does not evangelism totally fulfill our mission?" According to New Testament epistles, Jesus Christ's objectives cannot be achieved only through evangelism. Yes, helping those born in Christ survive and reach spiritual maturity is that important.

"How important is it?" Christians in Corinth suffered from horrible spiritual problems. Paul wanted to help them, but in their spiritual immaturity, they rejected his help. He wanted to share things they needed to know, but they were immature babies dependent on milk. He could not feed them meat (1 Corinthians 3:1-3).

May our spiritual birth rate increase. May we nurture all born into Christ.

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Bulletin Article, 9 September 2001

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