That the author of Hebrews saw himself as a pastor and brother to his original audience and not a lord or king over them is evident in today’s passage. Having chastised his readers for their spiritual immaturity in 5:11–14, he associates himself with them in today’s passage when he says, “Let us leave the elementary doctrine of Christ and go on to maturity” (6:1). The author knew that even he had not yet arrived at full spiritual adulthood, that there is always room for growth throughout the Christian life. The apparent spiritual regression of the first audience of Hebrews was regrettable, but the author was committed to guiding them out of it by walking alongside them. So it is with all faithful pastors.
Examining Hebrews 6:1–3, let us first note that to “leave the elementary doctrine of Christ” does not entail abandoning it. The author does not tell us to forget or abandon the basics of the faith, for he describes “elementary doctrine” as a “foundation.” In construction, one does not tear apart a good foundation or abandon it for another project. Instead, one builds on the foundation. Likewise, we build on the basics of the Christian faith; we do not leave them behind. As John Calvin comments with reference to growing in our doctrinal understanding, “In building a house we must never leave the foundation; and yet to be always engaged in laying it, would be ridiculous.”
Today’s passage gives five basic doctrines that form the foundation of the Christian faith. Knowledge of the essential elements of the person and work of Christ are assumed for all of them. For example, we cannot grasp “the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment” (Heb. 6:2) unless we know that Christ is the firstfruits of the resurrection and the One who saves us from the wrath to come (1 Cor. 15:20–21; 1 Thess. 1:10). Similarly, true “repentance from dead works” and “faith toward God” (Heb. 6:1) require at least the understanding that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6). “Washings” probably refers to baptism into Christ, being signed and sealed with water according to Christ’s command, and “laying on of hands” likely points to the reception of the Holy Spirit, as His presence was often confirmed in that manner during Apostolic times (Heb. 6:2; see Matt. 28:18–20; Acts 8:17). Reconciliation to God and eternal life through faith in Christ alone, regeneration by the Spirit leading to repentance, baptism in obedience to Christ—these do not exhaust the Christian faith, but they are foundational to it.