An “Obvious” Foundation?

At ginkworld.net we have been spending time cleaning up the back door and adding some new features. One of those features is a php list program that enables us to develop a solid email list for “the evolution” our monthly enews letter. In looking over our back end we noticed we had “too much junk in the trunk.” We found over 4 separate lists of people for different reasons; so we thought bringing them all into one would be a very cool and simple thing to do – well, cool yes, simple no. But in digging deep, we found some very interesting things..

In our moving the lists around I noticed an old email list [going back some 5 years] of some 20 names [I am always amazed at how we have grown from 20 names to thousands of names]. In looking over the list I noticed a person I had not spoken to in years – many years, maybe some 5 years. So, I took the last part of the email and check into what he was doing [you know, taking the part after the “@” symbol and placing it in the address window, add the “www,” to see who comes from where]. In my search I found he was no longer with the organization so I will need to do some hunting. But, since I was there I figured I would do some reading. In my reading over some of the stuff the denomination put out, I noticed the “church planting” page – and being the forever church planting geek I am I had to hit it and see what was up. In that I was reading some of the stuff the organization puts out, and I was greatly confused. Here is something I read:

“The first and foremost element is the foundation upon which the entire structure depends. For a bridge, that would be solid stone or soil in which the structure would be anchored. In the case of church multiplication the foundation is obviously the word of God. [There was a picture connected with this and it was a picture of an open book – later pictures built a “bridge” across the open book.]”

At first, this may not seem like a big deal, and seems pretty straight forward, but it just did not connect for me; it seemed disjointed and disconnected. For some reason I was not able to get that out of my mind, and as I read more and more I kept coming back to that opening statement. After reading it several times, I figured out were I was having a problem. It was in the statement, “In the case of church multiplication the foundation is obviously the word of God.” What? It hit me like a ton of feathers [I know, a ton is a ton, but feathers are softer then bricks], the foundation of the church is not “obviously the word of God” [the bible]. The foundation of the church is Jesus Christ. Sure, we can see the scripture as a kind of “blueprint” for helping us build a community of faith; but not as the foundation.

I think too many churches actually think this way, that “the bible” is the foundation of the church, but that is not what scripture teaches [I would call your attention to Peter’s first letter 2:4]. Jesus is the foundation, the stone on which all things in a community of faith are built upon. Granted, the scriptures are important, but they are not the “obvious” foundation of the church, that again is the role or Jesus [this can also be seen in Matthew’s version of events, 16:17]. For me, I think building a foundation on the stone of Christ is far better then building on the paper of a book; stone is solid, paper shifts with the weight of life.

Some Shifts in Events:
When we see the bible as the foundation of the church we shift from being “Christian” or a follower of Jesus, to being followers of a book, or what I see as “biblicians.” We shift from finding meaning in Christ, to finding meaning in the words of a person who reads it for us. Here is what I see as some of the major issues of placing the “word of God” as the “obvious” foundation of any community of faith.

We shift from grace to law. When Jesus is the center, and we seek his words and lifestyle to guide us, we live in grace. We seek to forgive, love and understand others. We do not judge others because we know that is not our place. We read scripture and see it as a guide to our faith in Christ; we filter all the words we read through the grace, love and forgiveness of Christ. But, when we see the book as our foundation we shift to seeing things as “black and white” and we see things as law. We hold it against people – we beat people into Jesus and use scare tactics to insure people do not leave the faith. We replace the love of Christ with an “obedience” to what others see as rules and law.

We shift from “We are all followers of Christ, with differences” to “We are true Christians and we got it right and you got it wrong.” This is the hardest thing for me to grasp. Not being raised in the church I could never figure out the differences between denominations; to be honest with you I still have a hard time knowing the differences between some factions in the Kingdom. With each claiming to “be right” and each claiming the others as “wrong” it is a wonder we claim anything as a foundation. When we use “the book” as the foundation we bicker over little things like how many times a person should be dunked to be a “true baptism;” or, if a child being baptized is “right.” I know of churches in my area that will not even think of talking with other churches because one church dunks and the other sprinkles. I know of churches in my area that will never see any other church as “truly Christian” until the other church sees things their way and reads the scripture their way.

We shift from being the Body of Christ, to being a ‘congregation’ of church people. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians states pretty clearly that we are the body of Christ, and not simply a gathering of people in a church building [read Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5]. When we shift from being the Body, to being a “congregation” we lose sight of what is happening to the Body, and we miss the problems we are causing to the Body.

We move from unity to disunity, and focus on the disunity. When we see ourselves as people “of the book” we lose sight of the bigger picture. We forget, or we ignore the words Mark shares with us about others who are doing things in the name of Christ, and yet not part of our community; Mark writes:

“John spoke up, "Teacher, we saw a man using your name to expel demons and we stopped him because he wasn't in our group."

Jesus wasn't pleased. "Don't stop him. No one can use my name to do something good and powerful, and in the next breath cut me down. If he's not an enemy, he's an ally. Why, anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.”

I am often drawn to what many denominations call “our distinctives.” I am drawn because I am never sure what it all means, or why we need to say “what makes us different” [and in many cases it sounds more like “what makes us better”]. To me, it is another layer of disunity formed in the Body of Christ; it sounds more like, “this is why we are the true church, and they are not.” Think about the words Mark shares with us, all we have to do is share a cup of water in the name of Jesus and we are on his side. Kind of blows what some see as “distinctive” out of the water.

[Random side note: This may be a bit on the side, but a funny thing hit me when I read that scripture; Jesus is saying that “apostolic secession” does not matter.]

When we see Christ as a foundation of the church we see things very different compared to if we see the bible as the foundation. While I have no problem seeing the bible as a blueprint, a guide to building our walk, I have a very hard time seeing the bible as the foundation of my faith. You see, if we see the bible as the foundation we will argue over which translation is better or which is a paraphrase and which is not. We find reasons to argue and find differences in each other that cause disunity. We find reasons why we are right and all others are wrong. We turn our back on each other and walk away saying that the other is not a “true Christian.”

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Ross said...

I find it hard to believe that this has been posted for three days and I am making the first comment.. what a critical concept John! This is one of the big issues that has been eating at me for years and I hope that it gains some traction through your post.

Calacirian posted a similar bombshell recently which has also gone commentless. Both of your posts are leading me to a thought... I think that the churches out there that "doing it right" are the ones that we'll never hear about. They don't care who notices them, they don't care about marketing, they don't care about where they stand in relation to anyone else. They DO care about following Jesus, and that makes all the difference.

aBhantiarna Solas said...

Hi John ... sweet post. It's remarkable how a small twist in words can change our outlook so dramatically. Yet that one small twist takes us from grace to legalism in a single bound. And yet it feels so holy. Sad.

I found you through your comment on my blog. Our "mutual friend" in the comment above is my husband ;-)!! I think I met you at a Soularize conference in Venice Beach in 2005?? Glad to have found you in the virtual world again.

Sonja Andrews

Miracle said...

My main concern would be how many feathers and how big of a ball it would be... Now there is an experiment

illgottengoods said...
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