The foundation of the church is a Person: Jesus Christ (1Co 3:11); building on any other ground produces other things: religious organizations and social clubs, but not the church.
To ensure Christ is the foundation we must think carefully about why we’re meeting; the reasons we assemble comprise this foundation; our motives spawn all our activity and will be God’s focus in judgment. (1Co 3:13) If we don’t engage for the right reason we might defile Christ’s church, and that’s a dangerous thing to do. (1Co 3:17)
So, are we coming to hear uplifting sermons? Or to worship God and enjoy His presence? Or to invite others to hear the gospel? These are all good things, but they aren’t the foundation of the church. We can do these things for Christ, and we can enjoy and seek Him in them, but this isn’t the same as having Jesus Christ Himself as the foundation, the very reason we are coming together. There’s something even more important at the core of the church. (He 10:24-25)
To be a church, believers must be meeting for Jesus Christ, about Jesus Christ: He must be the reason we’re coming together, to bring the indwelling Christ to each other (Col 1:27), to share Him with each other so we can help each other in our walk with Him. (1Co 14:26) We must be coming to see and hear Him in each other (Php 1:21), and to help each other draw closer to Him (Php 2:4), focusing on getting to know Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (1Co 2:2)
To edify one another like this we must be walking in the light with Him, in fellowship with Him, rejoicing in Him, enjoying and obeying Him as a manner of life.
In such community there can be no place in our lives for willful sin (1Jn 3:6), and we should be in close enough community that hiding our sin isn’t an option.
In Christ’s church we cannot delegate this responsibility to edify one another to a few leaders, and sit by passively, expecting them to teach us and bring Christ to us; we each carry this responsibility. (1Th 5:11)
Jesus Christ was the foundation of the very first church, when The Twelve were following Jesus, listening to Him, watching him, beholding Him, studying Him, imitating Him. (1Jn 1:1-3) Jesus Christ was all they had in common; they were pursuing Him; He was their reason for being together. For the church of Jesus Christ, no other reason is acceptable.
Why we come to church affects the leadership style, the order of service, the programs, the budget and all the activity. If in our coming Jesus Christ isn’t building believers into a living network through us, creating a temple He indwells (1Co 3:16), then we’re building on the sand. When the storms come, and they will, nothing will be left. (Mt 7:26-27)
2 thoughts on “The Foundation”
Q: Why isn’t a doctrinal statement about Christ/God/Salvation both a necessary and sufficient foundation for the church?
A: What we believe about Christ is certainly important, but a doctrinal statement isn’t the same as Christ Himself; in fact, it’s vastly different.
Having a person as a foundation for the church implies a living, active relationship between every church member and that person, and defines the goal and focus of church activity as enabling and enhancing these relationships with that central person.
When Christ was forging the Twelve into a brotherhood He did not start with a prescribed set of beliefs about Himself; He revealed Himself to twelve disciples, men intent on following Him and knowing Him deeply, and developed personal relationships with each of them. These relationships enabled the supernatural bonds between them that made them a spiritual family, eternal brothers.
The centrality of the person of Christ, rather than a doctrinal statement, enabled them to come to an organic unity in their beliefs about Christ over time without stifling their critical thinking and personal exploration of truth. It also required them to be in regular community together and to know one another deeply through accountable, transparent relationships, enabling and allowing them to both experience and encourage their respective walks with Christ.
The fact that every believer is indwelt by Christ, has Christ in them, and has their own unique relationship with Him, and yet is incomplete in their perfection in Christ, makes all believers in a Christ-centered church equally valuable and important, creating a healthy humility and interdependency among them all, encouraging all to participate, and leveling the playing field, so to speak.
Having Christ at the center encourages the mature to listen intently to Christ speaking in and through the young and less mature, seeking the unique revelation of Christ in them. It encourages all to tend to defer to the wisdom and godliness of the mature, as the younger observe their faith and walk with Christ up close and personal, and yet discourages the mature from dominating the rest. It encourages anyone sincerely seeking Christ to actively participate in the assembly of believers, and encourages all to hold others accountable, and to critically evaluate all that is being taught, everyone maintaining personal ownership of their own faith walk with Christ.
Yet in a doctrine-centered model, it’s easy for someone like Judas Iscariot, one without a committed, personal relationship with Christ, to externally agree with and promote a form of doctrine for ulterior motives. (power, greed, etc., as in Jn 12:6, speaking of Judas: “This he said, not that he cared for the poor; but because he was a thief, and had the bag, and bare what was put therein.”) Making agreement with a set of teachings the primary basis for fellowship discourages critical thinking about the teachings themselves and about truth in general, and displaces the need for regular, transparent, accountable relationships between members needed to facilitate and promote personal relationships with Christ.
When a set of particular beliefs about Christ becomes the foundation of a group, differences in doctrine that might not imply a lack of personal relationship with Christ, but which are inevitable among those of differing maturity levels and backgrounds, naturally become a basis for conflict, fear, disdain, disunity and fragmentation in the body of Christ. And since transparent, accountable relationships between the members are not essential in this design, it is relatively easy for those who are living in sin to infiltrate the group, remain undetected and eventually destroy it.
The centrality of the person of Christ, and a focus on the members assisting each other in their pursuit of Him, enables believers who are pursuing Christ together to encourage one another in walking with Christ without having to be in exact doctrinal agreement on all the particulars and nuances of their faith. This provides for personal growth, for organic, thoughtful unity, for personal ownership of faith, and enables and encourages critical thinking. It welcomes diversity rather than being fearful of it, yet also tends to expose, challenge and threaten those who are not seeking a vibrant, personal relationship with Christ and to purge them from the assembly.
Thus, having the correct foundation enables and facilitates God’s purpose in Creation: to prepare a people for Himself. (“Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it; that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church, not having spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing; but that it should be holy and without blemish.” Ep 5:25-27) Any other foundation defines something else, not the church.
As I continue to ponder this topic, I am beginning to see that we call “churches” in the west are really Christian synagogues. Like the Jewish synagogue, these organizations are controlled from the top down by a single leader (or a very small group); they focus their meetings on teaching, liturgy and passing on a certain tradition, culture and doctrine, and formal membership does not depend on an active, ongoing, earnest walk with Christ, but on assent to the creed and willingness to conform to group norms and support its leaders.
Such organizations are designed to include people who are not earnestly seeking Christ, and to control what happens in the assembly, ensuring that all teaching conforms to the accepted creed, rather than encouraging men to actively participate in and contribute to public discourse so as to reveal true beliefs such that all may be confirmed, challenged, exhorted, refined and/or corrected in their understanding. Rather than fostering critical thinking and examination of the evidence, per the Berean model, such organizations tend to promote group think and over-dependence on trained clergy for theological understanding.
Inevitably, such organizations become corrupt due to a desire for authority, power and control in the leadership, and a willingness on the part of the membership to delegate their spiritual responsibilities to clergy in return for a false promise of eternal safety. In this way, religion replaces divine relationship, and corrupts the church.