Flatlander Faith

Apologetics from an Anabaptist perspective

Tag Archives: foundation

Do people make a church?

A church leader once told me “We have never seen it happen that a church would begin to drift away from the truth and then recover itself. When you see a church begin to drift, it’s time to get out and start over again.”

I have observed a lot of getting out and starting again over the years. Some people have given up on the whole idea of church and just meet at home with a few family or friends.

Where is Jesus in all of this? When Jesus said “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” He meant it. Why are  many people today so ready to believe that the gates of hell have prevailed against the church?

The rock is Jesus Himself, not Peter, not the words that Peter spoke. This is made plain when we consider other verses:
1 Corinthians 3:11: For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
Isaiah 28:16: Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner stone, a sure foundation: he that believeth shall not make haste.
Acts 4:11: This is the stone which was set at nought of you builders, which is become the head of the corner.

The New Testament portrays the church as a building or temple with Jesus as the foundation or corner stone, or as a body, of which Jesus is the head.

Jesus is the architect, the foundation and the builder of the church. Nowhere in the Bible do we read that we mere mortals are called upon to build the church, nor that we are capable of doing so.

People are running to and fro today, trying to find a church that fits their concept of what the church should be. Time after time they are disappointed.

I have been there and done that. After many such disappointments, I began to understand that while I had been searching for a church that fit my design, Jesus had been searching for people like me that He could form and shape to fit into the church that He has designed.

A little humility is in order here. We may be born again and be doing our best to live a life that conforms to our idea of what a Christian should be. But is our idea the same as Jesus’ idea? Just being willing to ask that question might break through our pride and stubbornness and allow Jesus to lead us to something far better than we could attain by our own efforts.

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The community of believers

The New Testament depicts the church as a building which has Christ as its foundation, and as a body of which Christ is the head. In both of these illustrations it is evident that the church is much more than the sum of its members. The reputation of the church should be based upon the reputation of Jesus Christ, not on the reputation of its members or its pastors.

If the church is a building (a temple), then all the elements of the building must be linked to the foundation and joined together in such a way that each part helps to hold the building up. A ramshackle building with pieces falling off and holes in the walls would not give one much confidence that this is the church of the Living God.

If we view the church as a body, then to see this body with arms and legs flailing about because of a dysfunction in the nervous system that does not allow them to receive coordinated direction from the head would give a similarly dismaying picture.

Yet isn’t this pretty much the picture that is given by the so-called “invisible church”? It seems that every joint and sinew has a different doctrine of how the body should function. The result is frenetic activity, but very little forward movement. The world looks on bemusedly and wonders where God is in all this confusion, or if there even is a God.

Yet God is at work. Many good and wonderful things are happening through men and women who are earnestly serving God and their fellow men. May God be praised for His goodness and mercy.

There are others who have become sidetracked by the love of acclaim and financial rewards. Sometimes there are spectacular flame-outs that bring the whole Christian enterprise into disrepute. There are others zealously promoting man-made doctrines that cause confusion, discord and ridicule.

The New Testament pattern is of a close-knit community of true believers, where each one seeks the well-being of the others and none are motivated by a desire for praise or gain. The spiritual leaders are servants, not lords. Decisions are made by unitedly seeking direction from the Holy Spirit.

There are times when such a body may seem to have almost fallen asleep as it considers the circumstances before it and examines all angles and possibilities. When direction comes, the body can move quickly and God will bless and uphold the steps that are taken.

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God; and are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: in whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:19-22).

Unstable as water

Water is essential to life on this planet. The Bibles applies the life-giving properties of water in a spiritual sense when it speaks of the river of life and of the water and blood that poured from Jesus’ side, .

There is also a dangerous side to water, such as Jacob’s description of Reuben, his oldest son: “Unstable as water, thou shalt not excel.” (Genesis 49:4)

The Bible uses this turbulent, ever-changing nature of water as an illustration of the character of the world that does not know God. Such as this passage from Isaiah: “But the wicked are like the troubled sea, when it cannot rest, whose waters cast up mire and dirt. There is no peace, saith my God, to the wicked” (Isaiah 57:20-21). James says: “But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. A double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:6-8) In Ephesians 4:4, the apostle Paul writes: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.”

The book of Revelation speaks figuratively of a seductive woman who deceives the inhabitants of the earth, and makes war with the saints. Revelation 17:1 depicts her as being seated upon many waters, then verse 15 says: “The waters which thou sawest, where the whore sitteth, are peoples, and multitudes, and nations, and tongues. ”

Chapter 13 begins by telling us of a beast that arises from these waters. The beast blasphemes God and yet is worshipped by all the people of the earth, except those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.

Dry land in Scripture is a symbol of stability, a solid place where a foundation can be laid for the people who believe in God — a place where we can be rooted and grounded in the faith and worship the one who never changes. Yet chapter 13 also tells of a beast arising from the dry land. This depicts a deformed, corrupt Christianity rising among the people of God that imitates many of the teachings and practices of the first beast which came out of the waters of heathendom.

The world’s standards of right and wrong are always changing. Today we are told that certain abominable things are right and good and if we don’t agree, then we are enemies of the truth. Tomorrow the values will change, but the people of God will still be the enemies of the world.

Beloved, think it not strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings; that, when his glory shall be revealed, ye may be glad also with exceeding joy. If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy are ye; for the spirit of glory and of God resteth upon you: on their part he is evil spoken of, but on your part he is glorified. But let none of you suffer as a murderer, or as a thief, or as an evildoer, or as a busybody in other men’s matters. Yet if any man suffer as a Christian, let him not be ashamed; but let him glorify God on this behalf. For the time is come that judgment must begin at the house of God: and if it first begin at us, what shall the end be of them that obey not the gospel of God? And if the righteous scarcely be saved, where shall the ungodly and the sinner appear?”  (1 Peter 4:12-18)

A second foundation?

Why are there so many churches? One part of the explanation can be found in what has been described as “the unpaid bills of the church.” One church may have had a rigid hierarchical structure, allowing little liberty for the free working of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the members. A portion of the membership withdraws and decides to organize on a congregational basis. Perhaps the ordained ministry is still too authoritarian, and another group organizes on the basis of church government by elders from the laity. The work of the Holy Spirit is still not evident, thus another, more charismatic, group emerges.

Some churches were formed by immigrants of a particular ethnic origin and some of the traditions of that ethnic group are still regarded as an essential part of Christian life. There are yet other churches that seem to be mostly united by what they see as wrong in other churches.

All of this is an unfortunate part of church history and the present church scene. We all say we are founded solely on the foundation of the Lord Jesus Christ, yet somehow it seems that in may cases a second foundation has developed which is hidden from the view of those who take their stand upon it.

What is the answer? First of all, only “lively stones” (1 Peter 2:5) can be part of a living church. That is, those who are truly born again, led by the Holy Spirit and submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. These are the material that Jesus can use to build His church.  He is both the foundation and the head of this church. As such people are placed together in the walls of God’s spiritual house, they will bond together on the basis of their common relationship with Jesus.

In the church that Jesus is building, fellowship between the members must be solely based on this one foundation. Some of the members may have a common ethnic heritage and relate with each other from time to time on this basis. There is nothing wrong with this, but it should not be mistaken for Christian fellowship. It is merely a social fellowship. Other points of contact may exist on the basis of trade, education, historical relationships, etc. This goes with being part of the human family, the spiritual relationship between believers of like precious faith should outrank all other relationships.

May God open our eyes to see whether we are in some ways basing our Christian lives on another foundation, rather than solely on the foundation of our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ.

Two or three gathered together doth not a church make

Why do people stop going to church?  Could it be because so may churches are not really churches?  Matthew 18:20 does not speak about Christians gathering for worship.  It is a continuation of the passage beginning at verse 15 and speaks of the testimony of two or three witnesses in discipling a wayward brother.  A big problem today is the notion of a church as a loose association rather than a brotherhood of disciples.

Jesus said: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18).  What rock?  Paul gives the answer: “For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11); “And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone” (Ephesians 2:20).

What does it mean to be built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ?  Is it enough to have prayed the sinner’s prayer at some moment in one’s life?  Is it enough to give a testimony once in a while?  Go on a short term missionary trip?  Will tithing help?

“Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?”  Do we ever wonder whether we are honest in the way we answer that question?

“Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven.”  How do we know if we are doing the will of the Father?  “ I have yet many things to say unto you, but ye cannot bear them now.  Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth: for he shall not speak of himself; but whatsoever he shall hear, that shall he speak: and he will shew you things to come.”

A church that is not squarely and solely built upon the foundation of Jesus Christ and which is not guided by the Holy Spirit in teaching and practising all the counsel of the Father, is a church that leaves people feeling restless, unfulfilled, and unsatisfied.

A church that takes people into membership based on a self-authenticated testimony of being a child of God will be a church that cannot help its members grow in their Christian life.  They try many substitutes to make people feel enthused and involved, but eventually the enthusiasm fades and the involvement becomes burdensome.

The church that Jesus is building will try to make everyone who enters her doors feel welcome, but will carefully examine those who apply for membership to see that they are truly born again, Holy Spirit-led children of God.  The apostle Paul describes this church as a body, with Christ as the head and the whole body functioning in obedience to the head and with love for one another.

“Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: that we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; but speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: from whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love”  (Ephesians 4:13-16).

This church will be known by the love among her members, the faithful preaching and teaching of the whole gospel and by her ability to discern and discipline sin in the membership.  This last part is not very fashionable today, yet there are many who testify of their thankfulness for the loving care of their brethren when they had fallen into sin.

“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments.  For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.  For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:2-4).

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