"For another foundation no one is able to lay besides that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Cor. 3:11).
". . . for upon this rock I will build My church . . ." (Matt. 16:18b).
I think we all can agree that the foundation of the church is none other than the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is the basis of our "confession of faith" which is based upon the revelation Peter received. However, I believe that we have taken these statements made by Jesus and Paul and not only missed their meaning, but have also missed their application. In this article, I will attempt to clear up the confusion and misapplication about foundation.
As I see it, organized Christianity has made two huge mistakes in this area.
- Failing to understand the deeper meaning of Jesus Christ being the foundation of the Church
- Failing to lay a proper foundation of Christ before building the structures and programs
Let's take a look at these in this same order.
The Deeper Meaning of Christ as the Foundation
What exactly does it mean to make Jesus Christ the foundation of the Church? Well, based upon what we see as we look at the history of mainstream Christianity, I would have to say the following.
The foundation of the church is based upon doctrine, teachings, and bible studies about Jesus Christ. These are usually based upon knowing Christ after the flesh. That is, learning about the man, Jesus of Nazareth, who lived two thousand years ago and walked the shore of Galilee. If we study the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, John), and are taught by "authorized" men who have gone through bible college and been ordained" by the Church, then we can have a foundation. The foundation is learning doctrine about Christ.
I believe this concept of the foundation to be shallow and falling way too short of the biblical meaning. In fact, Peter's confession proves that the foundation could not be about doctrine and knowing about the earthly life of Jesus. Peter and the other disciples lived and walked with Jesus for three and a half years. It appears that they were with him at least ninety-five percent of the time during that period. But after all that, Jesus asked two questions that revealed His true heart:
"Have I been so long a time with you, and you have not known Me, Philip?" (John 14:9a)
"But you, who do you say that I am?" (Matt. 16:15)
These questions reveal to us that our Lord desires to be known by us in a much deeper way than by doctrines and intellectual assimilation. Peter had walked and lived with the Lord all that time. Surely, he knew about the earthly life of Jesus. He had heard all the teachings. And yet, the Lord asks him, who am I? And what he received from the Father was a revelation, not just a teaching. Oh, please do not misunderstand me. I am not against teaching. The gospel must be preached and taught. But that in and of itself is not enough. We must all receive a personal revelation of the identity of our Lord and our identity in Him. This revelation of Christ is the foundation of the true Church.
Much of our teaching is just shallow fluff about the earthly life of Christ. But who is He really? Why did He do the things He did? What is His heart? What is His passion? What about the present living Lord? What is He doing now? Who is He in you? What is He doing in you now? How are you experiencing Him and touching Him right now?
It's these kinds of questions that propel us into a deeper experiential knowledge of Christ. Paul, at the end of his life, said the he wanted to know Him.
"To know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings . . " (Phil. 3:10)
This is the kind of foundation that Paul, as a wise master builder, laid in Corinth and in every church that he worked with. His foundation was Jesus Christ, Himself, not just a doctrine about Him. Knowing Him and touching Him intimately is the stuff the foundation is made of. A revelation of this Christ in you is extremely important.
The Cart before the Horse
First, we must understand that the Person of Jesus Christ, and knowing that Person by revelation and experience is the foundation of the church. This is the "rock" upon which He builds.
And . . .
This is the first thing to be established!
Obviously, when you go to build a house, the first thing you do is lay the foundation. Can you imagine building a house with no foundation? That would be ridiculous. And yet, that is exactly what we have done all throughout organized Christianity! We have tried to build on the sand instead of on the rock. We have not had the strong knowledge attained by personal encounter with the living Lord. Our foundation is weak or non existent and so our walls are collapsing into the sand.
We try to build the walls of our programs and structures on absolutely nothing! We try to evangelize our neighbors and yet there is no house to bring them into. Why? Because the walls all fell into the sand. No foundation! It's like a floating arm that is trying to reach out and bring people in, but there is no body to bring them into. There is no body life because there is no foundation. We do good works by helping the poor, the handicapped, the elderly, orphans, widows, unwed mothers, etc. But these things are not done according to spirit and life because there has been no foundation laid.
If there has been no foundation of Christ laid, then we will build with wood, hay, and stubble. There will not only be a missing foundation, but the house itself will be extremely flimsy. (Remember the story of the three little pigs?)
This means that if we do not have a strong and deep foundation of Christ Himself, then we will build with the materials of the flesh. This will include our natural minds, concepts, and backgrounds. But if we have the true foundation, then we will build with gold, silver, and precious stones. The gold represents the divine life of the Father. The silver represents the redemptive work of the Son. And the precious stones represent the transforming work of the Spirit. (See I Cor. 3 for references.)
The house has a much better chance of standing up against the prevailing winds if it has a proper foundation. But the foundation must be the life and person of Jesus Christ Himself and knowing Him deeply. And the foundation must come first!