Friday, August 05, 2005

What makes Church? 7 - Foundations

Foundational teaching is among the most important things that make up the stability and vitality of church. It can make the difference between a handful of cheery believers who think this idea of Emerging Church (or Messianic, or whatever) is a cool idea and get on for the ride; and a committed taskforce that all know who they are, what they are, and where they're going. Both groups, by our definition, are "church", but the second one will stay together much longer.

The true foundation is Yeshua. All foundational teaching will focus on Him, and will plant us firmly on who He is. In one way, it's a simple concept -- simple enough for new believers to know which direction to begin going without complicating the issue.

However, if we consider that the entire Bible, both Old and New Testaments also focuses on Yeshua, we realise that there's more to it than meets the eye. If we further realise that to understand the Old Testament helps us to understand the New, and thus roots us all the more deeply in Yeshua, we realise that we may have a ways to go to being firmly built on the Foundation.

The Messianic movement has done a valuable job in returning us to our foundations. By highlighting the Jewish source of our faith, we can now see a few things in perspective. Some may feel that they are among those complicating the issue. However, the issue became complicated long before they arrived on the scene. If anything, they're helping to un-complicate things.

We have to understand that the writers of the Gospels and the Epistles were Jewish. As revolutionary as their message was, it was rooted in Jewish culture, and in a Jewish understanding of divine revelation. But somehow, we've lost that. We no longer look at biblical revelation with a Jewish mind, but with a Greek philosopher's mind. How did this happen?

I'll answer with a short history:

To the rabbis, what Yeshua and His apostles had to say was quite radical -- radical enough for many of them to reject it outright as heresy. The early believers knew that their message was radical. The idea of Gentiles being accepted as equals without them having to become Torah observant, was extreme!

The Gentile believers knew that their new found faith was radical for their Jewish brethren. In fact, they were warned, by Paul et al, to be on guard for some of their Jewish brethren of the old school who would try to make them Torah observant. So they were. They knew they were radical.

But how radical? some of them wondered. Can we be this radical? Can we dump everything that Judaism ever taught and base our understanding on Greek style logic? By the time they were asking loud enough to be heard, the original writers of the New Testament had already passed from the scene. The majority of the Messianic population was now Gentile. So, they began to interpret the whole of the New Testament and as much of the Old Testament as they could using mathematical logic learned from Plato and Aristotle (in fact, they even began forcing Jewish believers to become Gentiles!). Because Paul sounded more Greek than the rest, and was, after all, the one who told the Gentile believers to avoid being forced into Torah observance, his epistles were understood as being foundational to Christian belief. The Gospels, because they made Yeshua sound Jewish, was understood to being targetted to Old Testament Judaism, and not to New Testament Christians. They were only good for historical value. But the real meat was the Pauline epistles.

Unfortunately, this was the theological equivalent of mistaking the window and door frames, the drywall and the roofing material for the foundation of a building, and using the foundational material for decoration.

Consider that when the New Testament writers talked about the scripture, they were referring to the Torah and the Prophets and other Old Testament writings. Only Peter, shortly before he and the other New Testament writers passed from the scene, referred to Paul's epistles as "scripture", but also said they were easy to misunderstand, and that many had twisted them out of context to their own destruction (II Peter 3:15,16). This means that one has to have a good foundational knowledge of God's revelation in Yeshua before they can understand Paul's epistles.

Yeshua said in Matthew 7, "He who hears these words of mine (i.e. the Gospels), and does them is like a man building on the foundation". Hebrews 6 gives us a list of what the foundations are, referring to them as the "elementary principals of Messiah": Repentance, faith, baptisms, laying on of hands, resurrection and eternal judgement. The Gospels open up with repentance and faith. The General Epistles, James, Peter's and John's epistles, and Jude also deal directly with faith and repentance and the other foundations.

For example, they give us a good definition of faith. The Pauline epistles talk about faith, but they don't supply a definition.

If we were to go straight to Ephesians chapter 2, and forget James 3, we would read, "By grace you are saved through faith...not of works." Later on, if we read James, who says, "Faith without works is dead," we'd think the two passages were contradictory.

In the mean time, our faith might not amount to very much. We would think, "Yeah, I believe. I said the sinner's prayer, so I'm saved. I can claim every spiritual blessing in Messiah," while living a very carnal life. Anytime someone pointed out our carnality, we'd retort, "Salvation isn't of works! I'm saved by faith!"

However, if we established our definition of what faith is by understanding the message of James, then we'd know what kind of faith Paul is talking about when he says we're saved by faith.

We're not saved by works, but real faith that saves will produce works. A life based on true faith will be readily distinguishable from a life that isn't. James and I John is full of that.

When many pollsters today tell us that the life of the average "born again" Christian looks no different from that of an average non-Christian, that tells us that we've got our foundation all wrong.

p.s. I've got a project underway, writing series of study outlines that cover foundational truth. It begins in the Old Testament, and takes us into the New. It's not complete yet, but I'm sure you could learn a lot. Click here...

This is the last in the What Makes Church? series. I haven't covered the subheading Worship yet, but there's so much good material out there on that already, and I don't feel I have anything to add to it. However, I'm sure we'll discuss issues related to this and the othe subheadings, and more besides, in future posts.

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