Church 2.0: Part 10.1: The church’s one foundation

Church2We’ve been covering an area of theology technically called soteriology, from sōtēr, meaning savior. It’s the doctrine of salvation.

But as we’ve dug deeply into soteriology, we’ve found ourselves bumping into another subject: ecclesiology, that is, the theology of the church — worship, organization, that sort of thing.

Now, as far as I’m concerned, one of best ways to discover God’s ecclesiology is through soteriology; that is, the church is a product of God’s initiative to save people. The church is deeply rooted in our salvation. We’re saved into the church, in fact, and so the two doctrines should fit together hand in glove. Foot in sock. And our soteriology should shape our churches.

Of course, historically, in the Churches of Christ, we’ve divorced the two doctrines. There are Five Steps of Salvation, which is what passes for our soteriology. And there are Five Acts of Worship and some rules about who should be appointed as elder or deacon. And Rom 16:16 — which evidently comes preprinted on our letterhead and bulletins —

(Rom. 16:16 ESV) 16 Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the churches of Christ greet you.

(Rom. 16:16 KJV) Salute one another with an holy kiss. The churches of Christ salute you.

The rule, of course, is that your church may bear any scriptural name, of which there are many, so long as the scriptural name is “Church of Christ” or “church of Christ” but not simply “church” because that sounds like a nondenominational community church, and we’re nondenominational but insist on being denominated “church of Christ” or “Church of Christ,” the capitalization being a futile effort to turn a proper noun into a common noun, which comes across, not as biblical insight, but denial.

And it’s not an exaggeration to say that our ecclesiology pretty much begins and ends with those few topics. The question we want to insist on is whether a church is “scripturally organized,” with the assumption being made, utterly without proof, that being organized correctly is a salvation question. Hence, we defend with great zeal the doctrines of congregational autonomy and the plurality of elders in a given church, while paying very little attention to what the Bible actually says about church organization, worship, the assembly, and such like.

We insist on weekly communion but have a very shallow doctrine as to the meaning and significance of the communion. We can discourse for hundreds of pages on why multiple cups are permitted (or damning), with barely a pause to ask what the cup should mean for our assembly, our worship, and our lives.

We are defined by the issues over which we’ve divided, rather than being defined by the One who unites us. We’ve created a massive body of doctrine focused on trivialities that distract us from the things that matter most. Such as unity. And love. Indeed, there are some among us who delight in disparaging the “grace-unity heresy” — as though grace and unity are somehow heretical.

Let me put it this way. If you can flip through the Yellow Pages for your town under “Churches” and not be in tears over the division that we advertise to the world, you’ve missed the point of a church built on a single foundation: Jesus Messiah.

(1 Cor. 3:11 ESV)  11 For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.

This is (ahem) the foundational principle of ecclesiology. All churches that are churches at all are built on the foundation of Jesus Messiah. The question we should ask is not whether a church is scripturally organized but whether it’s scripturally founded, that is, whether its foundation is Jesus. Right?

Not once in his 13 epistles does Paul ask whether a church is “scripturally organized.” In four Gospels, there’s not a single lesson from Jesus on how to scripturally organize a church.

The scriptures are always focused on the Foundation. On whom is the church built? It’s either Jesus or it’s not. And if its foundation is Jesus, then the church may be well built or poorly built, but it’s a church.

(1 Cor. 3:12-15 ESV) 12 Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — 13 each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done.  14 If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward.  15 If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire.

So how do we build a church on King Jesus as its foundation? Well, Paul has given us the answers earlier in 1 Corinthians (and we’ll be getting back to 3:12-15; please, be patient with me).

(1 Cor. 1:22-24 ESV)  22 For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom,  23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles,  24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 

(1 Cor. 1:30-2:1 ESV)  30 And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption,  31 so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”  

(1 Cor. 2:1-5 ESV) And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom.  2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.  3 And I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling,  4 and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power,  5 so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God. 

It’s about … soteriology. It’s about what is taught that allows you to be saved. It’s the gospel. It’s the Great Confession. It’s that Jesus is the Christ/Messiah/King, crucified and resurrected. It’s what — by definition — all Christians, all believers have in common. This is what all who are saved believe.

And thus there is one faith and one church with one Foundation — the Yellow Pages and our disgrace therein advertised notwithstanding.

Now, I dare you to mount an argument that we should be divided over —

  • baptism
  • apostolic succession
  • TULIP Calvinism
  • the use of the church treasury
  • the church’s name
  • the number of pastors a church may have
  • who may administer the sacraments

— without appealing to lofty speech, plausible words of wisdom, or the wisdom of men. Damning and dividing over such issues are means of exerting power over others. Crucifixion, on the other hand, is all about giving up power.

(Gal. 2:20 NET)  20 I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. So the life I now live in the body, I live because of the faithfulness of the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

The Greek for “crucified” is literally co-crucified. I have been co-crucified with the King. I died with him, giving up power and control and turning it all over to God. Jesus gave himself up for me, and so I gave myself up for him.

No demands. No damnations. No divisions. Just a single, foundational truth. Jesus died for me, and I responded by dying for him. Jesus is the foundation, and I’m added to that Foundation by faith in Jesus.

Any church built on anything else is not scripturally founded. And like a house built on sand, it will not stand. Rather, it will be so divided and factious that its true nature will be evident even in the Yellow Pages.

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From Heav’n He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

She is from every nation,
Yet one o’er all the earth;
Her charter of salvation,
One Lord, one faith, one birth;
One holy name she blesses,
Partakes one holy food,
And to one hope she presses,
With every grace endued.

The Church shall never perish!
Her dear Lord to defend,
To guide, sustain, and cherish,
Is with her to the end:
Though there be those who hate her,
And false sons in her pale,
Against both foe or traitor
She ever shall prevail.

Though with a scornful wonder
Men see her sore oppressed,
By schisms rent asunder,
By heresies distressed:
Yet saints their watch are keeping,
Their cry goes up, How long?
And soon the night of weeping
Shall be the morn of song!

’Mid toil and tribulation,
And tumult of her war,
She waits the consummation
Of peace forevermore;
Till, with the vision glorious,
Her longing eyes are blest,
And the great Church victorious
Shall be the Church at rest.

Yet she on earth hath union
With God the Three in One,
And mystic sweet communion
With those whose rest is won,
With all her sons and daughters
Who, by the Master’s hand
Led through the deathly waters,
Repose in Eden land.

O happy ones and holy!
Lord, give us grace that we
Like them, the meek and lowly,
On high may dwell with Thee:
There, past the border mountains,
Where in sweet vales the Bride
With Thee by living fountains
Forever shall abide!

— Samuel J. Stone

All the versions on YouTube seem to skip the verse that begins “Though with a scornful wonder …” But those words are original. The hymn book editors just thought there were more verses than we’d care to sing, and so they cut out the verse that probably speaks most poignantly to today’s church.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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10 Responses to Church 2.0: Part 10.1: The church’s one foundation

  1. Price says:

    Amen !!! One thought.. Paul mentions several times about the “church in their house” and mentions them by name.. Priscilla and Aquilla for instance.. others are named…. Probably out of convenience and the room capacity….. there were probably several “churches” in any given city.. So having separate “churches” doesn’t seem to be talked about in a negative fashion… But, when they all came together…they were one… Wouldn’t it be great for all the churches in Tuscaloosa to come together to do something besides watch a football game !! (Thanks for the Coach by the way.. Didn’t think we needed one but whatever.) All you need is a really great purpose and food.. Imagine the amount of green bean casserole that would be there…. Seems like the only time I can remember that churches joined hands was in response to Hurricane Katrina… and there was some mouthing off about it by some..

  2. Mark says:

    Very well written, Jay.
    Great Songs of the Church from the 1970s (old blue book) has the verse. The other omitted verse contains “with God the three in one”. This gets too close to the Trinity, which catches certain people off guard when they sing Holy, Holy, Holy! in a high church and “God in three persons, blessed Trinity” shows up.

    https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=t1GQVX4J8d4
    The link has the omitted verse sung.

    Isaiah ch 1 and Amos ch 5 both say the God hates the assembly, offerings, sacrifices, etc. and that the people are to make themselves clean and Isaiah says in 1:17 (English Revised Version) “learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow.” This sounds like social justice.

  3. laymond says:

    There are many songs written by man that are not proper to use as worship of God.

  4. George Guild says:

    Very Good!

  5. Larry Cheek says:

    The Lord built the foundation. The building upon that foundation is directed to anyone. Most believe that the one to do that building is the church, but the context denies that, stating “anyone” and the church accumulative will not receive a reward and have it’s works tried by fire. There is only one church which is the body to which all individual Christians are associated (or added to by God). Individuals are the anyone, the ones, the himself, the each one and the he of (1 Cor. 3:12-15 ESV) quoted above.
    If there is work that an individual should do which will have to survive to be of any value (not suffer loss).
    There is a reward for working, but there would be no reward for no work.
    Would it be wrong for a Christian to work towards a reward? Was Paul not running a race? Did he expect a reward?
    To work because there will be a reward should not void the service or work of love. You know, the concept that working because of love is only validated when the laborer does not receive a reward. Doesn’t even a slave receive a reward for his work even if he loves his master?

  6. laymond says:

    I am sure there is one here who can explain the following verse to everyone’s satisfaction.

    Mat 16:18 And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

    Seems to me Jesus had just called Peter (a rock, or the rock) immediately before he said the foundation of his church would be built upon “this rock” . and peter would have the keys to the kingdom.

  7. Profile photo of Kevin Kevin says:

    It occurred to me today that many in COCs have simply left our first love. Like the church at Ephesus in Rev 2, we have replaced love for the Messiah and for our fellow Christians with ecclesiology. In some cases, “sound doctrine” has become our God.

    Grant Osborne’s comments in his comm. on Rev in BECNT seem very appropriate:
    “It is clear that the Ephesians loved truth more than they loved God or one another. This does not mean that they were not believers or that they had no love at all, for the commendations of verses 2–3 would be impossible in that case. Rather, their early love had grown cold and been replaced with a harsh zeal for orthodoxy.”

  8. Larry Cheek says:

    Kevin,
    A very powerful observation.

  9. Price says:

    Kevin, thanks for sharing that… Couldn’t agree more..

  10. Dwight says:

    Laymond,
    technically, Peter was the rock, but the rock that Jesus said he would build the church upon was different in Greek for (Peter was Petros), but the “rock” was Petra. Jesus didn’t call Peter “this”, but the “this” was referring to the statement that Peter had just stated “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”, which Jesus just congratulated Peter on.
    But I suppose as you don’t believe that Jesus was the Son of God, then technically there is no congregation or church, as one was the foundation of the other.
    Kevin,
    I find this thought in the church. We teach the Bible and not Jesus or we teach sin and not grace. We, like the Jewish leaders and Pharisees, often care more about the law then the people the law was for.

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