Every person’s faith is built on a foundation. I don’t think most people spend a lot of time thinking about that foundation. I am sure that I never did. It was just there, underlying everything I knew to be true.
But as I’ve begun to actually think about it, I find that the foundation turns out to be quite extensive. Somewhat like a house on soft ground, the foundation in some ways may be the most massive part of the house. It penetrates deeply into the soil to reach down to solid rock, and extends upward so that the living areas of the house are well clear of the terrain around it.
A foundation is also rather central to the form of the house. After a builder determines what he wants the house to look like, the foundation is designed to precisely match the house. You can’t change the house arrangement without changing the foundation that holds it up.
But what happens when someone else lays the foundation?
The Builders That Went Before
In 1 Corinthians 3:10, Paul writes “like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it.” He understood his role as building a foundation, not the house itself.
I think in our walk through the Kingdom, we almost always start with someone else’s foundation. I don’t imagine anyone who makes a choice to follow Jesus ever does so in a vacuum – someone always has invited them in, not just to the Kingdom, but to that someone’s own understanding of the Kingdom. So long before we arrived on the scene, quite a few elements of our spiritual foundation had been laid.
Events in the time the Bible was written started the foundation. Moses set the first layer of the foundation when he wrote the Pentateuch, and Joshua and others added layers when they wrote the history books. Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John certainly laid much foundation when they recorded Jesus’ history. Then Paul and others laid many layers of foundation on those lower layers, contextualizing and shaping what had come before.
Constantine laid some more of it in the 300’s AD, when he made the Christian faith part of the classical Roman empire. Then, over centuries, various councils and church-related groups formed the Bible we know today, choosing to include or exclude certain books. The early Roman Popes laid some foundation – even for Protestants – in their structuring of the Holy Roman Empire and its many practices and traditions. Calvin, for many Protestants, laid a huge part of it, in his writings and teaching, as did many other theologians. On top of all that, our various denominations laid quite a bit of the foundation closest to us, in determining how we interpret the Bible. Our parents or spiritual mentors built on top of that foundation, determining how we interacted with our denomination’s teaching. Our various pastors or priests or bishops further laid some of it, refining and shaping our views of all those things that preceded us. And likely, our friends laid some of it as we worked out our salvation in practical life together.
So we arrive in our current life sitting atop a rather massive, extensive, deep foundation with many layers. Our own faith, built on all that foundation, is deeply shaped by what lies beneath. We cannot build anywhere other than the foundation – or it will be unsupported and shaky, and won’t survive even the slightest disturbance.
And usually, that’s a good thing. There is a deep sense of stability to understanding where we stand, where our spiritual house is built. We feel as if we cannot be shaken. We all love the parable of the house built on the rock, from Matthew 7:24-27, and we try to be like the wise man. Nobody wants the waves and the wind to wash their house away.
But that foundation isn’t always a good thing.
A Flawed Foundation?
Consider that when we think about “The House Built On The Rock,” we tend to think of the house as being directly connected to the rock – to Jesus’ teachings very directly. In our mind, there’s probably not much other foundation there – we implicitly think of the rock itself as the foundation. But as I described above, there are in fact quite a few layers of foundation sitting between us and that rock. And those layers are not necessarily either solid or shaped right. Even if we don’t take time to think about it, every one of those layers might have flaws, be misshapen, or themselves not be fully built on the rock we think they’re built on.
If you’re Roman Catholic, you probably read a Bible with 73 books, not the 66 which most Protestants observe. That’s a rather different foundation for the two groups, who both consider themselves Christian.
Or if you’re a Protestant, consider how things looked to Martin Luther. He observed in 1517 that a lot of the foundation under which the church was operating – starting with Constantine’s adoption of Christianity 1200 years before – was flawed. The rock was there, but Luther disagreed with quite a bit that had been built on top of the rock. He chose to dismantle – deconstruct, maybe – quite a few layers of the foundation that had been nearly universally accepted before he arrived. In fact, Luther didn’t want to include the books of James, Hebrews, Jude, or Revelation. He built a different foundation, and as others adopted and extended it, that foundation eventually branched off into a completely different pathway that resulted in Protestant denominations like the Methodists and Episcopals and Presbyterians and Baptists, who thoughtfully rejected the Roman Catholic foundations.
But each of these denominations had their own foundational understandings, often at odds with each other. For example, some Baptists tend to interpret doctrine from only the King James Bible, which puts a certain emphasis on some foundational things not accepted by other denominations – and each denomination has similar peculiar foundations.
Interestingly, Luther didn’t completely reject the foundation that Constantine had built. He didn’t actually even reject Roman Catholicism – he wanted to reform it, not replace it. So even in that deeply shaking moment of 95 Theses, there were many layers that did not shift. The Protestant rebuilding was done by others, starting from Luther’s foundation, which necessarily included the foundation underlying it.
As another example, consider the disruption in Acts when God gave Peter the vision of “arise, kill and eat” and required him to accept fellowship with Gentiles. His religious world view had been built on a certain foundation of how non-Jews were to be treated, and God shook that foundation pretty hard. It was meant to disrupt their religious system, welcoming all tribes and tongues and nations into the family of God. So Peter and the other apostles had to start pretty far down the foundation and rebuild their understanding of the Kingdom and the Gospel. And as they did so, they discovered that the Lord had always said he intended to do just that – but the foundation built by men was misshapen, and needed to be adjusted to fit God’s plan.
I’ve begun thinking of this foundation concept in somewhat modern terms, as an extensive wall of multiple layers of cinderblocks. If you’re familiar with the building trades, it’s clear that not just the shape, but also the stability of the building above is determined by the shape and stability of the foundation. If you start dislodging or repositioning cinderblocks at any level, stuff above that level gets disrupted also.
If you poke at a cinderblock at the topmost level of the foundation, closest to the building itself, not much will be affected – maybe a couple feet of wall will need new reinforcement.
But the further back in history you go – the further down the foundation – when you move a single cinderblock, the two above it both get disrupted. Then the three above those two get disrupted, and the four above those three, and so forth. The deeper down you poke at the foundation, the more disruption happens above it.
In fact, if you go far enough down, and you move a single block, you may find an entire wing of the house is suddenly unsupported. It may be a beautiful room or section of the house, perfectly decorated, very well maintained – but you’re affecting a large structure by messing with just one cinderblock. When God challenged Peter’s understanding of who was eligible to join the Kingdom, that one fairly simple change required a fairly radical rebuilding of their theology.
Don’t Mess with Success
So, I think it’s pretty intimidating to most people to think about a foundation with anything other than complete confidence. We don’t want to mess with what works – or at least, with what appears to work. Even if we haven’t thought through the interactions fully, we have a native or intuitive sense that it’s dangerous to poke at the foundation. One might even say we’re afraid to question our foundational beliefs.
And in fact, I’ve heard that kind of language in church circles many times. “You don’t want to question that. Who knows how far you’ll end up going? You could lose your faith entirely. Don’t risk becoming apostate!” I’ve also heard it in political discussions too: “You might end up becoming a Democrat or Republican or Fascist or Socialist or Communist or Marxist – or whatever boogeyman your particular political views regard as most dangerous or anathema.
I readily admit I don’t have proof that this is how anyone thinks – but I deeply suspect it’s true, based on how I have felt about questioning my own beliefs, and how I hear others talking about such questioning.
Moving Those Cinderblocks
Starting in 2019, I began hearing many prophetic voices that I trust saying “Everything that can be shaken will be shaken.” Naturally that was very intimidating – not many people love disruption – but it should really be followed by the second half of the verse, “so that only that which cannot be shaken will remain.” (Hebrews 12:27) Those prophetic voices were saying that God Himself was after a reshaping of His people, into an unshakable Kingdom.
Coming out of 2019 into 2020, having just undergone a radical reshaping of my own character, I began to welcome the process of shaking. It’s not that I love being shaken – it’s that I love Truth and was willing to have God shake me and my assumptions, so that only the parts of my character and my beliefs which accurately reflect His glory may remain.
So I began to welcome having my beliefs challenged.
What I’ve begun to realize is that my beliefs are not just the spiritual house which I built atop the foundation.
Instead, the vast majority of my spiritual beliefs are in fact that extensive, yet almost forgotten foundation underlying my house. They’re so deep that I never thought to evaluate them, to see if in fact they were pleasing to God Himself. I just assumed that, if I’d been given them by other men and women of good character and conscience, they MUST be correct.
But the more I’ve poked at my foundations, the more I realize that even those who gave me my foundation were resting their own houses on the same foundation as mine. If they’d never gone through the hard, painful work of actually carefully evaluating those foundations, all the way back to the bedrock itself, then just like Luther, they might be failing to question something that actually did deserve to be questioned.
And this is where the problem really arises.
As I poke at the foundation, when I see a cinderblock that doesn’t look like God meant it to be there, if I move it then it’s naturally going to disrupt whatever rests upon it.
And not many people like disruption.
It can be divisive.
And if you’ve not personally undertaken to evaluate your own foundation, then you’re not likely to appreciate your friend poking at the foundation. Because your house rests on the same set of cinderblocks as his – when he tells you that some cinderblock way down in the foundation needs to be moved, he’s messing with your house too.
So “pushback” is expected. I can’t be surprised when others resist this cinderblock moving process. They haven’t been convicted of the need to move it, and they very naturally see the process as full of error and likely to disrupt what appears to them to be properly built and supported.
So here I am. I’m looking at each cinderblock, all the way down to the ones that rest directly on bedrock. And I’m finding quite a few that look out of place to me. Some are obvious, but others are subtle. It’s not so much that those cinderblocks themselves look wrong or misplaced. But instead, I am looking all the way up at my house, and finding that a number of rooms are deeply out of place, or full of cracks in the walls from lack of support, or are not serving the needs of my community and family. By looking at the imperfect building, it’s clear that something in the foundation must in fact be wrong.
As a result, I find a need to do the deep dive into what foundation is actually supporting that room or feature of my spiritual house, until I find those cinderblocks way down in the foundation that really are not where they should be. In essence, the house is revealing the flaws in the foundation.
Put into another familiar Biblical analogy, I can now see that my tree is bearing some bad fruit. I could just ask the Lord to chop off those branches bearing the bad fruit, so that other healthy branches would grow. But I suspect that won’t work. Since it would be growing from the same root, I know that the branch that grows in its place will have the same problem. So, I have to look at the root of the tree. If a root is drawing from bad soil or water, I need to move that root, not the branch. And that shakes the whole tree – but that is a price I’m willing to pay to bear GOOD fruit instead.
Like I said, this process is perceived as disruptive, and understandably so.
The church at large seems to be in a bit of an uproar over this process of “deconstruction.” The word exploded into the wider church consciousness in the last few months, even showing up in the Twittersphere and secular media, but it’s merely a word that describes this exact process I’m talking about: moving cinderblocks in the foundation of my faith, being more interested in correcting those foundational flaws than I might be concerned about the shaking effects it has on the house.
Because ultimately, I have to choose between not disrupting the status quo, or instead rebuilding my foundation so that the house is well-suited to be what the Lord wants it to be – or in that other analogy, moving the roots of my tree so that I can bear good fruit.
I fully understand the desire not to disrupt things. After all, the church – the house, or the tree – are serving the needs of a lot of people. If we disrupt, we fear that people won’t be served.
But I think I’m looking further out, at that time in the future when things are finally correct – and I’m confident that the fruit will be greater and more pleasant, and the house will be properly ready to receive those it’s meant to shelter and warm and feed.
What if – really, what if – the people are being served poorly, or inaccurately, because the foundation is wrong? Are we not doing more harm than good in some cases? Is it possible that all the things we do and build on that foundation have far less value than we thought, because they’re not what God meant to build?
So I’m willing to go through this process of moving cinderblocks, fully aware that it’s neither popular nor pleasant, because I can’t see any way of becoming what I’m meant to be unless I am willing to suffer this disruption and even be the source of discomfort for others. I will do what I can to minimize it, but it’s a necessary price for the greater glory of God and His Kingdom.