mardi 17 octobre 2017

How to Train New Christians: Building on Firm Foundation

Image result for eternal tree
I have a net feeling that something has gone wrong in the way we have trained our new comers in Christ. I suspect the problem has been in the foundational doctrines and teachings, they have received. If I ask some Christian teachers in charge of training the new generation of Christians, "what is in your teaching curriculum?", What do you think they would say? I suspect it won't be far from what they gave me when I was in my early Christian life more than two decades ago. They typically taught me: How to Prayer, the importance of reading the Bible, How to be a witness for the faith, Going to church,etc.

May I suggest that all these items enumerated are indeed foundational tools to live and to do Christian works but they remain mostly tools of operation and not foundational teachings (doctrines) of the Christian faith. These should indeed be taught but not as a substitute to Christian foundational doctrines. I will explain what I mean shortly.

WHAT IS A FOUNDATION?

Foundations are what gives our infrastructures stabilities and resilience during harsh weather and environmental turmoil such as earthquakes, tsunamis and else. What is true of man's structures such as buildings or houses is equally true for plants. Plants need roots. The deeper the roots, the stronger the tree, and the more resistant it will be to any attempt to be uprooted.

I believe that what is true about men's creation, is equally true about God's creation in general and notably Man. All of us need 'roots', foundations in order to navigate this life with confidence and equilibrium. If the natural man requires a foundation to sustain himseelf, how much more the spiritual man who have  to deal with both worlds (the natural world and the spiritual world)?

After all, the Psalmist recognized the need for a foundation to the spiritual man, "When the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" - Psalm 11:3 ISV

SEARCHING FOR THE BELIEVERS FOUNDATION 

Luckily for us, we do not have to err and guess what would constitute the firm foundation a believer need. The first Christian community knew what was their foundation which they considered to be solid (2Timothy 2:19). And to a large extent the modern Christian community also knows that this solid foundation is none other than the one who redeemed us.
"After all, no one can lay any other foundation than the one that is already laid, and that is Jesus the Messiah." - 1 Corinthians 3:11 ISV
The person of Jesus Christ is the solid foundation on which Christians of all ages find comfort, solace and stability in this hostile world that has never ceased to provoke, persecute and ultimately martyr believers.

That being said, we may still feel uncertain on how is it possible that a person, even divine, could become a foundation? Saying that Jesus Christ is a foundation doesn't explain how He serves that role of a solid and firm foundation. To understand the mechanism of how Jesus Christ can become a foundation for Christians, we will have to go to Jesus Himself to explain the mechanism. Fortunately for us, the Lord Jesus Christ does in fact explain how He is our firm foundation in the Gospel of Matthew,
"Therefore, everyone who listens to these messages [words] of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on a rock." - Matthew 7:24 ISV
Jesus, our firm foundation tells us that we build our lives on solid rock when we listen to His words and when we put His words into practice. Jesus purpose in this particular parable is not to emphasize that He is the rock but rather that His words are the rock on which believers build. The words of Jesus is the key in this passage. If believers want to be on Jesus firm foundation, they have to listen to Jesus messages and them practice what He taught. This explains it all in terms of the mechanism.

N.B: An important note, Jesus spoke sometimes in parables, sometimes literally and sometime prophetically. It is beyond the scope of this post to discuss how to recognize what speech is which.

This information in Matthew lead us into our first difficulty due to our modern young Christians who have been incorrectly taught Christian doctrines. A small segment of young believers are seduced into believing that Jesus words before the Cross doesn't matter. They are brainwashed in believing that the only thing that matters to the New Covenant believers are what only happened after the Cross of Golgotha. This is very unfortunate since most of Jesus' words have been uttered / spoken before the Cross namely,

1) his teachings about forgiveness & reconciliation (Mathew 5:24; 6:15),
2) the love of God the Father (Luke 15:11-32),
3) the role of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16),
4) the grace to save sinners (Mark 2:10),
5) to be 'born-again' (John 3:3),
6) the last supper/the Eucharist (Luke 22:19-20),
7) Eternal life (John 17:3),
8) and many more.

This is why those who can't bring themselves in considering Jesus messages and words as being relevant today can not have any firm foundation since they cut themselves off from Jesus. They build their lives on sands and not on the rock which is the hearing and the application of Jesus' words (see, Matthew 7:24). To make matter worse, those who artificially segregate Jesus teachings by what He taught before the cross from what He taught after the cross, can not reasonably understand the blessed role of the Holy Spirit; since His role among other was to remind the disciples of what Jesus used to teach when He was still with them on earth before the Cross of Golgotha,
Image result for firm foundation"But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and remind you of everything that I have told you." - John 14:26  
Hence, they render the plan of God on their behalf unfruitful since they actively refuse to allow the Holy Spirit to do His complete work in them through Jesus words spoken before the Cross. They have no firm foundation and their fall is assured.

FIRM FOUNDATION: HOW TO KNOW IT?

Where do we even get the Lord Jesus words so that we can listen to them and apply them into our lives? For modern Christians, this is rather an easy question to ask for we have the Bible. However for the early four (4) centuries of Christianity, the Bible was not yet aggregated into one collection. All the biblical letters and books of the New Testament were circulating in Christian community separately. So for early Christians to know what Jesus actually said they had to get hold of a trusted source who have heard Jesus and have lived with Jesus while He was still on earth. This is why to get to Jesus' words and teachings believers turned to the apostles and the prophets (1Peter1:11).
"having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, the Messiah Jesus himself being the cornerstone." - Ephesians 2:20  
This is very important to understand because they are some false beliefs floating out there that insist that only St. Paul, the apostle should be listen to by modern Christians. The reasoning being that He was the apostle sent to the uncircumcised, the non-Jews also known as the Gentiles. The problem with this reasoning is that St. Paul himself rejects such a view by referring to the foundation of the apostles in Ephesians 2:20. The word, "apostles", is in plural and not in the singular. This means more than one apostle.

We also know from St. Paul experiences that after he received in a revelation and preached the message of the Gospel of Christ, he decided to ascertain that what he was preaching was in line with what Jesus himself taught. How could he have known what Jesus really taught apart from the spiritual revelation he received from the Lord? The same principle applies. He went to the apostles that had lived with and heard Jesus teach. St. Paul recounted that investigative trip in his epistle of Galatians,
"Then fourteen years later I again went up to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus with me. I went in response to a revelation, and in a private meeting with the reputed leaders, I explained to them the gospel that I'm proclaiming to the gentiles. I did this because I was afraid that I was running or had run my life's race for nothing. ... Now those who were reputed to be important added nothing to my message. (What sort of people they were makes no difference to me, since God pays no attention to outward appearances.) ... So when James, Cephas, and John (who were reputed to be leaders) recognized the grace that had been given me, they gave Barnabas and me the right hand of fellowship, agreeing that we should go to the gentiles and they to the circumcised" - Galatians 2:1-2, 6, 9 

It is clear from the above texts that the reputed leaders St. Paul went to consult were matter of facts apostles that walked and heard Jesus teach when He was still on earth (see verse 9). And these reputed apostles added nothing to the message that St. Paul was preaching for they realized that though he didn't walk with Jesus in Capernaum or other Israeli cities, he had nevertheless received supernaturally the same message of the Gospel by God's grace. But the point to remember is, St, Paul turned to other apostles who lived with Jesus to ascertain that he had the right 'stuff' so to speak and not a foreign gospel or a foreign message. It must always be Jesus messages from start to end and nothing else. For there is no other firm foundation outside of Jesus, in no other messages do we find the rock on which to build our lives (John 6:68).

ELEMENTS OF THE FOUNDATION 

Image result for eternal treeIt is no secret that Jesus said and did much in His short ministry before His heavenly ascension. So where do we begin in assessing his teaching and words? Since the Lord Jesus taught on many topics and so did his apostles influenced by Jesus' Holy Spirit, it would be nice if we could have a primer from which we can start our building. Once again, God has not left us in the confusion. Jesus teachings and sayings are grouped in six (6) basic teachings. Those six doctrines can serve as basic Christian teachings from which the rest of the super-structure of the Christian life can be built upon. Here is how the scriptures introduce them:
"Therefore, leaving behind the elementary teachings about the Messiah, let us continue to be carried along to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead actions, faith toward God, instruction about baptisms, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment." - Hebrews 6:1-2  
From Hebrew 6, we are informed about what the foundation consist of. It is also called the elementary doctrines or teachings of Jesus Christ. These elementary teachings are pieces of the one foundation we have in Christ Jesus. To described them separately, we have:

a) Repentance from dead work
b) Faith toward God
c) Doctrines of baptisms
d) Laying on of hands
e) Resurrection of the dead 
f) Eternal Judgment

These six (6) doctrines serve as the elementary teachings of Christ that makes up the basic foundation every believer should know and understand. For if we could only start in clarifying the foundation, many will find great joy, confidence and understanding in their Christian life. And they will be little reason to fall away from grace due to winds of false doctrines currently assailing the Christian community in Rwanda, particularly the youth.

In my experience, many problems I have met with new believers or older Christians not thoroughly trained in basic Christianity can be directly traced to one of these six doctrines. I remember teaching a series on these elementary teaching of the Christian faith in the year 2014 at Diplomat Hotel. I still remember vividly the surprised look some believers returned me after I ended each teaching session. More interesting were the question and answer sessions which proved to me how uncoordinated were the biblical knowledge of some believers. They knew biblical texts but had no proper framing to understand them in the grand theological scheme. That is when it really dawned on me that many of the debates (not all) but many debate I had could be traced back to a misunderstanding of one of these elementary teachings on the part of my opponents.

No wonder we have been sadly losing many believers into sects and heretical movements crawling unchecked throughout our Rwandan Churches in recent years. This is a sad state of affair that need to be remedy!
"By wisdom a house is built; it is made secure through understanding." - Proverb 24:3

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