How firm a foundation
They have a saying in the excavation business, “What goes up must first go down.” I have a corollary saying: “And if what goes down is shoddy and weak, what goes up will eventually fall down.” Not as pithy, but it makes the point. The strength of a structure is dependent on the reliability of its foundation.
Including a belief structure. No matter if we’re theist or a-, Christian or non-, Catholic or Pro-(testant), we have reasons for our beliefs that act as a foundation for them, a foundation which can be anywhere on a spectrum from spider web flimsy to rock solid. From “I like to think that would be true” to “all the historical, archeological, philosophical, and scientific evidence supports it.” Have you examined your foundation to see if it’s strong enough to support your beliefs?
My husband is an excavating superintendent, so when we built our house he personally oversaw the laying of the foundation. Therefore, though I know nothing about construction, I know this building is sound. Why? Because I know him and how much he cares about doing things right. I know that his employers have given him great responsibility because they’ve seen what he can do and heard him talk about what he knows. I know that he loves me and our family so had our safety and well-being in mind when that initial and all-important phase was in process. And I have decades of experience living in this block and mortar, cement and wood structure and can personally testify that it has not sunk, leaned, or wobbled, there are no cracks in the basement walls, and it even survived a minor earthquake with no damage.
Those are the reasons which form the foundation for my belief in the stability of my house. Suppose I had never thought about it, but simply worked, slept, ate, and raised my children in it just assuming it would not fall down on us. It still wouldn’t have because the determining factor is not whether or not I ever thought about it or what I believed but the strength of the foundation. But if in fact it was extremely weak, my negligence and apathy might have cost my family and I our lives.
Similarly, if one is negligent and/or apathetic about one’s spiritual beliefs, it could cost them their eternal life, or at the very least some real spiritual goods like peace, joy, and assurance. Unless what they just accept without question happens to be true. But for something as crucially significant as one’s eternal destination, doesn’t it make sense to go beyond unexamined acceptance?
In this very simple graphic (which pretty much exemplifies the limits of my artistic skills) I depict some of the reasons which form the foundation for my own spiritual beliefs. Each is individually strong, but taken together they constitute a nigh to indestructible foundation which has kept my beliefs intact through personal trials and impersonal attacks from skeptics and unbelievers.
But there are many whose belief structure is supported by weak, pliable pillars that read…
- It’s what I was taught
- I’m comfortable with it
- It’s true for me
- Millions can’t be wrong
- The Bible says so
- My church leaders say they have the authority
- I like to think that would be true
Even taken comprehensively that’s a very weak foundation. Many of those reasons were all I had to support my beliefs at one time. Which is why my previous “home” eventually fell when I began to experience the tremors of doubt and confusion, and the winds of an unsatisfied longing.
But my Father built me a new home, and he’s an even more reliable builder than my husband. This one is never coming down.
In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. – John 14:2-3
For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames. – 1 Cor 3:9-15
Sometimes I wonder what has become of Christianity. For so many, evangelicalism is a test of true belief, obedience, and unquestioning faith. The problem is that there’s a lot of variation in evangelicalism. It’s fundamentalists are literalist inerrantists, it’s mainstreams groups are either confessional or revivalist (no idea what that means, either), and it’s progressives are pretty much the opposite of it’s fundamentalists. If one evangelical says: “The Bible forbids women in ministry.” and another says: “The Bible has women like Phoebe and Junia and ministry, how can it oppose itself?” how do you know which is correct?
A documentary I watched talked about how Moses is believed to have written the first five books of the Bible – where he writes about his own death and what happened afterwards. I still haven’t figured out what to make of the Creation story referred to in the book of Job 38-41. I know that the manuscripts we have all contain compounding errors, misplaced and transposed letters and words, words added into it, taken out of it, misspellings, all signs of human interaction that got it from then and there to now and here.
It’s important to understand that not everyone who doesn’t reach the same conclusion as you does do because they built their theological houses on sand, after all, “writing of the church fathers” could just as easily be: “church leaders say so because they have the authority” (check out the writing of the desert mothers though, they’re fascinating.) And “manuscript evidence” might be to another version of “the bible says so”. I’ve met a great many believers who don’t need to know the various kinds of arguments because they just accept it in a sort of: “The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it.” fashion. For them, their foundation differs in order of importance to them.
Hello, Jamie. Thanks for reading and for your input. I of course recognize that evangelicals disagree with each other on various doctrinal and practical issues. I’m using the term in my belief structure to distinguish it from Catholicism which teaches faith plus works, whereas an evangelical believes we are saved by faith in Christ alone. But my point with this post was not to say that “everyone who doesn’t reach the same conclusion” as I have is standing on a weak foundation, but instead to highlight the reality that the kind of weak reasons some have for their beliefs do not serve as evidence or support for those beliefs, so need to be examined if one is really interested in knowing if her beliefs are true.
I disagree that citing the church fathers as evidence is basically equivalent to my weak reason that “My church leaders say they have the authority,” if I read you right. In my previous posts I addressed the Catholic Church’s claim that the church fathers’ writings support her primacy, when in fact if you go directly to them, instead of through the Church’s filter, you find that the earliest ones do not. And the manuscript evidence supports my confidence that Bible accurately records the history of Israel and the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. But for many Christians, as you pointed out, they’re unaware of the manuscript and other historical and archeological evidence which supports the Bible’s validity and so when challenged can’t give a good reason why they or anyone should obey what the Bible teaches. Their witness is weak and their own faith may crumble because of that.
I see that a lot these days: “I’m Calvinist (not Arminian.)” “I’m paedobaptist (not credobaptist.)” “I’m right-handed (not left-handed.)” As if these labels exist to identify more readily what you aren’t than what you believe as one under that label. What does it mean to be evangelical apart from not being Catholic? I know that “faith without works is dead.” My Catholic friend explained to me that works alone cannot save, but it’s proof one has saving faith – and because their faith is in God, they’re willing to take the gospel with them wherever they go and in all things that they do. Which, I believe, is essentially the same teaching that my protestant churches taught on the subject of faith and works..
While it is true that the earliest of the church fathers didn’t call themselves popes, they did have an authority system in place – the succession of power from one bishop to the next, these leaders had authority in the first church – the whole church – the only church – from which all churches draw their existence. When you understand that Catholic church history is just as much Protestant church history as it is Greek Orthodox Church history – then it means that when a church father writes something, it’s originating in a sense of authority as a leader.
What your Catholic friend believes is not what the Catholic Church teaches, but IS the evangelical view. Her church’s doctrine is that works are more than evidence of or the outworking of faith. They are what keeps us in God’s “friendship.” They merit salvation. I’ve talked about that in various posts, including this recent one.
And I don’t deny that the church from the very beginning had an organizational structure with bishops in charge of and with authority over their churches, where men who were faithful to the Scriptures were selected to succeed them. But what the evidence shows is that they were all equal to each other…that the bishop of Rome had no preeminence.