Saturday, November 25, 2006

"House Building" on the Foundation

(this post was significantly re-worked on 12-28-06)

Both cessationists and continuationists hold that believers have an ongoing role to play in building on the “foundation” that Paul, in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11, says that he has laid. The questions at the heart of the cessationist/continuationist debate are these: What, exactly, is the foundation? What is nature of our ongoing role as believers to build on the foundation? What is the role of the Holy Spirit in this building process?

To begin to answer these, I want to continue on from examination of 1 Corinthians 2 and examine what Paul has said in both 1 Corinthians 3:1-15 and in Ephesians 2:19-22.

1 Corinthians 3 (New International Version)

1 Brothers, I could not address you as spiritual but as worldly—mere infants in Christ.

2 I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it.Indeed, you are still not ready.

3You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?

4For when one says, "I follow Paul," and another, "I follow Apollos," are you not mere men?

5What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task.

6I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow.

7So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow.

8The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor.

9For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.

10By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds.

11For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ.

12If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw,

13his 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 man's work.

14If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward.

15If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.

Here, the “foundation” in this passage has the aspect of being A) Jesus Christ Himself and B) Paul’s ministry about “Jesus Christ and him crucified” (back in 1 Corinthians 2:2) in power to the Corinthians. “Jesus Christ and him crucified” understood as the "foundation" is oriented specifically around the rudiments that Paul taught and demonstrated about Jesus Christ – His teaching and life on earth, the doctrine of who He is and the salvation that He offers, and the grace and power of His presence.

To the Corinthians, their rudimentary understanding of the foundation of their faith in Jesus Christ is the “milk” that Paul refers to in verse 2 above. In 1 Corinthians 2:1-5, the “wisdom of the mature” (wisdom that belongs to mature, spiritual men that involves them making “judgments about all things”), is made distinct from Paul’s conspicuous lack of avoiding any display of his own judgments and knowledge.

Initially, Paul operated with a conspicuous lack of his own judgments and knowledge among the Corinthians to preach “Christ and him crucified” and to be the vehicle for the Spirit’s power to be demonstrated for the Corinthians.In parallel form, In 1 Corinthians 3:2, the “solid food” is made distinct from the “milk” given to babes, which can be interpreted as the doctrinal basics of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” that Paul preached to the new Corinthian believers. It is for this reason that Paul’s discussion of the “wisdom of the mature” is related to understanding the “solid food”.

In 1 Corinthians 3, Paul says that he laid down the basic teachings on Christ and him crucified, which he laid as an "expert builder". As is obvious in chapter 3, the Corinthians were in a crisis of "leader idolatry" and needed to understand their proper relationship to their leaders, and to begin to understand what is involved in being a leader. To confront this crisis, Paul, in chapter 2 has first outlined the "wisdom of the mature" as a general principle as the gospel taken beyond its rudiments and applied to the understanding of "all things". Then, in chapter 3, Paul begins to apply this "wisdom of the mature" to confront this particular crisis in the Corinthian church. In this way, Paul lays the first "housebuilding" brick, adding teaching onto the foundation he has already laid, which is the basic teachings of "Jesus Christ and him crucified".

In chapter 3, Paul applies the "wisdom of the mature" to begin to confront their "leader idolatry" and then outlines what is involved in being a Godly leader. It is my interpretation 1 Corinthians 2 and 3, understood as related passages, that the process of one operating as a leader in chapter 3 is a result of the leader applying the "wisdom of the mature" as it is defined in chapter 2. As Paul's application of the wisdom of the mature in the specific regard to "leader idolatry" is in the category of "solid food", so too is any leader's application of the wisdom of the mature in the category of "solid food".

As I elaborated on in my discussion of 1 Corinthians 2, in 1 Corinthians 2:6-16, the “wisdom of the mature” is the ongoing process of a mature believer being instructed by the ”mind of Christ” to understand “all things” in order to understand “what has been freely given” (1 Corinthians 2:13). The mature believer who discerns the ongoing instruction from the mind of Christ is able to make “judgments about all things”.

With this understanding of how chapters 2 and 3 fit together, the understanding of “all things” (chapter 2) is given to a mature believer for him to understand the foundation so that the mature believer is able to then build on the foundation. With this understanding, this act of building on the foundation is connected to Jesus Christ in two different aspects:

A) The act of building on the foundation is connected to Jesus Christ as the foundation Himself in the sense that 1) Jesus Christ's essense as He so demonstrated by His life on earth and 2) His teachings and the doctrine about Him as “Christ and him Crucified” are both aspects of the foundation. Here, the truth of Jesus Christ in essence, incarnation, teaching and doctrine is the foundational plumb line for any and all subsequent building.

B) The act of building on the foundation is connected to Jesus Christ as the “mind of Christ”, the living Person who continually instructs the mature on how to build on the foundation.

In regard to the “we” and “you” division in verse 9, Paul makes a distinction between, he, Apollos and the other leaders who are currently providing the labor as God’s servants— the “we”, and those whom Paul is addressing who had been receiving and benefiting from that leadership – the “you”. However, Paul said back in verse 5 that the “… as the Lord has assigned to each his task", where the word "each" is being used to modify the word "servants". In this passage Paul is describing the ongoing role of a particular type of servanthood to the church.

It is on the basis of verse 5 that it can be interpreted that the task “house building” on the foundation is something that all believers are eventually held accountable to as they progress from “milk” to “solid food”. In other words, the “we” and “you” distinction that is made in verse 9 to separate Paul and Apollos from the Corinthian readers, is being made only because the Corinthians are still immature, and not because the role of “house building” on the foundation is somehow limited merely to Paul, Apollos, or the Corinthians’ current leader/pastor.

While “house building” on the foundation is primarily the act of providing executive leadership to the church, it also encompasses any capacity of judgment making that affects the development of the church. While Paul is unique among workers as the foundation layer, Paul, Apollos, or any “spiritual man” or any who is among the “mature”, participates with God in developing the church as God’s fellow workers according to the task that God has assigned to him.

For some this will mean the act of building directly on the foundation as pastors and leaders. To the extent that other mature believers are not building directly on the foundation in an executive fashion, participating in the building process will mean operating with influence in the lives of others and critically evaluating how the church is being led based on whether their leader is properly building on the foundation. In whatever capacity believers are participating in the “house building”, as builders or evaluators, Paul’s message on building on the foundation is germane to all.

Whether directly building, influencing or critically evaluating, all are ways of participating in the building process as “mature” believers who are partaking of “solid food”. It is in operating as “house builders” according to Paul’s direction that a believer A) avoids deviating from the sound doctrine of Jesus Christ and the living Person of Jesus Christ and B) succeeds in putting a leader in proper perspective and not elevating one leader as someone higher than who he is. Though there are many possible forms of hay and straw that can be interpreted from this passage, it is these two errors that are most easily discernable from the immediate context of 1 Corinthians, chapters 2 and 3 as being part of the "gold", "hay", "straw" etc... that mature believers are to shun as they engage in the building process.

Paul’s use of the metaphors of plants in a field and of a building describe the relationship between God and mature believers as they work together to develop the church through time. As Paul has laid down the foundation, mature believers continue in the process of “house building” the church, operating in the understanding of their relationship with God that Paul has described in both of his metaphors.While Paul’s “plant” metaphor particularly emphasizes the power and agency of God in the midst of the believer’s “house building” labor, Paul’s “building” metaphor particularly emphasizes the involvement of a believer’s use of his judgment in the act of “house building”. Actual building and construction, when taken into account as a trade, involves skill, judgment and measurement.

Moving on to examine a parallel passage regarding the “foundation” in Ephesians 2.

Ephesians 2:19-22

19Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household,

20built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

21In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.

22And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

In Ephesians, the "building"/"foundation" metaphor involves Christ as having the roles, metaphorically, of being the cornerstone, the mortar, the brick developer and the architect who makes the building "rise to become a holy temple in the Lord".

So how do the building/foundation metaphors in Ephesians and in 1 Corinthians fit together? First let’s examine how they’re different. There the obvious way in which the foundation metaphor in Ephesians is expanded beyond "Jesus Christ and him crucified" to include all of the prophets (Paul is referring to the Old Testament prophets, not those within the New Testament church with the “gift of prophecy”) and the apostles. The foundation metaphor in Ephesians is more oriented around the idea that the housebuilding “bricks” are people, built as the church, collectively. In 1 Corinthians, the foundation metaphor is more oriented around the housebuilding “bricks” as teachings that are built on the rudiments of "Jesus Christ and him crucified".

Now here is how these two foundation metaphors blend together. For starters, in 1 Corinthians, Paul says that the "foundation" is Jesus Christ the Person, and not merely Paul’s teaching about Jesus Christ. And, in Ephesians, there are aspects of the building process that involve the agency of the person of Jesus Christ that relates to what is described in 1 Corinthians 3.

While it is the agency of God's power to grow the church that is the reflected in the "plant" metaphor in 1 Corinthians, it is the agency of Jesus' ongoing executive direction that is reflected in the manner in which Jesus enables the "whole building to rise into a holy temple". It is my interpretation of the blend of Ephesians and 1 Corinthians, that Jesus, as the architect in Ephesians who makes the "whole building rise into a holy temple", is also the "general contractor" who assigns the “tasks” to servants as described in 1 Corinthians 3:5.

Now here is how I interpret the blend of these passages specifically in regard to the “wisdom of the mature”. The role of Jesus as “architect” as described in Ephesians, is the same role of Jesus as the “mind of Christ” that provides ongoing instruction to the “mature” who "make judgments in all things". In regard to building on the foundation, it is the ongoing grace of Jesus, operating as the "mind of Christ" in His agency to build on the foundation, that helps those who are making "judgments in all things": this, so that those making judgments will make the judgments that will successfully build on the foundation in the manner that Paul has described in 1 Corinthians 3.

My extrapolations

As Paul was instructed by the "mind of Christ" to lay the foundation and the first bricks to confront the particular problems facing the Corinthians at that time, so too do believers need the illumination of the Holy Spirit to correctly appropriate the truth of the Gospel to understand confront new and various times and situations that different people face and that different generations face so that everything that the church is confronted with in time is understood properly in light of the revealed truth of the Gospel. It is in this process that the church is successfully developed from one generation to the next, and the foundation that was laid 2000 years about is properly built upon.

As the spiritual man is endowed with this grace of illumination, the spiritual man is able to “house build” with precision with God to build the church. It is the quality of how a man is continually operating in this grace by learning all things from the “mind of Christ” that determines whether he will be able to make the correct judgments that will faithfully “house build” on the foundation that has been laid. It is the quality of each believer’s endeavor of “house building” that will be judged at the end of time. At that time, each believer’s endeavor of “house building” on the foundation will be judged according whether it conforms to the cornerstone and to the foundation and it will be judged whether the material used to build is consistent with purity, precision, direction and intent of Jesus Christ via the Holy Spirit.

Post Script – “Solas Fundas”

All of this leads us to the other major question that is at the heart of the cessationist/continuationist debate in regard to this discussion of the “foundation”: What is the nature of the exclusivity of Scripture? Does that exclusivity preclude any ongoing guidance from the Holy Spirit?

While the “foundation” metaphor in Ephesians is more oriented towards people than is the foundation metaphor in 1 Corinthians, the “foundation” metaphor in Ephesians nonetheless has a strong aspect to it that involves the teaching of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus. To the extent that the “foundation” metaphor in Ephesians involves the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus, the question is this: how does the "foundation", understood as the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus, fit in with the 1 Corinthians idea of the "foundation" as the rudimentary teaching about “Jesus Christ and Him crucified” ?

If the “wisdom of the mature” is defined according to 1 Corinthians as the act of one being instructed by the "mind of Christ" to appropriate the rudiments of “Jesus Christ and him crucified” to make judgements on sundry specific issues and crises in the church, then the “foundation” that is described in Ephesians would include any and all applications of this “wisdom of the mature” by the apostles. In other words, the Ephesians “foundation” metaphor recognizes the foundational aspect of all the applications of the “wisdom of the mature” by the apostles, even as they are the “first bricks” laid on the foundation understood in 1 Corinthians as “Jesus Christ and Him Crucified.”

As I explained in my post on 1 Corinthians 2, Paul has outlined the “wisdom of the mature” as an endeavor for the “mature” and the “spiritual man” and not merely for the apostles and prophets. It is on this basis that the understanding of “the wisdom of the mature” in 1 Corinthians – which is being instructed by the "mind of Christ" to appropriate the rudimentary understanding of “Chris and him crucified” to confront specific issues that the church is confronted with – can be amplified as the ongoing act of being instructed by the "mind of Christ" to appropriate all of the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus to confront specific issues and crises facing the church.

In other words, the “foundation” metaphor in Ephesians can be understood to broaden the 1 Corinthians “foundation” in regard to what is the foundation on which the “wisdom of the mature” is to be applied. It is in this sense that the “wisdom of the mature” -- the ongoing act of being instructed by the mind of Christ to appropriate all of the teachings of the Prophets, Apostles and Jesus to confront specific issues and crises facing the church— is an ongoing practice among believers.

While this is so, it is the particular applications of the “wisdom of the mature” among the apostles in the first century that have the unique status of being understood as part of the “foundation” and thus, along with the teaching of the prophets and Jesus, comprise our Bible canon. Even as this is so, there is no indication that the process of being instructed by the mind of Christ to apply the wisdom of the mature has ended. As the "wisdom of the mature" has not ended, neither has the guidance of the Spirit of God that is involved in the "wisdom of the mature" and the discernment of that guidance ended .

In regard to the Reformation idea of “Sola Scriptura”, the “Sola”/the “exclusivity” /the “only” that can be substantiated regarding the Scripture directly from Paul’s writing in Ephesians would be that of “Solas Fundas”, which is Latin for “The Only Foundation”. As “Solas Fundas” relates to the hotly debated question of the exclusivity and uniqueness of the Bible canon, what makes the New Testament Bible canon unique as a Bible canon is that it comprises the complete understanding of the Foundation.

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