Menno Simons wrote more than two dozen books and pamphlets. He placed the following on the title page of all his writings: “For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 3:11, ESV).
In any building project, the foundation is crucial. Any changes have a profound impact on the whole. The leaning tower of Pisa is one example. So is the leaning tower of Suurhusen, located in northwestern Germany.
The church at Suurhusen was built in the Middle Ages on a foundation of oak tree trunks in marshy land. The tree trunks were preserved by groundwater. However, when the land was drained in the 19th century, the wood started rotting. The change in the foundation eventually caused the tower to tilt.
Today, the steeple is considered by Guinness World Records as the most unintentionally tilted tower (compared to the intentionally tilted capital gate tower in Abu Dhabi) in the world. It leans at an angle of 5.1939 degrees, beating the Pisa tower by 1.22 degrees.
A world of relativity
Today, the central truth of the gospel as the only solid foundation for the church continues to be called into question. Author Josh McDowell, in The Last Christian Generation, says more than half of churched young people believe that all faiths teach equally valid truths and don’t believe that Jesus rose from the dead.
Living in a pluralistic society increasingly includes the concept of relativism, which touts that people who make exclusive claims to truth are intolerant. They see all truths as equal, particularly when pertaining to religion or morality.
The story of the blind men and the elephant is commonly used to illustrate this worldview. Originating in India, the tale follows a group of blind men who touch an elephant to learn what it’s like. As each one feels a different part of the animal, they face complete disagreement when comparing notes afterward. Some say the tale illustrates how various religions provide different perspectives on the same God.
But the story uses a circular argument, with its own conclusion as its premise. Canadian apologist Michael Horner embellishes on the story’s logical fallacy:
“Three blind men are in a room and are asked to describe an elephant. The first blind man walks out of the room and falls down a flight of stairs. ‘Oh,’ he says, ‘an elephant is hard and lumpy.’ The second man turns and walks into the restroom. ‘No, not at all. An elephant is cool and smooth like porcelain.’ The third man walks out of the building into the woods. ‘No, an elephant has branches and leaves like trees.’”
The original tale of the blind men assumes they’re all, in fact, touching an elephant – connecting with different parts of the same thing. Similarly, religions may claim to be in touch with God. But how do we know what God they’re really in touch with?
Eyes on Jesus
The person and work of Christ is unique. His life and ministry provide the only solid foundation for the church. Any foundation that is “other than” isn’t simply another but a different foundation.
That’s the reason for Paul’s vigorous declaration in Galatians 1:9: “As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let them be under God’s curse!” Who Jesus is and what he has done is the cornerstone on which the church is built (Acts 4:11–12; Ephesians 2:20).
At the risk of stretching the elephant analogy to its breaking point, let’s consider how we might explain the way an elephant looks, behaves, or thinks to someone who has never seen an elephant. We would draw, describe, and imitate the actions and sounds of an elephant.
How will Canadians come to know the triune God if those who know him don’t reflect him to people? How will they come to a personal experience and faith in Jesus if not for Christ-followers who give evidence of Christ’s transforming power and relationship with him?
Foundational thinking isn’t merely a philosophical construct suitable for the classroom or coffee shop. Foundational thinking determines our trajectory as a denomination, as a church, and as people.
Many Canadians who call themselves Christians believe theological accommodation is the most loving stance. I suggest it’s not loving but misleading. “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case, all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:17–19, NLT).
The gospel isn’t good news if it doesn’t lead people to the transforming reality of the resurrected Jesus. The gospel foundation brings hope for this world and the next, and provides certainty in the midst of a changing world. The gospel lifts our eyes beyond the horizon of human wisdom. The gospel of Jesus Christ is our foundation, trajectory, and completion. Without Jesus as our foundation, our spiritual “tower” will tilt and eventually fall over.
This summer, I invite Canadian MBs to Gathering 2012 in Winnipeg to celebrate our foundation – Jesus Christ – and his transforming work in and through us.