WalterWalker.org

Editorial Consultant, Writing Coach, Freelance Writer

Roots and Foundations: Two Perspectives of Discipleship

We regularly use the word “foundations” as a generic term for basic teachings about Christianity. In fact, that word is so ingrained in our thinking that it is difficult to talk for more than a sentence or two about elementary principles of Christian belief or Christian discipleship without using the word “foundations.” At Every Nation, we are all about laying foundations. If, however, we get too fixated on that particular metaphor, we may miss something very important.

Plants and buildings are both biblical metaphors for discipleship. The apostle Paul was aware of both ways of thinking about fundamentals of the faith. He wrote, “For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building” (1 Cor. 15:9). But Paul seemed to prefer the building-foundation concept and understood his ministry in those terms.

Like a wise master builder I laid a foundation, and another is building on it (1 Cor. 15:10).

I aspired to preach the gospel, not where Christ was already named, so that I would not build on another man’s foundation” (Rom. 15:20).

That is not to say that one metaphor (architecture or agriculture) is better than the other. It is, however, important to note that Jesus consistently referred to spiritual grown in terms of plants, not buildings. He talked about sowers, seeds, vineyards, bearing fruit, good soil and bad soil, root and weeds, fig trees, and mustard seeds — about the devil sowing tares, about pruning vines, about reaping a harvest, about the ax being laid at the root, and so on. There was, of course, that one example—the house built on the rock. Other than that, it all about farming, not building.

Jesus consistently referred to spiritual grown in terms of plants, not buildings.

So, what difference does it make if we call it the Foundation Class or the Roots Class; if we endeavor to get believers founded or to get them rooted? Truly, it doesn’t matter what we call something; what matters is what we actually do. Unless, that is, you think about discipleship so completely in terms of building and foundation that you miss what Jesus was trying to teach us about roots, vines, and bearing fruit.

But here is what we might miss:

When I think about foundations, I picture those concrete blocks underneath the house. Once the house is built, you never see them again. Also when talking about biblical foundations, the context is usually the impartation of doctrinal truth. So foundations are the fundamental Christian doctrines we learn at the beginning, and once we’ve learned them, we’re founded. It is kind of a one-and-done approach. If you asked a mature believer about going through the foundation class again, he/she might say, “I’ve already done that. I already know those concepts.”

On the other hand, the rootedness questions are: “Is the Word of God firmly rooted in your heart, are you abiding in the vine (Jesus), is the Word of God bearing fruit in and through your life?” Obviously, those question are much more challenging and the answers much more revealing. The Word of God could have been rooted and growing in my heart last year but not so much now. I could have born fruit early on but not lately. In short, cultivating the seed is and ongoing process. Building a foundation is a one-time event.

When thinking of discipleship in terms of a building’s foundation, your focus is on doctrinal impartation that you learn at one point in time.

Western-world Christian programmers seem to be more comfortable teaching doctrine and less comfortable with modeling and prescribing discipline.

When you think of discipleship in terms of rootedness and bearing fruit, your focus is on spiritual disciplines that are a never-ending part of your Christian experience — Bible reading and memorization, prayer, fasting, giving, serving, forgiving, attitudes, and Spirit controlled living.

We live in the information age, you know, and today Western-world discipleship majors on imparting knowledge. However, the first century biblical concept was more about learning the discipline of the master. Western-world Christian programmers seem to be more comfortable teaching doctrine and less comfortable with modeling and prescribing discipline.

Doctrine without discipline is as lacking as discipline without doctrine. And both are lacking without the grace of God and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

And that is what we lose with a singular discipleship focus on building foundations without thinking in terms of rootedness — namely, cultivating the living Word in our hearts through ongoing spiritual disciplines.

Again, it doesn’t matter what we call our discipleship program — the foundation class or the roots class. All that matters is how we do it.

Doctrine without discipline is as lacking as discipline without doctrine. And both are lacking without the grace of God and the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.

Back to Jesus’ illustration about the houses built on the rock and on the sand. The difference between the two was not a matter of the truth or doctrine. The house on the rock represented those who had the discipline to practice what they knew. Those who build on the sand had the doctrine without the doing.

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This entry was posted on November 2, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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