Friday, July 06, 2007

A Solid Foundation

Have you ever tried to describe something to someone who has never seen the item before? Once you have done your best to describe it, they have a picture in their minds of what that item looks like, whether it is a correct interpretation or not.

For instance, if I described a piano to you, I might do it like this:

A piano is a kind of wooden box with keys on it. When you push a key down, there is a hammer connected to it that strikes a wire string, causing the string to vibrate. This vibration makes a sound whether high or low, based on how tightly the string is wound. The harder you hit the key, the louder the sound will be, and the tighter the strings, the higher the sound. There are three pedals on the bottom of the piano, and when you push them, they can stop the vibrations instantly, or make them vibrate longer, depending on which pedal you push.

Now, if you have seen a piano before, you know that this description was an accurate overview of what a piano is and how it works. But in the listener's mind, they may have conjured up something like this:

The information is all included in this picture, but it obviously does not look like what you know a piano to be.

This happens when we share our faith with people who have never heard or understood it before. Their perception of Christianity gets a little jumbled and confused in the translation from our words to their hearts. Like the piano to someone who has never seen a piano, Christianity is not as basic as we think it is when heard through the ears of someone to whom the message is completely foreign.

I think many people who accept the message at first get this kind of distorted view of Christianity. If this is true, what can follow as they build on this faulty vision of God and spread the word as they have interpreted it could be a disastrous. The perpetuation of misinterpreted descriptions can create a false doctrine, or, ultimately, a completely vain faith is something that Christianity is not.

How do we battle this human weakness and dangerous challenge?

1. Lay a solid foundation. The description given of the piano is solid. It is right in every sense. But it is only the basic information of the looks and workings of a piano. It is impossible to describe a piano with words alone to effectively relate the image of what a piano is and the explanation of what it does; however we do need a foundational frame of reference from which to work. This description is a great starting point.

2. Answer the questions you can. After you have laid the foundation in their minds, they may start to ask you questions. In Christianity, we would call this exchange of questions and answers to learn the whole truth, "discipleship". 2 Timothy 3:16 tells us that scripture is all from the breath of God, and is useful for teaching (getting the information out there), correcting (replacing wrong information with right information), rebuking (the "You know better than that," form of correction), and training in righteousness (teaching us a new way of life, not just informing us of information). The answers to almost every spiritual question can be found in this one standard: The Bible. Soon the piano starts to look more like a piano - Christianity starts to look more like Christianity.

3. Don't try to answer questions to which you don't know the answers. It seems to make sense...most of us wouldn't try to explain how a cell phone works, or how the internet works, but as Christians we feel we have to be able to explain how God works. Some things we can answer, because His word makes it clear, but in most things, God's ways are higher than ours and His thoughts are beyond our comprehension. Trying to explain God is a major temptation, but not ever completely possible. When the answer is "I don't know," use it.

If the person you described the piano to at the beginning of this post were to try to build his own piano, you would teach him, correct him, rebuke him and train him until his piano was an effective version of the "original". How can we do any less with the foundational truths of the bible when training people to live the Christian life?