Previously, we considered the relationship between Scripture and tradition. Now we shall consider the relationship between Scripture and the church, which I Timothy 3:15 calls “the pillar and ground of the truth.” Does the church authorize Scripture, so that the Bible has no authority without the church’s say-so? Does the church produce the Word or does the Word produce the church? or both? and in what senses?
First, we need to identify the church in I Timothy 3:15 : “the house of God, which is the church of the living God.” The church here is the church institute with her office bearers, sacraments and worship. Thus I Timothy 2 tells us that only men should pray in her assemblies (8) and that women must dress modestly (9) and must not teach nor usurp authority over men (12). Also it is the institute church which has deacons and elders (3:1-13), including teaching and ruling elders (5:17).
Faithful institute churches are “the pillar and ground of the truth.” A “pillar” is a vertical column. The “ground” here is the band around the top of the pillar. Thus the church is the bulwark or stay which supports and upholds the truth taught in the Scriptures before the world.
Rome appeals to I Timothy 3:15 in support of her claims. “We are the church, possessing the fullness of salvation. We are founded on Peter. We have the pope, tradition, the seven sacraments, etc. We are indefectible; our church can never apostatize.” In effect, they read, “the [Roman] church” is “the pillar and ground of the truth.” “Since we are the church, what we teach must be truth. Therefore all our doctrines are true: the mass, prayers for the dead, Mary’s bodily assumption into heaven, clerical celibacy, etc.” Thus Rome claims that to assail her is to attack God’s church and truth.
The context, as well as the whole Word of God, forbids us to identify Rome as the true church. Just before our text, the offices of the church are set forth: bishops (elders) and deacons (3:1-13). Popes, cardinals, archbishops, etc., are not biblical offices. After our text, we read of the doctrines of devils and seducing spirits in the “latter times” (the period between the first and second comings of Christ): “forbidding to marry [think of priests, monks and nuns], and commanding to abstain from meats [think of Rome’s laws on fasting]” (4:1-3).
I Timothy was written to Timothy when he was in Ephesus (1:3). Faithful institute churches, wherever they are, which hold up the truth in the world are “the pillar and ground of the truth.” A congregation or denomination has a right to the name “church” if (and only if) it holds up the truth revealed in God-breathed Scripture.
This series is being reprinted with permission from the Covenant Protestant Reformed Fellowship website, http://www.cprf.co.uk/ Volume X, Issues 4.