By Fred O. Blakely
“These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly; but if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth” (I Tim. 3:14-15).
This is a time when it is evident that “truth is fallen in the street” (Isa. 59:14-15; cf. Jer. 5:1), nay, is all but “perished” (Jer. 7:28), there being very few who are “valiant” for it (Jer. 9:3). Religion, indeed, is flourishing, as it was of old time when the Hebrew Prophets inveighed against Israel for its radical shortcomings. However, truth today is so corrupted by human tradition and self-seeking that its true glory and power have been largely obscured and nullified, if not altogether lost upon the general consciousness. Thus, our text’s representation of the church as “the pillar and ground” of God’s verity is especially relevant. It should serve to awaken the church from its slumber and occupation with other interests, and challenge it to unswerving fidelity to the stewardship committed to it.
Other Like Portrayals of Scripture. “Thou house of God, which is the church of the living God.” That is the characterization of Christ’s spiritual body, “which is the church”—”the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (Eph. 1:23; Col. 1:24). One immediately recalls other similar portrayals of the church, which combine with these to depict its glory as God’s creation, and sharply accent the high responsibility which it imposes upon its constituents as the earthly repository of His truth and grace.
The House of Christ. The house of Christ is the figure (under which Paul refers to the church in Hebrews 3:1-6. Citing Numbers 12:7, where it is asserted by God that Moses “is faithful in all Mine house,” the Apostle contrasts him with our Lord Jesus, “who hath builded the house,” and thus “hath more honor than the house.” “Whose house are we,” he continues, “if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.” Hebrews 12:22-23 has another portrayal of the church as “the city of the living God,” “the general assembly and church of the Firstborn,” to which we by faith and obedience “are come.” Again, in Galatians 6:10, Paul alludes to the church as “the household of faith,” and in Ephesians 2:19, “the household of God.”
The Temple of God. As the tabernacle and temple of the Jews were, at least typically, the dwellingplace of God, so is the church—in a much more substantive way. Hence, we read in other places of “the house of God” (Heb. 10:21; I Pet. 4:17), with Christ Himself as “the chief Cornerstone.” “In whom,” we are told, “all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.” “In whom,” it is continued, “ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit” (Eph. 2:19-22). Again, it is written, “Ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them” (II Cor. 6:16; cf. I Cor. 3:16). “The phrase, ‘the living God,’ occurs seven times in Paul’s Epistles, and four times in the Epistle to the Hebrews. It occurs three times in the Gospels, once in the Acts of the Apostles, and once in the Revelation.”
The Trust Intended by the Text. The church—this house of God and of Christ, this temple of the living God—is “the pillar and ground of the truth,” declares Paul in First Timothy 3:15. Closely related to this representation of the matter is that of Jude. To the church, he asserts, has “the faith” been "once delivered” (Jude 3). “The faith” is here put, not in the subjective sense, for the quality or grace of belief; but in the objective one for the things believed. That is, “the faith” stands for the deposit of divine truth with which the church has been endued as trustee, or guardian. It embraces “‘evangelical history, doctrine, and precept”—the things to be believed and observed—and was committed to the church as “the oracles of God” were to the Jews (Rom. 3:2). Only the church, the body of Christ, is the truth's true custodian, a custodianship which has been given to none else. The church is the custodian of the truth of God revealed in the Scripture, interpreted and rightly divided by those who have "the mind of Christ".
The Pillar and Ground. The figures of “pillar” and “ground” with respect to the church’s relationship to the truth, or the faith, must not be misunderstood. “The church is the pillar of the truth. It supports it; holds it together—binds together its different parts. And it is the ground of the truth. By it the truth is made fast, firm and fixed.” “It holds forth the Mind of Christ, as a pillar does an edict or proclamation, that all may take notice of it, so that the truths of God are published, supported, and kept free from sinking by it, but do not derive their authority from it.”
There was a singular appropriateness in the phrase “pillar and ground of the truth.” “The columns in the temple of Diana were 127 in number, 60 feet high, each the gift of a king. Massive in their form, substantial in their basement, they gave promise of the structure being upheld in its integrity down through the centuries. And such it seemed to Paul was the church—a columnar structure, substantially based, by which the truth is upheld from age to age.”
The Situation as It Is. “The church rests on the truth as it is in Christ; not the truth on the church, however. But the truth as it is in itself is to be distinguished from the truth as it is acknowledged in the world. In the former sense, it needs no pillar, but supports itself. In the latter sense, it needs the church as its pillar, i.e., its support and preserver.”
“Not that the authority of the Scriptures depends upon that of the church, as the papists pretend, for the truth is the pillar and ground of the church. But the church holds forth the Scripture and the doctrine of Christ, as the pillar to which a proclamation is affixed holds forth the proclamation. Even to ‘the principalities and powers in heavenly places’ is made known ‘by the church the manifold wisdom of God’” (Eph. 3:10). “Negatively, Christ, and not the church, is the only ground of truth. ‘For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ’ (I Cor. 3:11). This passage implies that the church rests upon the truth rather than that the truth rests on the church. But a misapprehension arises from confounding the truth as it is in itself with the truth as apprehended by believers and acknowledged before the world. Further, the truth does not derive its authority from the church, but from Christ.
“Positively, the passage sets forth the presentative manifestation of the truth; for the church is the ‘pillar’ of the truth. The church is to hold up the saving truths of the gospel before the eyes of men. It is a pillar inscribed all over with the truth. Without the church there would be no witness, no guardian of the archives, no basis, no nothing whereon acknowledged truth would rest. It is the church which holds the deposit of truth, and perpetuates it from generation to generation.
"The passage sets forth the stability of the truth. The church is the basis of the truth. The truth finds its true basis in the hearts of believing men. who hold forth the glories of redemption amidst all the fluctuations of the world. There is nothing in this exposition to sanction the assumptlons of the church of Rome because she must first substantiate her claims to be a teacher of the truth before she can be regarded as a 'pillar and ground of the truth.' "
The Duty Laid upon the Church
The pressing responsibility laid upon the church by Paul's characterization of it as "the pillar and ground of the truth" is evident. It is God's custodian of His saving grace and revelation. And that trusteeship is held in a world which "lieth in wickedness" and deception (I Jn. 5:19; Rev. 12:91 13:14). Thus, the truth of which the church is the designated support is continually under attack, being denied and scoffed at, and especially today, when it seems that Satan has been "loosed" from his incarceration for the final great assault against the saints (Rev. 9:11; 20:3). Because of this, those today who truly love the Lord should awake to the unprecedented challenge of the hour, and rally to the defense and proclamation of the gospel in all its genuine fullness (Phil. 1:7, 17; Tit. 1:9-11). Indeed, if the church does not defend the truth against its enemies and preach it to the world, whom may we expect to do so? Insofar as Scripture discloses, God has no other plan for such service.
The Charge by Jude. Jude fully recognized, and urged upon the brethren of the first century, the obligation devolving upon them by their trusteeship of the faith and the truth. “It was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you,” he declared, “that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). “My mind being deeply affected with the dangers to which the church is exposed from the false teachers that are gone out into the world,” he seems to say, “I found it extremely necessary to write and exhort you to hold fast the truth you have received, and strenuously to contend for that only faith which, by our Lord and the Apostles, has been delivered to the saints.”
“One of the most difficult, yet most imperative, of the Christian duties is to admonish and fortify brethren who are to ready to yield to the seductions of error. The bond of a ‘common salvation’ of which we are partakers pledges us to the discharge of such duty. The message of Christ is spirit and life. But the new spirit and the new life, in which the power of the gospel consists, rise out of the facts and truths of revelation, and work through these. These facts and truths have been committed to us. How great the responsibility attaching to our stewardship of them! The trustee’s duty is to keep this deposit intact, to protect it against corruption, and to hand it on to others.” And, it must be remembered, “it is required in stewards that a man be found faithful” (I Cor. 4:2).
The Implication o! Paul. Implicit in Paul’s representation of the church as the truth’s support is the call of Jude to “earnestly contend” for it, as we have said. Indeed, the Apostle was a preeminent example of the fulfillment of this responsibility. He was “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17), and spent his apostolic life therein and in its earnest proclamation, far and wide. The Philippians joined with him in the gospel’s “defense and confirmation,” he declared (Phil. 1:7). They were exhorted to continue in the discharge of this obligation, standing fast “in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel” (Phil. 1:7, 27).
Obviously, the same charge is for us. As Paul sets forth to Timothy the qualifications of a bishop, or congregational elder, he stipulates that he also must exercise this aggressive trusteeship of God’s truth. The elder must hold fast “the faithful Word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and convince the gainsayers” [Tit. 1:9). This is because, as the Apostle asserts, “there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers” whom the elder is to “rebuke sharply,” “whose mouths must be stopped” (vv. 10-13).
So may the individual defender and proclaimer of the faith be said to be “the pillar and ground of the truth,” as well as the corporate members of Christ. Such was Paul and the other Apostles, and so are contemporary elders who take seriously their duty to watch for the souls of their charges (Heb. 13:17).
James, Peter, and John were specifically said by Paul to be “pillars” at Jerusalem [Gal. 2:9), and thus did God characterize the Prophet Jeremiah, as He commissioned him to prophesy to the rebellious house of Judah (Jer. 1:18). To him who prevails against the foe in this life, the Lord Jesus promised to make “pillar in the temple of My God,” as He declared, further exalting the high office of this watchmanship and guardianship over Divine truth.
The Duty of Moderns. This God-imposed duty to preserve and disseminate the truth cannot with impunity be shirked by the modern church. The faithful discharge of that duty is its principal mission in the gross darkness of this hour. The church is “the light of the world”--”a city that is set on a hill” (Matt. 5:14)—and must constantly radiate the light and truth of Christ. It is written of the Thessalonians, “From you hath sounded forth the Word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to Godward is gone forth” (1 Thess. 1:8, ASV). That is the way it must be with every congregation of the saints. “Believers, like Nehemiah’s workmen with one hand, build themselves up on their ‘most holy faith, while with the other they ‘earnestly contend’ for the faith against its foes (Jude 3, 20).”
“Let us be diligent and impartial in our own inquiries after the truth; let us buy the truth at any rate, and not think much of any pains to obtain it. Let us be careful to keep and preserve it.
‘Buy the truth, and sell it not’ (Prov. 23:23); do not part with it on any consideration. Let us take care to publish it, and transmit it safe and uncorrupted unto posterity. When the church ceases to be ‘the pillar and ground of the truth,’ we may and ought to forsake her; for our regard to truth should be greater than our regard to the church. We are no longer obliged to continue in the church than she continues to be ‘the pillar and ground of the truth.’ “
“It is a great honor which God has laid on such imperfect believers as we are [and a weighty responsibility]. We should see to it that we do not belie the representation of ourselves as ‘the pillar and ground of the truth,’ that we do nothing to take away from the strength of the structure, that we preserve the continuity of the church’s life, that we witness faithfully to what God is and to what He has done.”
Our Response to the Situation. As for us of THE BANNER OF TRUTH, we take the text from I Tim. 3:15 and that from Jude 3 as both our Divine charter and commission. As we have remarked, we are today faced with unprecedented challenges to God’s truth. Its revelations concerning heavenly things, the propitiation for sin wrought by Christ, and the responsibility of people to God not only are questioned but outright denied. Simple morality and ordinary decency have been renounced for wanton voluptuousness and unrestrained indulgence. Respect for duly constituted authority--that of God Himself and of His ministers in civil government--is being generally abandoned.
At such a time as this, the Apostle’s portrayal of the church as “the pillar and ground of the truth” sounds loud and long. The church must respond by accepting the obligation of that status. That, we propose to continue doing. Let as many as be “thus minded” join heart and hand with us in this holy work. It is not a time to be diverted by unworthy considerations--denominational development, engrossment with human tradition, accommodation to this godless generation. It is high time for those who have received the love of the truth to spring aggressively to its defense and proclamation--to quit themselves like men--and so fill the role which God has assigned to them in protecting and perpetuating His saving and liberating verity.