Friday, February 11, 2011

What is the Pillar and Bullwark of the Truth?

Here’s one of those verses I never saw for thirty years before becoming a Catholic:

1Tim. 3:14   I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that,  15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

St. Paul here asserts that the Church is “the pillar and bulwark of the truth.” (I accept Bo Reicke’s arguments that the pastoral epistles are genuinely Pauline.)

Can a Calvinist call the Church the “pillar and bulwark of the truth”?  I submit: only with difficulty.  A Calvinist is much more comfortable calling the Scriptures the “pillar and bulwark of the truth.”  But that verse isn’t in the Bible.

What ecclesiology is assumed by the statement “the Church ... [is] the pillar and bulwark of the truth”?

I suggest it entails an ecclesiology in which the Church is a (1) single, (2) visible body.

If the Church wasn’t a single body, it could not serve very well as the “pillar and bulwark” of the truth, because one would not know which of the various churches was teaching the truth.

If the Church wasn’t a visible body, it could not serve very well as the “pillar and bulwark of the truth,” because it could not be identified with certainty, nor could it speak with clarity.  An invisible, voiceless Church cannot be the support and defense of the truth.

Therefore, I submit that St. Paul assumes that Church is a single, visible body.  His ecclesiology is Catholic.

But everyone is free to contradict me.  Share your thoughts in the comments.


brock said...

Great point Dr. Bergsma! I might add that Matt 18:15-17 would also describe a single, visible body Church. The question is: Which Church? If our Methodist brother sins against our Baptist brother, who's church do they take it to? Only the Catholic Church fulfills these Scriptural verses as well as historical Christianity. Any other thoughts?


Brian said...

I would think that answering the question of what the Church is would be of great importance to a Christian, but many don't seem too concerned.

If Christ is the head of the Church and the Holy Spirit guides the Church, then any belief or pracitce that contradicts the Church cannot be a result of guidance from the Holy Spirit. That would give me a solid enough reason to identify the Church and submit myself to its teachings.

Anonymous said...

How can anyone be free to contradict you if you speak the truth? Opinion, yes, but not truth. Be strong in the truth!

dberns said...

my understanding is that the Methodist, or Baptist, or the Calvanists were ecclesial communities since the Catholic Church is the one, true Church. They are not considered churches or am I confused in this regard.

John Bergsma said...

@dberns: You are correct, if you are speaking from the perspective of the Catholic Church. In the view of the Catholic Church, Protestant denominations are "ecclesial bodies", that is, church-like organizations, but not true churches. That does not mean that they are not composed of Christians, or that none of them are "saved"! That point is often missed. From a Catholic perspective, a Protestant denomination is a group of Christians, but it does not have all the marks of a church.

Kyle Essary said...

I admit that as a Protestant that verse has haunted me since I first thought about it after a Catholic friend shared it with me following the death of Pope John Paul II.

JoPo said...

As a non-Catholic (who also doesn't have a serious sola scriptura bent), I've never been deeply troubled by this passage. Clearly, God's Truth is proclaimed and made manifest by the Church, whether in spoken or written form. The question for me has always been which modern church/denomination has adhered most closely to the teachings of the original, apostolic church.

John Bergsma said...

@Speaker for the Dead: Just curious if you've ever read the Apostolic Fathers, i.e. Clement of Rome, Polycarp, and Ignatius of Antioch, martyrs and early pastors whose lives overlapped with those of the apostles?

Brian said...

@Speaker for the Dead
If God's Truth is proclaimed and made manifest by the Church as you say (and I agree) then how do you know what the teachings of the original apostolic Church are unless you receive them from the Chruch? To determine what the Truth is, or what is closest to the Truth in your view, apart form the Church and then proceed to identify the Church seems to put the cart before the horse.

Who decides what the correct teachings of the original apostolic Church are prior to identifying which Church? To me this would appear to be the function of the pillar and bulwark of truth, the Church.

Ramiro said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ramiro said...

@Dr. Bergsma: By "all the marks of a church" do you mean "One, Holy, catholic (universal) and Apostolic Church" as the creed articulates?

John Bergsma said...

@Ramiro: Yes, but more specifically than that: a Church needs to have clergy with valid ordination (Holy Orders) based on Apostolic Succession, and it needs to have a valid celebration of the Eucharist. Most Eastern Orthodox churches have both: they are true Churches, but in schism with the Bishop of Rome. No Protestant denominations have either; so they are basically associates of lay Christians, not Churches.

John Smuts said...

Probably too late to this discussion - I stumbled across this page looking for something else.

Is the pillar and bulwark a good translation? It is anathrous in the Greek.

This is significant because any Protestant can affirm that the church is a pillar and bulwark of the truth.