August 2004, Volume X,
The Church, the Pillar and Ground of the
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 fulness 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. Rev. Stewart
Rahab's Lie (2)
By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that
believed not, when she had received the spies with peace (Heb. 11:31).
Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received
the messengers, and had sent them out another way? (James 2:25).
In the last News I began to discuss these passages
and answer the question "Why is Rahab commended for lying about the Hebrew
spies?" The fact is that, if one consults the passages and the narrative in
Joshua 2, one can actually find no evidence of Scripture’s approval of Rahab’s
lie. Scripture approves Rahab’s faith in hiding the spies, but does not approve
of her lie.
The problem is that Scripture does not condemn the lie
either. If one, therefore, argues that Rahab’s lie was approved by God from the
fact that no condemnation is mentioned, the argument rests on Scripture’s
silence. This is not a strong argument, simply because there may very well be
other reasons why Scripture is silent on the question. And, indeed, this is the
It is not surprising that Scripture does not explicitly
condemn Rahab’s lie, if we consider that Scripture’s purpose in narrating this
history is to demonstrate the power of Rahab’s working faith by which she clung
to the promise God had given to Israel.
Rahab is listed among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Here
faith is described as "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things
not seen" (1). That is, faith is considered in this chapter as a powerful
subjective assurance of the truth of God’s promise, the contents of which could
not be seen, but were hoped for by all believing Israel. The contents of that
promise were the coming of the seed of the woman and salvation from sin and
death in Him.
Believing that promise, the faithful in Israel did things
which seem on the surface to be inexcusably reckless. They left home to wander
in a strange land which was nothing but a barren wilderness—as Abraham did. They
exchanged riches, honour and fame, for slavery—as Moses did. They walked around
a city fourteen times—confident that in this way an impregnable fortress would
be captured. They submitted to imprisonment, torture and death when they were
forced to stand alone—as Jeremiah did.
Rahab had that faith. She was a prostitute. She belonged to a
city which was humanly impossible to capture. She was known throughout the city.
But she cast her lot with a group of foreign invaders, a strange people of whom
she knew almost nothing, and those who were a threat to her own city. The only
reason she did this was because she believed that Jehovah God was with that
people and that her salvation, also from her sin of prostitution, was with that
people. This is an amazing faith. And out of this faith flowed the works of
which James speaks, for faith is bold, confident, willing to pay any price,
willing to suffer any loss; it is the work of God!
The account of the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11 is for our
instruction: "Wherefore seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud
of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily
beset us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us, looking
unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith (Heb. 12:1-2)."
But Rahab lied! How like us! Her faith was strong and
overcame almost impossible obstacles. But it was also weak. It clung to Christ,
but it was not immune to fear. It trusted firmly in God, but it wavered at a
Is that so strange? Are we unable to identify with Rahab? We
who also have faith?
Rahab was confronted with a serious problem, and it was not
difficult for her to justify the telling of a lie. If she told the truth, the
spies would be captured and the plan of Joshua to learn as much as he could
about the city would be frustrated. The easiest course of action, and one
seemingly good for the cause of God, was to lie and hide the spies until she
could help them escape. And, besides, if the spies were found in her house, she
herself would surely be put to death as a traitor to the cause of her city.
Yet, it is not difficult to see that her lie demonstrated a
weakness in her otherwise strong faith. Cannot the Lord prevent the police from
discovering the spies? Supposing she would have told them the truth. Is the Lord
unable to help her and the men to whom she showed hospitality? Of course, He
could. He made the walls of Jericho fall!
There is no need for Scripture to make a special point of
condemning Rahab’s lie. Scripture is crystal clear on the whole question of
lying. It simply enjoins the believer to tell the truth—always! Scripture does
not say: "Speak the truth, but if things get too dangerous it is all right to
lie." Nothing of the kind. The three friends who were thrown into the fiery
furnace could have lied to escape Nebuchadnezzar’s threat. Daniel could have
lied when he was kneeling in prayer by his window facing Jerusalem, and thus
escape the lion’s den. But they told the truth! And God saved them.
The point is this. We must always tell the truth. But telling
the truth is more than admitting something. If Rahab had told the truth when the
police came to her door, she would not merely have said: "Yes, I am hiding the
spies from Israel." But she would also have said: "I am keeping the spies in my
house, because they are sent from the people whose God is the Lord. He alone is
God. Our gods are idols. We must forsake our sin, turn to the living God, and
make peace with Israel." That was the truth.
That is what Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego did. And that is
what Daniel did. And, more importantly, that is what Christ did before the
Sanhedrin and Pontius Pilate.
That requires the courage of faith in great measure. Daniel’s
three friends did not know that God would save them from the fiery furnace. They
told Nebuchadnezzar that even if they would be killed, they would not bow before
the image which the king had made. To tell the truth is, under some
circumstances, very dangerous for the child of God. But he must speak the truth
anyway, for that is his calling.
God had given Rahab a remarkable faith. It was also weak. We
are like she was in so many ways, although it is frequently doubtful whether our
vacillating and frightened faith can rise to the levels of hers. Rather than
question her faith, we do better to take courage from her in our own walk and
calling in the world. Prof. H. Hanko
Last time, we saw that Christ speaks of two different groups in Matthew 23:37:
Jerusalem (the scribes and Pharisees) and Jerusalem’s children (the spiritual
seed who were mostly of the common people). Christ does not say that He willed
to gather Jerusalem but Jerusalem did not will it. Nor does He say that He
willed to gather Jerusalem’s children but Jerusalem’s children did not will it.
Christ says that He willed to gather Jerusalem’s children but Jerusalem did not
The scribes and Pharisees did all they could to stop the Messiah from gathering
His elect chickens. They asked Him questions trying to trip Him up (Matt. 22).
They said that His teaching contradicted Moses and His miracles were done by the
power of the devil. They agreed to excommunicate those who confessed him as
Christ (John 9:22). Jesus cried: "But woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees,
hypocrites! for ye shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for ye neither go
in yourselves, neither suffer ye them that are entering to go in" (Matt. 23:13).
Yet their calling was to point the people to Christ!
Some claim that though Christ willed to gather Jerusalem’s children (true),
Jerusalem stopped Him (false). The text itself does not say whether or not
Christ was successful in gathering Jerusalem’s children. It merely teaches that
Christ desired to gather His people and that the scribes and Pharisees did not
will it. Whether He did gather Jerusalem’s children or whether He failed must be
ascertained from elsewhere.
We know that Christ gathered Lazarus, Mary and Martha, blind Bartimaeus,
Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, Joseph of Arimathea, etc. As Jesus said, "My sheep hear my
voice, and I know them, and they follow me: and I give unto them eternal life;
and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand"
(John 10:27-28). Also, "the sheep follow [Christ]: for they know his voice. And
a stranger they will not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the
voice of strangers" (John 10:4-5). Christ came to do God’s will (John 4:34;
6:38) and God’s will is always done. "But our God is in the heavens: he hath
done whatsoever he hath pleased" (Ps. 115:3). "Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that
did he in heaven and in earth" (Ps. 135:6).
As Augustine put it: "Our Lord says plainly, however, in the Gospel, when
upbraiding the impious city: ‘How often would I have gathered thy children
together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would
not!’ as if the will of God had been overcome by the will of men, and when the
weakest stood in the way with their want of will, the will of the strongest
could not be carried out. And where is that omnipotence which hath done all that
it pleased on earth and in heaven, if God willed to gather together the children
of Jerusalem, and did not accomplish it? Or rather, Jerusalem was not willing
that her children should be gathered together, but even though she was
unwilling, He gathered together as many of her children as He wished: for He
does not will some things and do them, and will others and do them not; but ‘He
hath done all that He pleased in heaven and in earth’" (The Enchiridion,
xcvii). Rev. Stewart
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