"...The Pillar and Ground of the Truth"


     I Timothy 3: 15 is a very relevant verse in a study of the church and also when considering many issues today.  Many have attempted to reduce the church to a social club, while others are attempting to create their own orders to serve as, "...the pillar and ground of the truth."  Paul wrote thus to Timothy:

     "14: These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: 15: 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).

     A question that I wish to raise and answer is what is meant by "...house of God," and "...the church of the living God..."?  Does oiko theou (house of God) and ekklesia zontos theou (church of the living God) refer to the church universal or the local church, or can we make such a determination?

     Commentators and expositors are often of little help relative to such pursuits because they typically fail to even distinguish in general between the church universal and the local church.  Jesus said he would build his church (Matt. 16: 18).  There is but one "body" or church, Paul later wrote (Eph. 4: 4, 1: 22, 23).  Jesus and Paul both refer to the church universal or the saved viewed in the aggregate.  Paul addressed an epistle to the "...church of God at Corinth" (I Cor. 1: 2).  In this latter sense, "church" is used to designate the saved in the region of Corinth who had banded themselves together for the expressed purpose of constituting the local church structure and doing the work God assigned to his collectivity.  Paul clearly distinguished between the individual Christian (again, individual Christians in the aggregate constitute the church universal) and the local church (I Tim. 5: 16).  Reference is made to the structure of the local church in the following:

 "1: Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Phili. 1: 1):

     The church universal does not have structure; hence, it does not collectively function.  However, the local church has organization, structure, and engages in true collective action, having a treasury, etc. (cp. I Tim. 5: 16, I Cor. 16: 1, 2).  Bishops and deacons are associated with the local church structure (Phili. 1: 1).  From time to time, the old "church universal performing collective action apart from the local church" concept surfaces, even among so called non-institutional brethren.  However, such a concept is biblically foreign and untenable.  It is usually such thinking that leads brethren to speak of "...functioning individually within a collective milieu or setting."  (See addendum.)  Again, I know of no collective action characteristic of the church universal, at least, from a biblical perspective.  The only authorized collective action (oversight, treasury, etc.) of which I read in the New Testament is observed in God's collectivity, the local church.

     Regarding "house of God" and "church of the living God" in I Timothy 3: 15, I recall one debate that I had in which my disputant, one recognized as "conservative," I might add, among many non-institutional churches of Christ took the position that "house of God" and "church of the living church" have absolutely no reference or inclusion regarding the local church, but exclusively refer to the church universal.  Hence, he contended that the church universal and not the local church is the "pillar and ground of the truth."  He even went as far as to say that we have over emphasized the local church to the point of "institutionalism" and that one can be a faithful Christian detached from a local church.  He further explained that I Timothy 3: 15 is only referring to individual Christians and then, even, to individual Christians organizing themselves in various ways to collectively preach the gospel, without any reference or connection to the local church.  Brethren, I have never seen a time in which there are so many aberrant views about the church being popularized and so few attempting to challenge and refute these views, while extending the true teaching of the scriptures.

     Pertaining to I Timothy 3: 15, notice the setting in which Paul's statement occurs.  In I Timothy 3: 1-13, Paul has extensively set forth the qualifications for elders and deacons.  He then said, "These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly" (vs. 14).  Paul then inserts, "But if" (ean de) anticipating a contrary prevailing condition.  In the event that he is delayed in coming to Timothy and Ephesus, Timothy would still know ..."how to behave," based on what Paul supplies in his writing. Some understand the Greek eides (translated "thyself" in the KJV) as meaning "men" or "others."   Whether we understand "eides" as "thyself," referring personally to Timothy or as "men," the applicational meaning remains the same.  Based on the extended context pertaining to elders and deacons and the obvious continuity of thought seen in verses 14 and 15, I submit the contemplated behavior refers to conduct relative to elders and deacons, especially to their appointment.  Consider a couple of exegetical comments to this end:

"Vers. 14, 15. - The importance of a due regulation of Church order.  The apostle expected to visit Ephesus shortly, but in case of this visit being delayed by necessary causes, he deemed it right to give Timothy these instructions in writing respecting the appointment of bishops and deacons, and other details of Church order. 'These things I write to thee, hoping to come shortly; but if I should tarry, (I write them) that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to conduct thyself in God's house.'"  (The Pulpit Commentary, homilies, Vol. 21, pg. 61).

     Expositor Albert Barnes in discussing whether "...the pillar and ground of the truth" refers to the church (vs. 15) or to God being in the flesh (vs. 16) wrote the following:

"The more natural interpretation certainly is, to refer it to the former; and this is supported by the consideration that it would then fall in with the object of the apostle. His design here seems to be, to impress Timothy with a deep sense of the importance of correct conduct in relation to the church; of the responsibility of those who presided over it; and of the necessity of care and caution in the selection of proper officers. To do this, he reminded him that the truth of God that revealed truth which he had given to save the world--was intrusted to the church; that it was designed to preserve it pure, to defend it, and to transmit it to future times; and that, therefore, every one to whom the administration of the affairs of the church was intrusted, should engage in this duty with a deep conviction of his responsibility" (Barnes on the New Testament, Vol. 8, pg. 150, 151).

     In view of the obvious connection of verses 14 and 15 to verses 1 through 13, I submit that the local church especially is meant in the phraseology, "house of God" and "church of the living God."  I say this because the local church has structure, elders and deacons, and the church universal is without such structure (Phili. 1: 1, Acts 14: 23).  It is the local church, then, comprised of individual Christians performing collective action within this milieu that serves as the pillar and ground of the truth.  (For a more complete study of I Timothy 3: 15, click on "The Pillar and Ground of the Truth, an Exposition".)

Addendum:  We do observe individual action performed in the assembly of saints in regards to the Lord's Supper (I Cor. 11: 20-29, see verse 28). Such action is often called distributive action.  One must not, though, confuse or equate such distributive action (the "assembly is doing something;" yet, each individually functions) with the concept of Christians forming an organization (treasury, oversight, board of directors, etc.) separate from the local church, through and in which to function in order to preach the gospel and claim that their action is individual or distributive in nature as opposed to collective.