How do you define “church” and “scripture?”


How do you respond to I Timothy 3:15 where Paul refers to the "church of the living God" as "the pillar and bulwark of faith?" As a follow up how do we define "church?" There seem to be literally thousands of different churches, with almost all claiming to be Bible-based, full gospel or something like that. When Paul wrote to Timothy, the "Scriptures" were what we refer to as the Old Testament, were they not? I am somewhat confused!


"These things I write to you, though I hope to come to you shortly; but if I am delayed, I write so that you may know how you ought to conduct yourself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth" (I Timothy 3:14-15).

I'm not certain what you are asking regarding this verse, but see "How do you explain that the church is the pillar and ground of the truth?"

The word "church" translates the Greek word for "assembly." Jesus only established one church (Matthew 16:18; Ephesians 4:4-6). Since it is the Bible that defines that church, any who wants to be a part of that one church must conform to the standard which God laid out. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed" (Galatians 1:6-8).

The word "Scripture" means "sacred writings." The Old Testament was holy writings from God, but so are the New Testament books. As an example, Peter said that Paul's writings were a part of the Scriptures. "And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation--as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (II Peter 3:15-16).


Thanks for the reply. My question is: What is the Church? Is it the "La Vista Church of Christ, near Omaha Nebraska?" Or is your church part of a "bigger" church.  (I am not trying to be cute or condescending here.) And who determines what the church really is? Paul is telling Timothy that it (the church) is the "pillar and ground of the truth." However, there are so many different churches all claiming to be faithful to the Bible. So how does the Bible define that church? I am pretty familiar with the Bible and understand that many people believe the church consists of all those who believe. I think they get that understanding from Paul's references to the body of Christ. So the big question is, I guess, how does one "conform itself to the standard which God laid out". Or to put it in sports vernacular, "who breaks the tie" when there is disagreement about what God desires from us?

Different churches have different teachings and that seems contradictory to the idea of one church that you and the Bible refer to. I recently left the Lutheran church over the life issue (abortion and contraception*). That church just voted to OK the calling of practicing "committed" homosexual persons to the pulpit. That seems to be clearly in violation of what the Bible teaches. (If nothing else such behavior violates the sixth commandment.) So, is my old church really a church?

I have read the Bible in its entirety two or three times and still read it every day. It seems to me that without some kind of guidance we can become confused about what it really is saying to us.

Thanks for your time and God bless you.

* I looked into the history of contraception and birth control years ago as I claimed I was pro-life and was challenged to look into how the birth control pill worked. I learned about the pill and much more! It was shocking to me to read Margaret Sanger's writing about the poor as "weeds" that needed to be exterminated. Man, we have aborted about 50 million unborn children in our country since 1973. As a believer in market economies, it is clear to me that we are in real economic trouble with our low birth rate due to contraception and abortion. (Continental Europe is literally dying due to low birth rates.) Our low birth rate is a primary cause of the insolvency of Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid.


It seems clear to me that you know the answer to your question. Perhaps you are just looking for clarification. You see, you left the Lutheran church because through its voting it violated teachings you found in the Bible. You used the Bible as the standard of Truth, measured the Lutheran church against that standard, and found it wanting.

Let's start at the foundation. "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). God did not leave mankind on its own to guess as to what God desired of men. "Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust" (II Peter 1:2-4). The idea that God has given us "all things pertaining to life and godliness" is very comprehensive.

Since God made man, we ought to expect that God is quite capable of communicating with His creation. Since He commands his creation to understand His will, "Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17), and God doesn't make impossible demands, we conclude that it is possible to figure out what God wants. Some things will take a bit more head-scratching than others, but overall we expect to be able to comprehend the teachings of God. "For everyone who partakes only of milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, for he is a babe. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil" (Hebrews 5:13-14).

"Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness. And their message will spread like cancer" (II Timothy 2:14-17).

The church's duty is to uphold the truth in the Scriptures for all the world to see. The imagery in I Timothy 3:15 is that of a podium upon which the word of God is displayed. It is not the source of the truth, it puts truth on display and lends truth its support.

You ask what is the church. The word is translating a simple Greek word for "assembly." The church is the assembly of Christians. It is used in two senses. There is a universal sense where we talk about all Christians in all places and across all eras. This is how we can say there is one church or one body. "And He put all things under His feet, and gave Him to be head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all" (Ephesians 1:22-23). Each Christian, in the act of being a Christian, is a part of that one single body. "For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ" (I Corinthians 12:12). One becomes a part by becoming a Christian. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus" (Galatians 3:26-28). Therefore, in the universal sense, all Christians become a part of the one church and the one church is composed of all Christians.

One needs to be careful here and understand that a claim of being a Christian doesn't make it a fact. Christ sets the requirements for his followers, not men.

The Bible also uses the same word "church" in a different sense -- it is the assembly of Christians in a particular locale. Thus we read about the church in Corinth (I Corinthians 1:2) and the church which met in Nymphas' house (Colossians 4:15). In this sense, it is also a group of Christians, but it is a limited group. It isn't all Christians, only those in a location. It doesn't include those who have passed on, only those alive at that time. Therefore, the La Vista Church of Christ is one of those local congregations or churches.

The denominational world sees their denomination as a collection of local congregations to which Christians belong. Sometimes there is a hierarchy of national, regional, and then local groupings of congregations.

But in the biblical view, the universal church is never a collection of local churches. It is always the collection of all Christians. The local church, too, is a collection of Christians in a locale. The universal church can't meet, except in heaven on that day. But the local church is commanded to meet, offer worship to God, and strengthen its members. This is one of many reasons members of the churches of Christ state we aren't a denomination -- our organization doesn't match the denominational view since we follow the biblical blueprint.

When Christians don't have the same understanding of a matter, who breaks the tie? God does through His word. What I think over in Nebraska has no meaning beyond my ability to explain what God has said. "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen" (I Peter 4:11). You and I don't get to vote. It isn't our place. If we did "decide" for God what God meant in our view, then the glory would go to us and not God because we would be placing ourselves in authority over what God has done. What the Lutheran, Methodists, and Episcopalians are doing in voting on what they want to believe is just another example of the arrogance of men. "I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ" (Galatians 1:6-10). The denominational world has placed itself under this curse.

When you plant a wheat seed, you get wheat. When you plant corn, you get corn. When you plant the teachings of a denomination you get followers of that denomination. But when you plant the pure word of God, all you get is Christians, who are members of the one church, and who assemble together as a church in a locale.


Thanks so much for your thoughtful and biblical response.

I agree that God's word is clear on homosexual behavior and it's a "no brainer" to say the ELCA is wrong on that matter. My Catholic friends point out that when Paul wrote to Timothy (concerning the church as the pillar of truth) there really was no complete Bible and that Paul was saying that we should look to the church for "truth" even when it comes to understanding God's Word today. What Paul says is pretty clearly written and it seems that different folks could come up with different meanings to what Paul intended. Is that not logical? As a Lutheran, I celebrated holy communion and believed in the real presence. However, I did not understand it. In our church, there was no tabernacle like in Catholic churches. Now when I read John 6 I can see how difficult a verse it is to understand (and I am reasonably intelligent). I am not sure what your beliefs are on holy communion or the Eucharist but I can sure see how different interpretations can come from that chapter in John. Good people seeking the truth disagree on what Jesus really meant. So I think maybe too many people "break the tie" based on what they believe!

It is not easy to always know when to take the Bible literally or figuratively. There are many folks who have determined when the world will end based on what I would call figurative interpretations of the Bible. Ditto on the age of the earth. (Is the world 6,000 years old when science pretty much says it is many orders of magnitude older than that?)

Bottom line: I really believe that the Bible is God's word and it is literally "true". Most sincere Christians and especially non-denominational Christians would agree with that statement. However, not too far from our home are two very large non-denominational churches who do not agree on "truth". So my logic is telling me there must be a way to discover what is really true.

We are all on a journey. I'll keep you informed on my search for the "tie-breaker"!


Yes, the Roman Catholic Church wishes to claim that it is the source of truth. That is so it can justify the clear fact that it has departed from the teachings found in the Bible over the years. When I've pointed out those flaws in the past, I've been often met with the counter-argument that the Bible is hard to understand. I remember hearing it for the first time when I was 16. The goal of the argument is that people should let the Roman Catholic Church explain what God really meant.

Are there difficult spots in the Bible? Without a doubt. "And consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation--as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures" (II Peter 3:15-16). The flaw is to extend this to say all or most of the Scriptures are hard to understand. They are not. Most of it is very straight forward and clear.

When you run into a difficult spot, it just means you need to study a bit more. But one thing is definite, the difficult spots won't contradict the easy spots. What I've learned regarding John 6 can be found in the lesson "Jesus Offends People." I disagree, it is fairly straight forward to know when the Bible is literal or figurative. For instance, you wonder whether Genesis 1 is literal, not because of what it says, but because you've been told that it conflicts with science. Thus you are using the works of men, which constantly shifts and changes, to judge the work of God. The real truth is that there is abundant evidence that the world is not nearly as old as some scientists wish it to be, but those clues are dismissed because everyone "knows" the world is millions of years old. See the section Evolution for lots of things to consider.

The point is that Truth is singular. There is only one Truth. Men misuse the truth and twist it for their own ends. There are myriads of misunderstandings of the Bible, but there is only one correct understanding. If two groups disagree over what the Bible says, then at least one of them is wrong. And it is possible that both of them are wrong. But I can guarantee that they are not both right.

How are you to know? Take up the Bible God gave you and compare it to what they claim. "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (I John 4:1).

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