Church and Scripture; Scripture and Church

This is the article that our pastor wrote for the October 4th edition of the Stone County Gazette.

The Apostle Paul wrote, “All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16).  Based on Scripture being so valuable in our life of faith, some of us have gone beyond what the Apostle Paul intended.  We view and live as if the Bible is the pillar and foundation of the truth.  After all, that is a reasonable conclusion.

Yet, the Apostle Paul also wrote, “The Church of the living God, [is] the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15).  So although Scripture is of immeasurable value for us as God’s people, it is not the foundation of the truth–the Church is!  So says the Bible.

But now we’re in a pickle, for we have believed and lived as if Scripture was the end all and be all for us as God’s people.  After all, Scripture is God’s Word!  And yet, God’s Word tells us to look elsewhere for “the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

So which is it: Scripture or the Church?  It’s both.  For you don’t have one without the other.  A proper understanding of Scripture brings you to value the Church.  A proper-functioning Church brings those within her to value the Scriptures.  It’s not an either-or reality.  Properly valuing the Church does not take away from Scripture; instead, it brings you to understand the content of Scripture as God intends.  That’s why “the Church of the living God, is the pillar and foundation of the truth.”

That’s why the Apostle Peter could also write, “You should know this: no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation” (2 Peter 1:20).  According to Scripture, someone’s own interpretation of Scripture is not to exist within Christ’s Church.  So says the Bible.  For what you or I may think that a Scripture passage means is irrelevant.  What matters is this: What does God mean in a passage of Scripture?  That’s what matters–not “personal interpretation.”

And that’s where THE Church (not any particular congregation or denomination) is to act in our lives.  THE Church keeps a “me and Jesus” approach from damaging our faith life.  THE Church lets us know–as the pillar and foundation of the truth–what is the truth, what is the proper understanding of God’s Word, the Scriptures.

If we take the Scriptures seriously, then we must take Christ’s Church seriously.  They are both twin pillars of our faith.  If we only value the Church, then we give the Scriptures second place.  If we only value the Scriptures, then we belittle the Bride of Christ, the Church.

But what can we do today when there are 30,000 denominations?  All denominations claim to have a corner on the truth–and yet they contradict one another.  What can we do?  Start another denomination (no!)?  Go back in history before there were denominations, which was over 1,000 years ago (that’s the only true non-denominational church).  Learn what they believed, taught, and practiced.  Learn what their understanding of the Scriptures was.  For their Church is also supposed to be our Church, for do we not believe in the same Lord, Jesus Christ?

This is what I recommend.  Start by reading these early Church documents.  Read and study the Didache.  Read Ignatius and Polycarp, both of whom learned at the feet of the Apostle John.  Read Clement, the 4th Bishop of Rome, who knew the Apostle Paul and whom the Apostle Peter ordained.  And if you’re especially motivated, read Irenaeus (whom Polycarp had taught).

If you want to get rid of over a thousand years of denominational squabbles and distortion, read the earliest Church fathers to understand how they understood the Scriptures.  That will be a fresh beginning.