Tuesday, August 17, 2010

On 1 Timothy 3:15

I mentioned in another post that I had never noticed that Paul, in his 1st letter to Timothy, calls the Church the pillar and foundation of the truth. When I read this with an open heart just a few months ago, it blew me away.

Paul just casually states that the Church is in such a role. This has huge implications for Protestantism.

As a cradle Protestant who grew up in a sort of emergent Pentecostalism and later found himself in more fundamentalist circles, I'm accustomed to thinking of "the church" strictly in the sense of "anyone who is a faithful follower of Christ". That seems to be the most common understanding of the term within evangelicalism. The idea is that as long as you have made some sort of commitment to Jesus, you're part of the church, and we're all bound together in a mystical way. We can't know how we're bound together, but we are.

At least in some way, this is very close to the Catholic idea of the "invisible church" (all those who are following God to the best of their knowledge and abilities).

The reason this becomes problematic for Protestants is that there is no way this non-organized, extremely divided group or people could be a solid foundation of truth.

Let's look at a moral issue, for example:

What's the truth about homosexual relationships? Is it wrong? Is it neutral? Is it inherently good?

Ask a someone in an Independent Baptist Church. You'll almost certainly get a clear answer. They are very likely to tell you that living a homosexual lifestyle (i.e., being actively gay) is inherently wrong.

OK, so the church (in the Protestant sense) says being actively gay is wrong, right?

Not so fast.

Now go ask someone in an "Open & Affirming" congregation in the United Church of Christ the same question. You'll get quite a different answer.

So which is it? Is living an openly gay lifestyle right or wrong? If "the church" Paul is talking about is merely the mystically-united group which Protestants generally claim it is, then Paul, though otherwise divinely-inspired and inerrant, made a mistake here.

So, either there is a visible Church, established by Christ, with a visible head, and a consistent teaching authority, or the Bible is wrong.

I don't know about you, but I'm not about to bet on that second choice.

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