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. And without controversy great is the mystery of godliness: God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the Gentiles, believed on in the world, received up into glory.
In the previous article we showed that the practice of reciting the Apostles’ Creed in worship is a biblical practice. We did that by appealing to the confession of truth as a form of prayer, and also by showing that there was confession of creeds in synagogue worship and at least in the life of the New Testament church. In this article we turn to the foundational reason why the church ought to engage in this form of the element of prayer.
The Foundational Reason
It is the very nature of the church to confess the truth. It is no coincidence that the apostle records for us a confession of the New Testament church in verse 16, after what he says about the church in verse 15. I Timothy 3:15 states, “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 [or foundation] of the truth.” The church is in her very nature the pillar and ground of the truth, and that is the foundational reason she confesses truth in worship.
When the text says pillar and ground of the truth, truth here is the doctrines of the Word of God, both for faith and for life. It is the knowledge that has its source in God Himself who is truth, and who has revealed all His truth in Holy Scripture. Truth is the teachings of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the center of that teaching. The church is to be the upholder of that truth in this world. This is her task, her responsibility, her calling. This identifies her. No matter how long the institution has been around, if a church or group of churches is not upholding truth, she is no longer church.
The illustration in the text is of a building, particularly a Greek temple. These temples had pillars that held up the roof of the building. These pillars rested upon a foundation. The purpose of both the foundation and pillars was to hold the building up—to hold the roof up, that it might be a building. The text is saying that the church is the pillar and ground (foundation) that holds up the roof of truth in the world for all to see.
Interestingly, it is not the truth that is the pillar and foundation holding up the church, although that could be said too. But here it is the church that is the pillar and foundation of the truth. That does not mean that the church invents the truth or produces it. Nor does it mean that the truth does not exist without her. Nor does it mean that she decides ultimately what is true and what is not. The Roman Catholic Church views truth that way. She views herself as the one who invents the truth, such that simply because she says something, it is true.
But the text is not speaking about that at all. It is talking about the truth that God has revealed in His Word being upheld in the world. The church acts as foundation and pillar to hold up the truth for all to see. If the church were not there, the truth would still exist, but it would not be held up, propped up, in the world. If the church is destroyed from off the face of the earth, then the truth is not upheld in the world.
It is the church institute that must be the pillar and ground of the truth. This is proved from the fact that the apostle Paul is giving instruction to Timothy regarding the local church in Ephesus. In verse 15 the apostle says he wants to come to Timothy in Ephesus, but he might be delayed a long time. Therefore, he writes this letter, “that you might know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the church of the living God.” It is the responsibility of the local church (in unity with other local churches of like faith too) to uphold the truth of the Word of God in the world. It is the church’s calling and honor to be upholder of truth about God, Christ, this world, man, sin, redemption, and the end of all things. It is no other institution’s calling. The state is not the pillar and ground of the truth. A business is not the pillar and ground of the truth. Only the church is given this distinct honor and high calling.
Because the church alone is the pillar and ground of the truth, Satan does his best to destroy the church. He knows what the pillar and ground of truth is. He knows the only way truth is preserved and upheld in this world is through the church. He attacks the church. The church is the only thing preventing him from blinding every last person with the lie. The church must preserve and uphold the truth in this world. And God will give grace to ensure that she does.
This ought to make us love the church. She is not very flashy. She does not have worldly glory. But she is the upholder of truth. Is that what we are looking for the church to be? If we are looking primarily for anything else in the church of Jesus Christ, we are looking for the wrong thing. Ask this question: Is she upholding the truth? This ought to make us work for her. It ought to make us focus our lives on her. See her prosper. See her lovingly bold in the faith. See her stand strong. Wear out the knees on our pants in prayer for her. Spend blood, sweat, and tears for her.
How is the church the pillar and ground of the truth? The church upholds truth in her confession and life by what she teaches and confesses and how she lives in conjunction with that teaching. Verse 16 speaks of the “mystery of godliness,” that is, the secret to piety, the soil out of which comes a godly life. And in the text, that soil is the confession given her, the truth about Christ and His work. The truths of the Word of God are truths that lead to piety in the true believer, to a holy life.
That means, then, the church must be meticulous in her theology, knowing the Word of God and confessing the truths of that Word wisely and boldly. She must know truth in order to confess it from the heart. The elders and deacons and ministers certainly must, but also the members and the children. This is why creeds are important for the church. Our creeds are the teachings of the Bible in summarized form, so that we can understand them in a logical way. They are expressions of what the Bible says is true. As such they are the glove that allows the hand of the church to grasp the Word of God. These creeds that the churches have formed must live in her soul if the church is to be the upholder of truth. Our responsibility is to know those creeds and understand them, love them, and use them. This is how the church will maintain her confession. This is how she will remain the upholder of the light of truth in a world of darkness.
But truth is also upheld by the church in her worship. In all of her worship, the church is confessing and upholding truth. In the preaching of the gospel, the church is confessing truth and upholding truth for all to see. In the singing of the church, the church is confessing truth about God in Christ, about salvation from sin, about the glories of their covenant God. In the prayers that are prayed, and of course in the recitation of the creed, truth is confessed and held up for all to see. In worship the church adores her God by confessing what He has revealed to be true. She proclaims that He is the living God as Paul calls him in verse 15. She says, “He is not like the dead idols that men worship. He is not like the vain and empty pursuits that the modern age bows before. He is no myth; He is the living God. And He meets with us in the worship of the church. We know Him; we experience His grace overwhelming our souls. He is alive. And we will tell you and Him that we believe it so.”
If she does not do this, she is not being the church. If her preaching is the preaching of lies, and not truth; if her songs say things about the God of heaven and earth that are not true; if her prayers treat God as someone other than what He is, then the church is not fulfilling her calling. But the church who worships by confessing truth is the church holding truth up for all to see—in all of her life, activities, and worship—a body confessing the truth about God, worshiping Him in Spirit and in truth.
An important result of the church upholding truth in reciting the Apostles’ Creed in her worship and life is, first of all, the salvation of God’s own people. The illustration of I Timothy 3:16 is that the church is pillar and foundation so that the roof of truth might be held high in the sky for all to see. God has His elect in the world, and it is His truth upheld in love by the church that will draw them to Christ by the Spirit.
Secondly, an important result is that the church is shaped by the truth that she confesses. This is the argument of the apostle Paul in I Timothy 3. In this book the apostle is giving instructions for the conduct of the church, for the way the church functions and lives her life. And he roots those commands in the truth that the church confesses. The church is pillar and ground of the truth and confesses that truth, and that must shape all her life and conduct as church.
This is another benefit of choosing to recite the Apostles’ Creed. Every time we preach through the Heidelberg Catechism, we expound the truths contained in that creed. That allows us to recite the creed knowing what is being said and the implications of the truths we are confessing, so that when we confess the faith together from the heart and not simply out of custom, we are making a confession of the truth that has shaped us as a people. We did not invent this truth; this truth has invented us, and that is why we uphold it and confess it from the heart.
Finally, an important result is that God will be worshiped and glorified in the church’s confession of truth. The apostle, in giving instructions for the church in this book, has this end in mind. He makes that clear in the last chapter, chapter 6:14-16 where he tells Timothy to keep the commands Paul has given him, “without spot, unrebukeable, until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ…. To whom be honour and power everlasting.” That is, “Make sure, Timothy, that the church remains pillar and ground of the truth. Obey all I have commanded, that it be so. Make sure she confesses the truth in all her life, for this brings the King glory.” In all her life, and in the body rising as one to confess the universal, undoubted Christian faith, the church is worshiping, bringing glory to God. God is glorified when His church rises up to tell Him what she knows of Him, when she confesses the truth about Him, and when from the heart she experiences the truths of His words. Therefore, He is glorified when she declares to Him in praise to His name that He is the true God, that Jesus is His Son, and that salvation is wrought by Him in the Holy Spirit. He loves to hear that His people understand and experience the reality of who He is in Jesus Christ. And He loves to hear His people praising Him by declaring what they know about Him. Such a confession of the truth exalts His great name.