A Question I Was Asked:



Doesn't 1 Timothy 3:15 Support Catholics in Their Church Tradition Argument?








Doesn't 1 Timothy 3:15 support Catholics in their 'Church Tradition' argument?


I have no wish to be controversial but some popes were scoundrels, thugs and murderers. Even Catholicism now accepts this. 'Simony' came to be practiced ('simony' - the buying of the office of pope for money). Indeed, at least one pope, Pope Innocent III, would probably now be charged as a mass-murderer! ...


UK Apologetics Reply:

Okay, to ensure that we all understand this question, Catholicism states that their church traditions are of equal value, or even of greater value to/than the Scriptures. Let's check this out:

14. Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15. if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

The argument goes that since this describes the church as being, to quote Paul here, "the pillar and foundation of the truth" this amounts to the Catholic teaching on their church; that is, for them, the church - the Catholic Church - is "...God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth." (verse 15). So, it is maybe not even the Scriptures, but their own institution of Catholicism which should be seen as 'the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.' That this might even exceed the importance of Scripture on its own. Okay, so how about this argument?

1. It Is Based on One Scripture.
First of all, this argument is based on one Scripture, not a group of Scriptures, and one which can be understood differently, as we will see at the conclusion of this. But I will say this at once: Paul the Apostle writes most of the theology in the New Testament - that is not just my opinion, it is obvious. If this divinely-led institution (note: I said 'institution'), was about to come along which would continually be divinely-inspired in its leaders, or 'popes,' why did Paul even bother? After all, according to Roman Catholicism, Paul was not even the first 'pope', Peter fulfilled that - so why did Paul even bother? Indeed, if this teaching is correct, why did Peter not get really 'stuck in' back in the first century as 'the first pope'? Instead, he obviously travelled extensively and almost disappears from the New Testament whilst poor old Paul is forced to labour away with all the early church teaching, planting and problem-solving! The Epistle of James - emanating from Peter's 'home' congregation of Jerusalem does not even mention Peter once! There is more on this line of thought in our third point, please read this right to the end.

2. A Long Period of Flawed Teachers.
If this argument is correct and God did indeed set up 'apostolic succession' to keep the institutional church pure (I say 'institutional' because Catholicism only accepts the principle of a humanly-organised institutional church body, rejecting the Protestant concept of an invisible church, as only seen to God), how come that some popes were scoundrels, thugs and murderers? How come that 'simony' came to be practiced ('simony' - the buying of the office of pope for money). Oh yes, Catholicism itself now accepts this, this is not just my opinion. Indeed at least one pope, pope Innocent III, would probably now be charged as a mass-murderer! Is this showing the organised church to be "the pillar and foundation of the truth"?

3. The Bible Approach: A General Appeal For ALL Believers to Hold on to Sound Doctrine.
Interestingly, the New Testament appeals to hold on to correct doctrine are generally not just appeals to the church leadership, but to New Testament Christian believers in general - they are for everyone! How could this fit in with the 'everything will be in the hands of the popes - don't even worry about doctrine' approach of Catholicism? The advice found in the epistles is not to continue to simply look to your church leaders to ensure correct doctrine, but to check it out for yourself! Yet this is exactly the approach which Catholicism hates. Let's look at some examples of this:

11. Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. 12. As a result, many of them believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (Acts 17:11-12).

In Galatians Paul states,

But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned! As we have already said, so now I say again: If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!' (Galatians 1:8-9).

Again, note Paul did not infer that God would not allow false believers to lead church congregations, he put the responsibility on to members - ordinary Christians - to check these matters out.

Now it is true that Paul also warned church leaders to be vigilant, as here,

28. Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29. I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears. (Acts 20:28-31).

Pope Innocent III (1160-1216)

A depiction of this famous (or infamous?) pope from a fresco in Subiaco, Italy.

But this warning to church leaders also contained a warning of leaders themselves causing problems in the future! John the Apostle even writes of one 'leader' called Diotrephes:

9. I wrote to the church, but Diotrephes, who loves to be first, will not welcome us. 10. So when I come, I will call attention to what he is doing, spreading malicious nonsense about us. Not satisfied with that, he even refuses to welcome other believers. He also stops those who want to do so and puts them out of the church. (3 John 9-10).

Paul apparently even had trouble from people who went around, calling themselves 'super apostles.' Let us look at this:

4. For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the Spirit you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. 5. I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles." (2 Corinthians 11:4-5).

How does all of this square with the (Catholic) concept that church leaders would be divinely-appointed by God Himself, and that they would be unerring in true doctrinal teaching? Now it is true that we are asked to pray over new church leaders, and all of this just shows how important those prayers are. Also, for sure, God would set offices of responsibility in His church (1 Corinthians 12), but Christians, and especially elders, are continually warned about responsibilities of overseership. No Scripture anywhere in the New Testament ever states something like the following:

"In time, the Lord will set up supreme leaders ('popes') and from then on, they will ensure you maintain correct teachings. Christian doctrines can then be left to them."

No, it is just not there - not in any shape or form! Another point here questions the notion that Peter the Apostle ever became "the first pope" - right here people like Paul and John were having terrible trouble from false leaders and yet Peter- long since appointed the first pope according to Roman Catholicism - is nowhere on the scene, far too busy with his travelling evangelism to be concerned about false teachers causing havoc! Does that really stack up? No, I'm afraid that it does not.


Conclusion

Okay, so what is 1 Timothy 3:14-15 really saying? Let us briefly check it again:

14. Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15. if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (1 Timothy 3:14-15).

The Church really is "the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth" - Christians - who themselves are, of course, 'the church' are a spiritual organism (the church is not a building, institution, nor humanly-organized denomination), but is made up of those being led by God's Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) and who are - however imperfectly - fulfilling His will upon earth at the present time, in whatever place, or capacity our Lord may have placed us. Yes, we are the foundation of the truth, people can come to us and we should be relied upon to speak the utter truth when questioned over biblical and spiritual matters. We are given this knowledge/spiritual discernment through the Holy Spirit, not through human intellect. People cannot get this knowledge nor spiritual input anywhere else on earth at the present time, it is only available through the scattered spiritual Church; the Body of Christ.

But this is not saying that the church is a specific, humanly-organized, physical institution which we are bound to obey at all times through a system of cardinals and popes who alone decide true church teaching and doctrine.' Far from it: The New Testament is clear that Christian doctrine must be Bible-based: Acts 17:11; Ephesians 6:11-17; 2 Timothy 2:14-15; 2 Timothy 3:14-17; 2 Peter 1:20-21; Isaiah 8:20, the church is to submit to Scripture, not Scripture to the church. It is not the tradition that informs the Word of God but the Word of God which informs tradition within the church. Even Jesus Himself is called 'The Word of God' as one of His titles (John 1:1).

The reader might also find it helpful to read Apostolic Succession; A Biblical Doctrine?

Robin A. Brace. March 23rd, 2016.

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