What is the "pillar and ground of the truth"?
"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" (1 Timothy 3:15).
So according to the Bible, it is the Church of God that is the pillar and ground of the truth.
But what does that mean?
Does it mean we should believe the Church because everything the Church teaches is truth? And if we see something in the Bible that seems contradictory to what the Church teaches, should we believe the Church's interpretation of that passage because the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth?
That is a question and an issue.
This has been an issue of controversy in the Church of God for some time. It has not necessarily gotten a lot of attention because it is not an obvious, visible doctrine such as keeping the weekly Sabbath and holy days for example. It has more to do with a way of thinking, a way of determining what we believe, and may seem subtle to some people.
This issue is not outward, not visible. Two Church members may believe the same thing and may do the same thing, but for different reasons. Outwardly, they look the same, but inwardly, their thinking is different. And in the long term, that difference can have outward consequences.
One member may believe a doctrine because it is what the Church teaches, and the other member may believe the same doctrine because He sees that it is what the Bible teaches.
And sometimes a member may believe something different from what the Church teaches because he sees something different in the Bible, but fellow members do not know it because he does not talk about it with them, not wanting to cause division.
How should a member think about a doctrine that the Church leadership and ministry teaches if he thinks he finds something different in the Bible?
Certainly, if the issue is important, he should do more research, perhaps asking questions and discussing it with his local pastor or someone at headquarters. The ministry may be able to explain it to him. The member should have an open mind. And that may resolve the problem.
But it may not. We are all human and imperfect. We know things only in part (1 Corinthians 13:9).
Two members, or a minister and a member, may not understand the same Bible passages the same way.
And it is not always the minister who is right.
Mr. Armstrong was right about the identity of the lost tribes of Israel way back when he was only a lay member attending the Church of God Seventh Day. He was right about the holy days, but that Church and its leadership and ministry did not see it the same way. At that time, the Church leadership and ministry were wrong and Mr. Armstrong, a lay member at the time, was right.
Later, Mr. Armstrong made mistakes himself in his teachings. He taught that Pentecost was on a Monday, and later realized his mistake and changed. Before he died, he told the Church we should follow the next pastor general, who was Mr. Tkach, and that was a mistake.
I have said that this issue does not receive much attention. Sometimes people talk about it, but often in the context of a particular doctrine they are promoting. But I am talking about this as a general principle.
So how should a member handle this?
I have said often before, a member should believe the Bible more than the Church leadership and ministry, yet not cause division by discussing doctrinal disagreements with other members. He should respect the authority of the ministry and not contradict them, but wait for God to help the ministry see their error or the member himself see his error, even if that does not happen till the return of Christ.
The reason is simple. We must have faith in God, not man. God's word, the Bible, is infallible. Men are not, even men in the Church of God.
But some in the ministry do not agree. They believe that a member should assume that the ministry is right because Christ is the head of the Church and He leads the ministry in matters of doctrine.
Yet, these ministers know that they cannot say that the ministry is always right and never makes mistakes in following Christ. Church of God history proves that. If Mr. Armstrong made mistakes, any COG leader or minister can make mistakes.
Church of God leaders and ministers who say that members should believe their teachings regardless of whether the members can prove those teachings for themselves in the Bible are really saying that members should let the ministry interpret the Bible for them rather than let the Bible interpret the Bible as the Church used to teach when Mr. Armstrong was alive.
Ministers who teach this often quote 1 Timothy 3:15, which says that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth.
Does that verse mean that we should believe the Church more than we believe the Bible?
The first thing to notice about 1 Timothy 3:15 is that it is a figurative statement, not literal. The Church is not literally ground or dirt, nor is it literally a pillar made of stone, wood, or metal. These are symbols, metaphors, figures of speech. Ground and pillars represent something. Pillars are used to uphold things, so the Church being a pillar can mean that the Church is to uphold the truth. Ground is a kind of foundation, or a source of growth, and it can represent a source of truth. But whatever these symbols represent, they do not mean that ministers, leaders in the Church, teachers, and any human servant of God cannot make mistakes and always teach the truth, never error.
We know this from Church history. We can know it from the Bible. Human servants of God make mistakes. Mr. Armstrong named Mr. Tkach as his successor and told us to follow him, and many members of Worldwide did follow his teachings more than the Bible, letting him interpret the Bible for them, and believing that his interpretation of the Bible was correct. We saw where that led in the decade after Mr. Armstrong's death.
The Bible gives examples of human servants of God making mistakes. Nathan the prophet told David it was ok with God for David to build a temple to God, but God corrected Nathan (1 Chronicles 17:1).
Samuel the prophet was named by God, along with Moses, as a positive example (Jeremiah 15:1), yet even Samuel's judgment could be mistaken (1 Samuel 16:1-7). He did not see things as God saw them.
Though the Bible is clear that men, even righteous men, can make mistakes, the Bible is very clear that God does not make mistakes in His word, the Bible. Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). God cannot lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, Numbers 23:19, 1 Samuel 15:29). We are given the example of Abraham who believed what God said and his belief was counted as righteousness (Romans 4:3, James 2:23, Genesis 15:6, Galatians 3:5-9, Isaiah 51:1-2). The Bible teaches us to believe God.
1 Timothy 3:15 tells us that the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth, a metaphor. But the Bible also tells us that God's word, the Bible, IS truth, a very direct statement, no symbolism or metaphor or symbolic language involved. "Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth" (John 17:17). See also Psalm 119:160.
The Bible also teaches us to trust in God more than man (Psalm 118:8-9, Jeremiah 17:5-8).
Does the leadership of the Church and the ministry have authority to tell us what to believe in matters of doctrine? There is a passage in the Bible that seems to directly answer that very question.
"Not that we have dominion over your faith, but are fellow workers for your joy; for by faith you stand" (2 Corinthians 1:24).
Dominion means rule, authority. Faith is what we believe. Paul is saying here that he did not have authority over what the Corinthians believed, over their faith.
Some may quote 1 Thessalonians 2:13: "For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe".
Was the word Paul preached the word of God? Yes, and in a way that is not true for the ministry in the Church of God today or with Mr. Armstrong.
God's primary communication with the Church in Paul's day was different than today. In Paul's day, and even in Old Testament times, God primarily communicated through miracle-working servants, either prophets or apostles. Today, God primarily communicates through the Bible.
In Paul's day, the Bible was not complete. It was not widespread and easily available. And the proof of the Bible - fulfilled prophecy - was not yet available.
But God backs up His word with proof that it is from Him. In Paul's day, God backed up the words of His servants with public miracles to prove that the message was from God. Today, we have fulfilled prophecy to prove that the Bible is inspired by God. Both serve the same purpose. But God does not back up the words of His ministers today with public miracles. Instead, they are to teach from the Bible, and we can prove what they say by the Bible.
There is also the matter of hypocrisy regarding the preaching of the gospel to the world. If we have a double standard, if we tell the people of the world, don't believe us, believe your Bible, but tell our members, believe us because Christ leads us, God may not give us a wide open door for preaching the gospel. He wants us to practice what we preach and follow the same standard we set for others.
If you see something in the Bible that seems contrary to what the Church of God leadership and ministry teach, have an open mind. You may have made a mistake. Go to the ministry and ask questions if you want to. If you are in error, they may be able to show you your error. But if you cannot see from the Bible, from God's word, that you are in error, if you still feel the Church is wrong on some point of doctrine, what should you do?
First, don't assume the Church is right. Don't believe the Church more than you believe God. Let the Bible, not the Church, interpret the Bible. Believe God's word, the Bible.
But very importantly, don't discuss the matter with the brethren in the fellowship you attend. Don't take it upon yourself to correct the Church that way. You may offer correction to the ministry and leadership if that is wise, in private or in correspondence with headquarters. If they don't accept it, respect the office. God put the leaders and ministry in charge of what to teach the brethren. Don't contradict them. Don't undermine the authority of the offices God has set up. Keep quiet about it. Don't cause division.
Otherwise, you have chaos.
In time, Christ will make all needed corrections. Wait for Him, even if that means waiting till He returns. Perhaps at some point, if you are wrong, God will open your mind to understand the subject better and you will see that you have been wrong. Or, if the Church is wrong, God can do the same thing with the ministry and leadership.
That is how to put God first and keep peace in the Church.