Bible 1 Yr – Day 261 – What is a bulwark?

Today we read 1st Timothy, chapter 3. The chapter starts out with Paul reminding Timothy of the qualifications for a Bishop. Paul says that Bishops should only be “the husband of one wife” and therefore this passage is often referenced in conversations about celibacy of the clergy. However, if we only focus on that aspect we miss the more basic issue.

Why is Paul reminding Timothy of the qualifications of Bishops? Sometimes the implications of this passage are so apparent they are like the purloined letter, hiding right in front of our eyes. The answer is simple – Paul and Timothy have been together for a while but now Timothy has been sent on his own to be in charge of a local Church. In time, Timothy will have to find men and appoint them to be new Bishops. Therefore, Paul is reminding him of the rules.

How can Timothy appoint new Bishops if he is not a Bishop himself? Think about it, a Captain in the army cannot appoint someone a General. It takes another
General (or higher) to raise someone else up to the rank of General.

What we see here is Paul preparing the Church for the future. Paul loved Ephesus. It was one of his first outposts, we know he spent time there with Luke and most likely, the Blessed Virgin Mary. But know he is giving up direct supervision, he has appointed one of his most trusted companions, Timothy – who co-signed six of Paul’s letters – to be the new Pastor of Ephesus. Here Paul is like a mother seeing her son off to college, reminding him one last time of all the little things he needs to know as the car pulls away from the dorm. Timothy is a Bishop, he has been given responsibility for not just an geographical area but for the very future of part of the Church itself.

Notice what else Paul says about the qualifications of Bishops. He must be:

… able to teach, 3 not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, 5 for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?

1Ti 3:2-5

So a Bishop must be “able to teach”. Teach what? It’s a simple question with profound implications. First, we know that Jesus sent out the Apostles, not with Bibles to distribute, but with Authority to TEACH. Thus what we see here is an indication that bishops like Timothy are successors to the mission of the Apostles. Furthermore, if they are to teach they must teach the same things that have already been taught. They must pass on truth. This passages shows that basic doctrine is already being established and that is why it is so vitally important to know that the first Christians, the Fathers of the Church, believed and taught. Without knowing the doctrines that were taught in the first century we cannot be sure that we believe the same things taught by Jesus.

Notice WHY it is important for the Bishop to be qualified … his job is to “care for God’s church”! Do you see here that the Church, God’s Church, is not a loose collection of believers? It is an establish organization with a leader who must be qualified. And it is His Church, not a church established by med with doctrines not taught by the Apostles.

I have written many posts about doctrine. I have had a lot of back and forth with some of you on email over points of theology. Always it comes back to the question, how do we know who is right? We are, after all, talking about eternity, our immortal souls, and an infinite God. How can we know the answers to these, the most important questions we will ever consider? Often the answer I get back is “the Bible tells us” what truth is. However, this always proves to be an wholly inadequate answer. We endless debate what Scripture means. Of course, the Bible is the inspired word of God but when we disagree about what it means, where do we go to get a definitive interpretation?

Paul tells us:

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, 15 if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth.

But what is a bulwark? Some of us suburbanites, living with our lawns and picket fences might not realize what it is:

bul·wark (b l w rk, -wôrk , b l -)n.

1. A wall or embankment raised as a defensive fortification; a rampart.
2. Something serving as a defense or safeguard: “We have seen the necessity of the Union, as our bulwark against foreign danger”.

So the Church, not the Bible, is the safeguard, the defender of the Truth. Notice what Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, has done here. He has laid it all out for us. The Bishop must be a holy man who is qualified to teach in God’s Church which is the defender of truth. This should not be surprising to us. Paul is simply reiterating that Jesus himself told us:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. 18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.

Matthew 18: 15

Notice, there is no penalty for not listening to your brother. There is no penalty for not listening when you are confronted by two or three witnesses. However, there is penalty for not listening to the Church! If you fail to listen to the Church you are considered like a Gentile or tax collector – an outsider! One of those who was not part of the chosen people of Israel.

And realize the Church cannot be wrong in these things. Jesus says, “whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven…” Can error be bound in heaven? Of course not. This is really a simple matter for God. If God can inspire fallible men to write infallible scripture, surely he can inspire a succession of fallible men from formally binding something on earth that would be error.

This doesn’t mean that every Bishop and Pope will be perfect. Jesus himself says that weeds will grow up with wheat and that he will separate them at the end of days. It just means that when the Church seeks to teach something formally it will do so free from error. This is how the Church can be the bulwark of truth. The Apostles had this Authority directly from Jesus and as Paul passed it onto Timothy, so too has every Bishop passed it onto his successors.

Finally, the connections of the Church to the truth run deep. Jesus says he is the “way, the TRUTH and the life. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth, the “fullness of him who is all in all.” Thus the Church is the physical presence of Jesus in the world while we await his return. Therefore the Church is the bulwark of Truth. The safeguard and defender of truth here on earth.

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9 Responses to Bible 1 Yr – Day 261 – What is a bulwark?

  1. Chris Daley says:

    What happens when you want to “take it to the church”, but the church leaders themselves are corrupt? Like during Martin Luther’s time, the church and its hierarchy was viewed as corrupt, who was Luther supposed to take his questions to?

  2. Chris – as always excellent and insightful questions. First, notice that the command of Jesus is to “go tell it to the Church” and in Acts 15 we see that in this instance “the Church” is not just you local Parrish or even the Vatican in Rome but it is all the Bishops meeting together in council. When this happens and the Bishops speak in one voice in union with Peter they speak authoritatively to answer questions of theology, the interpretation of scripture and other matters of governance. The answer to you specific example is provided by history. The abuses that lead to the Reformation were addressed in the Council of Trent. After the reformation the Holy Spirit raised up great reformers in the Church like Saint John of the Cross, St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Ávila, St. Francis de Sales and St. Charles Borromeo. Jesus gave us a Church and we need to trust it in all circumstances. That doesn’t mean you lay down and except error and abuses but you don’t leave Peter b/c their is a Judas among the apostles.

  3. Chris Daley says:

    What are you to do if Judas is in charge? Luther thought the whole establishment, from the pope down, was corrupt. which begs the question, how does the pope become corrupt, unless he was corrupt before he took office, which then means Holy Spirit guided the church to elect somebody who is corrupt to the highest office. That doesn’t make any sense to me.

  4. Luther “thought”. Luther didn’t TRUST. The great irony is the if Luther had FAITH is Jesus and his Church his name would be listed among the great saints in my prior comment. St John of the Cross thought much as Luther did. He was jailed by some of the corrupt men in his order. Filled with zeal for Christ he prayed unceasingly. Eventually he escaped through a window and climbed 100 feet down a sheer wall to keep preaching reforms. His order, the Carmelites, is one of the most holy orders unto this day.

    There are 2 answers to your statement about corrupt Popes. First, to the extent that the Holy Spirit guides the Church into selecting Popes doesn’t mean that the best person to be Pope will be selected. It doesn’t mean that the Pope who is selected won’t do anything wrong. It only means that the person selected will not lead the church into TEACHING error because once he takes office the charism of infallibility will come upon him.

    Second, there have been lots of bad popes YET STILL the Church has never taught error. It has never ceased to exist. It has never gone any appreciable period without Saints and miracles. In fact, even under some of the worst popes the Church has done great things. Many of the collections of art and architecture come from the worst Borgia popes. For example, the selling of indulgences, the so upset Luther, was used to fund (in part) St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican. It is one of the great architectural wonders of the world, it is the home to hundreds of works of art that are displayed for public that might otherwise be lost or in private collections, it provides a meeting place for millions of the world’s faithful. The Vatican archive has preserved millions of historical documents. God turns all things to his glory.

    Perhaps the greatest is the miracle of the building itself. When St. Peter’s was built it was built over the remains of Church that had stood on that spot for about 1000 years. They built the Basilica and 500 years later discovered that buried under the remains of the first Church are the remains of the Roman streets with building still standing. If you walk the streets of those remains you come to the entrance of another church, this one lost for 1900 years. In the Church is a grave with the words “Peter is here” written over it. In the grave is the remains of St. Peter, petrified and turned to stone form 1,900 of the weight of rock, sand, stone and Catholics pressing down on him. In turns out that although it had been lost to history that grave with the petrified bones of Peter is EXACTLY under the alter of the current St. Peters. “And Jesus said, ‘You are the Rock and on this rock I will build my church” is not just an affirmation that Peter is the leader of the Apostles but a Prophecy, fulfilled in a manner only God could design. He used the awful Pope or the era of the reformation to build about a building the is the most gigantic and glorious grave marker ever built since the pyramids. All so that you and I can see the truth of the statement “on this rock I will build my Church”.

  5. Chris Daley says:

    On the one hand you tell me the catholic church is the only church that can trace it roots back to Jesus with historical records, now you tell me with a story that the grave of the chief apostle and the first pope was somehow “lost” in history. Which is it?

    Paul tell us that God doesn’t dwell in houses made with human hands (Acts 17:24) God created the entire universe and you think He is impressed with a little building here on earth? And our bodies are the temple of God, right? How could we ever build something as magnificent as our own body? Plus how many trillions upon trillions of dollars have been spent over the past 2000 years to build and maintain these giant buildings that God has no interest in. Wouldn’t that money have not been better spent to help the poor? The early church met in the believers homes and outside, why do you need the ornate buildings?

    Then with the infallibility aspect. If I’m understanding you right, the pope could tell his bishops in a private meeting that it is ok to rob, cheat and steal, but as long as he doesn’t tell the entire church that, he’s still infallible. Didn’t Jesus tell us that a corrupt tree cannot produce good fruit? (Matthew 17:7) So, how can the corruption that Luther saw produce anything good?

  6. First, in general let me just say that your comments reflect a common Protestant false premise. Protestants tend to ask questions that suggest the answer must be either / or but that is just not a correct way of conceptualizing God, the Chruch and theological questions in general. The answer is always both / and.

    As to your specific questions I don’t see how losing track of the burial place of Peter has any reflection on why the Catholic Church is not the one true Church. In your own question you correctly point out that for the first 100+ years there were no formal churches people met in homes. We know that Peter was buried in a potter’s field a short distance from the crucifixion site (as most crucified people were). The grave was marked but over time the exact location was lost. About 300 years later a small Catholic church was built on the traditional location, then a bigger church, then then Vatican. That the Church is one true church has to do with that the Pope can trace succession all the way back to Peter. That fact that it is the vatican over the grave doesn’t mean that the building of the Vatican is the one true building. The fact that the Vatican is CATHOLIC means that the the Catholic church, where ever it is located in the world is the one true church.

    In Acts 17, Paul is recounting speaking to the greeks about the nature of God. He is explaining to a pagan people that God is not confined to idols and temples. To read it as broadly as to say that God is not in a Church is way over reaching. Why go to Church at all then? Didn’t Jesus say were people gather in his name there he is? God, of course, exists every where.

    As for buildings in general it was God who commanded the building of a temple. Home churches are nice but we saw the Pope here last week and the 20k people who attended Mass aren’t going to fit in your house or mine. Jesus said the kingdom of God was like a mustard seed, which if you know how they grow, they grow into a huge bush 7 to 8 feet high and sprawling in every direction. The Church today is not supposed to look like the church of AD 100. It changes with the times and when it grows large it needs places to meet. When we build a Church where does it say we should build it plain and with no adornment? In fact, Jesus himself was anointed with expensive oil and since Catholics believe that there is no difference between Christ and the Church should be not adorn the house of God and we would God himself? In addition, if you have ever walked into a great Church what happens? Your eyes turn toward heaven. Your place in the universe is impressed upon you. The grandeur of a great Church given you perspective – you are small, God is great.

    The “give the money to the poor” is a old canard. First, the Catholic Church is the biggest charitable organization in the world – it has been for over a thousand years. It feed the hungry, cares for the sick and educates the masses. By far most of its wealth goes to this purpose. Further, what wealth it does have is held in trust for the public. The great paintings and statues would be in private hands if it was not in the Church. Further, that wealth generates more wealth. People go to the Vatican and pay for tickets. The money is used to maintain the building but also feed the poor, etc. This is not new under Pope Francis, this has always been, its just getting know again.

    Finally, the corrupt tree producing good fruit again proceeds from a false premise. Your presuming everything is corrupt but for every corrupt bishop there are dozens of faithful ones. For every bad priest there are thousand on their way to holiness. I would say that Protestantism is a corrupt tree but even I wouldn’t say that nothing good comes of it. There are lots of good holy protestantism. There are bad things that come from it to. Like for example, I would say that the new atheism and divorce and gay marriage are effect primarily (not exclusively) from protestantism. But good things still come from Protestantism. As I said before, God takes all things and makes them work towards good.

  7. Chris Daley says:

    “When we build a Church where does it say we should build it plain and with no adornment?”

    1 Timothy 2:9King James Version (KJV)
    9 In like manner also, that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array;
    That’s a command from Paul, and that is the same as a command from the Lord, right?

    As believers, we are told our bodies are God’s Temple, and that we should dress these temples modestly and humbly, why wouldn’t the buildings in which we meet be the same way?

    Plus I can go outside at night, look up at the vastness of the universe or stand on the beach and look out over the ocean and realize how small I am, I don’t need to walk into a giant cathedral adorned with gold and riches.

  8. Paul is telling them that because in the early home churches the gathering quickly became social events. Woman were getting dressed up and there was a party type atmosphere before and after. Further, those who could dress up were being treated as second class (i can look up the verse but don’t remember it off the top of my head). So Paul is talking about decorum.

    Conversely, Jesus himself tells a parable of those invited to the wedding feast who show up in their street clothes and do not take the time to but on their special wedding garment. Would you suggest that you or I should go to Church in any old clothes I feel like it. When going to meet the king shouldn’t I dress for the occasion. Certainly, God would not turn away anyone who HAD to come to church dress poorly b/c of money or circumstances etc, but if can dress for work shouldn’t you dress for Church.

    Its great to go out and look at the stars and contemplate your place in the world but do you? Do you go every Sunday to the top of the local mountain to worship? Probably not. You go to church. And once again we see the Church strike the right balance. We have some Cathedrals that are great and ornate but my local Parrish is a simple wooden structure. When I was in the Boy Scouts we often had mass in the woods under the stars. (Which brings up another good point that going to the top of the mountain to recognize you place might be great but for 2000 years Christian worship has involved a Priest and the Eucharist so unless the priest is waiting at the top of the hill you haven’t fulfilled your obligation to the Lord to “do this in memory of me”.

    Again we see the truth of the premise I first articulated to you in this exchange. BOTH are valid ways to worship. Both have different merits. God encompasses the “both / add”. At times it is proper to have a large ornate cathedral, at other times it is proper to be in a small plain chapel. To exclude one at the expense of the other is to loose perspective on the vastness of God.

    • Chris Daley says:

      James 2King James Version (KJV)

      2 My brethren, have not the faith of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory, with respect of persons.
      2 For if there come unto your assembly a man with a gold ring, in goodly apparel, and there come in also a poor man in vile raiment;
      3 And ye have respect to him that weareth the gay clothing, and say unto him, Sit thou here in a good place; and say to the poor, Stand thou there, or sit here under my footstool:
      4 Are ye not then partial in yourselves, and are become judges of evil thoughts?
      5 Hearken, my beloved brethren, Hath not God chosen the poor of this world rich in faith, and heirs of the kingdom which he hath promised to them that love him?

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