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?
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.