The Lord Jesus asked His disciples an important question: “Who do men say I am?” Various answers were given. But then Jesus said, “Who do YOU say I am?” Simon Peter was quick to answer: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Jesus said to Peter, “You are blessed, Simon, son of Jonah, for flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father, who is in heaven.” The Lord taught that Peter’s confession had not come from Peter himself, but from the Father, who must enable men to recognize Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of God (John 6:44, 65).
Many of the early fathers of the Christian faith taught that it was Peter’s confession of faith in Jesus Christ that formed the foundation of the Church, and so it is. As John Chrysostom said, the Church is built upon “the faith of his [Peter’s] confession.” So also Hilary said, “This faith it is which is the foundation of the Church; through this faith the gates of hell cannot prevail against her. This is the faith which has the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” It was this confession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord that formed the foundation upon which Christ’s Church was laid. All members of the Church agree on the central truth that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. This faith, being the gift of God, provides Christ’s Church with a lasting, indestructible foundation.
The Bible also speaks of the Church itself as a “foundation.” Paul wrote to young Timothy concerning matters of the Church and described her as “the Church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15). This passage is very important, for many today teach that the Church is in fact the truth itself! Others go so far as identifying their own particular church, tradition, or denomination, as the pillar and foundation of the truth, to the exclusion of all others. Some teach that the Church defines the truth and has the authority to bind the consciences of men so that they must believe doctrines that are not plainly taught in God’s Word, the Scriptures. Does this passage support such an idea?
We must first ask, “What is the function of a pillar and a foundation?” Obviously, pillars stand upon a foundation, and both together function to hold up something else, normally, the roof and hence the rest of the structure. In the same way, the Church supports and holds up something else. And what is that? The text is plain: the truth. The Church proclaims God’s truth, not because she owns that truth, or has authority over that truth, but because she is faithful to Christ’s Word, and is herself obedient to that truth. She proclaims the truth out of love for the Savior. And she is careful to be conformed, and if necessary, reformed, by that truth. This is so much the Church’s mission that Chrysostom could say in speaking of the Church, “For it is this that maintains the faith and the preaching of the Word.”
The Church of Jesus Christ is marked by her adherence to His Word, her obedience to His will. It would be a strange bride indeed who did not welcome the voice of her husband, and who refused to listen to his words. In the same way, any church today which does not listen to Christ’s Word, and obey, is hardly to be counted a part of the Body of Christ.
If the Church is the pillar and foundation of the truth, then she must know where to find that truth, and so it is. She finds the truth of God in the Word of God. The Lord Jesus, as the Incarnate Word, is the fullest manifestation of God’s truth, and the Scriptures, as the Word written, provide us with an unchanging record of that truth. We read of the Scriptures that they are able to make one wise unto salvation by faith in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 3: 15). And why is this? Because they are God-breathed, inspired, and hence fully sufficient to equip the man of God for every good work (2 Timothy 3: 16-17). The Scriptures are, as the Psalmist said, a light shining on the path not only of every individual believer, but for the Church as a whole as well.
The Lord Jesus, in disputing with religious leaders who bound men under traditions and duties that were contrary to God’s will, taught us to test all traditions by the Scriptures (Matthew 15:1-9). In doing so, He made it plain that for His followers, traditions would always be subject to the scrutiny of the Scriptures, never the other way around. We are duty-bound, as followers of Christ, to do as He did, and test the traditions that are presented to us, even if we are told that these traditions are in fact equal with Scripture in authority.
When the Church proclaims the truth of God as found in the Scriptures, she is doing exactly what her Lord intended her to do, and is functioning as the pillar and foundation of the truth. When, however, the Church ceases to preach only God’s truth, and tries to add to Scripture her own thoughts and ideas, she ceases to be the one holding up the truth, but instead obscures that truth and fails to bring glory to Christ.
It is vitally important for the Church to realize that she is under the authority of the Word of God. As soon as any group or denomination begins to think they are infallible, and are no longer liable to correction by the Scriptures, God’s will for the Church is overthrown. The Word of God, and the Spirit of God, are infallible, and this is enough for the Church as she journeys in this world.
How can one know if the church to which they belong is holding fast to the truth of Christ? One might think of those truths of the Christian faith that are most likely to be abandoned by sinful men, and ask. “Has my church given in on these vital issues?” For example, does your church no longer hold to the Scriptures as the inspired, infallible revelation of God’s truth? Do they add to the Scriptures other teachings, claiming special authority to do so? Do they deny that the Scriptures are sufficient to function as the sole rule of faith for the Church? If so, such a church has wandered from God’s truth. And what of how a man is made right before God? Has your church held firmly to salvation by God’s grace, or has it allowed man to take a part of the credit for salvation? Is the truth of justification by faith (Romans 5:1) proclaimed, or denied, by that church? Is Jesus’ death on the cross of Calvary sufficient, in and of itself, to bring about the salvation of His people (Hebrews 10:10-14), or must men add works of penance or merit so as to obtain full salvation? Does your church seek always to be conformed to the truth of God in Scripture, or has it set itself up as its own authority, claiming infallibility outside of the Scriptures?
Beware of those who would direct you to a church or denomination, rather than to Christ and His Word, to be your guide. Such is a sure sign of danger for the child of God. Do as Christians have done since the beginning, and hold firmly to the Scriptures, God’s infallible Word, as the sufficient source of God’s truth. Join with Christians all across the world as the Body of Christ holds up God’s truth for all to see.
Ancient Christian Writers on the Sufficiency of Scripture
The apostles at that time first preached the Gospel but later, by the will of God, they delivered it to us in the Scriptures, that it might be the foundation and pillar of our faith (Ireneaus, Against Heresies, 3:1).
(In demonstration that “tradition” is secondary to Scripture:) Since, therefore, the tradition from the apostles does thus exist in the Church, and is permanent among us, let us revert to the Scriptural proof furnished by those apostles who did also write the Gospel, in which they recorded the doctrine regarding God, pointing out that our Lord Jesus Christ is the truth, and that no lie is in Him (3.5.1).
...for the tokens of truth are more exact as drawn from Scripture, than from other sources.... (Athanasius, De Decretis, 31)
The Holy and Inspired Scriptures are sufficient of themselves for the preaching of the Truth. (Athanasius, Contra Gentiles, 1:1)
These [canonical] books are the fountains of salvation, so that he who thirsts may be satisfied with the oracles contained in them: in these alone the school of piety preaches the Gospel; let no man add to or take away from them. (Athanasius. Fest. Ep. 39)
The hearers taught in the Scriptures ought to test what is said by teachers and accept that which agrees with the Scriptures but reject that which is foreign. (Basil, Moralia, 72:1)
Therefore let God-inspired Scripture decide between us; and on whichever side be found doctrines in harmony with the word of God, in favor of that side will be cast the vote of truth. (Basil, Ep. ad Eustathius)
In regard to the divine and holy mysteries of the faith, not the least part may be handed on without the Holy Scriptures. Do not be led astray by winning words and clever arguments. Even to me, who tell you these things, do not give ready belief, unless you receive from the Holy Scriptures the proof of the things which I announce. The salvation in which we believe is not proved from clever reasoning, but from the Holy Scriptures. (St. Cyril of Jerusalem, Catechetical Lectures 4:17)
What more shall I teach you than what we read in the apostle? For Holy Scripture fixes the rule for our doctrine, lest we dare to be wiser than we ought. (Augustine, De bono viduitatis, 2)