Please hear this in the spirit it is intended. I am not condemning Orthodox or Catholic or Protestant believers. I am, however, pointing out the way these organizations get in the way of unity; all of them, including the ones, like the Eastern Orthodox and the Roman Catholics, who claim that joining them is the way to unity. No, they are a source of both error and division even though, like Protestant churches, they have godly disciples mixed in among the sons of disobedience (2 Cor. 6:14-16, Eph. 2:1-3).
This was originally a reply to a comment. The commenter said an Orthodox friend challenged him by claiming that 1 Timothy 3:15 is referring to the (Eastern) Orthodox Church(es). 1 Timothy 3:15 says that the church is the pillar and support of the truth. This Orthodox believer concluded from this that his section of the Orthodox Churches cannot be questioned because God ensures that they hold to truth. This is what I wrote back to him. (See the last section of this article for my take on 1 Timothy 3:15, which lines up with the rest of Scripture and the actions of God throughout history.)
Honestly, I am sometimes astonished at the arrogance of (some) Orthodox believers. They can’t be questioned? Really? Your point is perfect. The Roman Catholic Church makes the same argument, and they have every bit as much a right to do so as the Orthodox Churches. Nor should we forget that there are Oriental Orthodox Churches, Armenian Orthodox Churches, and Coptic Orthodox Churches that are not in communion with the Eastern Orthodox Churches (Russian, Greek, and a couple others).
What your Orthodox friend is not telling you, probably because he does not know, is that the most important thing about tradition to the catholic churches of the first five centuries or so was that TRADITION MUST NOT BE CHANGED (Jude 1:3; and see Irenaeus, Against Heresies, I:10 from around the year 185). Only the apostles could create tradition. It is not just any tradition that is authoritative, but only “APOSTOLIC TRADITION.” Those early catholic churches, before the fracturing of “the Church,” considered innovation, the changing of tradition, to be error by definition.
The elders of the church in Rome wrote to Cyprian, bishop of Carthage, in the year 250. They said that if the church in Rome was to fall from its greatness, it would be “the greatest crime” (Epistles of Cyprian XXX, par. 2). By greatness, they meant adherence to apostolic truth, care for the members of the church and especially those in prison for the faith, and the generosity that Rome’s church was famous for. They cited Ezekiel 34:1-4, which talks about shepherds that eat the sheep rather than caring for them, and said about themselves that they need to avoid this (Epistles of Cyprian II, par. 1).
History shows that Rome did fall from its greatness. Almost across the board the shepherds cared for themselves rather than the sheep. Horace Mann, the popes’ most favorable biographer, wrote in Lives of the Popes (Middle Ages, vol. IV):
We would say something of an age when the Supreme Pontiffs of Rome, dragged down with Italy, were so degraded, in part by the treatment to which they were subjected, and in part by the vices of some of those whom brute force thrust into the chair of Peter, that one might have been tempted to believe that their authority must for ever have come to an end. (Introduction)
I am not merely tempted, but compelled, to question an organization that claims to be divinely protected from error, especially in the person of their bishop, about whom their most favorable biographer can write such things. God did not preserve the papacy from being filled and run by members of Italian mafias for at least a century and possible five centuries.
And if we may and must question Rome, which committed the “greatest crime” in falling from their greatness, then we may and must question Constantinople (Istanbul), Moscow, Jerusalem, Alexandria, Antioch, Armenia, Ethiopia, Egypt, India, and all other divisions of the Orthodox Churches as well. Their job was equally to tend the sheep and preserve apostolic tradition. I think any reasonable examination shows that they did not preserve apostolic tradition and, in general, are no longer making even an effort to tend the sheep.
They argue that we should not trust our own mind, but trust God’s promise to them. That is what I would say as well if I could not withstand examination.
Instead, I say what Jesus says, let’s examine the fruit! Our goal is to love one another, to be in unity, to remain unstained by the world, and to help the widows and orphans (Jn. 13:34; 17:20-23; James 1:26-27; all of which line up with the judgment of the sheep and goats). Holding to an organization only gets in the way of that in our day and age. The worse crime of the Orthodox, Catholic, and Protestants is the binding together of believer and unbeliever, sons of Belial and followers of Christ, mixing light and darkness and the temple of God with idols (2 Cor. 6:14-16).
We must become doers of the Word of God. These competing organizations, including the Orthodox, are dividers of the Church, not uniters. They call people into compromise with nominal Christians and honor ineffective sacraments that do not convey holiness or power. God has always honored spiritual descent, not physical descent. Paul honored demonstration and power, not mere words (1 Cor. 4:19-20). The children of Abraham are those who do good works produced from a living faith. They need to separate from the sons of Belial, break their yoke with unbelievers and earthly organizations, and join themselves to one another in the organism that is the Church, united in Spirit (Eph. 4:3).
1 Timothy 3:15 and the Pillar and Support of the Truth
Protestants don’t know what to say about 1 Timothy 3:15. Which church is the pillar and support of the truth? Protestants cannot claim that for themselves by ancestry without including their mother, the Roman Catholic Church.
Jesus never teaches organization descent. He teaches spiritual descent. The children of Abraham can be raised up from stones. It is faith that joins us to Jesus and to his Father. It is love and the Holy Spirit that join us to one another. The church of 1 Timothy 3:15 is the local church, for it is the only church anyone can interact with or learn from. 1 John 2:27, using a plural “you” in every instance, promises “you” (“y’all” or “you guys”) that we do not need anyone to teach us because the anointing is leading us into all things, and it is true and not a lie. In other words, the Bible teaches the local church that together they can be led into everything that the Holy Spirit wants to teach them, and what they are taught will be “true and not a lie.”
How can this not be the same as “the pillar and support of the truth”?
The nation of Israel was blessed only when they were living obediently to God. Their association with God as his chosen people did them no good against their enemies unless they were either obeying him already, or unless they repented and started obeying him. Jesus promised the church that the gates of Hades would not prevail against it. I can testify from experience that the gates of Hades never prevail against a church gathered together in the name of Jesus and who actively seek and obey him. As someone who has written a book on the Council of Nicea, the Emperor Constantine and his sons, and the battles over Arianism that went on throughout the fourth century, I can testify that the gates of Hades thoroughly triumphed over the organization that is now split into various Catholic and Orthodox Churches. They lost their holiness, many of their leaders were political appointees or ambitious men who clawed or bought their ways into leadership, and the members of the churches were killing each other in the streets.
An obedient local church, loving one another, denying themselves, and following Jesus, whether that group refers to themselves as Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox, or by any other designation, overthrows darkness, raises up followers of Jesus, and causes God to be glorified by their good works.
Don’t go find the church that is mentioned in 1 Timothy 3:15. It is not “out there.” It is here, where you are. Diligently join yourself in unity with those who are near you and who have the Holy Spirit (Eph. 4:3) and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace with them (2 Tim. 4:3). This is what the Bible commands you to do.