The Church in Action
By Iverna Tompkins
As transcribed by Jane Vaughn
This message was delivered to a Conference of Pastors and Church Leaders - 2007 - but is a vital revelation for the Body of Christ at large. jv
I want us to read the Scriptural text upon which this Conference has been based and we’re going to read that same text from several different translations of the Bible. The verse is First Timothy 3:15 and the first translation we will consult is the King James Version: “But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.”
Then, Dr. Gene Holmes translated the verse from the Greek for us earlier and said it reads this way: “But if I delay, in order that you may regard with favor how it is proper to conduct yourself in the middle of the household, that is, the family of God, whoever exits the past, the called out ones of the living God, a pillar, support and foundation, basis of the truth.” He reported that’s as literal as he could translate.
Young’s Living Testament says, “If I delay that thou mayest know how it behooveth thee” – don’t you just love those old words? “to conduct thyself…” I love to hear people prophesy in that formal language, don’t you? – “Yea, it behooveth thee!” :-) “…to conduct thyself in the house of God.” Listen now to what ‘the house of God’ is – “which is an assembly of the living God, a pillar and foundation of the truth.”
New International Version has it this way: “If I’m delayed, you know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and the foundation of the truth.”
The Message (actually a paraphrase and not a translation) says, “I hope to visit you soon but just in case I’m delayed, I’m writing this letter so you’ll know how things ought to go in God’s household, this God-alive church, the bastion of truth.”
The Amplified Bible – I love the Amplified. It’s definitely a woman’s Bible – it just goes on and on and on… :-) “If I am detained, you may know how people ought to conduct themselves in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and stay – the prop and support – of the truth.”
And lastly, for the enlargement of our understanding, we’ll read the New Century Version: “I hope to visit you soon, but I’m writing these instructions so that if I’m delayed, you will know how everyone ought to behave in the church, the church of the living God is the strong foundation of truth.”
If you would learn to do that, by the way, to consult and compare several translations of the passages you are studying, you will save yourself a lot of misunderstandings. Don’t just take one translation by itself and attempt to build your understanding of what God is intending for you. Try to consult many – as many as you can. It’s just like listening to many different speakers on a single topic – each of us emphasizes a different portion of the Scripture, or as someone said to me recently, “You always have such a different slant on things.” That’s why God calls the variety of people that He calls to minister. And it’s one of the reasons He calls women speakers – because women see things from a different slant than men do (which is no shock to any man reading this message! :-) )
We do need to see the totality of meaning in our texts. Simply reading these several translations, opens our understanding – it gives a whole, or fuller picture, doesn’t it? It allows us to gain a whole new, or more complete understanding of that single verse.
Now questions do arise, if we were going to exegete that passage with precision. One natural question would be: who (or what) is the pillar? The text states that the Church of God (referring to the universal Church, the whole Body of Christ) has a strong foundation of truth and it is the pillar of truth. The question is: to which noun is he referring. Is Paul saying to his son in the faith, Timothy, “you are the pillar”? There certainly are many Scriptures that would support that understanding. Yet, we also can see in other contexts that the same thing was spoken of some of the other disciples, like Peter – that they seemed to be foundational pillars of the truth. (Mt.16:18 raises a similar question).
In addition, the Bible says, for instance, in the Book of the Revelation, that “If you are an overcomer, I will make you a pillar in the house of My God and you’ll be there forever – you shall go no more out and you are a stabilizer” (Rev.3:12, paraphrased).
Or, is Paul saying, the Church is the pillar of the truth? And if he’s saying the Church – what church? Which one? The Baptist church? Or the Presbyterian? Or the Methodist? If you were raised in any of those denominations, or the Assemblies of God as I was, if you were raised in any of those churches – that’s what you were lie… uh, told. :-) Each denomination claims: “We have the truth. Other churches exist, but merely to support us – but we have the truth!”
Does this verse then refer to denominations or, a single denomination? Or – if you’re a pastor, even you may have a tendency to think that your church is the only support of the truth – that the others come short in some thing or some way.
One of the brothers speaking today told a little bit about his own background. He is what we would call a “big shot” in his denomination, and yet we heard that he went through the same kinds of difficult life situations that “little shots” go through who are merely the heads of their local churches.
I’m old enough to have seen this occur in church history from just about every standpoint. I’ve watched the Church make great transitions – of which we pretend today, “this is the only.” I do believe the Church is in transition, but it’s nothing new. I don’t want to upset you by the truth of that fact. We’re just doing it in our generation – it’s our time to do the flip. But there really is nothing new under the sun! (Eccl.1:9).
If you look back through centuries of church history, you will see what I’m saying to you is absolutely true. There have been lots of times. . . In fact, look at just some of the statements (I was going to say “gripes” :-)) – made by some of the minor prophets about their own times. They reported what they saw in their days: “The people are lying and stealing and getting drunk and they’re careless and… and…” Can’t you just hear them wailing? “Oh, my God! I don’t know! There’s no hope for anything!” And the Lord said, “Write the vision – make it clear.” (Hab.2:1) :-)
You see – we think we’re so unique – but we’re really not that unique. We’re not – unique. We’re just – expected. God expected us. He got pregnant with us. :-) You’ve been given birth. Hello. Think about it – it’s true. Now we’re growing, and He’s been nurturing us all through this time because He has a goal for our lives.
The Truth is not dependent on one organized church alone. It is not dependent on one individual who changes his life. I’ve become weary of the claims that reflect that kind of thinking. But I do expect your life to change – as you surrender piece by piece to the Lord. And I don’t spend much time telling you about “me” because it isn’t about me! Sometimes people are sincerely interested to hear what God has done in my life and even make the requests: “I wish you would give your testimony.” Who cares, really? Whatever you were – I was. And whatever He did for you – that’s what He did for me. :-) We’ve both been set free from the sins of the past by the mighty hand of God through Christ our Savior! We have the same gift in salvation! We worship the same God!
You know, this is just a good time in history for us to re-channel our focus. Wouldn’t you say so? Because, obviously, the world is in a big mess, and obviously I cannot change it – by myself!
I traveled widely in ministry for about 40 years and have spoken to – estimated in the Jesus Rally days – as many as 30,000 people spread out across the hills of Pennsylvania. I’ve also spoken to 30 people in seemingly insignificant church congregations – and I do not see the message change. No matter how many people are assembled, there’s just one Word of God. And that Word is Truth. Jesus desperately endeavored to get that across to His disciples who were seeking truth. And He speaks the same thing to us today, who are still seeking truth.
When you’re a seeker of truth – you’re on thin ice! – because there are many people who will present error as truth to those who are seekers. That doesn’t mean it is wrong to be a seeker. It means – be a smart seeker! Be alert and be discerning. And when someone presents a thing or idea to you as “This is the way” – check it out with He Who is the Way, and see if it actually is! (see Ac.17:11 – be like the Bereans with Paul). We must learn to be discerning.
We’re so funny. We trust the Lord in everyone else – but not in us! Haven’t you heard something like these statements? “I don’t have a right to reject that – he’s a big shot.” “I don’t have a right to say ‘No’ to that. You know, they seem to think he knows something.” They who? What does God say about what you just heard presented?
The Holy Ghost came to function in you. He came to be the discerner of truth (Jn.14:17; 16:13). He came to lead you into all truth. Not for you to sit and have an inward slingshot – “Ready – aim – fire!” Not for you to be the judge of every minister. But there is a holy – Holy – say it out loud! Holy Spirit Who indwells your life. And the Holy Spirit is repelled by anything un–holy!
He will rise up – listen now – concerning His purpose for you – to reveal the truth to you so that you may know whether you’re to be involved or dis-involved (UN-involved) in this something that has presented opportunity. He will let you know whether you’re to receive it or not.
Sometimes when I see things “unholy” around me – and I check in with Him immediately when that happens – and He says, “That’s for you to pray it through – pray for that person.” Then at other times, He may say, “That’s for you to counsel – go and counsel that person.” Or, He says, “It doesn’t matter. Get your eyes off of the person and put your focus back on Me.” If I say, “I can’t. What I’ve seen (or heard) is just too awful! I just can’t get my eyes off them. I can’t go to that church again because of what I’m seeing.” Well, that’s when I may hear this response: “Then you just failed the test and you will take it over!”
The reason that I’m sort of belaboring this portion – to speak to you concerning the individual, as a person – and the individual as a church – and hopefully to give you a larger scope beyond denominations and beyond the independent church (which becomes a denomination of its own with lots of heads of the church :-)) – but what I’m trying to help us see is that the only hope for us to collectively become the perfect Church . . . Oh, you don’t think we ever will? Absolutely we will! He’s coming for a Church without – what? Without spot or wrinkle (Eph.5:27). That’s why He puts us all together in the mix. As we rub up against one another, we – iron… :-)
You can almost hear these words in some comments made as asides in the narthex: “Oh, those wrinkles in her!” But she sees yours as well: “I see the ones in you, too.” And we just kind of – iron those things out. You see, we can’t do it alone. We just can’t do it alone.
Jesus is coming for a Church without spot or wrinkle. Okay then: I expect – that there will be a perfect Church!
How does the Church get perfected? Oh, well, that’s an easy one. We know what Paul taught to the early Church – about the five-fold ministry (Eph.4:11f) – “that we all may grow up into the unity of the faith – till we all come to the perfect One, being exactly like Him” (vs.13 paraphrased).
Really? Cross-your-heart-and-hope-to-die, stick-a-needle-in-your-eye! :-) Do you really – honestly believe that such a Church will ever exist? I’m here to tell you that, no individual church – no single denomination – or individual person – no organized group – will ever be the perfect Church! BUT – all of us – hear it if you can – from eternity. . . All the way from creation to this generation… All of us together – across all the generations of believers... that’s the Church!
Last night, I told you about the Old Testament “called-out ones.” From that time centuries ago, through those Old Testament generations, all the way through this generation and – however long before the Father says to the Son, “It’s enough, now, go get them.” All of those believers – all of those that comprise the universal Church – that is the Church, I hope you know. All believers of all times and all nations and all cultures and all people-groups – that Church is perfect – only as He puts the whole puzzle together!
He takes the perfected piece out of this one and the perfected piece out of this one, and believe it or not, the perfected piece out of this one right here, and the perfected piece out of wherever you attend church. There may be many imperfections that remain, but He plucks what is perfected out of every place where His Name is honored, and He brings them all together. And when His puzzle is complete, it is the face of Jesus Christ! The only face the Father can behold!
Go to Part 2