A sermon by Dcn. Joseph Gleason
This was just too good not to repost.
A large family lived on a small farm, complete with workhorses, milk cows, pigs, chickens, and a large family garden. They had a two-story Victorian home, a gravel driveway, and a large wood-slat front porch surrounded with a multitude of richly colored flowers. In springtime, the air was frequently filled with the faint scent of flowers which covered the various fruit trees which dotted the property, and in the fall, the air was filled the sounds and smells of the harvest. The inside of their home was mostly clean, but lived-in enough to be comfortable. Most of the furniture was homemade, and a few pieces had been passed down in the family for generations. There was grandpa’s rocking chair, great-grandma’s lamp, and a lovely piano which had been in the family for over 125 years. Each piece had sentimental value, and was treasured by the entire family. They all felt warm, loved, and greatly blessed.
Out of everything, though, their most cherished possession was their large family Bible. It had been purchased nearly 200 years earlier by one of their ancestors, during a time when books were rare and expensive. This exquisite Bible hearkened back to a time when the world was not yet filled with pulp fiction and dimestore novels. In many cases, if a family could afford to own any books at all, the family Bible would be the only one.
This Bible held many family memories, its back pages filled with handwritten records of births, deaths, and marriages going back for generations. This family had inherited this Bible from great-grandfather, and he had told them many stories of his own childhood, when his father and grandfather had read the words of Christ from this very same Bible.
Their great-great-great-great-great-grandfather was a skilled woodworker, and during the same time that he originally purchased this Bible, he had hand-carved an exquisite hardwood pedestal to hold the family Bible. It was both strong and beautiful, ornately designed, and sturdy enough to last for centuries. It was carefully crafted to fit the Bible perfectly, and it was just the right height for the father to stand and read from the Scriptures during daily family worship time.
For two centuries the family Bible and its pedestal had been passed down from father to son. For generations, the pages had been carefully turned by the loving hands of fathers and grandfathers, as the walls of little homes were being bathed in the prayers of their inhabitants.
Their oldest son, Martin, had just turned 17 years old. He was an inquisitive, precocious boy, and was frequently praised for eagerness to learn new things. He cherished the family Bible, and he studied it often.
Over a long period of time, though, he had grown to despise the old pedestal on which the family Bible rested. Upon close inspection, he discovered that the ancient wood had become cracked with age, that the paint was antiquated and peeling, and that many hard years had left a number of noticeable scuff marks on the old heirloom.
“Surely,” thought Martin, “our precious family Bible deserves a better pedestal than this. Surely such an old and worn-out piece of furniture is not worthy to bear up and support such an exquisite copy of God’s Word, which has been in our family for generations.”
Gradually, Martin began to spend less time in worship, as he focused on the flaws in the old wooden stand. He spent less and less time in prayer, and more time plotting ways to destroy this pedestal.
His thoughts became poisoned against this pedestal which had been lovingly and carefully carved by his own ancestor. He began speaking out against it, telling everyone in his family just how worthless it was. Of course, they were aghast, and they vehemently disagreed with him, for they loved the pedestal of wood. Sadly, many heated arguments broke out within the family, over this old pedestal which had faithfully supported the family Bible for over two centuries.
One day, finding himself in a particularly foul mood, Martin came indoors, exhausted from chopping a cord of firewood in the backyard. Axe still in hand, he glanced at the old hardwood pedestal, and his months of anger coalesced into a single moment of fury. With a single blow of his axe, he split the old pedestal across its midsection, severing it into two. He then took another blow, and another, with his newfound energy being fueled by the sheer overflow of his hatred. With the fervor of violence and the stench of sweat, he spent his anger upon that old pedestal, swinging his axe a hundred times, until the pedestal had been reduced to little more than a mess of splinters scattered across the floor.
Toward the end of his outburst, his family had walked into the room. Every jaw was dropped in shock. Silent tears of grief streamed down every face. And finally Martin himself collapsed onto the floor in horror, his face hidden in his hands. The only sound that could be heard in the room was the crying and wailing of Martin himself, as he said over and over, “What have I done?” “What have I done?” “What have I done?”
He and his family were not mourning the loss of the old pedestal. They were grieving over the tattered shreds of the beloved family Bible which was strewn amidst the splinters.
Indeed, it is impossible to attack a pedestal, without also attacking the very thing which is supported by that pedestal.
According to the apostle Paul, in 1 Timothy 3:15, the Church is the pillar and ground of the truth. The Church is the very foundation upon which the Truth rests. Like a hardwood pedestal holding up the family Bible, the Church stands throughout the centuries, bearing up and displaying the pure Truth of God, for all the world to see.
Like the pedestal, the Church is old, cracked, scuffed, and it shows signs of age. Judging eyes can easily detect many flaws within the Church, many imperfections, many individual members who are all too human. Yet, though the Church itself is not perfect, it perfectly performs its task, as it faithfully bears up, supports, and proclaims the Gospel, revealing God’s perfect Truth to all who are willing to be transformed by it.
There are many in the world who would attack the Church for its flaws. They claim to have a zeal for truth, but their zeal is without knowledge. They do not realize that the Truth they seek is firmly resting upon the pillar and foundation of the Church, the Body of Christ, the very House of the Living God, which was designed, founded, and built by the master carpenter from Nazareth.
You cannot take an axe to the old wooden pedestal, without causing the family Bible to crash to the ground.
You cannot attack the Church, without attacking the Truth itself.
But this raises the question, “Which church is the Church?” How do we identify the Church which God calls the “pillar and foundation of the Truth”?
The first step is to recognize that this “pillar and foundation of truth” actually does exist.
Scripture says that it does. So it will not do to pretend that “all churches are in error” or that “no one has the fullness of the Truth”. Simply put, the pillar and foundation of truth cannot be in error, without ceasing to be the pillar and foundation of the truth! This is a critical point to understand. God says the pillar and foundation of truth exists, so we have to believe it exists. And when you find the Church that is that pillar, then you will have also found the fullness of the Truth.
The second step is to understand that the Truth does not change, so the pillar of Truth is likewise unchanging.
The Roman Catholic Church cannot be the pillar of Truth, because its doctrines have changed over time. For the first thousand years after the time of Christ, there was no church on earth which believed in the infallibility of the pope, taught the penal substitutionary atonement, taught the immaculate conception, and denied the Eucharist to small children.
The third step is to understand that the Truth is ancient, so the pillar of Truth is likewise ancient.
A Protestant church cannot be the pillar of Truth, because it is too new. For the first thousand years after the time of Christ, a Protestant church could not be found anywhere on earth.
Only the Orthodox Church is ancient enough to be apostolic, and changeless enough to be authentic.
The Church is a magnificent pillar, holding up its councils, creeds, liturgies, traditions, and Scriptures, as a testimony of Truth to all the world.
Now, there is a difference between what you should do, and what you are. The Bible says that you should be honest, generous, and faithful. You can choose to do these things, or you can choose not to do them. But the Bible says that you are created in the image of God. You have no choice in the matter. Whether you a saint, or whether you are a sinner, you cannot erase the divine image which is permanently engraved upon your soul.
According to the apostle Paul, the Church is the pillar and foundation of the Truth, not “should be,” “intended to be,” or “ought to be,” but is. The Church has no choice in the matter. No matter how flawed or imperfect the individual members may be, the Orthodox Church cannot cease to be what God Himself says that it is . . . the very pillar and foundation of the Truth.
This is not the Church’s calling, nor is it the Church’s command. Rather, this is the Church’s definition. Regardless of the location, and regardless of the century, this is what the Church always is. If the apostle Paul has spoken truthfully in Scripture, then the Church is always the pillar and foundation of the truth. It cannot fall, and it cannot fail.
The same word for “pillar” is used in the Greek translation (LXX) of 1 Kings 7, describing the enormous bronze pillars Solomon placed at the entrance of the Jerusalem Temple. Solomon named one pillar “Security”, the other he named “Stability”, and he had large bronze lilies placed on top of each pillar. If someone were to topple these pillars, then the bronze lilies would have fallen to the ground. And a mockery would have been made of their “security” and “stability”.
One of the most famous judges of Israel was Samson. At the end of his life, he held his hands against the central pillars which supported the roof of a large building. Under that roof was Samson, along with 3,000 Philistines, the enemies of God’s people. With all his might, Samson pushed down those two pillars, and the building fell down flat, killing all 3,000 people, as well as Samson himself.
Whenever a pillar falls, anything resting on top of that pillar falls down with it.
If the pillar of the Truth could be broken, then the Truth itself would fall to the ground.
But if the Truth cannot be unstable, then neither can its foundation be unstable.
If the Truth cannot be destroyed, then neither can anyone destroy the pillar which holds up the Truth.
In Acts 20:28, we are told that the Church was purchased with the blood of God.
In Ephesians 1:23, St. Paul informs us that the Church is the very fullness of God.
In Matthew 16:18, Jesus Himself says that the gates of hell shall never prevail against the Church.
And according to the apostle Paul, the Church itself is the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth. So the Church cannot fall, the Church cannot fail, and the Church cannot be destroyed.
Therefore, each one of us can fully trust the Church. If we disagree with the Orthodox Church at any point, we can rest assured that the Church is right, and that we are wrong. If the teachings of the Church are true, then it is not the Church’s job to conform to me; it is my job to conform to the Church. Only by fully submitting to Christ and His Church will we fully discover the Truth that we seek.
Nations, kingdoms, and civilizations will rise and fall, but the Orthodox Church will remain steadfast, secure, and immovable, empowered by the Holy Spirit to remain what it forever is: the Pillar and Foundation of the Truth.
This sermon was preached in Omaha, Illinois, at Christ the King Orthodox Church, on Sunday morning, October 7, 2012, by Joseph M. Gleason.