One Holy Catholic Apostolic Church

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Today, I consider what it means to say that the church is apostolic.  I’ve been writing about the statement of belief in the Nicene Creed:  “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.”  Apostolicity is the last of the four traditional marks or characteristics of the true church, as defined by the Nicene Creed.

Jesus established the church with an act in Matt. 16:18:  “Now I say to you that you are Peter (which means rock), and upon this rock I will build my church.”  As Methodists and in agreement with our Anglican roots, we consider our church to be part of the church that can trace our origin to Christ’s act of establishing the church.  In this view, Jesus statement is not simply a prediction and a promise, but a constructive declaration.

As Methodists, we can trace the ordination of our elders to John Wesley, who as an Anglican priest, was ordained, and through our Anglo-Catholic roots to the apostles.  Although I think we would be hard pressed to prove an unbroken sequence from the apostles to today.  Yet, I was conscious of this great line of witnesses when the Bishop laid hands on me tat my ordination ceremony.

We know that there were 12 apostles who were chosen by Jesus.  The choosing of the twelve (the twelve is one of the traditional names for the 12 apostles found in the NT) appears in the synoptic Gospels (Matt. 10:1-4; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:12-16).  At its root, the word ‘apostle’ means simply ‘sent ones.’  Jesus sent these 12 apostles on a mission trip throughout Galilee and Judea (Matt. 10:5-15; Mark 6:6-13; Luke 9:1-6).  And these were the 12 disciples in whom Jesus invested the majority of his teaching and time.

However, apostleship is a more comprehensive term in the NT.  Paul calls himself an apostle (Gal. 1:12-2:10) and Peter (at least) seemed to accept Paul’s letters as Scripture (2 Peter 3:16).  Paul also calls some other disciples or missionaries apostles.  In fact, Paul says that the apostles are one of the four groups of people who are set apart, given to the church as gifts:  the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and pastor/teachers.  (Eph. 4:11)  These people are God’s gifts to the church “to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”  (Eph. 4:12)

What were the characteristics that made an apostle?  Acts 1:21-22 gives us some guidance as the disciples chose someone to replace Judas.  Among the characteristics , that a person had to have to be chosen as an apostle were they had to have been with the other apostles the entire time of Jesus’ public ministry “from the time he was baptized by John until” his ascension.  Obviously, there is no one today who can claim to have the authority of an apostle in that sense.

So apostolicity of the church, at the very least, must refer to a connection to the teachings and leadership of the apostles as given in the NT.  A true church must have a faithfulness to the teachings of the apostles, that is, apostolic truth.  The British Methodist Church located the “true continuity” with the church in ages past as “the continuity of Christian experience, the fellowship of the one Spirit; in the continuity in the allegiance to one Lord, the continued proclamation of the message; the continued acceptance of the mission…” through the long chain which goes back to the first apostles in the company of the Lord Jesus.  (Jay, The Church.  p. 229)

The church is apostolic in both senses.  There is a connection to the apostolic faith as delivered in the NT which came from those who were closest to Jesus.  Also we are sent in our own day.  Matt. 28:19, 20 is the mission statement for the church:  “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you.”

So we should have a high opinion of Scripture.  The canon of the Bible is not open, there are no more Scriptures being added to the Bible, because there are no more people who can claim apostolic authority.  We cannot add to the word of God as if our experience were on the same level of authority as that of the biblical revelation.

To you, O God, be all glory, from you we have received grace upon grace.  To you we owe all allegiance and gratitude.  In the midst of the temptations, distractions, and glamour of the world, fasten our attention on the faith we have received from others and are called to share with others.  Make us your sent ones today, through Christ, who has called us and sends us into the world.  Amen.  (Stookey, This Day.  p. 89)

 

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