The Marks of the Church: the Church as Apostolic

We come at last to the final adjective in the Creed’s description of the Church: apostolic. The word “apostolic” comes from the Greek word apostello, to send forth. An apostle is one who is sent forth with a mission. Christ Himself was the apostle of His Father, and He sent out the Twelve to continue His mission. As He said to the Twelve after His Resurrection, “As the Father has sent Me forth, so do I send you”. (John 20:21). One who is thus sent out is endowed with the full authority of the one who sent him, so that to reject the messenger is to reject the one who sent the messenger: “He who hears you hears Me, and he who rejects you rejects Me, and he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me” (Luke 10:16). The apostles therefore went into all the world with the fullness of divine authority. To welcome their message was to welcome God Himself, and to reject their message was to reject God Himself. Merely human philosophers had no such divine authority or mandate. One could reject the teaching of a philosopher without rejecting God, for the philosopher simply spoke the truth as he understood it, and was subject to the same limitations that beset all fallible earthly teachers. It was different with the apostles—their teaching did not spring from their own fallible wisdom or insight, but from Christ who in turn spoke the very Word of the Father. They were not philosophers, but simply messengers, men charged with the delivery of the Message of Another.

In confessing the Church as apostolic we thereby confess that the Church’s message consists solely of the proclamation of the Twelve and the other apostles (such as the Seventy)—which is to say, the proclamation of Christ Himself. The apostles had no philosophy, wisdom, or message of their own. They merely shared what Christ had done and what He had told them to say. Asserting that their message (or the epistles written by them) could contain untruths or things which were dated and which can now be discarded because the apostles were men of their time is to fundamentally misunderstand them. It is true that they were men of their time, and that as such they doubtless held many erroneous opinions—such as the opinion that the earth was flat or that the sky was solid. But this is irrelevant, since their message did not consist of their own fallible opinions, but of the infallible message of Christ. They indeed were clay vessels, but the treasure within those vessels, the timeless message of the Master, was not clay, but imperishable gold (2 Corinthians 4:7). We are not free to reject any part of their message because they were men of their time. For they transmitted the Word of Christ, who was not just a man of His time, but the eternal God, made incarnate to speak the truth for all times.

This means that the New Testament Scriptures which the apostles wrote retain their divine authority, for they constitute not mere human wisdom, but the divine wisdom of Christ our God. All words are culturally-expressed, for all words are spoken from within a particular time, culture, and in a particular language. But the words of the apostles, though culturally-expressed, are not culturally-conditioned. Being the transmitted word of Christ through the apostles, they partake of a wisdom not subject to historical and cultural limitation and conditioning. Christ’s word through the apostles thus stands apart from cultural and historical limitations, and stands in judgment upon all other words, philosophies, and opinions. A Christian may legitimately disagree with Socrates, but not with Paul, for unlike Socrates, Paul simply shared the word of the eternal Son of God. Like it or not, the Church’s proclamation may never reject or contradict the teaching of the apostles or the words of the New Testament. If a church did, it would cease to be apostolic, and thereby cease to be the Church.

In confessing the Church to be apostolic, we also confess that we have a mandate to go forth as the apostles did to preach the saving Gospel to all mankind and convert them to the Christian faith. This apostolic mandate flies in the face of modern pluralism, which declares that all religions, faiths, and cultures are of equal value, and all lead to same goal and salvation. Fidelity to the apostolic mandate of evangelism is thus almost as odious today as fidelity to the apostolic faith which is the content of that evangelism. Participation in the public square presupposes conformity to the view that all faiths are of equal value, and that the attempt to convert a person away from their own faith to that of Christianity is imperialistic, narrow, intolerant, rude, disrespectful, and—of course—fundamentalist. But it is also apostolic, and so as members of an apostolic Church we have no choice but to follow this course. The Lord did not command His Church to “go into all the world and co-exist” (as some Christians would have it), but to “go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). The stakes are very high, for the human condition is very dire. He who believes our message and is baptized will be saved, while those who disbelieve and reject it will be condemned (v. 16). We of course have no control over how our apostolic message will be received. Our task is simply to obey. For we are not lords or philosophers. We are only messengers, and apostles.


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