An Apostolic Church

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Last night I began a Wednesday night series on 1 Timothy.  My main topic last night was apostolicity, drawing from Paul's salutation.  I am often struck by how significant some of these issues are and how poorly they are appreciated today.  Especially, I think there are three main points about apostolicity that have great bearing on our ministries today:

1.  Apostolic Succession

2.  The Word of the Apostles as the Word of Christ

3.  Apostolic House Building


1.  Apostolic Succession.  When the qualifications of an apostle are considered, it is readily apparent that the idea of "apostolic succession" is a contradiction in terms.  According to Acts 1:21, an apostle must have been in the company of Christ and the disciples during the years of his ministry on earth (Paul being an exception to this), an eye-witness to the resurrection, and a receive a specific, public calling to the office in the Church.  it is impossible for anyone to meet these qualifications today.  Moreover, when we consider that the redemptive-historic function of the apostles was to lay the foundation for the building of the church (see #3 below and Eph. 2:20), we also see the uniqueness of the office.  I claim no expertise in building construction, but friends of mine who do assure me that only one foundation is laid.  Afterwards one builds on the foundation already laid, which removes the function of the apostolate after the foundation-laying age.


2.  The Word of the Apostles as the Word of Christ.  When we realize that the apostles were not mere representatives of Christ but were authorized legates of the Lord (analogous to the Jewish idea of the Shalliach, the apostles bore "power of attourney" rights for Jesus), then we will no longer allow any contradiction between the Word of the Apostles and the Word of Christ.  Out with the red-lettering of Jesus' words in the New Testament!  All of the New Testament is the Word of Christ, for the simple reason that their teaching and writing was the revelation of Christ through the apostles by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  (One could make a similar argument for the OT, but that is a slightly different point.)  If this truth was better understood, we would no longer have to endure the argument of liberal scholars who insist that we have no access to Jesus' actual teaching, but only the version provided by the apostles (even N.T. Wright says this -- bah!).  But the "version of the apostles" is the very Word of Christ.  As Jesus had promised them, "The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you" (Jn. 14:26).  To be a follower of Jesus, then, one must believe the apostolic testimony to Jesus, which is the Word of Christ. 


3.  Apostolic House-Building.  Most significant, perhaps, is the biblical idea that the work of the church in history is build on the foundation laid by the apostles.  Paul compares the Church to the Household of God and writes that it is "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone" (Eph. 2:20).  Again, only one foundation is laid for a house -- this was the apostolic function, both through their provision of the NT and through their work of establishing the initial church.  Now, our calling is to build on that foundation.  This has several vital implications:

   a.  We are not living in a special time that requires a special message and methods.  How wearying it is always to hear, "But these are new times, so we can't just do the same old thing."  Don't people realize that liberals have said that in every generation? "You can't say that after Kant, after Hegel, after Darwin, after Derrida..."  But, dare I say, none of these people have any redemptive-historical significance.  Redemptive-historically, we are not living in "new times."  We are living in the same post-Pentecost age, the age of the resurrection and of the Spirit of God.  We are living between the two comings of the Lord.  But what about post-modernity -- doesn't that change everything?  The answer is No.  Nor did the Enlightenment or 19th century naturalism.  These are human fads and trends, largely consisting of humanistic unbelief, that change nothing about our actual situation.  The true church just went on building the house on the apostolic foundation and so must we.  The apostolic church is now and always, until the return of Christ, governed by the foundation-laying of the apostles, with Christ himself as the cornerstone.

b.  The Christian Church has no right to proclaim any message except that of the apostles.  By laying the foundation, they set the grid for the entire house.  To build with any other message is simply to build a different house, belonging to a different owner.  To be a Christian today is to receive the apostolic testimony to Jesus Christ.  To build Christ's church is to proclaim the same.

c.  Likewise, the Christian Church is to continue building God's house along the same architectural model of the apostles.  We are to employ the same methods they did and to operate from the same ministry blueprint.  In other words, just as we must preach a biblical message, we must practice biblical methods.  These are, especially, the ordinary means of grace: Word, prayer, sacraments.  As the apostles showed and taught, we are to humbly do the work of preaching God's Word, praying, living holy lives, spreading the gospel, and doing good in the church and thew orld.  To do otherwise is to build in directions that do not belong on this house, with overhanging additions that mar its beauty and will eventually fall off.  Thus it is no surprise that Bill Hybels informs us that the last thirty years of his market-driven ministry has not achieved its spiritual aims.  Of course, since they adopted non-apostolic methods and messages, which have no foundation and do not belong on God's house-building project.  Let us build on the foundation, according to the blueprints given by the original architects.  Changing metaphors, Paul said, "For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh" (2 Cor. 10:3).  Again, "If anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw -- each one's work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it" (1 Cor. 3:12-13).  Our work will be tested, and if we use non-sacred materials or build unsoundly on the foundation, this will be revealed.

d.  Christ as the cornerstone.  Just as the foundation lays the dimensions and supports the weight of the whole building, so does the cornerstone for the foundation.  The person and work of Christ always provides the grid for Christian ministry, as reflected in the apostolic foundation.  His message, his ways, his priorities must always be ours, or else we are not a sound Christian and apostolic church, and our labor will ultimately be in vain.  Everything we do must be grounded on Christ and must extend his rule and glory.  Thus a good check on whether or not we are truly building on the apostolic foundation is to see if we are grounded on the Cornerstone, our Lord and Savior.

Posted April 10, 2008 @ 9:27 AM by Rick Phillips
TOPICS: The Church

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