Ash Wednesday: "Liturgical"
Week 2: "catholic"
Week 3: "evangelical"
Week 4: "orthodox"
Week 5: "confessional"
Week 6: "apostolic"
Holy Thursday: "Sacramental"
Good Friday: "Cruciform"
Easter Sunday: "The One Holy Church"
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.
The church is apostolic. In the Nicene Creed specifically, we say, "I believe in one holy Christian and Apostolic church." It is important to ask, “What does apostolic mean?” The apostles were largely the inner circle who were with Jesus in his ministry. Think of Jesus’ inner circle of 12 disciples. These were the men who were sent by Jesus, saying, “Go into all nations, baptizing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching all that I have commanded you.” Take Judas Iscariot off the list of 12 and replace him with Matthias who was chosen by in Acts 1. Then, add Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles who was directly called by Jesus to that task. There you have it: the apostles. Those men who were set aside for the task, who had themselves seen the risen Christ.
In the Roman Catholic Church, they see “being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” in terms of the role of the clergy. For example, St. John laid his hands on Polycarp when he was ordained as a priest, who then laid his hands on Irenaeus, and so on and so forth down the line. In theory, every priest is connected back to one of the apostles. You could think of it like a great big religious family tree. They call it “apostolic succession.”
For us, there is a more central role and a deeper meaning to the words, “The foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone.” It isn’t just about a religious background. Rather, it refers to the apostolic teaching. In Acts chapter 2, the church is described as “[devoting] themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.” The apostles and prophets had the task of preaching of Christ. Paul talks about that role: “And [God] gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers: to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,”
The apostles, the prophets and the evangelists were roles that were exclusive to the early church. As these men died, so did their offices. But we continue to have the office of pastor and teacher in the church. These office exist to build on that foundation of Christ: to equip the saints, for the work of ministry, for the building up of the body of Christ --- to what end? --- until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.
Remaining in the apostolic teaching is key to being an apostolic church. The sainted Dr. Kurt Marquardt says, “In the last analysis, there is no reliable test of apostolicity except the apostolic truth itself, as it is laid down in the apostolic-prophetic Scriptures of God. Everything else is ambiguous and may be counterfeited. … In other words, apostolic appearances apart from apostolic doctrine are a hollow mummery. They differ from true apostolicity as the fossil of a fish differs from a fish. But the apostolic doctrine, that is, the Gospel, is full of healing and regenerating powers for the church of all times and places.”
And that brings us to the apostolic nature of the Scriptures. When we look at the New Testament, nearly every book has a direct connection to one of the apostles. Matthew and John were apostles who had ministered with Jesus. Peter wrote a couple short letters and Mark is thought to have recorded his gospel based on Peter’s preaching. Paul wrote a significant portion of the Epistles and Luke had worked closely with Paul. The only exception are the book of Hebrews, James and Jude. We do not know for certain who wrote Hebrews, but James was the head of the church in Jerusalem and Jude was his brother and is therefore understood to be the half-brother of our Lord.
Being an apostolic church means that we are not the end all and be all of the church. Years ago there was an Oldmobile commercial that said, “This is not your father’s Oldsmobile.” Leaching off that slogan a few years ago, a number of churches began advertising to youth saying, “This is not your father’s church.” But there’s a problem with that. If my father belonged to the true Church and this is not my father’s church … I should bolt! HEAD FOR THE HILLS! GET OUTTA DODGE! This should absolutely be my father’s church … and my grandfather’s church… and my great grandfathers church. Why? Because the message that we proclaim isn’t a passing fad. It is the eternal truth of Jesus Christ who came to save sinners. It is the unchanging the truth that goes back to the apostles.
G. K. Chesterton explained how we do not unilaterally change the church to what we want it to be. “Tradition means giving votes to the most obscure of all classes, our ancestors. It is the democracy of the dead. Tradition refuses to submit to the small and arrogant oligarchy of those who merely happen to be walking about.”
We as the church are not an entity to ourselves. We don’t get to change it. We don’t get to reinvent it. Why not? BECAUSE IT ISN’T OURS! If a teen ager borrowed mom or dad’s car, you would expect them to respect it. To drive safely. To return it with gas in the tank. To make sure it is gets cleaned from time to time. Likewise with the church … it isn’t ours. We don’t get to make it into what we want it to be. It is Christ’s Church. We are simply entrusted with caring for it, knowing that Jesus Christ loves his church far more than we ever could. And Jesus hasn’t left us alone with His Church.
In the third article of the Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds, we talk about the work of the Holy Spirit. The temptation might be to separate the work of the spirit from the list that follows. “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy Christian Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body and the life everlasting.” Separating the Holy Spirit from the rest of the list would be a huge mistake because the Spirit works through those means. The Holy Spirit works through God's powerful word to create faith and forgive sins. The Holy Spirit gathers people together in the church.
Saints of God. We belong to the Apostolic Church. Not by having apostles today. Rather, we belong to the same church that the apostles belonged to. We belong to Christ’s Church. Early Church Father Jerome wrote, “The church consists not in walls but in the truth of her teachings. The church is where the true faith is.” That dear friends, is the apostolic church. That dear friends, is Christ’s Church.
In Jesus’ name.
Preached by Rev. Garry Heintz
Redeemer Lutheran Church
Kakabeka Falls, ON