The Apostolic Church
“You are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone” (vv. 19b–20).- Ephesians 2:18–22
When we confess the Nicene Creed, we affirm our belief in “one, holy, catholic [universal], and apostolic church.” God’s people are united in the truth, set apart for His service, made up of people from every tribe and tongue, and founded on the teaching of the Apostles. Of note for today’s study is Apostolicity—the notion that the Apostles are the foundation of Christ’s church (Eph. 2:18–22).
In asserting that the church is built on the Apostles, we are not denying in any way that Jesus is the cornerstone of His church (v. 20). Affirming the Apostolicity of the church, in fact, highlights the authority of Christ over His people. This is due to the nature of the Apostolic ministry. The Greek term for the English word Apostle is apostolos, which in the first century was used of those who had the right to speak for an authority figure. For example, the caesar would appoint others to speak for him in other parts of the Roman Empire, and the words of these delegates had the same authority of the caesar. These delegates were known as apostoloi, that is, “apostles.” Jesus’ Apostles, in a similar fashion, represented the authority of Jesus Himself, and to deny Apostolic teaching is to deny the teaching of our Savior.
Without the Apostles, we do not have Christ. This means that we cannot pit the words of Paul, Peter, or any of the other New Testament authors against our Savior. What these Apostles teach is what Christ teaches, for He inspired them by His Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16–17). To be an Apostolic church is to be a church that is faithful to the teaching of Scripture.
Some theological traditions emphasize the idea of Apostolic succession. In these communions, Apostolicity means that they can trace their lines of bishops all the way back to the Apostles. Roman Catholicism, for instance, views itself as Apostolic because Peter, they claim, appointed a successor, who appointed a successor, who appointed a successor, all the way down to the current pope. We answer that a church is not truly Apostolic if it teaches things contrary to the gospel. How can we claim to stand in the line of the Apostles if we deny what they held dear? The Apostles warned us not to listen to false teachers who deny the truth (Acts 20:17–35), so if a church does not preach the gospel, that church is not Apostolic.
It may be important to know the historical succession of church leaders, but it is more important to preach the gospel faithfully. A church can be built on the Apostles only if it loves what the Apostles loved and affirms what the Apostles affirmed. That is why it is so important for church leaders to be grounded in the Scriptures. Pray for your church, that it would remain faithful to the gospel and teach it with boldness.
Passages for Further Study
Deuteronomy 4:1–2; 13
2 Thessalonians 2:15