Hello Church Devotion Aug 1 2013
We begin our series on the “ABC’s of Christianity” with the word “Apostle”. Obviously, it is a term that is well known and has been utilized within the Church for a very long time. When we use the word “Apostle”, we immediately remember the 12 original disciples called by Jesus to preach the Gospel. Perhaps we even have a mnemonic device to help us remember the names of the 12. One that helps me was developed by Robert Scudieri, a Lutheran pastor, missionary and scholar.
“Twelve there were who served, it’s true. Matthew, Andrew and Bartholemew,
James the Elder, James the Less, John and Jude called Thaddeus.
Simon Peter, Andrew’s brother, Simon Zealotes was the other.
Philip brought Jesus fish and bread, Judas the one who wanted him dead.
But to Thomas’ surprise we now are led!
Of course, we have the original twelve Apostles. We also have Matthias and Paul who are added to their number. Sometimes we have heard of other Christian Church bodies calling their pastors and teachers “Apostles”. The Eastern Church calls all the 72 followers of Jesus that were sent “Apostles”. Some even call the first or best-known Christian missionaries in a region or country, an “Apostle”. We even have a creed that is called “The Apostles’ Creed” which showcases the basic teachings of the early Apostles and in the Nicene Creed we confess to one “Apostolic” church.
From early times, the word “Apostle” was a secular word that was used and defined by the Church in her writings. Origen came up with this definition: “Everyone who is sent by someone is an apostle of the one who sent him.” There is an understanding that an “Apostle” is one who bears a message and as such is also a messenger. In Acts 1:21-22, we understand that an “Apostle” is one who followed Jesus “during the time when He went in and out among us, beginning from the Baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us.” St. Paul mentions that there are “signs of an Apostle”, namely signs, miracles and wondrous deeds. In the writings of St. Peter, we see the task of an Apostle as transmitting the words of the prophets and of Jesus to the Church. Many throughout the thousands of years between Jesus and our present day have defined the word “Apostle” as either more general (to include the women at Jesus’ tomb on Easter) or as more specific to include only the original eyewitnesses of Jesus.
Many have asked if we still expect to have “Apostles” sent from God to us. The traditional understanding is that which is best described by theologian Carl Braaten: “The New Testament apostle is unique, once-for-all, and unrepeatable in alter generations. After the first generation there could be no successors to the apostles…. Just as there would never have to be another Messiah, another incarnation of the Son of God, another crucifixion for the salvation of the world, another resurrection of the crucified Christ, so also there would never have to be another set of Apostles, another set of primary witnesses to the risen Lord.”
Perhaps the best way to understand the noun and title “Apostle” is through its use as a verb. Jesus uses the verb form of “Apostle” in John 13:16 “Truly, truly I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent (apostled) greater than the one who sent (apostled) him.” The verb form of “Apostle” is used in this context as “Sent”. We can see in John 4:34 that Jesus was sent by the Father. Also that those who believe in “He who sent me” in John 5:24 has eternal life. Even in the most known passage in John 3:16 we hear “God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. That whosoever believes in Him should have eternal life. “ Verse 17 goes on to say: “For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him”. This sending of Jesus to the world is the heart of God’s Mission (Missio Dei) to reclaim sinners who were lost.
In John 1:6, we find that John the Baptist was one who was sent by God. In Matthew 10:16, Jesus tells them that “I am sending you out like sheep”. In the post resurrection reunion with His disciples in John 20:21,
Jesus says: “The Father sent me, and I am sending you”. Jesus then goes on to empower them by breathing on them and giving the Holy Spirit.
The context of the “sending” of God’s messengers or “Apostles” is one that is common to all types of representatives, envoys, and ambassadors. Namely, Apostles represent the One who sent them. They are authorized and empowered by the One who sent them for certain tasks. “If you bind someone’s sins, they are bound in heaven” and if you “forgive someone’s sins, they are forgiven also in heaven.” John 20:21-23
We started with the Jewish Apostles of Jesus. Their initial mission was to the Jews. With St. Paul’s calling to Apostleship, the Gentiles are also included in the mission. The Twelve and Matthias and Paul are actively involved in the everyday ministry to the believers and to proclaiming the Word in Mission. After all, to be an “Apostle” means to be sent. So they go from place to place, people to people. God empowers and authorizes their activities as they do the work allotted to them.
The Church historian, “Eusebius” wrote in the “Historia Ecclesiastica (History of the Church): “The Apostles assembled in Jerusalem to divide the spheres of their missionary work”. This was to live out in their lives the “sending of God”.
The one, holy and “apostolic” Church is also called to be the witness of the risen Christ and to bear His name to farthest reaches of the planet. Inherent in apostolic is the activity of mission and ministry. Again, hear from Carl Braaten as he writes about the Twelve Apostles: “Preaching was at the core of their assignment. There were no apostles that were not also missionaries. A church has a right to call itself apostolic only if carries on the work of the apostles –going into the world in order to makes disciples of all the nations by baptizing and teaching.”
1. What are the names of the 12 Apostles?
2. Who was lost from the ranks of the Apostles and who was elected to replace him?
3. Is St. Paul an Apostle? Where in the Bible can we find the answer? (Try Romans 1:1 for starters)
4. As the Church with Christ as our head, how well do we reflect the definition of “Apostle” and “Apostolic”?
5. In what ways are we “sent”? Then, in what ways are we not going where God has sent us?
6. Sometimes we view the Church as a group of volunteers. Why is this not understanding the nature of “Apostolic”?
The Apostolic Church refers to the nature of the Church as continuously embodying the mission of the Savior of the World. Jesus was sent on a unique mission: to bear witness to the love of God. This is what the Church is sent to do today. That is an Apostolic Church! We are not volunteered to be God’s child. By the calling of the Holy Spirit through Word and Sacrament, we are authorized and sent forth to be witnesses to the ends of the world. The world “Apostle” therefore, reveals God’s sending activity centered in Christ and now made a part of every member of the holy Christian and Apostolic Church.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, You have shown us in Your Son, Jesus, the proof of Your love and commitment. You sent Jesus to be our Savior and to procure our salvation by His death on the cross for the punishment of all the sins of the world. Love compelled You to send Your Son to us to redeem us. Now, Your love compels Your Church to proclaim the message of forgiveness. Help us to go where You send us. Teach us the truth of Your love and take us where it needs to be heard by others. You have commanded us to “Go, make disciples”. Enable us to realize that You have sent us to be a blessing to others. May Your Church and Your people live out the calling You have placed upon them. In the name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.!
Resources for this article are from the following: “The Apostolic Imperative”, by Carl Braaten; “The Apostolic Church”, by Robert J. Scudieri for the Lutheran Society for Missiology; “Historia Ecclesiastica (History of the Church) “Eusebius”; The Anchor Bible Dictionary.