This is the first part in a series dealing with the word ‘apostolic’. This is a rough draft, as many of my personal writings on this blog are, but I intend to put them out there in order strengthen my arguments as well as to correct them. Invite criticism and opinion, negative and positive, as always. Warning: This is not complete in information, but complete in thought. It should be clear that I would oppose calling myself ‘Apostolic’.
Determining the correct meaning
Bob Scudieri serves as a mission executive with the Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod. The book, The Apostolic church: One, holy, catholic and missionary, is the result of research conducted at Yale University between 1990 and 1991. The purpose of Scudieri’s research was to conduct a historical study of the word “Apostolic,” to determine whether Apostolic meant “sent” (like an ambassador, sent on a specific mission with specific authority) or whether it meant “proclaiming the doctrines handed down by Jesus’ Apostles” (Peter, John, Paul, etc.). His conclusion is that Apostolic has carried both meanings, although, in modern theology, correct doctrine is emphasized over missions.
Scudieri’s argument is built on a foundation as he begins his analysis of the history of the word ‘apostolic’ from the period immediately preceding the birth of Christ when it was secular term, through the period of the early church, during the pre-Constantine persecutions such as the Decian Persecution which brought about Cyrpian’s use, and up through the Constantinian and post-Constantinian Arian controversy when the pressure to appeal to a more historic Tradition greatly increased. Before Constantine, apostolic primarily carried the meaning, “missionary;” however, it was the Tradition from North Africa (Cyprian, Athanasius) which introduced the ‘name’ aspect to the word, and thus the right of the Church to appeal to the Apostles. Note, this was not an instantaneous action, but a Tradition that developed and quickly spread as Alexandria gained in authority.
The Church is indeed apostolic, but not in the way that Cyprian formulated or the greater Catholic Church holds today or even in the vernacular of many ‘oneness’ believers. Too often, ‘oneness’ believers assume the mantle ‘Apostolic’ referring to the Apostles’ Doctrine. This name is a misnomer, as only after the strains of Catholicism started to appear in the third century did that word take on the meaning of the ‘Apostle’s Doctrine’. The first meaning of ‘apostolic’ was not doctrine or authority, but missional, and to attach another meaning to a word not found in the Holy Scriptures to create a paradox of intentions. Do you, my Apostolic friends, assume the authority of the Apostles as Rome has done? Do you assume their Doctrine which you would point to as being found only in Scripture and yet use a word unscriptural to describe yourself? Do you not know that having the correct Doctrine is more than having ‘it’ right on the Godhead?
The Church of Jesus Christ is indeed apostolic in her mission – to be sent to carry the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world in the form and manner of the Apostles and nothing more. The adjective ‘apostolic’ derived a generation after the Apostles means not their doctrine and Tradition but their form and mission, which Ignatius – who first created the word – upheld vigorously. It become a name, a mark of four of the Church Catholic around the time of Cyprian who pressed for an equal brotherhood of bishops who seemingly followed in the footsteps of the Apostles, and now had the power to ‘confirm’ salvation by the laying of hands. He pointed to the Apostolic Tradition, to the Apostolic Doctrine, and to the Apostolic Church for his support, thus turning the character, mission and form of the Apostles into a name, a power, an authority, and a birthright, something that the Apostles would not have recognized.
The Church of Jesus Christ is not Apostolic but apostolic.
The question remains, my dear Apostolics, why do you call yourself after a Catholic title when you yourself abhor all things Catholic?