The Church is Apostolic, pt 3

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?

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12 Replies to “The Church is Apostolic, pt 3”

  1. I totally agree that we are apostolic in our deliverance of the truth, and not the ‘givers’ of that truth. We can’t give anyone the Holy Ghost. We sow the seed, God gives the increase. We are the above ground substance or works, God is the fertile soil of salvation/life/fruit. If and when we are of the true vine, we bear true fruit/works.

  2. Joel,

    I myself would question the neatness of the idea that Apostolic means only missional? The word does have a depth of meaning, as the Church grew to understand both herself, and her Lord.

    The second century was a time of marked philosophical preoccupations about the origins of life, the source of evil in the world, and the nature of a transcendent diety. Also Platonist philosophy, with other Graeco-Roman philosophy, Stoicism etc. But it was a time also of real persecution. We will miss this period of the Churches time if we do not see also these aspects in her history and life. That the Church felt all this is seen in the best of her leaders of the day…Tertullian, Irenaeus, etc.

    Finally you hit the nail head of the question with the idea of both “tradition” and “development”. We simply must look at these aspects as well!

    The point is the decision is not just on the meaning and origin of the word Apostolic, but also on it’s etymology, use and developement from the second to the fourth century. And again there is theological change and development. At least as I see it!

    Fr. Robert

  3. Fr. Robert, I am beginning to understand more on the doctrine of the development of Tradition, not that I accept it, but I feel that I have a better grasp on it than I did before.

    Would you find it hypocritical for one who rejected anything ‘unbiblical’ to use the word Apostolic as it came to mean? Look that those that call themselves ‘Apostolic’. Clearly they are standing somewhere close to Cyprian, yet they reject all things ‘unbiblical’ and ‘Catholic’.

  4. Joel,

    Yes your point is very well put, if you use the word “Apostolic” then you must define how you are using it. I can see how our brother lanis for example is using it, but this is not truely historical nor fully theological in my view. But I am not being critical in the nasty sense. But I agee with your criticism.

    Fr. Robert

  5. No, I don’t intend to be nasty by any means. I believe that people need to be reasoned, especially in theology. Can we rightly criticize the Trinitarians for using unbiblical language if we ourselves do the same? Or for applying unbiblical meanings?

  6. Joel,

    Would that all of us sought to use some logic and reason. One of the criticisms that I have personally with the E. Orthodox is that they sometimes use logic and reason when it suits their case, then when it does not they run to mystery or the mystical. While I believe profoundly in real mystery and mysticism, I am myself willing to use Greek thought and logic when it fits well with biblical revelation, etc.

    The study of Hellenism on the effect of the Judeo-Christian truth is very real to my mind!

    Fr. Robert

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