An apostolic foundation (Ephesians 2:19-22)
God’s new Temple is built on a firm foundation, begun with Jesus himself (the Cornerstone) and completed by the teaching of ‘the apostles and prophets’. Everything the Church believes and does, therefore, should be based on the Scriptures: the Old Testament (written by the prophets), and the New Testament (written by the apostles). This means that the ‘Church’ of Scientology, despite its name, is not a church in the Biblical sense, because it is based on the teachings of Ron Hubbard. Neither is the ‘Church’ of Jesus Christ and Latter Day Saints, which is based on the teachings of the Book of Mormon as well as the Bible.
And yet even within these strict limits there are many different forms of ‘church’. The true Church cannot remain static, frozen in a first-century time warp; it must undergo change and development. Right from the beginning, it has been steadily evolving to meet new challenges and to cope with changes in the society around it. We have to apply the Gospel to our own generation and culture – which means that individual churches around the world express it in many and various ways. I suspect that the apostles would be amazed if they could see our church buildings, our liturgies, our printed (or iPad) Bibles, and our festivals. Amazed… but not necessarily disapproving.
Nevertheless, some things must not be altered. Paul was proud of the independence of his evangelistic ministry (Galatians 1:11,12) – but the content of his message was identical to that of all the other apostles (I Corinthians 15:1-6). And as he neared the end of his life, he was anxious that the same, undiluted message should be passed on to the next generation of believers (II Timothy 2:2).
Christians have been building on this apostolic foundation for almost two thousand years now. Some things have stood the test of time; others have turned out to be unhelpful or downright dangerous (I Corinthians 3:10-15). The foundation must not be tampered with; we are not free to choose the bits of the Gospel we find palatable and reject the bits we don’t! But the ‘superstructure’ is, in principle, negotiable. Unfortunately, it can be hard to dismantle what has already been erected; once a tradition has become established, people naturally cling to it because of its familiarity. Reformation is sometimes necessary, but is usually resisted by those churches that most need it.
An apostolic commission (Matthew 28:18-20)
The word apostolic comes from the same Greek root as the word `apostle’, and means `sent out with a message’. The Church is not supposed to be a ‘holy huddle’, enjoying the blessings of a relationship with Jesus while ignoring the plight of the rest of the world; we are meant to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16), “declaring the praises of Him who called you” (I Peter 2:9) in word and deed.
It is not only the teaching of the apostles that has been handed down the generations; we have also inherited their commission to take the Gospel message “to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)We can’t afford to sit back and wait for the Kingdom to burst upon us; like the servants in Jesus’ parable (Luke 19:11-13), we have work to do until He returns.
So evangelism is not an optional extra; the Church is missionary by its very nature. “The Church exists for mission as a fire exists for burning. Where there is no mission, there is no church.” (E Brunner) Indeed, if we don’t preach the Gospel, the Church will surely die; as is often said, it is always ‘just one generation from extinction’.
But we are not sent out to undertake this daunting task on our own, unequipped and unsupported. “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you.” (Acts 1:8) It is by the power of the Holy Spirit that the Gospel has spread throughout the world. “And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:20) Jesus is still with us, and His purpose cannot fail.