Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Anglican Apostolicity? (1)

I've been challenged to think about "apostolicity" recently (via an article that I am holding back for the time being).

I understand "apostolicity" to be the characteristic of the church in which

(1) it  is faithful to what the apostles taught

(2) it proclaims the gospel the apostles proclaimed

(3) it continues the ministry of the apostles, that is the ministries of teaching and preaching the truth of Jesus Christ and founding churches based on that truth.

Another way of putting this is that the church is apostolic when it continues what the apostles did and said in order to enlarge (through church planting) and maintain the church of Jesus Christ.

The question of "apostolicity" generally arises because when we think "church" we are invited to think what "church" means. Can it mean whatever we make of it? Is it bound to mean what it has always meant? (If so, why?) Is some kind of continuity (apostolicity), comprehensiveness (catholicity), constraint (holiness) and community (unity) critical to church being authentically church?

The question particularly arises when as church we consider making decisions which push against, if not break through the "unity, apostolicity, catholicity, holiness" of the church, or, if you prefer, break through the continuity, comprehensiveness, constraint and community of the church.

Alternatively the question of apostolicity might arise when a teaching pushes against the same boundaries of what it means to be the church. In the letter to the Ephesians in Revelation 2:1-7, we read:

"I know you that you cannot tolerate evildoers; you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them to be false. ... But ..." (2bc, 4a)

Even at the end of the first century, the question of a true or a false apostleship was encountered by the church. (I included the "but" at the beginning of verse 4 as a reminder that when a church has rounded up and shipped out false apostles it is not immune to the Lord's judgment as to it's true spiritual health!).

Now apostolicity has some variations in emphases as different Christians in different traditions have reflected on what apostolicity means. Some place emphasis on content of the faith and its continuity: we are apostolic when and only when we continue to the content of the faith of the apostles. Others emphasise the leadership aspect of apostolicity: we are apostolic when we continue the office of the apostles (i.e. via bishops). On this emphasis, the content of the faith also matters: bishops are chosen who will maintain the teaching the apostles and lead church's the proclamation of the gospel.

Naturally, Anglicans have the best of all apostolic worlds [ :) ].

Revved up by the Reformation we value the (re-formed) content of the faith once delivered and we refused to rid ourselves of bishops. But that claim (made slightly in jest, slightly in seriousness) is not likely to cut much ice with three major alternative views on apostolicity.

The Orthodox propose that they have the purest adherence to the apostles: bishops, strict adherence to (genuinely universal, undivided church) ecumenical councils' interpretation of the apostles' teaching, and continued use of the first Scripture of the apostles (the Old Testament in Greek).

Roman Catholics propose that they have the safest adherence to the apostles: bishops who teach what the apostles teach and a bishop of the bishops (pope) to secure that teaching by both preventing heresy gaining ground (e.g. ability to sack any bishop around the globe who steps out of theological line) and by only promulgating new teaching after a long, careful, well-tested process of review (possibly taking centuries), including an assurance that the whole (Roman) church is united behind the new teaching.

Reformed churches (in the sense of those churches formed during the Reformation and subsequently (e.g. Methodists) but who eschew bishops) propose that bishops are as often the problem as they are the solution to strengthening apostolicity. They would point out to Anglican and Lutheran churches that individual "rogue" bishops are not easily silenced; and ask of the Roman church, what if the Pope goes rogue?. It is happened. Some say it is happening. I digress!

Although I am not personally aware of what a "Reformed" critique of Orthodoxy might look like, I can imagine it might point to the divisions within Orthodoxy, including the division between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox as signs that a claim to purity of adherence to the apostles is no guarantee of unity of adherence: patriarchs and bishops can get in the way. Instead, the Reformed approach to apostolicity, as I understand it, emphasises the content of apostolic teaching, and permits all and sundry to advance it, defend it and debate it in order that individual heretics are efficiently condemned and/or sidelined (with no need to pay respect to their episcopal office let alone to their professorial office) while other champions of apostolicity are widely praised and their writings propagated.

11 comments:

Glen Young said...


The most important part of it to me is, that it is about what the Apostles SAW.Their belief was based on their eye witness experience.They recorded what they saw.

Andrei said...

" I can imagine it might point to the divisions within Orthodoxy, including the division between Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox as signs that a claim to purity of adherence to the apostles is no guarantee of unity of adherence: patriarchs and bishops can get in the way.

I guess Peter particular churches can be schismatic or heretical

Apostolic means to me that the Bishops have their authority handed down to them directly from the Apostles - thus in the Latin (Catholic) Church the Bishops authority comes from St Peter, while in the Greek and Russian Churches the authority has come down from St Andrew and the Church in Jerusalem the authority has been passed down from St James etc

The Orthodox Church of Alexandra and the Copts who are in schism both derive their apostolic succession from St Mark, and I believe both promulgate the True Faith

Churches being in schism is part of life in a fallen world whereas churches falling into heresy is where people are led astray from the True Faith

With Orthodox Bishops if they stray from the reservation into heresy their own flock will disown them - this happens even in these days


For me it is matter of discernment - where will you find Spiritual nourishment or where might you be led astray - God knows his own but whose wisdom to trust is more difficult for us in this fallen world and what are we to make of novel doctrines?

"Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever."

Brian Kelly said...

Don't forget that the fundamental meaning of 'apostle' is *missionary ( < apostello). If a church is not actively seeking the leading of the Holy Spirit to be sent with the message of the Gospel to places and persons where it has not yet taken root, it is not authentically apostolic. Remember also that with apostleship came - most frequently - martyrdom, not respectability.
Consider how missionary-minded Anglicanism was in the 19th century in taking the Gospel to Maori. Has it now been eclipsed by Destiny and other churches? It needs a recovery of Pentecostal fire, not a comfortable funeral within post-Christian kiwidom.

Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Glen, Andrei and Brian
Excellent points, all!

Father Ron said...

"Consider how missionary-minded Anglicanism was in the 19th century in taking the Gospel to Maori. Has it now been eclipsed by Destiny and other churches? It needs a recovery of Pentecostal fire, not a comfortable funeral within post-Christian kiwidom." - Brian Kelly -

Well Brian, considering that Jesus himself said that "They will know you are my disciples by your love": it seems to me that, in the current context of the Church Apostolic in New Zealand - insofar as it helps individuals and families to live in safety with food and lodging - even Destiny Church is fulfilling that description.

However, regarding the Apostolic Teaching, that may be something else. When a Church Leader can attribute the natural phenomenon of earthquakes to the 'Wrath of God' - that is more Old Testament than anything taught by Jesus in the New Testament.

'Pentecostal Fire cannot be limited to the Institutional Church - although it ought to be present therein. Sometimes the culture gives more evidence of God's loving-kindness to His children than the Church can handle or, indeed, replicate. After all, God is in every single person created in the Divine Image and Likeness - whether the Church likes that or not. We are called to care for all Creation, not just the membership of the Church.

Andrei said...

The Bishops and the Priests are custodians of the Faith but the mistake you seem to make Peter is to think that they are the ones who are spiritually wise and are the ones who are best to inculcate the Faith in others - I don't think that is necessarily so.

The simple soul who clears the beer bottles and condoms from the Church porch early on Sunday morning may have more to teach than the priest with his homily delivered two hours later (this example comes from a personal experience)

You might find this to be quite profound

Brian Kelly said...

"However, regarding the Apostolic Teaching, that may be something else. When a Church Leader can attribute the natural phenomenon of earthquakes to the 'Wrath of God' - that is more Old Testament than anything taught by Jesus in the New Testament."

I was referring to the fact that Destiny Church seems to be more effective in reaching Maori men with a life-transforming message, getting them off drugs and into work and family responsibility than contemporary Anglicanism appears to be - whereas 19th century Anglicanism did a terrific job in bringing the Gospel to them. As for "(super-)natural phenomena", the old trope contrasting the OT and the NT doesn't work. The Book of Revelation, revealed by the Lord Jesus Christ if you believe the prologue (Rev 1.1-3), has quite a lot to say about punitive earthquakes! But I am not a prophet and most certainly not the son of prophets and pass no judgment at all on "natural" phenomena, whether Christchurch in 2011 or Lisbon on All Saints Day 1755 or so - which the Portuguese Catholic Church definitely saw as a divine visitation for the wickedness of the city. Brian Tamaki's ideas are not as theologically eccentric as some people claim.

"Pentecostal Fire cannot be limited to the Institutional Church - although it ought to be present therein. Sometimes the culture gives more evidence of God's loving-kindness to His children than the Church can handle or, indeed, replicate."

No, this is the classical error of Hegelian liberalism, to equate the Holy Spirit with the 'Zeitgeist'. (Why do liberal Anglicans always fall for this one? They marry the spirit of one age and end up as widowers - or widows - of the next - like the disgusting spectacle of British - and Canadian - leftists shedding tears at the death of the murderous tyrant Fidel Castro.) The Pentecostal gift is all about bold witness to Jesus Christ; it is not about a general feeling of benevolence - the Gift of the Spirit in Acts and the promise of the Spirit in John is precisely about testifying to Christ.

As for "the culture", this is simply a cross-section of people at one time, a soup of belief, unbelief, values and socio-economic practices, and is no "evidence of God's loving-kindness" at all. I see no sign at all that contemporary post-Christian western society is closer to God's heart than the past, and the claim that "love wins" is only the despairing pagan assertion that untrammelled sexual expression is the key to human happiness - it all rather reminds me of that great late classical poem of desire and despair, 'Pervigilium Veneris'. Along with untrammeled sex, of course, there must be unrestricted access to drugs and then state-assisted suicide at the end of one's pointless life. Do oyu not understand that these demands of a a faithless age are all of a piece? Once again, Ron, you have confused post-modern libertarianism with the Evangelium Vitae in Jesus Christ!

"After all, God is in every single person created in the Divine Image and Likeness - whether the Church likes that or not."

Why the scolding tone? Who doesn't like this fact and the joyous fact that God made us male and female bearers of his image? And what Christian doesn't grieve that this image is distorted and debased by sin?

"We are called to care for all Creation, not just the membership of the Church."

Well, that's a tall order indeed. I have trouble looking after my own house, let alone the neighbouring galaxies. :) I hope the Lord will merciful with me on the Dies Irae, cum Iudex veniet - woops, fell into the Old Testmanet stuff again. A blessed Advent to you (which, as you know, is all about the coming Judge of all the earth).

Father Ron said...

Well Brian, despite its length there doesn't appear to be much good news (Gospel) in your last homily. "Always look on the bright side of life". Do cheer up !

Andrew W said...

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
Peter replied "'Always look on the bright side of life'. Do cheer up!"

Brian Kelly said...

"Always look on the bright side of life". Do cheer up !
Ha! Easy for you to say!

1. You are entering the long and lazy days of summer; it's the reverse here.

2. You don't have to teach German grammar today to a bunch of teenagers who struggle with their own native tongue.

3. I was born a Scot so I have all the default settings of my race. Think of Private Fraser (my mother's family proudly served - and died - with the Black Watch).

Happy St Andrew's Day to you. I'll raise a dram tae ye the nicht when I tuck into my haggis 'n neaps.

Father Ron said...

Andrei, I can honestly tell you that this link to a pericope of an Orthodox assessment of what Christianity is really all about really moved my heart.
If only all of us, Catholic, Orthodox, Protestant, could live up to this aspiration, the world would be a better place. Christos Anesti! :-

https://www.youtube.com/embed/sAlCze3ZFjA

Thank you, Brian, for your Advent greeting - in the spirit of the above link!