The Apostolic Church

By Paul Koch

At the end of the Nicene Creed, we confess together, “I believe in the one holy Christian and apostolic Church, I acknowledge one Baptism for the remission of sin, and I look for the resurrection of the dead and the life of the world to come.” Now, creeds are important to our faith. They are like an anchor that holds us within the ancient truths handed down and taught from the beginning. To continue to confess a creed is to say that there is real adversity, real perversion to the faith that we need to always diligently watch out for. The Nicene Creed has guided the Christian Church since the council of Nicaea in 325 AD. For almost 1,700 years, the church has faithfully confessed that the church is apostolic in nature, one holy Christian and apostolic Church. But what do we mean when we say that we believe in an apostolic Church?

On the surface, of course, we mean that this church is the church of the holy apostles. Their confession is our confession. The apostolic Church is a connection with those who walked with our Lord himself. On top of that, an apostolic Church possesses apostolic Scripture. The New Testament writers were the first apostles. But that is just scratching the surface. The word apostle comes from the Greek word that means to send. The apostles were those sent out by our Lord. In fact, sending is something God does throughout history. Our God is apostolic himself. He sent Abraham off to the promised land. He sent Moses to set his people free. He sent prophet after prophet to proclaim both his wrath and his mercy to guide and to redeem his children. The pinnacle sending of God was the sending of his own son to come not as a king or a lord of might and power but as a servant to bear the sins of the world.

This is a strange sending to be sure, not at all what the world would have expected. But as St. Paul says in 1 Corinthians, “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.” So, the God who sends sends even his church. His people are apostolic, sent out. In Luke 10, with the sending out of the 72, we get a glimpse of this strange working of our God. His work, his word, his great message to the world is to be carried on the lips and by the feet of his people. They go out as lambs in the midst of wolves. That is, they go without their own means for protection and survival. They carry no money, no knapsack, no sandals. They are dependent only on the world they proclaim. Or even more to the point, they are dependent on those who receive the message they bear.

And what message is that? Simple: peace. An apostolic God who sends out his apostles sends them with a word of peace. Now, this is worthy of our thought for churches can and often do accomplish a lot of things in the name of our Lord. They can be resource centers, places of learning, guides in uncertain times. Churches can offer counseling and marital advice, be places of nourishment for the soul, and help give focus to one seeking to live a good life. Churches can and often do feed the poor and clothe the needy. They are places of compassion when others don’t want to respond. Yet, all of these flow from the central message that the church is sent out into the world to bear the message of peace. Above all else, the church is to proclaim peace.

Again, we might well ask ourselves, just what does peace mean? Does it mean the same in our age as it did when those 72 followers were sent out by Jesus? Through the prophet Isaiah, hear God declare that he will extend his peace like a river that will bring nourishment and hope to the nations of the world. In the beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we hear a multitude of the heavenly host declare, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased” (Luke 2:14). Or think of Simenon as he first holds the Christ child in his arms and sings that ancient song, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word…” (Luke 2:29). Over and again as our Lord heals those who cling to him in their faith, he responds by saying, “Go in peace.” Or think of the appearance of our Lord after his death and resurrection, when he shows up in the midst of his disciples. What word does he declare to them? He says, “Peace, peace be with you.” The message of peace is the message of the arrival of Christ, the salvation of mankind. It is the word of hope for you, hope that goes beyond the whims of this age. It is not bound by your limits, reason, or strength. It is truly a peace that surpasses all understanding.

Such peace is only possible because it comes with the arrival of the kingdom of God. Jesus tell those 72 sent ones that they are to tell those who receive them that “The kingdom of God has come near to you.” You pray all the time in the Lord’s prayer and say, “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven…” Just how is that done? How does God’s kingdom come to you? It comes by the gift of the Spirit, a Spirit that works through means so that you might believe, trust, and hold tight to the Word and work of God in your midst. To receive the gifts of the Spirit is to receive the presence of God, to receive his coming kingdom. What is fascinating about this is that the coming of the kingdom of God doesn’t depend of the faithfulness and the worthiness of the receivers of the kingdom. An apostolic God sends out his kingdom bearing a message of peace, but you don’t create it nor make it real. No, you receive it by faith.

Notice in the text to those who reject the bearers of God’s peace, to those who turn away the sent ones of God, Jesus says, “Nevertheless know this, that the kingdom of Gad has come near” (Luke 10:11). Their unfaithfulness didn’t stop the coming of the kingdom. But to reject the sent ones, to reject the gifts of peace, is to reject the very means by which the kingdom of God comes.

Here’s what I’m getting at. Perhaps you haven’t always been the model saint of God that you are today. Perhaps you have countless stories of times you’ve failed to live as you ought, when you’ve fallen short of the glory that your God is owed. That does not mean that the kingdom of God has passed you by or abandoned you. The peace of the Father is still here for you, still freely given to you. For the church is still apostolic. It is still sent with his message of peace. It still hands over the goods so that the kingdom of God continues to come near.

And what is the result of all this sending and going? What is the reason to be excited? Is it that we like these 72 might have stories of driving out demons in the name of the Christ? Is it that you might tread over serpents and scorpions and over all the power of the enemy? No, according to Jesus, the focus of your joy, the purpose of the message of peace that the church bears is so that you might know this day that your names are written in heaven. Think of that. In the courtroom of God, in his abode where he reclines in majesty as possessor of eternal peace and the gates of eternal life, your name is written there. You, he knows you. He sent his son for you. He forgives you. He loves you, and he welcomes you into his everlasting peace.