Though the Apostle's Creed does not refer to an "apostolic" church, some early church creeds such as the Nicene Creed do. The Nicene Creed says "I believe one holy catholic and apostolic church." What is meant?
The church of Rome considers itself apostolic because it claims that the popes are the successors of the apostles and that there is an unbroken line of succession. None of these claims, of course, are true.
Some Protestant churches claim to be apostolic because they believe they have returned to apostolic practice or doctrine. While this may be true, it is not what is meant in the Nicene Creed.
Both in the Nicene Creed and Reformed theology the reference is to Ephesians 2:20, which describes the church as "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets." Obviously and closely related is Matthew 16:18, where Jesus says, "Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
The church of Rome takes this rock to be Peter himself and the Popes as the successors of Peter, because of the similarity between the name "Peter" (Petros in Greek) and the word "rock" (petra in Greek). The grammar of the text forbids this, however. These are actually two different words in Greek, the word "petros" referring to an isolated rock or small stone, and the word "petra" referring to a cliff, mountain or mountain chain. In fact, Jesus is saying that He is not going to build His church on Peter himself (he was not big enough to be the foundation of the church) but upon Peter's confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. That is a firm and unconquerable foundation.
In that light Ephesians 2:20 must also be interpreted as referring to apostolic (and prophetic) teaching and doctrine, i.e., to the inspired Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. They are the church's foundation.
Built upon the teaching and doctrine of the Apostles the church is built upon Christ! He then is the chief cornerstone "in whom all the building fitly framed together groweth into an holy temple in the Lord" (vs. 21).
The implication is, of course, that all the doctrine and teaching of the concerns Christ. "Search the Scriptures," Jesus says. "They are they that testify of me" (Jn. 5:39). And so Paul, speaking for all the Apostles says, "For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified" (I Cor. 2:2).
A church that is truly apostolic, therefore, is truly the church of Christ. No wonder, then, that when the church is built on such a foundation, even the gates of hell cannot overcome her.
How few churches today are truly apostolic! Most of them have little or none of the teaching of the apostles and prophets and are completely vulnerable to the assaults of the forces of hell.
- Volume: 6
- Issue: 7
Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)
Ordained: November 1979
Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/
Address13823 Clear Lake Rd.
State or ProvinceWA