Monday, February 9, 2015

The Apostolic Church

At the beginning of each year we do a sermon series on the characteristics of the church. This year we based our series on the four marks of the church that are found in the Nicene Creed. The Nicene Creed was written and adapted in the 4th century, and stands still today as a statement of faith that is affirmed by most Christian denominations. Towards the end of the creed are the words that describe what have become known as the marks of the church. It reads, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic church."

Having just written a paper on the four marks of the church for my class on Ecclesiology, I was excited to turn my newly gained intellectual knowledge into a sermon that would be accessible for the members of our church, aged 5 to 75. I was given the task of preaching on the apostolic church.

Do most people know that the church is called to be apostolic? Do you know what it means?  And perhaps most importantly, would you say that your church IS apostolic?

Of course there is a great deal of discussion around what it means for a church to be apostolic. For Roman Catholics, the idea of apostolicity pertains to the direct passing of authority over the church from Jesus to Peter right down to the current Pope Fran├žois. The apostolic succession is of upmost important.

Not surprisingly, we Protestants have a different take. Rather than linking the idea of apostolic directly to the apostles, we link the idea to the function of the apostles. Apostle literally means "one who was sent." Jesus was the first apostle, sent by the Father. Then, after his resurrection, Jesus said to his apostles, "As the Father sent me, so I am sending you." So with this understanding, if the church is to be apostolic, then the church is to be sent.

But it doesn't seem to play out that way. Even the vocabulary that we use around a church renders it rather stationary. We PLANT a church, or BUILD a church. We identify a church by its address. We think of church in terms of a location, rather than in terms of a movement. But we, the people of Jesus Christ, are not called to simply invite others into our midst, we are called to go out into the world with the Good News. This is not just the work of a few missionaries. This is the work to which the whole body of Christ is called. We are the sent ones. We--the whole church!

How is your church doing at being "sent?" Do you spend your time trying to figure out how to get people to come through your doors? Or are you more interested in figuring out how to move your members out of your doors? Is your Sunday morning worship service the hub around which the life of the church turns, or is it just one small slice of pie? Do you expect your members to spend their free time inside the walls of the church attending programs for the benefit of those who already know the Good News? Or do you expect your members to spend their free time out in the world, sharing the Good News in word and deed? Do you know people in your community who still need to hear the Good News? Are you investing in your neighborhood in ways that speak of that Good News? Are you content to just go to church on Sunday, or are you intentional about being the church Monday through Saturday?

People! Jesus was sent to earth with the best news that the world has ever heard! There is hope for the broken hearted, freedom for those who are captive to their sin, and release for those who live under the oppression of the king of this world. SIGHT! Though born into the blindness of a fallen world, we can now see things as they really are, without the clouds of confusion and despair. Jesus came to set things right. He has entrusted the church with these profound truths, we must, we MUST take them to the world.

Church, are you stationary or are you sent?

As the Father sent me, I also send you (plural). John 20:21

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