A Letter from the Pastor to Presbytery
"No Commas, Part 2"
February 15, 2010
Last week I wrote about the character of the believable church – it is (from the Nicene Creed) “one holy catholic and apostolic.” No commas. That means that it bears those marks all at once; they cannot be separated. Much of our struggle with credibility in our public witness arises from our being off kilter as the church, displaying some of these features more faithfully than others.
To emphasize that they are not a succession of distinct traits but a description of a single whole, I will begin with the last one: “We believe the apostolic church.” The word “apostolic” comes from the Greek word meaning “sent out.” By pairing “catholic” and “apostolic” we bear witness that the “sent out” community is not thereby “scattered” in its identity or witness. “Catholic” means literally “according to the whole” – each particular church is shaped according to the identity of the whole church. We don’t have different missional identities; all mission is one, namely the mission of God in Christ to proclaim and embody the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
The term “apostolic” is rich with significance. It means first that we do not determine our own mission; we are sent out as ambassadors of Christ, to continue spreading his words and works. We do not get to shape our mission; Christ’s mission shapes us.
It also ties us to the witness of the first apostles, which is based in their preaching of the Scriptures (Old Testament) and expressed in the memoirs and teachings they recorded (New Testament). The apostolic church is built “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 2:20).
Everything was in place for the apostolic mission, but it was only with Pentecost that the apostles were fully unleashed in their ministry. Pentecost took them continually to unexpected places. The apostolic church is always a Pentecostal church, entirely dependent upon the empowerment of a Holy Spirit who sends us to places we’d never dream of going.
Well, much more could be said about the church’s “apostolicity.” But I’m trying to learn the virtue of brevity. Believe it or not!
Great grace be with you,
The Rev. Dr. Sheldon W. Sorge, Pastor to Presbytery
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