The congregation as a living epistle of Christ

The Apostle ministry holds special status In New Apostolic doctrine. Apostolic thinking really only began to take hold on 14 July 1835, when the number of twelve Apostles was complete in the ranks of the Catholic Apostolic Church. And it has endured to this day. This must be evident in congregational life.

Jesus is the head of His church. He has conferred His powers to the apostolate. This is why the doctrine of the Apostles is necessarily part of the church. Already two thousand years ago, the early Christian churches continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine, in fellowship, in breaking of bread, and in prayers. These are the basics of Christian faith: the apostolate, the congregation, Holy Communion, and prayer. Although there are many different denominations within the Christian house, the doctrine of the Apostles is the common property of all Christians.

One ministry, many tasks

Paul speaks of the Apostle ministry as the ministry of the Spirit, of reconciliation, and of the word. That Apostles are “ambassadors for Christ” was also written by him. He also states that they are stewards of the mysteries of God. And he certainly understood himself in this way: “For we do not preach ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord, and ourselves your bondservants for Jesus’ sake” (2 Corinthians 4: 5). So it is that Jesus is at the very core of apostolic preaching. Wherever Jesus Christ is genuinely proclaimed, such preaching is rooted in the original message of the Apostles, which has been faithfully preserved in the New Testament.

Tasks that span the ages

The fulfilment of these tasks, as Paul continues to explain, is of significance for Christians of all time periods. Thus the activity of the Apostles cannot be limited to antiquity. Concerning this, the Fourth Article of the New Apostolic Creed states that the rule of Jesus Christ in His church comes to expression, among other things, in the sending of the Apostles of today (CNAC 2.4.4). They have the commission to preach the gospel of the death, resurrection, and return of the Lord, and to dispense the sacraments.

The apostolate of the modern age

So what happened on 14 July 1835 in England? It boils down to two important events: on the one hand, the full biblical number of twelve Apostles required for the church of Christ had been attained—as the Catholic Apostolic Church of the time believed. Beyond that, the congregations stood behind them and thereby legitimated them as leaders of the Church. One of the three milestones—the calling of the Apostles, the consecration of the Apostles, and the sending of the Apostles—occurred right before the eyes of the congregation.

All signs fulfilled

The date of a special event had been foretold well in advance: what had long been regarded as the date of the return of Christ was later reinterpreted as the moment when the apostolic movement became a church. On the one hand, all seven congregations in London had by now been fully constituted, and on the other hand, the twelvefold apostolate had been restored. However—and the drama of this would have been hard to beat—up until the afternoon of 14 July there were only eleven Apostles. The one who had been designated as the twelfth, David Dow, refused to accept his calling. In accordance with the biblical model—namely the selection of Apostle Matthias—the lot finally fell upon Duncan McKenzie. Finally,all the signs had been fulfilled: on the evening of 14 July 1835, the leaders of the seven London congregations laid their hands upon each of the twelve Apostles. Through laying on of hands they were consecrated—that is, released from their previous assignments in congregational work, and equipped and blessed—for their future task: the leadership of the church as a whole.

And what about us today?

Now one might ask, “What does all of this have to do with the Church of today?” According to Apostle Paul, the task of the Apostle ministry includes making the believers into an epistle of Christ: “Clearly you are our epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart” (2 Corinthians 3: 3). Therefore, all those who find themselves in fellowship with the Apostles of Jesus have also been sent to testify of their belief in word and deed. In concrete terms, this means

  • practising love for our neighbour: saying no to lies and injustice!
  • having courage: with the help of God, believers can keep faith even in difficult situations!
  • being reconcilable: reconcile with your neighbour as you have been reconciled with God!
  • keeping faith: even if many others have their doubts, we believe!

Photo: Oliver Rütten

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Peter Johanning
Apostle, Divine service