What was the Apostolic task?
1.They provided the foundation of the Church
The 3,000 saved on the Day of Pentecost were described as being ‘added’ to a small community founded on these apostles. Ephesians 2:20 says that the church, this new temple, is being built upon that foundation. The apostles were those who had been with Jesus, lived with him, watched him, were taught by him, and laid the foundations.
In the Upper Room discourse in John 14-16, Jesus taught them that He would no longer be physically present. ‘When the Holy Spirit comes, he will lead you into truth. He will take what is mine and reveal it to you. Then you will know I am in my Father and you in me and I in you’ (John 14:20). What does this mean? This means a new community such as the world has never seen before. It’s an incredible new concept, God actually dwelling in people. So Jesus says, ‘I am the true vine. You are like branches in me. It’s going to be an organic union. You are going to be part of me.’
These were massively privileged men! They were going to have new revelation, ‘when the Spirit comes’, and were going to lay the foundations of this new community. The mystery of Christ previously hidden was now going to be revealed to God’s holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit (Eph. 3:4-5).
So when 3,000 repent and get born again, and are flooded with the Holy Spirit, they have a new identity. Who am I now? Where do I belong? They give themselves every day to the apostles’ teaching, thus building a community on that foundation.
2. They gave identity to the Church
They weren’t left to wander off, they were built together. The apostles’ teachings were foundational, they gave identity to this new community. They were taught that just as Jesus replaced the temple when he was on planet earth, now we are the temple, where God dwells. No longer do you have to go to Jerusalem or Samaria – no, here is where God is. God is in His church, and the apostles gave them understanding of what the church is.
Now, a number of our Evangelical brothers will say that apostles were simply Bible-writers. Once the full Canon of Scripture was complete, their role was finished. This is commonly held but it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Of the twelve apostles only three wrote New Testament material. Luke wrote more than anyone and he wasn’t an apostle. So the concept that apostles simply wrote the New Testament doesn’t hold up. Even our great Apostle, Jesus, was not a Scripture-writer and he is the ultimate model apostle. Nor did he gather twelve to write the Bible. Nowhere is this mentioned. So what did they do?
3. Scripture-writers or foundation-layers?
Perhaps the clearest concise description is in 1 Corinthians 3:10. Paul says ‘According to the grace of God which was given to me as a wise master builder, I laid a foundation (of the local church at Corinth).’ Now obviously, I don’t want to be misunderstood; the epistles of the apostles, along with the rest of the New Testament, are foundational to our faith. The Canon is complete. We thank God for the revelation contained in Scripture. It is necessary to state that.
But Paul says, ‘As a wise master builder I laid a foundation.’ The root word in the Greek is the word from which we get our word ‘architect’. ‘I was a wise architect, I saw the blue print. God gave me revelation of the church.’ He wrote letters on the hoof while he was doing that, sometimes even from prison, which for us have become sacred Scripture. But what he was actually doing was obeying what Jesus said, which was ‘go and make disciples’. The apostles obeyed that command by planting churches where disciples would be made’. He wrote letters full of wisdom and revelation, apostolic insight which became part of our New Testament. So he laid the foundation.
Paul argued, ‘If I am not an apostle to others, I am to you.’ The Corinthian church was proof of his apostolic gift. The fact that they existed as a church was proof that he was an apostle to them. He also says in Romans 15:20, ‘I didn’t want to build on another man’s foundation.’ Obviously, then, others were laying foundations. This is a dynamic not just a philosophical concept. It’s something he did which was part of his gift, rather like an evangelist might work with his gift. He’ll preach, heal the sick maybe, declare the gospel. He is fulfilling his evangelistic ministry. So Paul would fulfil his apostolic ministry, which was establishing a church, laying a foundation.
[To be continued]