Tuesday, April 10, 2018

8.4 The Church as Apostolic Community

8. The Theology of the Church (so far)

8.4 An Apostolic Community
  • Ephesians 4:11-13
  • It is not clear the degree to which this passage was meant to be programmatic for the long haul of history or was encapsulating the church in its foundational existence.
  • Most of the roles would seem to be longstanding. For example, the New Testament never gives any indication that the prophetic role would ever stop. Prophets arose as the Holy Spirit revealed truth outside any organizational structure. 1 Corinthians 12-14 suggest that even a local assembly could be full of prophetic activity. To take 1 Corinthians 13:9 as the cessation of prophecy after the completion of the New Testament is ludicrously out of context and inserts elements into the text that are completely foreign to its context. Paul had no knowledge that he was writing Scripture. Prophets could be situated in a location.
  • The roles of evangelist, pastor, and teacher would seem to be perpetual. An evangelist is a proclaimer of the good news that Jesus is king and that the kingdom of God was coming. This would seem to be someone doing what apostles did but as someone who had not seen the risen Christ. The only specific person of this type we know is Philip the evangelist, who traveled around Judea and Samaria proclaiming the good news. Timothy is told to do the work of an evangelist (1 Tim. 4:5)
  • The role of pastor is not mentioned much in Scripture. Peter tells the elders of churches to shepherd and oversee their flocks and calls Jesus the great Shepherd of the sheep (1 Pet. 5:2, 4). 1 Peter thus seems to equate elder, pastor, and overseer ("bishop") as those who guide a local assembly or perhaps several local assemblies in a particular city. It seems more likely than not that there were more than one such elder in each house church and/or city.
  • The later books of the New Testament seem to picture the rise of itinerant teachers. These individuals may have moved around some and relied on the patronage of someone in a location for their support. John the elder tries to get Gaius to receive Demetrius in his church, possibly one such teacher. Apollos would perhaps be another example of such a teacher.
  • The one role on the list that was not clearly meant as a role beyond the early church is apostle, since an apostle was someone to whom the risen Lord had appeared (1 Cor. 9:1) with the commission to witness to his resurrection. 1 Corinthians 15:8 suggests that Paul was the last apostle in the early church of this kind. However, the word apostle can be used in a lesser sense, of someone sent with a commission (cf. 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). 
  • Historically, the authority of the apostles is understood to be continued both 1) through the Scriptures, which continue their voice, and 2) through the institutional Church. However, a significant segment of the Church today is being energized at the thought that God might be raising a generation of apostles today, not as individuals to whom the risen Jesus has appeared but who have anointed authority (cf. 2 Cor. 12:12). This new apostle would seem to be some combination of the prophet and evangelist. 
  • The Ephesian list is not a complete list. For example, we know of deacons in the early church (e.g., Rom. 16:1). Elders/overseers would also seem to be the more common name for local church leaders rather than pastor. 2 Timothy 1:11 calls Paul a preacher (and teacher).
  • There is debate whether there should be a comma after "to equip the saints." The question is whether the leaders mentions 1) equip the saints, 2) do the work of the ministry, 3) build up the body of Christ (if there is a comma there). Or, do these leaders equip the saints so that the saints can do the work of the ministry and build up the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12 certainly would support a distributed ministry within the church. However, this could simply be the contextualization of the Church in a more democratic world.
8.5 An Eschatological Community
  • The Church is the assembly of the end times and of eternity. We get a picture of this eternal community in Hebrews 12:22-24. Also confer Revelation 22.
  • There are passages that delegate authority in the meantime to the Church on earth in this time between the now and not yet. 
  • Matthew 16:16, 18-19 give the Church authority to bind and lose things on earth under the authority of Christ. This is an important authority in the never-ending work of contextualizing the good news and its implications. What should the Church do when the good news reaches into polygamous contexts? How does the Church live under a persecuted context? What do we do in a world where divorce is prevalent?
  • John 20:22-23 gave the apostles the authority to forgive and retain sins. This is an authority the Church has to discipline within the community. Paul certainly dispenses such discipline (cf. 1 Cor. 5). James 5 implies a community that mediates the forgiveness of sins.
  • Presumably the Church is led by the Holy Spirit in such actions. A minister might be faith for a Christian who is struggling to believe. A minister might proclaim forgiveness to someone who is having a hard time accepting forgiveness. Such things must be done in conjunction with the Spirit or they are only an empty fantasy.
Previous "chapters"
Chapter 1: What is Biblical Theology?
Chapter 2: Theology of God
Chapter 3: Creation and Consummation
Chapter 4: Sin and Atonement
Interlude: A Theology of Israel
Chapter 5: Jesus the Christ
Chapter 6: Salvation
Chapter 7: The Holy Spirit


Patrick Bowers said...

Ken, it is a great summary, but I think as part of the Apostolic Community there is also the idea of the church as a People (or the new Israel), taking on the role of those called out by God to be a witnessing community for the world. Are you planning a separate post about that?

Ken Schenck said...

I'm sure I have left out important elements. Are you thinking especially of the church as a new Israel?

Patrick Bowers said...

Ken, Yes I think the Church as the New Israel is very important to its Apostolic mandate. One which has been confused by just supporting Israel as a modern state, and not connecting it to God's promise to Abram.