Monday, May 5, 2014

Is the ‘apostolic church’ missional? Part four

In 1987 George G. Hunter III, Dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary, introduced the theme of apostolic ministry for the post-Christendom context, and developed this theme in writings on the new apostolic age, advancing the apostolic movement, and the importance of evangelism in apostolic ministry. [1] He defined an apostolic church as a local body where leaders believe that they and the church are called and sent by God to reach an unchurched pre-Christian population. [2] By ‘new apostolic age’ Hunter meant there is renewed vision of apostolic ministry to unbelievers. This vision has everything to do with seeing the mission and mission field in the way that Jesus and the early apostles saw them.  Hunter does not wish to confuse this meaning with “apostolic succession,” and states:
… those who believe in ‘apostolic succession’ are likely to interpret this as ordination to mere chaplaincy services and teaching orthodox beliefs to the faithful.  Very few ordained clergy and other Christian leaders understand themselves, much less their congregations, as having inherited the work of the apostles [emphasis mine] to people who do not yet believe.[3]

For Hunter, apostolicity has as much to do with vision of ministry to and work among people who do not yet believe, as it does teaching right doctrine.  His definition of apostolic is tied to ‘apostle’ as one sent by the Holy Spirit to a new region or community in order to proclaim the gospel. An “apostolic leader (or leadership group)” he says, “reaches a remote tribe or an urban vocational group or some other distinct population—begins communicating the gospel, raises up some converts, forms them into a congregation, equips the congregation for its mission, grounds the people in the beliefs, lifestyle, and vision that inform and energize the mission, and eventually some of its members become apostles to other populations.”[4]  For Hunter, ‘apostolic’ describes functions of the first apostles in their evangelistic and missional work of establishing churches or extending the church.

 This use of ‘apostolic’ is not far from that of “lay apostolate” in Lumen Gentium of the Second Vatican Council of 1964.[5]  The “lay apostolate” (which in some circles is oxymoronic) exists along with the “apostolate of the Hierarchy” in the Roman Catholic Church.[6] Lumen Gentium affirms:

The lay apostolate … is a participation in the salvific mission of the Church itself. Through their baptism and confirmation all are commissioned to that apostolate by the Lord Himself. Moreover, by the sacraments, especially holy Eucharist, that charity toward God and man which is the soul of the apostolate is communicated and nourished. … Thus every layman, in virtue of the very gifts bestowed upon him, is at the same time a witness and a living instrument of the mission of the Church itself “according to the measure of Christ's bestowal.”[7]

                The apostolate described here is clearly missional and extends to all the faithful through baptism and confirmation. Thus, every layman is herald of the gospel and functions in the “way certain men and women assisted Paul the Apostle in the Gospel.”  Lumen Gentium explains further:

Upon all the laity, therefore, rests the noble duty of working to extend the divine plan of salvation to all men of each epoch and in every land. Consequently, may every opportunity be given them so that, according to their abilities and the needs of the times, they may zealously participate in the saving work of the Church.[8]

                Such a statement is an example of why Vatican II has been described as the “Protestantization” of the Roman Church. Nevertheless, the point is that Lumen Gentium understands ‘lay apostolate’ in terms of mission, and it extends from Jesus and the Twelve to the laity who served alongside them.

Historically, the Protestant counterpart advocated by Martin Luther spoke of “a general priesthood” that dismissed the view that Christians were to be divided into two classes, the spiritual (sacred) and temporal (secular). He stated:

As for the unction by a pope or a bishop, tonsure, ordination, consecration, and clothes differing from those of laymen – all this may make a hypocrite or an anointed puppet, but never a Christian or a spiritual man. Thus we are all consecrated as priests by baptism, as St. Peter says: ‘Ye are a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (1 Peter 2: 9); and in the book of Revelation: ‘and hast made us unto our God (by Thy blood) kings and priests’ (Rev. 5:10).”[9] 

Luther held that all baptized Christians are “priests” and “spiritual” in God’s sight. Thus, as Timothy J. Wengert asserts: “In tearing down this wall, Luther did not eliminate priests or do away with the priesthood. Instead he eliminated the laity!”[10]

                Thus, apostolicity of the church refers not merely to its foundation in Jesus Christ and the Twelve to whom he gave authority over the church and through whom the gospel was to be transmitted (Matt. 28:18-20), but apostolicity refers also to the character of the apostolic origin and nature of the church as embodying the apostolic witness and testimony through its life and mission.[11] 

                The Protestant traditions have tended to identify apostolicity almost exclusively with fidelity to apostolic teaching while the Roman Catholic tradition has identified it with apostolic succession in ministry.[12]  Yet all agree that the church must be apostolic in faith and mission. In the Lima Report from the Faith and Order Commission prepared by representatives from many Christian traditions including Roman Catholic, section IV, 37 states:

In the churches which practice the succession through the episcopate, it is increasingly recognized that a continuity in apostolic faith, worship and mission has been preserved in churches which have not [emphasis mine] retained the form of historic succession.  This recognition finds additional support in the fact that the reality and function of the episcopal ministry have been preserved in many of these churches, with or without the title “bishop.”[13]

                This brings up the question of marks of apostolicity.  While one of the “four marks of the church” is apostolic (“one, holy, catholic, and apostolic”), what are the marks of apostolicity?  Origin and foundation upon Jesus and the Twelve? Orthodox (ορθοδοξα) teaching and worship in accordance with the NT—the teaching of the apostles?  Authority based upon ordination through the laying on of hands? Character and pattern of the apostles’ mission?  Evidence of the Holy Spirit as seen among the Twelve?

[1] Gary L. McIntosh, “Reaching Secular Peoples: A Review of the Books of George G. Hunter, III,” The Asbury Journal 66: 2 (2011): 108-119.
[2] George G. Hunter III, How to Reach Secular People (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1992), 108.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid., 110.
[5] The Latin Lumen Gentium means “light of the nations.”
[6] Lumen Gentium, III: 27. See Richard Gaillardetz, The Church in the Making: Lumen Gentium, Christus Dominus, Orientalium Ecclesiarum (Paulist Press, 2006).
[7] Ibid., IV, 33.
[8] Ibid.
[9] Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the German Nation, 1520, in J. H. Robinson, ed., Readings in European History (Boston: Ginn, 1909), Third Wall; Cf. De captivitate Babylonica ecclesiae praeludium, Weimar Ausgabe 6, 564.6–14 in Norman Nagel, “Luther and the Priesthood of All Believers,” Concordia Theological Quarterly 61 (October 1997) 4: 283-84.
[10] Timothy J. Wengert, Harvesting Martin Luther's Reflections on Theology, Ethics, and the Church, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2004), 127.
[11] Torrance, 287.
[12] Francis A. Sullivan, S.J., From Apostles to Bishops (New York: The Newman Press, 2001), 7.
[13] Lima Report, Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry, IV: 37, in Sullivan, From Apostles to Bishops, 8.

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