Good evening. Let me depart for my normal pattern to begin with a question. Look around this room, this structure, and answer this simple question: what’s the most important part of this building? You don’t have to answer out loud, but what is the most important part of this building? Is it the windows, the pulpit, the baptistery, the steeple?
In a very real sense, a good case could be made that the most important part of this building is one that nobody ever sees: the foundation. And that’s because without a solid and fixed foundation, no structure, no matter how beautiful or how architecturally pleasing, no building with a faulty foundation will ever work. It will crumble.
And the same is true of the church. And I’m not merely talking about this building, though the principle certainly applies to that. I’m talking about the institution, the organism of the church, the people of God, the bride of Christ. She must have a firm and solid foundation if she’s ever to keep from crumbling.
With that principle in mind, please turn with me in your bibles to Ephesians chapter 2. Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, chapter 2.
Tonight, we conclude our 4-part series on the doctrine of the church. We’ve been using the Nicene Creed, that ancient summary of the teaching of the Christian faith, and specifically we’ve used the Creed’s 4 listed marks of the church to frame our study of the doctrine of the church. We saw first that the church is ONE, or united. Then in the second sermon we looked at the church’s holiness. Then we noted last week what it means to say that the church is catholic, or universal. And tonight we complete our quartet by looking at what it means when the creed says the church is apostolic.
So let’s start by reading our text from Ephesians 2. I’ll begin reading in verse 17, but we will spend our time tonight on verse 20:
And he [that is Christ] came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God,20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.
Let’s start with first things first. Before we ought to answer what it means for the church to be apostolic, I think it is prudent to answer another question: What is an apostle?
One pastor in Boston, named Benjamin Bae, wrote a great article on this subject. He summarizes the nature of apostolic office in this way: “The term apostle connotes an ambassador. In the New Testament this term refers primarily to those men who were commissioned by Jesus to represent him to the world and to be his spokesmen. Thus, close proximity to Jesus in his earthly ministry and being an eye-witness of his resurrection was a requirement for the office.”
Acts chapter 1:21-22 make clear that to be an apostle someone must have been an eyewitness of the resurrection. Thus, the twelve chosen by Jesus, minus the traitor Judas, were apostles. In Acts 1 when the apostles were thinking through how to replace Judas, they suggested a man named Joseph and a man named Matthias. These two men had been with Jesus from the early on in his ministry and, by being present at one of Jesus’s post-resurrection appearances, they were thus eye witnesses of the resurrection.
Further, Paul was called and appointed an apostle by Christ. Acts 9 & Acts 26 detail Jesus’s post-resurrection appearance to Paul, and we see other marks of confirmation through his life, like his miraculous abilities and his reception of divine revelation and the writing of scripture.
We should also note that the term apostle, “Apostolos” in Greek, is used in the New Testament in other, less technical ways, and can refer to a messenger in a general sense, and not in the sense of Christian office. For example, we see Paul mention Epaphroditus in Philippians 2. Paul says he sends Epaphroditus as a messenger and minister to the church.
We could even say that each of us is apostolic, in the sense of we’re all messengers and ambassadors of Christ. However, such language is imprecise and can be confusing, because we’re certainly not saying that we are all eye-witnesses of the resurrection and recipients of infallible, divine revelation.
And that leads to a crucial distinction that we must make about the office of an apostle. The office of apostle was not to be a repeating office. By the very nature of the requirement that you must be an eye-witness of the resurrection to be qualified to be an apostle, that necessarily means that there are no apostles today. Apostles were for the first generation of the church, they were foundational, to go back to our language from Ephesians 2.
And when you build a building, you don’t lay the foundation, and then keep on laying more and more foundation. Rather, you build a good, solid foundation, and then you stop laying foundation and start building structure. And that’s what our master builder has done in the church.
Jesus affirms the “foundational role of the apostles in Matthew 16:18, where he says to Peter, “You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.” The imagery is plain: Christ, the builder of the church, founds his church on the apostles.
In John 13-17 Jesus clarifies the nature of the apostles’ “foundational” role. These men are to be his designated spokesmen. These who have heard him teach will receive his further teaching via the Spirit, and they will, in turn, give the word of Christ to the world (cf. John 14:24-26; 16:12-15; 17:8, 18, 20). That is to say, the apostles in a very real sense give us Christ. Indeed, when they speak they speak for him and with his delegated authority… Their teaching is the teaching of Christ, the fulness of the revelation come by him, and this apostolic teaching was, in turn, entrusted or “deposited” to the church “once for all” (1Tim.6:20; Jude 3, etc.). All this informs our understanding of their “foundational” role.”
So that means that when the church down the street says that they’re pastor or preacher is an Apostle (Apostle so and so), that means that EITHER that man or woman is totally self-deceived and thinks that they are on par with the Apostle Paul (in which case run). Either they are self-deceived, OR they are mistaken about the nature of their own apostleship. They are not an apostle in the sense of the biblical office filled by eye-witnesses of the resurrection and filled by those possessing miraculous gifts of the holy spirit.
You never see modern “apostles” walking around the cancer center healing people. You never see modern “apostles” miraculously revealing God’s power in extraordinary ways.
So, to sum up, what is an apostle? An apostle is a spirit-annointed, Christ-called, witness to the resurrection of Jesus, who served a foundational role in the establishment of the New Testament church.
Now given that definition, what does it mean when the creed says that the church is Apostolic? What does it mean for the church to be apostolic, and to possess an apostolic faith? Let me answer that question in 6 ways. 6 Points about the nature of an apostolic church.
First, an apostolic church has a faith that is fixed. An apostolic church has a faith that is fixed. Its faith is not fluid. It is not evolving. Not enlarging, not drifting. That’s part of what Jude is talking about in his letter when he speaks about the faith “once for all delivered to the saints.” It has been delivered. And it is only to be delivered one time.
It’s not the job of the church to re-invent the gospel message in each succeeding generation. It’s our job to receive and embrace that which has been delivered.
That certainly doesn’t mean that the church won’t grow in depth of knowledge, or that the faith cannot be explored and further understood by the church. Indeed, of the writing of books there is no end, and that’s because God and his works in history reveal a divine person of such depth and enormity and love that we could never plumb the depths of knowledge about him.
But growing in our knowledge and grasp of that faith that has been once for all delivered, is totally different than untethering ourselves from our apostolic foundation and exploring what the world might have to offer us instead.
And that’s the perennial temptation: to not be content with what God has delivered to us in the apostolic foundation of the church, which is salvation by grace, and instead seek to found the church and our lives upon our own salvation of another means, namely, our own works.
Church’s build their foundation upon the shifting sands of man’s opinion, instead of God’s fixed word. Or build their foundation upon good deeds, rather than heart-level devotion to Christ alone. Or turn the faith of the bible into a self-help regime, as if you could pick out a few bible verses, think really hard about them, try harder in your life, and God will let you into heaven because you tried really hard to be good.
That’s not the fixed faith of the bible. That’s not the apostolic faith that has been delivered to the saints once for all. The apostolic foundation is clear. You can read it in the first part of Ephesians chapter 2: we’re all born dead in our sins, following Satan and the course of this world. We’re born selfish and hateful, demanding our own way, coveting the things we see around us, hating God and what God has given to us.
That’s what the apostolic faith says about us. But, praise be to God, it doesn’t stop there. It also says that the Son of God has been sent as the perfect sacrifice of atonement. The perfect substitute that we need to grant us righteousness and take away our unrighteousness. And that Christ, that Jesus, has come and died in the place of his people, and has been raised on the third day, that we might be made right with God.
That is the heart of the apostolic message, and the foundation of the apostolic church. Without that heart of the gospel, not church can be apostolic, not church can be catholic, no church can be holy, and no church can be united. Salvation in Christ alone is the foundation of the church, and it has been given to us through the ministry of the apostles.
If you trust in that message, specifically in the savior proclaimed in that message, then be encouraged, you are one with Christ, and a brother or sister of the apostles. You’re in the household of God.
But if you don’t embrace that message, then you have no hope. You’re outside of the faith. You’ve confused your own good deeds, your own works of righteousness, as a possible way for you to be made right with God, and that is contrary to the apostolic message. In fact, Paul says in Galatians 1, that if you believe that message, you’re to be accursed, cast out, condemned, because you’re not only deceived, you are undermining the foundation of the church.
Come to Christ, and believe in the apostolic message, and you too can be made a part of the household of God. Stop running on the hamster wheel of trying to be righteous enough to earn salvation and entrance into heaven. You can’t do it. But you can be granted such gifts, if you but confess your inability and trust in the savior who is the cornerstone of the Christian foundation.
The apostolic faith is fixed, because our cornerstone is immovable, his salvation is accomplished, and his work of salvation is done, as is demonstrated by his resurrection and ascension.
Second, not only is the apostolic faith fixed, the apostolic faith must be guarded. The new testament teaches that the apostolic faith must be guarded. This is related to the previous point, but needs be made explicit.
Paul says in 1 Timothy chapter 6, in fact, if you want to follow along we are going to spend most of our remaining time in 1 & 2 Timothy. But Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:20: “O Timothy, guard the deposit entrusted to you. Avoid the irreverent babble and contradictions of what is falsely called “knowledge,” 21 for by professing it some have swerved from the faith.”
Timothy would be tempted, just like every generation of the church has been tempted, to swerve from the apostolic faith. To go after the things that the world falsely calls “knowledge,” to go after the wisdom of men, to join in the irreverent babble.
Because of sin, every generation of the church must battle for the supremacy of truth. No church is immune from the slide toward losing the deposit of faith. That’s because we’re all battling remaining sin, and because no church will drift, on its own, toward greater faithfulness. NO church, no Christian, no family, no marriage, nobody will naturally drift toward greater holiness and faithfulness.
We have to guard that faith, guard the deposit. It takes intentionality. It takes effort. It takes study and reflection. It takes doctrinal clarity and precision. It takes humble, prayerful determination. It takes faith. The church must be vigilant and battle to guard the faith.
That’s one reason why the church must only ordain men that are competent to guard the truth. Men of God must be like Apollos, “mighty in the scriptures.” They must understand, with Godly wisdom, what God’s truth is, how the faith relates to different areas of life and practice, and how to rightly apply that truth to individuals and situations.
Further, those men must not merely possess the needed biblical and doctrinal wisdom, they must also possess the character to guard the truth in a Christ-like way. Those men are called to be shepherds of the flock, and to be a shepherd means not only to guard the deposit of faith by feeding the flock God’s truth, but it also means using God’s truth to fend off the wolves. Jesus and Paul make clear that wolves will come, and they will be dressed up like sheep. They will be convincing in their appearance, and crafty with their words.
Only a church full of Godly men and women, and a led by humble, Godly men will be able to stand against the attacks of Satan. We have to be on guard; churches must carefully choose their leaders, and we must all pray that we will faithfully guard the deposit of faith.
Have you ever considered your role in that duty? What role do you have in guarding the deposit of faith? When you teach in Sunday school, or help out with instructing children, or when you talk to your grandchildren, are you helping to ensure sound doctrine and guarding the faith? Do you pray for the teaching from the pulpit, that God’s word would be rightly divided, and that your pastors and deacons would have great discernment in their handling of God’s word?
Do you pray for your own grasp of biblical truth, that God’s spirit would illumine the pages of scripture and give you an ever-increasing knowledge and wisdom from his word?
The apostolic faith must be guarded, and that means we need churches full of spirit-filled, faith-fueled, guardians of the deposit of the faith.
Third, not only is the apostolic faith fixed and does it need to be guarded, the apostolic faith is bounded. The apostolic faith is bounded. I made this point last week in passing, but the gospel message, the truth of scripture, is not infinitely elastic. You can’t just take the faith of the bible and make it whatever you want. There are limits to it. We can, with God’s help, examine different ideas and claims in this world and make clear decisions about what is true and what is not.
Sometimes those things can be very complex and require a lot of prayerful consideration. But generally speaking, the apostolic faith has discernable boundaries, and the bible makes that clear. For example, Paul says in 1 Timothy 1:3 that Timothy was to stay in Macedonia and “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine.” In Paul’s mind, there was a right doctrine, and a wrong doctrine. There was a line in the sand.
We, like Timothy, are not free to be the arbiters of what is acceptable doctrine and what is not. We don’t have the authority to adapt and amend the faith. And yet we see churches fall into this temptation all the time. It is usually slowly, but churches and individuals drift from the apostolic faith with heart-breaking regularity.
Sometimes this drift is done in crafty, subtle, and intellectually-sounding ways. Like when professors and authors of “Christian” books argue for new ways of interpreting the bible that sound plausible, that sound theologically astute and use big words, but the end result of which is a subtle undermining of God’s word.
I’ve got books on my shelves that were written by men who started out as faithful theologians, but now have gone off the rails and teach doctrine that is different from the apostles. For example, they start out with philosophical arguments about the historical setting in Corinth, and Paul’s context, and the Greco-roman social patterns, which all sounds great, but they end up with some conclusion about how Paul’s words were merely for the church in Corinth at the time, and not binding on us today. These arguments are fashionable and initially sound intellectually plausible, but the church must be on guard against crafty, subtle schemes that slowly undermine the faith.
But it is not always subtlety that the enemy uses. You can find books on the shelves today that simply come right out and say that Paul was wrong. Paul was wrong about homosexuality, and so we can be proudly-gay today and still retain our Christian label. “Jesus never spoke about homosexuality,” they will claim, and Peter was wrong to speak of wives submitting to their husband, that’s patriarchal language, and so it needs to be rejected by an enlightened and sophisticated and liberated society like ours.
And so the bounds of Christianity and the truth of God are re-drawn. It happens today, it has happened throughout church history, just like it happened in the garden, when the serpent asked, “Has God really said?”
What the church of God is called to do, what we are called to do is stand on the word of God as it has been delivered to us, not how we would like it to be. No matter how hard or unpleasant it might be in the moment. We are to make clear what scripture makes clear, no matter how much the world hates it, and no matter how strange we will appear. Jesus told us that persecution would happen to us. If they persecuted him, will they not do the same to us?
We must be vigilant not to fall for the temptation to get fuzzy on truth, or to redraw the lines of doctrine, and thus put ourselves outside of the apostolic faith. Then we’d be like Esau, selling our doctrinal birthright for a worthless bowl of the world’s approval. The faith is bounded, and we are to be bound by it.
Fourth, the apostolic faith is fixed, it must be guarded, it is bounded, and fourth, it accords with godliness. The apostolic faith accords with godliness.
Paul says to the church in 1 Timothy 6:2 “Teach and urge these things. 3 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” The key phrase for us there is “the teaching that accords with godliness.” The apostolic faith conforms to godliness, tends toward godliness, agrees with godly living.
And the very phrase assumes that there is a category of teaching that disagrees with Jesus’s words and disagrees with godliness. Indeed, in the very next verse Paul describes a person who teaches and believes these words that don’t accord with godliness. Listen to this:
“He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth.”
Unhealthy craving for controversy and quarrels that produces constant friction, and who’s mind is deprived of the truth. One of the ways you can test the legitimacy of a doctrine is by the ethical fruit that it produces. Wisdom is known by her children.
If you have doctrine that produces genuine, godly peace and unity among the body, then that helps confirm the truthfulness of that doctrine. But, if some teaching produces divisiveness, judgmentalism, slander, dissention, evil suspicions, then that teaching is outside of the apostolic faith, and it is being used by Satan to destroy the church’s unity.
You see this kind of division in church history and today. Disunity surrounding Donatism in the early church, which argued that clergy must be sinless for their sacraments to be valid. You see schisms and fights in the time of the reformation surrounding depictions of Christ in art and stained glass. Some wanted to smash all the pictures of Christ, others didn’t, and they clashed with sometimes violent results.
Over the last few years churches have ruptured over the church’s proper response to racism. Today, the church is being torn apart by dissentions, slander, and rivalry’s based upon opinions about vaccines and masks and mandates.
We have to be aware of such temptations. If you have the apostolic faith, and you love truth and doctrine, and you know God’s word, you OUGHT TO BE INCREASINGLY GODLY. If your growth in knowledge and doctrine doesn’t make you more holy, something is wrong. You’re either learning doctrine that is contrary to the apostolic faith, or you’re merely gaining head knowledge that puffs you up, rather than letting the truth of God land in your heart and grow you in maturity.
The apostolic faith ought to produce in us greater love toward God and love toward our neighbor, and thus confirm the veracity of the doctrine we so love, rather than producing within us a craving for controversy and dissention. The apostolic faith conforms to godliness.
Next, and I’ll move more quickly through these last two points. We’ve seen the apostolic faith is fixed, needs guarding, is bounded, accords with godliness, and 5th, the apostolic faith is found in the word. The apostolic faith is found in the word of God.
In 2 Timothy 3, Paul makes this clear for us. 2 Timothy chapter 3, starting in verse 14 says this, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. ”
Paul says that Timothy has been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make wise for salvation. This isn’t a sermon about the inspiration of scripture, so I won’t seek to prove that now, but the apostolic faith is clear about the word of God being the only source of absolute truth that we have in matters of faith and practice. And thus, for a church to be apostolic, that church must affirm the inspiration and authority of scripture. To actively teach otherwise is to erode the apostolic foundation of the faith.
And that makes sense: if the apostles are the foundation, how are we to know what their message was? We know their message because they wrote it down. Scripture makes clear that faithful men were carried along by the Holy Spirit to write down everything that God intended for them to write. And so, to be apostolic, we must be devoted to the writing of the apostles and prophets of God.
But churches don’t merely have to explicitly deny the authority of scripture to undermine this apostolic foundation. Sadly, there are many churches today that neglect the apostolic faith by neglecting the word of God, or selectively using scripture in a way that obscures or even undercuts the gospel truth.
If someone selectively uses the words of the bible to justify unrighteous actions, then they’re undercutting the apostolic faith. Or if they claim to teach God’s word, but turn sermons into self-help messages about how to make your marriage great and solve your financial problems and make your kids behave, as if any of those things are man’s biggest need, then they are undermining the apostolic faith.
As we said earlier, the foundation of the church is the apostolic message of the salvation of sinners through the substitutionary death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. To leave out or neglect that heart of the gospel message is to so distort the apostolic truth as to practically lose it entirely. To possess an apostolic faith is to affirm that ALL scripture is God-breathed, and therefore profitable, as Paul says in the same section. The apostolic faith is found in God’s word.
Lastly, we’ve seen that the apostolic faith is fixed, needs guarding, is bounded, accords with godliness, and is found in God’s word, now I hope to leave you with some encouragement with #6, the apostolic faith is clear. The apostolic faith is clear.
Again, Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:14, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom[a] you learned it15 and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.”
Paul exhorts Timothy to remain in the faith that he has known from childhood, the faith that, as Paul makes clear in chapter 1 of that letter, the faith was passed onto Timothy through his mother and grandmother, Lois and Eunice. This is not insignificant for us.
First, the clarity of the apostolic faith encourages us that nobody is beyond grasping the truth. The most simple, the most uneducated, even young children can, by God’s grace, grasp the truth of saving faith in Jesus Christ.
Second, we as individuals and as a church need to remember the clarity of the apostolic faith. Our zeal for truth and knowledge can sometimes tempt us to raise the intellectual bar for salvation so high that timothy’s childhood faith wouldn’t have made it. Yes, we should pursue doctrinal knowledge and precision, but never at the expense of the clarity of the gospel message.
Also, we need not forget that God used the faithfulness of a mother and grandmother to raise up a timothy. We can see the high calling of motherhood and how God often uses it to produce spiritual fruit, and to be encouraged that while faith is not necessarily passed through a family tree, God often uses families to pass the faith to the next generation. The gospel is sufficiently clear that we can begin sharing God’s truth with our young ones from the earliest of ages.
And what is that clear apostolic message? It that we’re not loved by God because we’ve made ourselves lovely. We’re not accepted by God because we’ve tried hard enough, parented well enough, read enough, prayed enough, or given enough. We’re accepted by God ONLY and ALWAYS because of the sacrifice of Christ on behalf of his bride. That’s the apostolic message. And it is clear. And it is for each of us. Trust in that Christ, proclaimed clearly in the message of the apostles, and you too can be saved.
 Benjamin Bae, “The Apostolic Foundation of the Church,” Gospel Coalition: https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/essay/the-apostolic-foundation-of-the-church/#_edn2 (Accessed 9/12/2021). This section and much that follows is adapted and expanded from Bae. See also: Gregg Allison, Sojourners and Strangers, (Crossway, 2012), 205.
 Benjamin Bae, “The Apostolic Foundation of the Church.”