We assert in our creeds that we believe in a Church, that is, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic. These words describe certain essential features of the Church we believe in. In August let’s think a little about the implications of the word Apostolic. This aspect of the Church represents the continuity of the Christian Church from its earliest days until now. It links us to the original apostles of our Lord. The continuity of the Church is most obviously seen through its ministry - the ministry of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. These three orders constitute what is often known as the apostolic ministry of the Church.
Now as the Church grew and spread, eleven apostles, as they now were, were not going to be able to cope with all there was to be done as the Church expanded rapidly on a universal front. The first thing was to appoint a successor to Judas, and we see Mathias joining the number of the apostles. Then as the Church spread to other countries through the missionary work of St. Paul, who himself was not one of the original apostles, it was necessary to appoint ministers to look after these new congregations. The apostles did this by laying their hands on other disciples, commissioning them in Christ’s name to share their ministry.
The apostles were the first bishops. They consecrated other bishops to minister to the new churches, and eventually to take their places when they died. Then as the new churches expanded, and the bishops could no longer be there at every celebration of the Eucharist, priests were ordained to do some of this work. We read in the Acts of the Apostles how St. Paul ordained elders or priests to look after the Christians in the new churches he founded. We also read in the Acts of the Apostles how the order of deacons was founded to relieve the apostles of some of the routine tasks that were preventing them from getting on with more vital work. Stephen and six others were made deacons to help in the visiting of the sick and the distribution of the relief to the needy.
So, when we assert our belief in the apostolic Church, we imply an apostolic band of people, both lay and ordained pledged to carry out Christ’s commission to convert the world. It is a formidable task, one that we could not hope to fulfil, except in the strength of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Your Friend and Parish Priest
Father David Isiorho