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Private Jesus versus Communal Jesus: Apostolic Ministry

March 13, 2008

180px-nicaea_icon.jpg“For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ.”  1 Corinthians 3:11

“The Church, the House of the Lord, is built upon the foundations of the faith of the Apostles and prophets.”                                      –St. Basil of Caesarea (379)

“Through the great shepherd of thy flock, Jesus Christ our Lord; who after his resurrection sent forth his apostles to preach the Gospel and to teach all nations; and promised to be with them always, even unto the end of the ages.”                                                 –The Book of Common Prayer

“We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic Church.”  Nicene Creed

What are the marks of the apostolic Church?  What is the nature of its oneness?  How are local expressions and individual ministries related to the catholic reality–the whole…the communal Jesus?

It is interesting to extend the discussion about the private Jesus versus the communal Jesus to the area of spiritual gifts, ministries and authority in the life of the church.  We see all kinds of ideas about the nature of apostolic and prophetic ministry.  What is interesting to observe is how those who “move” in contemporary expressions of the apostolic and the prophetic do or do not relate to the Apostolic Tradition of antiquity. 

It is quite common to see many contemporary expressions of “apostolic ministry” exercising an authority that relates to Scripture, the Spirit, and local congregations with very little awareness of the foundation that has been laid in history–Jesus Christ himself the cornerstone.

The question that must be asked is this.  How is Jesus known?  Is he known primarily through private interaction with Scripture under the guidance of the Holy Spirit or is he known in Community? 

Among the early Anabaptist community was the idea that if one wants to know Christ, one must seek to follow Christ in all of life.  Doctrine and creedal formulations were not rejected, but they were of secondary importance to uncovering the reality of the risen Christ through obedience.  And what does obedience to Christ look like?  

Among other things it was centered around the confession that Jesus is Lord.   Obedience to Christ was expressed in a radical adherance to the teachings of Jesus.  It meant a rejection of the compromised church-state alliance.  The practice of believer’s baptism became a defining mark of entry into a community seeking to make visible the way of Jesus. 

While the movement is poly-centric, these and other defining characteristics point to a communal ethos that rejected the mindless participation in religion as a tradition without true conversion.  For the early Anabaptists this communal paradigm mediated against a private faith–a bunch of lone ranger Christians doing their own thing.  However, as history has progressed and the movement has unfolded in various diverse expressions a number of questions present themselves. 

How do we uncover the reality of the oneness of the risen Christ in our communities when we see diverse views regarding how Scripture speaks to any number of contemporary issues?  How do we discern the way of Jesus–faithfulness and truth for our lives, our praxis?  In our diversity, what is the basis of our unity? 

If our goal is to uncover the reality of the risen Christ who was revealed in history among a community of witnesses, then we must take seriously the practices that will help make visible the communal reality of the body of Christ. 

Our relation to Jesus is mediated by a connection to a local community of believers, but how does it go beyond this?  In our attempts to live  faithfully in the way of Jesus in local communities, how do we also relate to the whole?  How do we see ourselves related to the great communal Christ revealed in those who as living stones have been built onto the foundation of Christ and the apostles and prophets? 

What I am probing in this post and the last is the two distinctly different interpretive motifs we bring to reading Scripture and being the Church–one is private (individualistic) and one is communal (mutually submitted to Christ).  In the private Jesus paradigm we see an almost exclusive dependency on Scripture and the Spirit.  There is little acknowledgement of the historical dimensions of Church–the great community of Jesus.  So modern day apostles and prophets move and function in ways that are many times not accountable to the broader communal Jesus. 

How are the modern expressions of apostolic and prophetic ministry accountable to the whole community of Jesus?  What does it mean to be apostolic? 

I came across a book by Vaughn and Iona Martin the other day that referred to the Anabaptist movement as “a fallen movement.”  The authors (from Mennonite background) went on to make the claim that “at this time there is a restoration movement taking place among the descendents of the Anabaptists.  The Anabaptists are trying to deal with the sins of their past, so that they might be able to pick up the good things from their past.”  The authors pointed to Munster not as an aberration within the Anabaptist movement, but as a normative event that uncovered some characteristic tendencies that have influenced the movement as a whole.  The strength of this position is debatable.

Chapter 6, which explores the Munster events, is entitled “The Rise and Fall of an Apostolic Movement.”  Chapter 7 goes on to discuss “The Modern Apostolic and Prophetic Movement.”  The underlying assumption would seem to be that the Anabaptist movement was originally a move of the Spirit that went of course (a central critique offered is that the movement got locked into legalism).  Presumably the “modern apostolic and prophetic movement” is a restoration movement that is in step with the Spirit because…? 

What does it mean to be apostolic?  What is the relationship between the “modern apostolic and prophetic movement” and the early Apostolic community?  This is an important question.  For in this question lies a concern for where we place the locus of authority in the Body of Christ.  Are we willing to see ourselves as a part of the whole?  Will we have the humility to see the flaws of autonomous individualism that is ubiquitous.  “I’m looking for a church that meets my needs.”  User-friendly church.  No membership required.  Come as you are…leave as you came.  Consumeristic church that preaches a gospel that is not too intrusive into the sensibilities of modern individuals in their great pursuit of life, liberty and happiness. 

I digress.  Back to the topic of discussion–the apostolic church. 

Closing thoughts…

It seems that many expressions of “the modern apostolic and prophetic movement” act and speak with little regard or engagement with the historic Apostolic community.  This tendency has given rise to a fundamental polarity expressed in contemporary free church expressions.  Careful observation will uncover various tendencies surrounding the two poles–the way of private individualism and the way of mutual submission in community

Is there a third way that integrates the individual with the communal? 

How deep and how wide is the community of Jesus within which these callings and annointings are tested?  How are we to test the visions and revelations that come to the modern day apostles and prophets?  Is it just Jesus and me.  Is it just–I will recognize you a modern day apostle if you recognize me.  I will speak at your church.  You will speak at mine. 

What is the safeguard that what is being taught is in line with the historical Apostolic community?  What is the relational connection to this early community of Jesus?

Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace each of us may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  AMEN.


2 Comments leave one →
  1. Douglas permalink
    December 11, 2008 3:58 am

    Hello am Douglas odongo
    i would love to work in conjaction to your ministry here in Ugand
    if you like mail me back
    Pastor Douglas

  2. daniel permalink
    April 4, 2009 4:51 pm

    i would like to get your email and also pastor douglas in uganda in order to exchange information and studies about apostolic communities in the early life of the first apostolic movement in order to find paradigms for the setting up of such local communities in our present day reality.Thank you very much

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