Attributes of the Church: Apostolicity
Editor's Note: Taken from forthcoming book, Daily Doctrine by Kevin DeYoung, Copyright © 2024. Used by permission of Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, IL 60187, www.crossway.org.
The attribute of apostolicity does not refer to an apostolic succession of bishops, but to an apostolic succession of truth. The New Testament is infinitely more concerned that the church remained fixed to the gospel handed down by the apostles than it is concerned with a supposed hierarchy of ecclesiastical primates descended from Peter. From the very beginning, the church devoted itself to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 2:42). The church that is truly one, holy, and catholic is the church built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Eph. 2:20).
The Pastoral Epistles in particular show the importance of the church anchoring itself in the apostolic deposit of truth. Paul tells Timothy to “charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine” (1 Tim. 1:3). He warns against false teachers who have swerved from the truth and don’t really understand what they are so confidently asserting (1 Tim. 1:6-7; 2 Tim. 3:7; Titus 1:16). According to Paul, these false teachers have made shipwreck of the faith (1 Tim. 1:19-20) and departed from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and the teachings of demons (1 Tim. 4:1). They are opposed to the truth, corrupt in mind, and disqualified regarding the faith (2 Tim. 3:8). Their teaching “will lead people into more and more ungodliness, and their talk will spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:16-17).
The importance of apostolic doctrine cannot be overstated. Anyone who thinks doctrine doesn’t matter is not paying attention to the Bible. Timothy is enjoined repeatedly to guard the deposit of apostolic truth entrusted to him (1 Tim. 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13, 14) and pass it on to others (2 Tim. 2:1-2). He must keep a close watch on his life and his teaching, so that he may be saved and his hearers (1 Tim. 4:16). As the Lord’s servant, Timothy must be able to teach (1 Tim. 3:2), correct his opponents with gentleness (2 Tim. 2:25), reprove, rebuke, and exhort from the Scriptures (2 Tim. 4:2; 3:16). In short, he must be “able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9, 13). Church people may not always endure sound teaching, but that’s what they desperately need (2 Tim. 4:1-5).
Clearly, then, for the Apostle Paul, there is a core of apostolic teaching that must be embraced by the Christian, a deposit of truth without which our gospel message is no longer the gospel. The early church believed orthodoxy was crucially important, and it was more than just living the right way, it involved holding certain truths about God, Christ, and salvation: God is glorious; we are sinners; and Jesus Christ is our Savior and God. Jesus Christ is the son of David and God in the flesh; he died and rose again; he ascended into heaven; he is coming again. Salvation is by sovereign grace, according to the converting power of the Holy Spirit, through faith, not according to works. Jesus Christ saves us from sin, saves us for eternal life, and saves us unto holiness. This is the gospel of the early church. It is rooted in Scripture, and it is not to be deviated from. This unchanging message must be proclaimed confidently by any church that would lay claim to apostolic authority.