Wednesday, February 9, 2011

#222-Apostolic Identity

I have nothing new to say. That is why I have stopped writing for the most part.

I ventured to and fro in my mind recently, and read many books, and yet never thought much about this blog. I felt like in some sense it had run it's course. And I think in many ways it has....

But this volume is far from complete, and with that, I will attempt to comment on one of those many Apostolic Projects which will not let me lay down peacefully and forget about this blog. Specifically, the recent and ongoing proclamation of the necessity of having an Apostolic Identity. (Warning: I will not be partaking in the usual comedy routine that has become so ingrained in this blog. Instead you will get a rant. Apologies.).

From what I have gathered in my years in the UPC, the neat thing about us, is that we are A-historical in our Christianity. That is, we reject the history of the Church and it's influence on the interpretation

I have no problem of our proclamation for an Apostolic Identity. My difficulty is how we define Apostolic Identity. If being Apostolic is that of living the Christianity of the Apostles, then it is an Identity that does not look to history nor tradition. We reject the claim of the Church Fathers such as Justin, Origin, and Tertullian as they dogmatically ritualized the Christian Faith, and our rejection is rightfully so. It was the Church fathers after all that defined the trinitarian formula.

If anyone is trying to live out the definition of Luther's protestant proclamation of sola scriptura ("By Scripture Alone"), it is us. But yet somehow, A.I. (Apostolic Identity) has become a tradition of it's own looking to our own movement's pioneers as a resource for our faith. In other words, our definition of Apostolic Identity is one that looks to our 20th century Apostolic heritage. Is this not the same as what the Catholics and most other protestants have done with the early church fathers (whereby religious pioneers are preached as a reference point for authoritative theology)?

And to this idea of an Apostolic Identity that looks to an Apostolic Heritage, I loudly say NO! If to be APostoilc is to reject history, even if that means our own recent history. The Apostles quickly learned in the book of Acts to reject their own Jewish tradition as authoritative for Christianity. It is not that Paul or Peter stopped living the Jewish tradition, for surely they did keep on observing the law past Christianity. But as Paul said, he counted all authority via tradition of the Law dung. To be Apostolic for Peter and Paul meant not imposing tradition itself on non-Jews.

How was a Greek to convert to Christianity if the Apostolic Identity was fully embedded within the Bible and not solely through the cross whereby the Bible was to be believed in past conversion? The Bible was not a source of authority for the Greek, but rather the salvation experience and the message of Christ crucified & resurrected was the basis for faith. Only after conversion was a believer to believe in the authority of the Bible. This is the blessed opportunity of our time for our movement: In the past the Bible was assumed to be true throughout culture and thus the Apostolic Truth could be displayed through the Bible. However, for secular culture, the Bible is not authoritative. Most people see this as a sad state of reality, but I say it is entirely good as it allows us to live more similarly the world of the Apostles whereby the only message that may be believed is the Love for each human being by God based on God dying on the cross.

Thus for me, an Apostolic Identity is precisely an identity without an identity. When I see someone say they are "proud of their Apostolic Identity" then they are completely contradicting the words of the Apostle Paul who said, ""As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world's interest in me has also died." Galatians 6:14"

Or to put it in other words, the means of defining ourselves through any labeling outside of the Cross is a compromising of the foreign nature we now possess (I like the idea that once we become Christians we are more so aliens from out of this world living as foreigners in a world that is valueless). To say I am Irish, Jewish, white, middle-class, etc....are shortcuts that define me as if I am something. But all of these imply that I am something with an identity. To be Apostolic like Paul is something entirely different, wherein a label or shortcut to who i am stops the pressing on towards the cross that we are to live out on earth....We are never Sufficient or enough in our Christianity here on earth. We must press on as Paul says, "I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead." (and many Apostolics do indeed live this insufficiency in ourselves out)

To pride ourselves in an identity outside of Christ or the Cross then, is entirely unApostolic. This is especially true if it looks to an Apostolic Heritage or Apostolic Culture as a point of pride as well. How dare we try to set up an identity based on the Apostles when the Apostles themselves wouldn't do so.

Don't get me wrong, I am not doing some anti-legalist, liberal hodge-podge about the Grace of God, as surely in coming weeks i will show how much of what liberal Apostolic is entirely deplorable. But what i am arguing that in our preaching of Apostolic Identity, we are treading on dangerous ground that seeks to build a neo-Judaism that isolates it's people from the world and in the process builds it's own Tower of Babel that proclaims a people above the Cross.

Here is the function, what is the value of the Cross for many of us other than the means of a point of bribery, whereby if we do as the Bible instructs (Acts 2:38, holiness, etc...), we don't go to hell and instead go to heaven. Thus the cross is the point whereby we can be bribed into being Christian as to avoid eternal damnation. But yet is this what the Cross is proclaiming? Is this what being Apostolic is about?

To be Apostolic isn't scary. It is wonderful. It is a chance to live out the love of Christ for us on the cross. But it also says we won't pride ourselves in label of being Apostolic. But I would argue Apostolic Identity as we know it in our movement is traditionally an escape to not live in the never ceasing work of making ourselves servants to the forgotten of the world. Rather for those who boast of possessing an Apostolic Identity, and proclaim the need of holiness with such an identity, they do such boasting as a means to do nothing other than displaying a certain attire in public, thinking about witnessing, praying, and reading the Bible.

The reality is the Apostolic Identity as it's traditionally defined is the EASY THING. Standards are not difficult. Praying can be done here, there and everywhere. Bible reading is the best place to Find God's message to us, and telling people about Acts 2:38 maybe slightly embarrassing for some, but it is not impossible.

Professing the Cross and trying to somehow display it's seemingly impossible message through love, living without an identity and never stopping short of this reality is the entirely Apostolic thing and we cannot stop short and act like it is something that we have a firm grasp of. In summary, being Apostolic is acting like we don't "have it" and thus since we don't "have it" we work endlessly trying to "get it" by means of reaching out to others to invite them into such a loving struggle.


  1. awesome. i actually clapped my hands and cried holy while reading.

  2. Love it!! If you wrote a book, I would read it!

  3. I think that the thing that offends the establishment most about your posts is that there's an equation between "tradition" and "truth" that is self-reinforced, and any questioning of this link has been (historically) handled rather poorly by those in power.
    You're really posing a paradigm shift that REQUIRES re-evaluating all of the tradition, ritual and (forgive me for saying so) hype that is associated with our beloved church organization. This isn't easy, as it assumes that by doing so, we're rebelling or otherwise showing disrespect (that ultimate blow to a traditionalist mentality) to those who came before. Let alone actually identifying the faults of individuals, because of the "...touch not mine anointed" taboo that exists in our movement.
    Bravo for thinking this through and being able to convey the message so eloquently. Good luck in making it happen. I'm with you, and know that change isn't always revolutionary as much as (gasp!) evolutionary.
    Maybe that's what there should be: an "Evolving" church movement. Forget the Emergents.

  4. You mention traditions and last week I heard a message by an elderly preacher (who sometimes I think doesn't know what he starts out preaching because he often has contradicted it by the end) He started out saying that all Apostolic tradition is not biblical, and he gave all sorts of scripture of how tradition was always man-made and not God-made. By the end of his sermon he said that if you aren't following Apostolic tradition you haven't been converted yet and cannot call yourself Christian.

    Whhatt?? He also said that he does NOT believe in one person being convicted of something and someone else not being convicted of it. He feels that conviction should be 100% across the board. I do not agree with that. But...I am shifting into another topic all together.

    I do think that sometimes Apostlics are caught up in being Apostlic that they (we) lose sight of what we are supposed to be. I know this term is used a lot in the emergent church, but I like it. They call themselves "Christ Followers" and I certainly prefer that term myself. There can be no "Apostolic Identity" when you're a Christ follower.

  5. My problem with Apostolic Identity is that it's a dying cause. Outside of the "cult", there is no real influence being made. I also find your comment about the dangers of "liberal Apostolics" particularly amusing. Today's liberal is tomorrow's mainstream and so on.. I fail to see the danger in "liberality", but I'll give you the benefit of the doubt and read your next few posts.

    The biggest danger of so called "liberalism" on an individual level is when you break from fundamentalism, you don't really know what to fill that void up with, and so things get complicated. Collectively the transition is much easier on the organization. However, the leaders of the Apostolic movement have not figured this out and the turmoil continues, probably as I stated before, a dying cause.

  6. Couldn't have been said better my good friend. I particullarly love your emphasis on the "non-identity" of Christianity, that I am but a vessel of Christ and it is He who should be seen and not myself.

    Also, I especially enjoyed your implied challenge to a life of works, as oppossed to a life a self-justification through hollow words. James 2:14-26 seem to sum that up quite nicely. "Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds." (v.18)

    You're taking a hard edge my friend, I am happy to experience it.

  7. I think this is one of the biggest reasons people leave the UPC. It is easy to see that an indentity not christ centered is man-made and therefor no longer logical for a christ follower. It really is sad that those who preach such powerful messages cling so deeply to the past, as in recent years. The body of christ should be able to grow and change, the words of God themselves do not, but we should not keep change from happening. When I say change, I mean a change in how we walk with God and hopefully it becomes much deeper. Not deeper in tradition but deeper in love.

    I really enjoyed reading this post. Keep it up!

  8. Very good! Keep writing like this because it does, and will, make a difference.

  9. Hats off to you Bro. I will take being a God
    pleaser(Christ Follower) any day over being a Man pleaser.. just saying........

  10. I’m going to take a different stand. I think we should hold to an Apostolic identity. Not the fear based stuff from 1990 but when we were on fire, 90 years ago. I read Frank Ewart’s The Phenomenon of Pentecost a few years back and almost cried. Where did that church go? The moves of God I have seen over my life would be less than one service 90 years ago. The church today is like an ember from a grate fire. We live in a proud nation, a self centered nation, a materialistic nation and over the last three quarters of a century or so we have allowed pride, selfishness and materialism to find root. It is no wonder that that grate revivals of today all happen over seas. We need to return to holiness and expel the pride, selfishness and materialism. I don’t think the founders of the Apostolic movement decided one day to do away with tradition instead they found something better. They were however, looking and that is the grate danger of tradition; that it lulus us to think we don’t need to look for something better. We need to be like the first Apostioics and be looking from something more.
    You pointed out that we are a-historic. I don’t think we have forgotten everything before 1901 but most everything before 1985 or more like two and a half years ago. We forgot that we were the radicals. The emergent church gets no flack comparted to what we got. The rest of Christianity chang to be like us 50 years ago. We started reacting to the world and stopped making the would react to us.
    But I’m not a pessimist. We like to think of groups as monolithic; they are not and we are not. It is the local churches that are there day in and day out that are the big deal. And I see some of the local churches starting to drop the fear and reignite. Some are evan starting to make the world react to them.

  11. I think we are too consumed with ourselves, what "we" were, and "our" movement. The focus needs to be on Christ, not anything we have done or how great our movement was or is.

    Modern Christianity started with the Jesus 2000 years ago, and He has been moving in a great way ever since. The fire has never died, it has spread throughout the entire world over the past 2000 years. 20-30 years ago we didn't have mega churches as we do now. People are hungry for Jesus and always have been.

    If we want to be used of God, we have to stop focusing on ourselves, and put the focus back on Jesus. The entire Bible is filled with examples of God trying to help people understand its not about them, its about Him. Its not how great we are, its how great He is.