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When Did Apostleship End?

Is the office of Apostle still functioning in the Church and churches? Who gets to appoint Apostles? What is the nature of the Apostolic gift or office? If Apostleship ended, when did this happen?

These are important theological, specifically ecclesiological, questions that are becoming increasingly relevant. In the disparate sectors of the Church across the world, we are seeing more individuals attach “Apostle” to their name. We are also hearing about individuals who have “apostolic” type ministries, while also hearing a clamoring of a return of an Apostle-like individual to help lead the Church and churches. We live amid confusing times.

In the study of the formation and development of the historical Church there is certainly a period where the Apostles existed and had ministries which thrived. Particularly in the testimony of the New Testament, we see a group of leaders who went out and spread the Gospel of Jesus Christ and catapulted this minor sect of Jewish millenarians into the largest worldwide religion. Luke, the author of the Gospel and likely writer of Acts, frames the first century understanding of the nature of the Apostles through the two volume work.  

The Apostles of the Church remain a group that is spoken of often, but still linger in the fog of historical understanding.

For many historians and theologians, there are more questions than answers when it comes to the Apostles. One particularly important document during the first century that illustrates this shift towards the earliest churches agreeing to end the office of the Apostle is that of the Didache. Likely written between 75-90, the Didache is an early manual on church polity, liturgical instruction, and instruction on worship. In the instructions that are part of the Didache, there is much space devoted to the

As we survey the literature from the turn of the second century until the Council of Chalcedon Gogulet Chartin 451, usually the parameters given to the patristic era, we see that there are no references to an ongoing office of the apostles and that nearly all the references are historic in nature.

In his book, The Primitive Church, Maurice Goguel provides a helpful chart demonstrating how the earliest Christian documents deal with the various offices through the early part of the second century. When considering how the earliest documents reflect the status of the Apostles, it becomes clear that once one gets through the Johannine Gospel the references to the Apostles become historical.

It would appear that the early Church made a conscious decision to end the formal office of Apostle by the end of the first generation of the Apostles. Since there are no references to Apostles as an ongoing office past the pre-70 New Testament documents and only a passing reference in the Didache, it is reasonable to posit that the earliest Christian communities found anyone attempting to claim ongoing apostolic authority dubious and dangerous. It is likely that the office of Apostle was indeed expanded beyond the Twelve, there seems to be plenty of New Testament evidence for that, this expansion seems to be wholly contained within the first generation of apostles.

There are indeed implications for our present day ministry environment here as well. Perhaps the most significant question is that if the office of Apostle has indeed ended, or has been closed are there other offices in the New Testament era which have also gone away? And does this possibly show us the nature of ecclesial office was indeed being shaped by the times and necessities of ministry in their era.

As well, it would seem anyone attempting to apply the label of “Apostle” to their own ministry would need to be challenged if they are assuming the same authority of the Apostles. The early church, likely up until Nicaea, spurned the application of the label Apostle to heterodoxical teachers.

So, it seems that the nature of the office of Apostle was one that received direct application in the New Testament era but not outside of it. Likewise, the early Christian communities, scattered around the Mediterranean region (and beyond) seem to have formed some kind of consensus that the office ended when the last Apostle (perhaps John depending on one’s views here) died. As a result, while we can look historically to the way in which an Apostle would have functioned and gone about their missionary work, the office and label are no longer available to anyone today. It is indeed an important historical reminder for how we are to function today. Most certainly we can look and see that the authority of the Apostles bears no new revelation and is best understood through their inscripturated testimonies available in the New Testament.

03
Jun 2014
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Millennials and Marriage: pt 3, some hope

In the continuing conversation about Millennials and Marriage, too often the soundtrack is one of negativity and diminishing expectations. This leads older generations to think poorly of the succeeding generations. Of course this seems to always be the case.

However, with Millennials there is some hope in how they are approaching the topic of marriage. Though the data is thin on some of these points there are some positive takeaways for churches and ministry leaders that will hopefully be of encouragement.

As we’ve previously discussed, finding the data behind on Millennials is a difficult task. We also must acknowledge that there is a changing cultural landscape taking place underneath Millennials Marriage Hopeour feet. For Millennials, marriage will be approached differently, but that doesn’t mean they devalue marriage or will never be married. It simply means it will look different.

In fact, and this is the most important statistic available, 70% of Millennials want to get married.

Though that might be lower historically than other generations it is still an important statistic. For a generation that is the largest, most diverse, and most affected by divorce rates, Millennials are still, largely, optimistic about some key life issues.

Maybe they don’t care much for compartmentalization of politics, or for justifying class warfare, or even seeking out “traditional” forms of anything. Millennials do still care for some basic life issues. Notice that poll from Pew, Millennials still desire, by and large, to get married and, even more, to have children (74%.) Perhaps this is a good starting point.

Also, the delay of marriage signals that Millennials are careful about their commitment to another person for marriage.

marriage educationIt is often seen, by older generations, that delaying marriage is a bad thing, however for many Millennials it is due, in part, to a desire to find a suitable mate. Coupling this will continuing education, indebtedness, unemployment or underemployment, and the desire to fulfill some life goals (hiking Europe, digging water wells in Africa, seeing the world) before marriage add to this delay. Cohabitation is also part of this, though I would still argue the negatives outweigh the benefits long term. Yet all these factors

Millennials desire a truly egalitarian relationship between spouses.

While older generations still idealize June and Ward Cleaver, even though they didn’t exist for the vast majority of Americans, Millennials desire equality between the spouses. This means that decision making is not autocratic but communal. Both spouses are valued in the marriage and have a voice. Now, how Millennials work out spiritual leadership or even final decisions is not data that is available. The initial indications are that while both spouses are fairly independent, they do have more desire to come together and collaborate in decision making for many family issues.

With a growing egalitarianism, regardless of your view, there is something which needs to be egalitarian marriagepointed out about education. Right now female Millennials are 33% more likely to graduate college than their male peers. We are seeing a social shift where women are more finishing school on time and entering the workforce at a higher rate than men. Soon enough “Fair Pay” issues won’t be discussed because the women with the degrees and credential will be running the place more than men. (Surely there are other factors here but allow me this point.) It also means that women are now “marrying down” and having trouble finding suitable men. This is a significant moment of opportunity for churches and ministries with the guts, and credibility, to do something about it.

The Pew poll which is adding much of these conclusions does provide a helpful comparisons to Gen Xers. Between these two groups there are some noticeable trends that should be carefully weighed. If we were to compare these trends to Boomers and Busters, then we would certainly see wider gaps.

Our hope in working with Millennials and Marriage still should be something that sparks us towards innovation and re-engagement rather than distance. For our next, and final discussion, we’ll take a look at some ways we can do both of these in light of the data, the changing landscape, and the hope that exists. 

03
Apr 2014
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Millennials and Marriage: a changing landscape

After starting the discussion about Millennials and Marriage with a view of the data, perhaps a good second step would be to consider some primary issues affecting how Millennials are viewing and experiencing marriage.

Driving the conversation about Millennials and marriage are two issues which must be handsrecognized at the beginning of any discussion, especially by older generations:

  • Almost near universality of sexual experience prior to marriage by Millennials in America
  • The explosion of cohabitation among Millennials

 

These two factors are influencing the understanding and experience of marriage that Millennials will have and are part of any realistic conversation. On the first point, it is reasonable to assert that 90% of Millennials will have sex prior to marriage, whether in a previous relationship or the existing relationship. Christian Millennials have no notable difference than their secular counterparts in this area.  So how does this compare with previous generation? One study has pointed out that premarital sex rates have always been high since the 1920s. In fact, as USAToday reported in 2006 (which is still accurate for historical numbers), the rate of premarital sex has been steadily rising since the post World War II times. Of course this surveys all races. The challenge for Christianity in the later half of the 20th century is that it primarily understands itself as white, middle class, educated Americans. When considering trends in that socio-economic class, the rates look entirely different than other classes and races. One could say the great white myth of 20th century America has tainted our understanding of the rest of America.

However, there is a difference rising in Millennials.

Millennials MarriageBetween the generational shifts in behavior the most notable change in categories is the number of sexual partners and how religiously faithful people have increasingly engaged in this behavior. In other words, the lines between those who are not Christians and those who are, and how they approach issues of sex and sexuality has disappeared. For Millennials, first time experiences of premarital sex are only delayed by religious adherence. There still is a movement towards sexual purity and abstinence among Millennials, but is given lip service and not validated by actual actions.

The heightened, and openness, about promiscuity among Millennials has led to the second factor that is changing the landscape of Millennials and marriage: cohabitation.

Since the 1950s, cohabitation has exploded by 900%. As of now, for Millennials, 75% will cohabit ate before they are married. (Of course that number might be soft and it could rise as high as 80%-85%)  There are plenty of reasons for increased cohabitation: lower financial achievement, increased student debts, social acceptability, and even a media saturated environment that promotes this lifestyle. It is likely a reasonable statement to point out that cohabitation is here to stay socially.

There are certainly drawbacks to cohabitation. I’ve listed these in the previous post and will simply refer you there. Many pastors and well meaning leaders will cite “studies” that say a cohabitating couple is 50% more likely to divorce than non-cohabitating couples. The challenge here is that too many of these studies reflect data from a time prior to social acceptance of cohabitation. Indeed, it is likely that over the next 5 years the commonality of cohabitation will effectively nullify its effects on divorce rates for Millennials.

What cohabitation does do that is a negative is it: delays marriage, increases the likelihood of childbirths out of wedlock, creates a negative emotional impact on the relationship, has negative developmental impacts on children, increased promiscuity outside the relationship, and other factors.

Along these lines, it is too early to tell at what rate Millennials will divorce and how often. Since the preceding generations, particularly their parents, divorced at a rate unseen in history, they have seen this situation. What does seem to be happening is that Millennials are not only delaying marriage, but also have a significantly lower view of marriage than previous generations. With first-time child births to unmarried mothers in their 20s exceeding 50%, there are many issues to deal with in this entire category.interest in marriage

It is a different conversation to have with Millennials about marriage than the generations before. Particularly in light of the rising post-Christian culture that has arrived, the Church stands at an odd crossroads where it needs to carefully choose its stance and approach.

There are opportunities though, and if we look carefully we can realize them and address them appropriately.

In the next post, we’ll take a some time to talk about what these opportunities are and some ways to initially address them.

26
Mar 2014
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Millennials and Marriage: Part 1, the data

Having spent the better part of the last two weeks in preparation, delivery, and conversation about hefty theological papers, I’d like to turn to consider another conversation that is going on in some circles I’ve been working through. Specifically, this will be a few conversations about the trends of Millennials and marriage. I’ve previously discussed some of this in a post of the similar title.

Today, I’d like to begin by posting some of the best data that I’ve found in my work on First Time Marriageunderstanding this generation and our patterns for marriage.

Just today, over at the Families Studies Blog, I read about a paper that had come out recently that looked at generational differences in marriage trends. The paper was titled Breaking Up is Hard to Count: The Rise of Divorce in the United States, 1980-2010 by Sheela Kennedy and Steven Ruggles. The paper is quite good and, as the title suggests, underlines the difficulty of getting precise numbers about the nature of divorce rates and relationship changes sociologically.

This is their conclusion:

“Fewer young people are getting married: over 40 % of the population in 2008 had not married by their 30th birthday, marking a fourfold increase since 1980. With the rise of cohabitation, it is likely that many couples who would have been at the highest risk of divorce in the past—for example, those entering unions as teenagers as a result of an unplanned pregnancy, or with low levels of income and education—are forgoing marriage entirely (Cherlin 2004; Smock et al. 2005). As pressures to marry recede, people can be more selective about their partners; thus, it makes sense that marriages may become more stable. We do not, however, anticipate that a decline of divorce will lead to an increase in overall union stability. Because cohabitating unions are more unstable than marriages, we expect that the rapid rise of cohabitation among the young will neutralize any decline of divorce (Kennedy and Ruggles 2013; Raley and Bumpass 2003).”

The paper contains some of the best data I’ve seen on understanding the sociological impact of Millennials and marriage while also drawing informed conclusions on the topic. As someone who works in marriage ministry with, at this point primarily, Millennials, there are some big wins but just as many losses.

One of the more significant issues that I’ve encountered in the church, and broader society, is that the older generations are looking for isolated data points that can be boiled down to simple conclusions. However, Millennials aren’t simple and their patterns can’t easily be boiled down to simple soundbites.

So what is some of the best data I’ve found? One of the first places I begin is understanding how cohabitation has impacted Millennials.

CohabitationSince Millennials are, right now, aged 18-34, seeing how they are approaching relationships prior to marriage is a precursor to understanding their views, innate or explicit, about marriage. Millennials are cohabiting at a rate of about 75%. As a result, 60% of cohabiting couples end up getting married, but cohabitation delays marriage by 18-24 months.

For Millennials and marriage, they are approaching marriage differently not based on race or even religion, but on socio-economic and educational factors. Better educated, better off Millennials are delaying marriage by 6-10 years, and first time childbirths as well, while their less educated, lower income peers begin families and marriage in their early 20s. 

How do we come by this data?

The best resource that I’ve encountered is the Pew Research Study on cohabitation.

Also see this article from, I believe a secular viewpoint, that brings some good conclusions to the forefront.

The best data I’ve seen on cohabitation and its correlation to divorce is this study from the CDC.

One of the troubling trends is that Millennials (the group most likely to be cohabitating right now) are divorcing at a higher rate than other generations, well for those who choose to marry.

Even the New York Times thinks cohabitation is a bad idea.

Right now, and the data is hard to come by because you’re primarily seeing studies geared towards Gen-Xers and Boomers, cohabitation leads to higher rates of divorce.

In the United States, researchers estimate that 40%–50% of all first marriages, and 60% of second marriages, will end in divorce. This is primarily geared at folks in their 30s. Since marriage is being delayed until late 20s the picture is harder to get at for Millennials. Couples who get married in their early 20s are two to three times as likely to get divorced as couples who wait until their mid to late 20s. Education is also a significant factor.

The real challenge for cohabitation isn’t that it leads to divorce, but that is delays marriage and have become an alternative to marriage. Because cohabitation has become so common (up 900% in 50 years) the statistics correlating cohabitation to divorce are increasingly harder to come by. There is a trend, but you have to look at couples who do not ever cohabitate (or engage sexually) prior to marriage versus the rest of their peers. That number, of sexually pure and non-cohabitating couples is so small it is hard to track.

The biggest issue that affects marriage and divorce among adults aged 20-39: religious adherence.

It will be to some of these factors that we turn next in talking about Millennials and Marriage.

24
Mar 2014
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Luke’s Jewish-centric Ecclesiology

Combing through some research on an upcoming presentation on Second Temple clerical Lukan Jewishnessforms in early church ecclesiology, I came across two examples of existing leadership structures that caught me by surprise. As I’ve been working through the four unique ecclesiologies in the New Testament (Pauline, Lukan, Johannine, and Matthean) one of the points of differentiation between Pauline and Lukan, which are close, seems to be Luke’s abiding concern for locating the work of the burgeoning Christian communities within a Jewish context. (There are other points of difference though.)

Perhaps this is why, at the end of Acts we are left with church communities focused around rising presbyteries (though what happens after CE 70 is a mystery.) Yet I was taken aback in noting two forms of leadership structures in the Essene communities of Qumran. Specifically:

1. The necessity of having at least 120 families in a community to allow for it to have its own council which is seen in Mishnah Sanhedrin 1.6. It is peculiar that, in Acts 1:15, Luke points out that 120 people (though the Greek here, ἀδελφῶν, literally means “brothers” indicating households) were present with Peter as the first meeting of the followers of Jesus takes place. Why would Luke use this rather precise number when, only one chapter later, he approximates the number added to the Church to some 3,000?

2. Later on in Acts 15, Paul and Barnabas go before the Jerusalem Council (a scene which corresponds to Paul’s retelling in Galatians 1-2.) This council is reported to have three principal leaders by Paul (who cites them as “pillars”) in Galatians 2:9. In Luke’s recording of the events he notes that Peter is present and that James, the brother of Jesus, is occupying a leadership role over the elders. Now, if the council in Jerusalem corresponds to the council regulations laid out in Qumran (1 QS 8:1f) this would indicate an additional connection with the Jewish context out of which the earliest communities arose. If Paul’s observation is correct, that James is included with the other two apostles, perhaps the three apostles were serving alongside twelve elders in a kind of early Christian Council.

It is curious, given the two examples above, that Luke’s ecclesiology wouldn’t have been embedded in a specifically Jewish context. Perhaps more than any other of the above four ecclesiologies, Luke best represents the Jewish context out of which the earliest Christian communities arose. As a result, Luke’s understanding of ecclesiology, which gives more of a leadership role to the twelve disciples, then Apostles, in his Gospel and initial portion of Acts. This describes how the earliest communities considered themselves a natural extension of the Jewish communities in Palestine and throughout the Diaspora.

Of course Luke also is the final historical discussion that places the worship patterns of the earliest communities in the Temple of Jerusalem (and also the Diaspora synagogues.)  Paul only references them as places where the Jews, or historic Israel, conduct their cultic worship.

Just a few thoughts. The developing ecclesiologies that are cast across the New Testament provide a healthy picture of the natural development which was occurring in these diverse communities. Perhaps Luke’s ecclesiology does represent more of a Jewish focus than the others. More studies to follow.

12
Mar 2014
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Pannenberg on Listening to Preaching

As I was doing some additional dissertation work last night, I came across a wonderful paragraph by Wolfart Pannenberg in his text Theology and the Kingdom of God which concerns how we might approach listening to sermons.

When people are equipped to listen judiciously, the sermon is no longer an authoritative word Wolfhart_Pannenberg-1of God but an attempt to reformulate the substantial truth of the Christian faith. This reformulation is carried out in the context of contemporary experience and understanding of reality in all dimensions of human existence. It should be related particularly to the life of the community which is invited to participate in the reformulation. Thus the sermon offers an example and some guidance for the members of the community in their own thinking about the Christian faith and its present truth. The people should not judge blindly, and certainly they should not uncritically parrot the ideas of their preacher. Rather they are called to reflect in an educated and responsible way, taking into account not only theoretical information but also a comprehensive understanding of their won life’s experience. Preachers should make a special effort to speak to the concreteness of life experience.(emphasis mine)

He goes on to talk about how the goal is to recognize the maturity and autonomy of the individual. This is the goal of equipping the saints for the work of the ministry (Ephesians 4:12-16.) In our day of superstar, celebrity preachers who offer kind words of encouragement with little substance behind them the call for preachers to equip their congregations with critical thinking skills is rare. Yet in his wisdom, Professor Pannenberg is encouraging the orators among us to do just that.

May we endeavor to accomplish such a calling.

28
Feb 2014
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