The way of the apostles.

Apocrypha, apostle, and apostolic

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Christian Faith define Apocrypha, Apostle, Adiaphora

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What Is Adiaphora?

adiaphora : a matter that is not of a kind which is central to what a being a Christian is. Most matters of theology and practice are not central to the faith; Christians can be different about them and still be Christian. To call something 'adiaphora' doesn't mean it's not important or something worthy of discussion and examination, it's just not something to fight or excommunicate someone over. I can, for instance, worship by way of a basic 'catholic' liturgical tradition while someone else worships by way of Pentecostal energy or Quaker quietude or Reformed sparseness or Franciscan simplicity or Armenian grandeur, and we would all still be followers of Christ, and are to treat each other and each other's worship forms with the honor which comes with that. We are each free to discover what most reflects the faith found in the Scriptures, and we are listening to and learning from each other and from common sources like the Bible and traditions. We can even be persistent advocates for the way we follow. But it is not the kind of matter which defines what being a follower of Christ is; it is 'adiaphora'. (The faith requires that we worship Christ, but does not require a certain style.) Such an awareness can give us much space for the freedom in Christ that Paul wrote about.

The Idea Behind Adiaphora

When you hear or read the term adiaphora, it is usually coming from a Lutheran seminarian or pastor, or someone else trained in that tradition. Yet the concept behind the term is found throughout the faith, except for the most extreme of fundamentalists. (In fact, a belief in only one approach to doing almost everything is what makes someone a 'fundamentalist', in any faith or ideology or school of practice.) There are many, especially in liberal Protestantism, who believe that just about everything is really 'adiaphora'. After a millenium of fighting amongst ourselves, even killing each other, it's easy to see why they would want that. But all the necessity in the world cannot trump Christ Himself and what the Scriptures tell us He Himself taught. Jesus taught that certain matters are absolutely central to a relationship with our Maker. It also cannot trump Paul and the apostles, who in the Spirit gave us crucial teaching about the faith and the community of believers. These can be interpreted in all sorts of ways, but they must always be interpreted honestly and taken seriously -- you can't actually live the faith without doing so, in both overall and specific matters. (For instance, how honest and serious are you at interpreting 'love your neighbor' when you're killing your neighbor?) When most everything is 'adiaphora', this ends up not being done. The Scriptures themselves give many lessons about what is most central and most definitive. It tells us what to focus on.

In a way, Jesus Himself showed how important the idea of adiaphora is, in his emphasis on love and unity. But He addressed that within the daily encounters which were happening around Him. The thrust and direction of what He did in each specific happenstance was, I believe, not at all optional, but the specific application clearly was. Too much of today's faith has replaced that thrust and direction with platitudes in the name of 'unity' and 'love' and 'pluralism' and 'freedom'.

Another related word is "theologumenon", an informed and valid point of view about theology or practice.

What Is An Apostle

apostle One who is sent out with a specific mission, message, or purpose. [ < Greek apo- (off, out, away) + stellein (to send).]

The clearest examples of 'apostle' are the inner circle of followers of Jesus whom He trained and chose to lead His other followers. An apostle bears the authority of the sender to act on the sender's behalf on all matters related to the mission he/she is sent to do. This word should not be viewed as a 'religious' term, since in ancient Greece it was used for envoys and delegates in all sorts of contexts.

The first-generation church's apostles were made up of Jesus' inner circle. They were discipled (shaped) by Jesus when he was alive, then became 'apostles' when they were sent by the risen Christ to lead the spreading of the Good News. In the first chapter of Acts, the apostles chose Matthias to join their ranks. Later on Paul was recognized as an apostle (as Paul put it) 'untimely born'. Paul was saying that he was the last to have witnessed the actual risen Christ and the last to be personally sent by Christ. The reason the early church stopped calling their leaders 'apostles' is that Jesus was no longer around to choose and send out people, and those who had been sent by Jesus were dying off. The Church could choose and send, even with great authority and power from Christ, but the Church is not Jesus. So, they called their chosen leaders by the names of their tasks: deacons, presbyters, bishops, and so on. These people are part of the apostolic train, but are not themselves apostles.

There are church leaders today who call themselves 'apostles' or claim apostolic authority, but no one has seen Jesus walking with them and teaching them. For the most part, they sent themselves, or gave broad hints to their own loyal followers to get them to do it. There are also some in Pentecostal circles who think that in the end-times, God will raise up 'super-apostles', with authority to command humans, spirits, and the created order. That's a bad guess, rooted in our attraction to power. In Scripture, God repeatedly chooses to work through dangerously flawed people who exercise power carefully, and are not super-anything.


apostolic: 'as the apostles did/were', or in their manner. It means the practices and thinking which were done by the twelve apostles or Paul. Most churches takes it to be a core matter of faith that they do their best to live out the faith in keeping with those Jesus sent to lead the first generation of Christians, by sending who knew Jesus best. The source for what's 'apostolic' is the record that the apostles (and their closest colleagues like Luke) left us, the New Testament. The creeds of the church, notably the Nicene Creed, attest to how central and authoritative the apostolic witness was and still is, by professing belief in "one holy catholic and apostolic church". In this sense of the word, you're not being apostolic just because you say so. It comes from living your life in accord with the apostolic witness of the New Testament.

Apostolic Succession

Some churches (especially Roman Catholics and Anglicans) see their lineage of bishops as being 'apostolic' (but not 'apostles'), because the ordinations were passed down over the years in an unbroken chain, from bishop to bishop, into our own times. This is called 'apostolic succession'. The lineage is, in some ways, more importantly the connections in a continuous community than whether that community's top leadership is unbroken from its beginning. The believing community, through the work of the Spirit, has flowed from generation to generation without stop. It has often done that in spite of its 'apostolic' leaders. The ongoing leadership chain is a reflection of that continuous community. In this sense of the word, you can't be honestly 'apostolic' merely by saying so; it is passed along to you by someone else who is an apostolic leader. Yet in another (different) sense, every Christian is 'sent' by Jesus, to take part in God's mission, which is what the apostles were carrying out.

Capital-A 'Apostolic', when in the name of a church body or congregation, usually means it is a Pentecostalist church, especially those descended in a fairly direct line from the Apostolic Faith Missions which spun off from the revival at Azusa Street. (Most of these are 'Oneness' Pentecostals.) They see themselves as restoring the style, authority structure, and spiritual power of the believers of Paul's day. They have leaders bearing the title 'Apostle'. That usually means that they are responsible for oversight over many otherwise-independent congregations. Sometimes it means a leader has been successful at starting new churches.

What is the Apocrypha?

apocrypha Hidden away; held in reserve. This is the term Protestants use for what Catholics call 'deuterocanonical' books. [ < Greek apo- (away (from), off) + Greek kruptein (to hide).]

The books of the Apocrypha were treated as secret or hidden because, though they contained useful materials on matters of faith, they were considered to be inauthentic witnesses to the Christian faith and thus neither the church nor the public should use them as a determinative authority for churchly matters. Not that the books themselves were seen as evil -- quite the contrary, they were mostly honored by most Christians as part of church tradition, like those of many other ancient writers. And as a source of tradition, the Apocryphal books of Sirach (OT) and the Didache (NT) get a lot of special attention and honor today. The Protestant Reformers (especially in Calvinism) did not honor the Apocrypha. They pointed to occasional teachings in them that, as they saw it, contradicted the gospel. Scholars (and most advanced bible students) also use the Apocrypha to understand the faith-life of the Jewish people of Jesus' time, and their forebears of the previous 300 years.


A related term is 'pseudepigrapha', which refers to Jewish religious works written starting at about c 200 BC (the era of the Second Temple), where the real author took on the name (and thus tried to assume the authority and inspiration) of a figure from the biblical past. Some of these attributions may have been made by an editor or supporter rather than the author. It was an accepted kind of writing within the realm of writing for the general public. The term is not used for the standard books of the Bible or of the deuterocanon/apocrypha, even if its root meaning of 'false attribution' is believed to apply to them. The main value of pseudepigrapha is that they can teach us about the mindset of their times or important groups within it, when taken in context with each other. This is sometimes relevant to the times and place Jesus lived, and what was believed by the people where he lived.

Word from the apostles God gave it to.