adiaphora, apocrypha, apophatic (and cataphatic)
apostle, apostolic, and apostolic succession?
Christian Faith > Church-Speak 101 > define Apocrypha and Apostle
apostle [ < Greek apo- (off, out, away) + stellein (to send).] One who is sent out with a specific mission, message, or purpose.
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 apostle, the last to have witnessed the actual risen Christ and the last to be personally called 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 the full authority of an apostle, 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'. That's a bad guess, rooted in our attraction to power. In Scripture, God repeatedly chooses to work through dangerously flawed people, like the original apostles, and not supermen.
apostolic: 'as the apostles did/were', 'apostle-like', in the manner of the apostles. It means that which was 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 the leaders of the first generation of Christians, those called the Apostles, who were made up of those 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.
Some churches (especially Roman Catholics and Anglicans) see their lineage of bishops as being 'apostolic' (but not as being '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 connection, in some ways, is more importantly a continuous community than that community's continuous top leadership. 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. 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. Yet in another (different) sense, every Christian is 'sent' by God, to take part in God's mission.
Capital-A 'Apostolic', when in the name of a church body or congregation, usually means it is a Pentecostalist church that is 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', which 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.
You can also check the dictionary.
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. It doesn't mean it's not important or something worthy of discussion and examination, it's just not something to fight over or shun someone over. I can, for instance, worship by means of a basic 'catholic' liturgy 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 full 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. 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.
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 most everything is what makes someone a 'fundamentalist', in any faith or ideology.) 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 matters 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 certainly 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'.
apocrypha [ < Greek apo- (away (from), off) + Greek kruptein (to hide).] Hidden away; held in reserve. This is the term Protestants use for what Catholics call 'deuterocanonical' books.
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 and thus neither the church nor the public should use them as an authority for churchly matters. Not that the books themselves were seen as evil -- quite the contrary, they are 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 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 see it, contradicted the gospel.
A related term is 'pseudepigrapha', which refers to Jewish religious works written c 200 BC to about 200 AD, where the real author took on the name (and thus tried to assume the authority) of a figure from the Biblical past. Some of these attributions may have been made by an editor or supporter rather than the author. Several of the pseudepigrapha are found in the Greek Orthodox bibles. 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.
You can also check the dictionary.
apophatic [ < Greek apophanai (to say no) < apo- (away from) + phanai (to say)] also cataphatic [ to say thoroughly or for the record; < Greek kata (down)]
It sounds like some sort of bizarre mash-up of "apathetic" (not caring) and "apoplectic" (a rage in which one loses control of bodily actions). But it's not. The apophatic approach is a way to understand mysteries and complex phenomena. Since we can't have a complete understanding of that sort of thing and can't accurately say what it is, we are left with using the clearest knowledge we have on it to say what it is not without claiming to know what it is. Apophatic understanding is a long-standing part of ancient wisdom traditions. It's often referred to as the 'via negativa' (though perhaps it is better to use one's own language to say it). It is most used in the field of religion (since God is seen as the ultimate in being 'beyond'), and is especially characteristic of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. Apophatic theology is seen by some postmodern Christians as a less-arrogant way to think about the faith.
There are two facets of this: (1) determining what the subject, by all indications, is not (for instance, using what God has self-revealed in Scripture to find that some idea or occurence is not of God), because you can't truthfully say what it is; (2) describing by way of blanket or general negations of what we can understand ('in-comprehendable', or 'un-fathomable', or 'im-measurable'). The idea is that it is important to our senses of humility and reality that we understand and accept that we are limited in our ability to know, and always will be this side of the Kingdom.
A different approach dominates the Roman Catholic (and thus also the Protestant and Pentecostal) traditions. "Cataphatic" makes statements that something is true about God or God's mysteries, again based on God's self-revelation in the Bible. In Catholic theology, the positive statements are more important than the negations, however both can easily be found in that tradition. (For instance, John of the Cross had a strong strain of the negative way in his writing.) To Thomas Aquinas, positive and negative statements balanced each other off, as correctives to each other, in a sort of dialogue. (A back-and-forth pattern is the main format of the Athanasian Creed.) Under the influence of the Enlightenment's beief in reason and science, Protestant theology has been characterized by making definitive deductions about God, limiting apophatic approaches mainly to devotional life or to the attributes of God. Most Protestant thinkers believe that a cataphatic framework (of building on what we know) is the way to make headway on knowing more from what we hold to be mysteries. Such growing knowledge is seen as human progress, part of the way the Holy Spirit leads us. Protestant Calvinism represents the strongest strain of cataphatic thinking; yet even there, thinkers such as Dooyeweerd would dip into the apophatic way. Recent ideas in emergent and charismatic circles have attempted to bring apophatic elements back into the Protestant picture, as an opposing thrust to liberalism's and fundamentalism's excessive sense of certainty about what it knows. Postmodernist Christians are suspicious of the sand much of our 'knowledge' is built on. Eastern Orthodoxy uses both ways, too, but holds the theology of the negative way to be more important, especially when talking about the nature of God, but even in other parts of theology, wherever a mystery is encountered. And there is at least some mystery to everything.
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|ver.: 12 October 2012|
Apostolic and Apocrypha. Copyright © 1995-2012 by Robert Longman.