1 John 1:3 - An Apostolic Church
We proclaim to you... so that you may have fellowship with us.1 John 1:3
In the opening words of what we call the first letter of John, we hear John say, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you may have fellowship with us.” Take note of the way he indicates that the purpose of preaching is “so that you may have fellowship with us.” Should the purpose of John’s preaching not be that his readers might have fellowship with the Father and the Son? It is true that the Father and the Son soon enter the picture. John continues by writing, “And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.” What stands out, however, is the way John puts fellowship with him and the other apostles before fellowship with the Father and the Son.
A reading of this letter in its totality reveals why John expressed himself in this way. His readers were faced with false teachers who promoted what appears as an early form of Gnosticism. They contradicted John’s preaching by denying the divinity of Jesus Christ and downplaying the call to love one another. In the process, they drove a wedge between the believers and the apostles, who had preached that Jesus Christ was the Son of God come in our human flesh.
According to John, the apostles form an essential link in the way God grants salvation. They had heard the Lord Jesus preach and teach. They had seen Him. They even had been able to touch Him. They were the eye and ear witnesses to the Son of God come in our human flesh. Their unique association with the Lord Jesus put them in a position of being true witnesses to the gospel message. We sometimes use the term “witnessing” to describe evangelizing, but only the apostles were able to witness, as witnessing requires personal experience. In Acts 1:8 we read how the Lord Jesus told his disciples,
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.
John’s words about the importance of the apostles are reinforced by the way Paul writes about the apostles in Ephesians 2. There he describes the New Testament church, made up of Jews and Gentiles. He calls the church
God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone...Ephesians 2:19, 20
We find this same terminology of the apostles being the foundation of the church in Revelations 21:14, where we read that “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
It becomes clear that we cannot speak about fellowship with the Father and the Son apart from the apostles. They are the link between Christ and the believers throughout the ages. In light of this, we can well understand why the Nicene Creed, when it speaks of the Church, speaks of one holy catholic and apostolic church. The first generation Christians heard the gospel message from the mouths of the apostles. We hear the message from the pens of the apostles as we read God’s Word. Lest we think that this makes the Old Testament irrelevant, we should remember that they always explain the gospel message against the background of the Old Testament. Further, when we today read the Old Testament, we always have to do so in light of what the apostles have told us about the Lord Jesus.
It is this awareness of the apostolicity of the church that continues to guide us. It impresses upon us our dependence on the apostolic testimony to Jesus Christ, as found in the Scriptures. We need to hear that apostolic testimony through the preaching of the Word in order to enjoy fellowship with the Father and the Son. We need to place our children under that apostolic testimony if we desire that they learn to know and love the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We can add to this the importance of spending personal time with the apostles through reading the Scriptures. There is also direction with respect to reaching out. To get to know the Lord Jesus and the Father, people need to become thoroughly familiar with the apostolic testimony.
John’s words, therefore, impress upon us that the church is an apostolic church. The more familiar we become with the apostles and grow in fellowship with them, the more we will grow in fellowship with the Father and the Son.