11 From the history of Christianity

11.1 The early Christian congregations Back to top

According to the great commission given by Jesus Christ, it is the task of the Apostles to go into all the world in order to proclaim the gospel and make disciples of all human beings.

To start with, the Apostles turned to the Jews, and it was in Jerusalem that the first congregation came into being. On account of persecution many believers fled from Jerusalem (Acts 8: 1; 11: 19). Even in their new surroundings they proclaimed the word of the Lord, like Philip did in the capital of Samaria.

In a vision, God showed Apostle Peter that the gospel is also intended for the Gentiles (Acts 10 and 11).

A decisive step in bringing the gospel to the Gentiles was made with the conversion of Saul (Acts 9). He is first identified as an Apostle in the company of Barnabas–and by the name of Paul–in Acts 14: 14.

At the Apostles' council in Jerusalem the first pressing and decisive questions about the position on the mission to the Gentiles and the significance of the Mosaic Law in relationship to the gospel were discussed and clarified (Acts 15: 1-29).

While the gospel was primarily proclaimed among the Jews by Apostles Peter and James, Apostles Paul and Barnabas travelled to the Gentile countries surrounding the Mediterranean for the same purpose. As Eusebius of Caesarea writes in his Church History, other Apostles are said to have brought the gospel further to countries in Asia and Africa, and to have established congregations there.

11.2 Christianity after the death of the early Apostles Back to top

The activity of the Holy Spirit continued after the death of the early Christian Apostles:

  • He saw to it that the biblical canon of the Old and New Testaments came into being.

  • He inspired the Church Fathers in the first councils to formulate important principles of Christian doctrine. These include, for example, the doctrine of the Trinity and of the person and dual nature of Jesus as true Man and true God, as well as the knowledge of the key significance that Jesus' sacrifice and resurrection hold for the salvation and redemption of mankind.

During this period, salvation was imparted through the properly performed dispensation of Holy Baptism with water.

Beyond that, the fact that the Christian faith was able to spread around the world can also be attributed to the activity of the Holy Spirit over the centuries.

11.2.1 The Church Fathers and the ecumenical councils Back to top

In the year AD 313, the Roman Emperor Constantine (ca. AD 270/288, died 337) proclaimed freedom of religion for the Christians. In the years AD 380/381, the Christian religion became the state religion of the Roman Empire.

Before this time, many Christians had been persecuted and had lost their lives. What had begun with the stoning of Stephen grew into waves of persecution which made martyrs of many believers.

It was the concern of the Church Fathers to defend the Christian faith against both Gentiles and Jews, and to define the fundamentals of Christian doctrine. The early generation of these men were known as the "Apostolic Fathers". They included Clement of Rome (died ca. AD 100), Ignatius of Antioch (died ca. AD 115), Polycarp, Bishop of Smyrna (ca. AD 69, died ca. 155), and Papias of Hierapolis (ca. AD 70, died ca. 130/140).

Later generations of defenders of the faith (apologists) and witnesses to the apostolic tradition are known as the "Church Fathers". These include Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397), Sophronius Eusebius Hieronymus (AD 347-420), and Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430). The doctrinal statements of these men had a decisive influence on Christian dogma.

Athanasius (ca. AD 295-373) was also among the teachers of the church. It was under his theological influence in the year AD 325 that the Nicene Creed was formulated. New Apostolic Christians also adhere to the tradition of this creed.

The essential contents of the Christian faith were ultimately defined over centuries of debate in various church councils. Although often convened under the influence of secular rulers, the councils still brought to expression–objectively and according to God's will–the content of the gospel. Viewed as a whole, the basic tenets of Christian doctrine were defined in these councils.

11.2.2 Christianity–the state religion and its spread Back to top

In AD 380/381, Emperor Theodosius made Christianity the state religion of the Roman Empire and forbade all pagan religions.

During the great Migration Period, Christianity in Europe grew stronger and spread to many areas of the then known world. Starting in the seventh century, Christians in parts of Asia and Africa had to contend with the new religion of Islam.

Monasticism played a special role in the propagation of Christianity. These religious individuals were often responsible for outstanding scholarly accomplishments and were also involved in agriculture and social issues. Many considered the propagation of the Christian faith to be one of their principal tasks.

Conditioned by historical developments, Christianity became the force which shaped the life and society of the people of Europe.

Medieval Christianity faced crises such as the East-West Schism of 1054, that is the separation of the Western Church (Roman Catholic Church) from the Eastern Church (Orthodox Churches), as well as the crusades (1096 to 1270), the power struggle between the Popes and emperors of Central Europe, and increasing conflict with Islam.

11.2.3 Aspects of Christianity in medieval Europe Back to top

The struggle of church dignitaries for worldly power and their failure to take direction from the gospel led to widespread secularisation of the Christian church, which entailed ever increasing moral decay. More and more efforts were made to reform the church. While some truth-seeking individuals sought to serve God through rational knowledge (scholasticism), others attempted to do so in mysticism through the direct experience of the nearness of God.

Individuals like the French merchant Peter Waldo, also called Pierre de Vaux (died before 1218), the English theologian John Wycliffe (1320-1384), and the rector of the University of Prague, Jan Hus (ca. 1369-1415), were consistent critics of the secularised church. The pre-Reformation movements initiated and supported by them affected large parts of Europe and ultimately led to the Reformation.

11.2.4 The Reformation Back to top

The search for the original form of the gospel and for guidance by the Holy Spirit defined a movement in Europe which is described by the term "Reformation" and is closely associated with Martin Luther (1483-1546).

Criticism of the Roman Church's secularisation, as well as the humanists' demand for a return to its sources and a resulting devotion to the Bible, were significant precursors to the Reformation.

Luther developed his theology based on his interpretation of the Bible. At its core is the doctrine of justification by faith, with its fundamental notion that God does not provide rewards on the basis of good works, but rather grants His grace to the sinner who believes in Jesus Christ.

Luther came into conflict with the Roman Church because he rejected the Pope's authority and cast doubt on the infallibility of the councils. He argued that the Bible, with its witness to Jesus Christ, should be the sole basis for doctrine. Luther translated the Bible into the German language and thereby made it accessible to the people.

The rapid spread of the Reformation in Germany is not only to be attributed to Luther and other reformers, but also to the political and economic interests of many princes.

Outside of Germany, the Reformation gained a foothold primarily in northern Europe, in the Netherlands, in France, and in Italy. The reformer Ulrich Zwingli (1484-1531) was active in Zurich, and John Calvin (1509-1564) who started an independent reform movement, was active in Geneva.

The ideals of the Reformation also took on political dimensions. Both sovereigns and peasants adopted it–for various motives–in order to achieve social and political goals.

The Anglican Church came into being independently in England in 1534.

As a reaction to the Reformation, the Council of Trent (from 1545) inspired a period of reflection and renewal in the Roman Catholic Church and prepared the way for the Counter-Reformation.

11.2.5 Catholicism and Protestantism in upheaval Back to top

The Reformation led to a counter movement (the Counter-Reformation) as European Catholicism strove for spiritual renewal and reinforced the power of the papacy. The Popes endeavoured to regain Protestant territories for Catholicism.

In the course of these conflicts, the Thirty Years' War broke out in Europe (1618-1648) which served, among other things, to strengthen the institution of the state church. The sovereign determined the religion of his subjects.

In the eighteenth century, a rationalistic Christianity–a kind of Christianity which adopted the insights of the sciences of the time–began to merge with the philosophical concepts of the Enlightenment. Denominational conflicts and philosophical-theological disputes brought Protestantism into a state of crisis. As a reaction, Pietism gained more and more influence.

The hallmarks of Pietism include interest in intensive Bible study, social and missionary engagement, and a strong focus on Jesus Christ's activity as Redeemer.

Emphasis on the importance of emotions for Christian life and faith found a certain continuity in the revivalist movements. These evangelical movements, which originated in the eighteenth century, particularly in England and the USA, sought to distinguish themselves from "cultural Christianity" and return to a living faith.

In the nineteenth century, the Innere Mission (Inner or Home Mission) and the Protestant Free Churches–churches that were independent of the state–came into being in Germany and began to spread from there. This movement was not only aimed at winning non-Christians in foreign countries for Christianity, but also at those in Germany who had, through poverty and ignorance, become alienated from the faith. The further propagation of Christianity in non-European countries, particularly in Africa, received significant momentum from missionary societies.

A kind of devotion oriented to spiritual experience can also be observed in eighteenth and nineteenth century Catholicism.

It is in this context that the ideological conflicts with the French revolution, the attendant circumstances of the dawning industrial age, as well as the scientific and rationalistic thinking which sought to explain the world without reference to traditional faith, should be understood.

11.2.6 Christianity at the beginning of the nineteenth century Back to top

At a time when the natural sciences attempted to dominate large areas of thinking, when social issues challenged Christian ethics, and when national power politics sought to use religion to its own ends, the call to return to an awareness of the gospel and the related Christian hope for the return of Christ became louder and louder.

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, missionary efforts were initiated mainly from Spain and Portugal. As a result, however, the Christian faith was often forced upon the populations of conquered regions. In the nineteenth century, devoted Christians cultivated intensive, peaceful missionary activities, especially in the colonised world.

This is the historical background in which God prepared for the renewed activity of Apostles.

SUMMARY Back to top

In accordance with the Lord's great commission, the Apostles began to proclaim the gospel, at first amongst the Jews, and later in the Gentile countries surrounding the Mediterranean. (11.1)

The activity of the Holy Spirit continued in many forms after the death of the early Christian Apostles. (11.2)

The concern of the Church Fathers was to defend the faith and define the fundamentals of the Christian doctrine. (11.2.1)

More than anything else, the doctrinal statements of the Church Fathers had a decisive influence on the Christian dogmas. At various church councils, the main contents of the Christian faith were emphasised as binding doctrine. (11.2.1)

At the end of the fourth century AD Christianity became the state religion in the Roman Empire. (11.2.2)

Monasticism played a special role in the spread of Christianity. Christendom became the most important variable to define life and society in Europe. (11.2.2)

In the East-West Schism of 1054 the Western Church (Roman Catholic Church) and the Eastern Church (Orthodox Church) separated from one another. (11.2.2)

Widespread secularisation came about in the Christian church during the European Middle Ages, which led to efforts for church reform. The search for the original form of the gospel defined a development in Europe which is summarised by the term "Reformation". (11.2.3; 11.2.4)

After the Reformation there was a renewal within Catholicism and in the development of other religious movements. (11.2.4; 11.2.5)

Beginning in the fifteenth century, missionary work began in countries outside of Europe. In the nineteenth century, this work was intensified. (11.2.6)

This is the historical context in which God prepared the way for the renewed activity of Apostles. (11.2.6)

11.3 The reoccupation of the Apostle ministry in the Catholic Apostolic Church Back to top

Between 1826 and 1829, in close cooperation with the Presbyterian clergyman Edward Irving (1792-1834), the banker Henry Drummond (1786-1860) invited representatives of the "Students of Prophecy" to his country estate in Albury in southern England for a series of conferences in order to clarify certain biblical statements regarding the reawakening of the original fullness of the Holy Spirit and the return of Christ.

In Scotland, believers of various denominations also shared the expectation of an increased activity of the Holy Spirit. In 1830, manifestations of healing, speaking in tongues, and prophecy occurred in their circle and were also widely noticed.

It was in this context of believing expectation of a special ministry in the church that John Bate Cardale (1802-1877), a member of the Anglican Church, was called to the Apostle ministry by the Holy Spirit and designated by Henry Drummond as an Apostle on 31 October 1832 (other sources mention 7 November 1832) in London. He had joined Irving's congregation in August 1832. On Christmas 1832, Cardale carried out his first ministerial act as an Apostle and ordained William R. Caird as an Evangelist. For nearly a year Cardale remained the only Apostle, and had a defining influence on the concept of the Apostle ministry in the nascent church.

In the time following, the movement developed more defined structures. Beyond that, an understanding of ministry and the sacraments developed.

11.3.1 The development of a church led by Apostles Back to top

Beginning in September 1833, further Apostles were called through prophecy. In the process, people with prophetical gifts played an important role.

In 1835, the Apostles called through prophecy were consecrated to their future work. Subsequently the Apostles, now numbering twelve, adjourned for one year to Albury for intensive consultations.

The Apostles waited to be sent to all Christians and to receive a special power for this purpose. With the Great Testimony of 1837 they sought to reach out to all spiritual and secular leaders of Christendom. They called on the clergy to subordinate themselves to the Apostles. In preparation for the unification of all Christians under their leadership, the Apostles began familiarising themselves with the doctrines and liturgies of various denominations as of 1838. The appeal of the Apostles met with no response, however.

Within the apostolic work a focus began to develop on the preparation of the end-time group known as the "one hundred and forty-four thousand" mentioned in the book of Revelation. These were to be sealed through the laying on of hands of the Apostles. In 1847 this act was performed on approximately one thousand believers in England. In the same year, Holy Sealing was also performed in Canada by Apostle Francis Woodhouse and in Germany by Apostle Thomas Carlyle.

11.3.2 The calling of additional Apostles Back to top

Apostle Thomas Carlyle, supported by one other Apostle, proposed the convening of an Apostle meeting In 1851. In this meeting, he did not garner the necessary support from among all the other Apostles for his motion that the two Apostles Duncan Mackenzie and Henry Dalton–who were no longer exercising their ministries–be replaced by others.

In the year 1855, three Apostles died, among them Apostle Carlyle. Successors in the Apostle ministry were called by Edward Oliver Taplin (1800-1862), the "Pillar of the Prophets", and the prophet Heinrich Geyer (1818-1896). The calling of these men was not recognised by the other Apostles, however.

Yet the longing for the preparation of the bride of Christ by the Apostles, and the expectation of their sending in the full power of their ministry, remained alive among many of the ministers once ordained and instructed in northern Germany by Apostle Carlyle. Here, the congregations of Berlin and Hamburg played a major role.

11.3.3 The continuation of the Apostle ministry in the New Apostolic Church Back to top

The English Apostles were successful in their resistance of an extension of the circle of Apostles and thereby actually the continuation of the church led by Apostles. In opposition to this, the prophet Heinrich Geyer and the leader of the Hamburg congregation, Friedrich Wilhelm Schwartz (1815-1895), insisted that Rudolf Rosochacky (1815-1895) had received a divine calling. On 10 October 1862, the latter had been called as an Apostle by the prophet Geyer. On 4 January 1863, the Hamburg congregation acknowledged this calling.

Even when Apostle Rosochacky resigned from his ministry shortly thereafter, Geyer, Schwartz, and the Hamburg congregation maintained that a divine calling had indeed been given. On 27 January 1863, Schwartz was removed from his ministry by Apostle Woodhouse and expelled from the Catholic Apostolic Church. The Hamburg congregation was also excommunicated because they followed Schwartz.

Therefore January 1863 marks the beginning of the New Apostolic Church.

Soon after, Priest Carl Wilhelm Louis Preuss (1827-1878) and, a little later, Friedrich Wilhelm Schwartz, were called as Apostles. Preuss worked in northern Germany while Schwartz was assigned the Netherlands as his working area. Further callings of Apostles followed shortly thereafter.

The newly formed community called itself the Allgemeine Christliche apostolische Mission ("General Christian Apostolic Mission"). This name, like the designation of the Dutch branch "Restored Apostolic Mission Church", reflected the hope of reaching large parts of Christianity.

In 1872, Friedrich Wilhelm Menkhoff (1826-1895) was called as an Apostle for Westphalia and the Rhineland.

In 1884, he founded the first Church periodical in Germany, entitled Der Herold. Monatsschrift für wahrheitsliebende Christen ("The Herald, a monthly circular for truth-loving Christians"). Under his influence, Apostle Schwartz, beginning in his working area, did away with liturgical vestments and many elements of the liturgy taken over from the Catholic Apostolic Church. As of 1885, these changes were adopted by all other congregations.

In 1881, Friedrich Krebs (1832-1905) from Braunschweig was called as an Apostle. After the death of Apostles Schwartz and Menkhoff, he took on the function of leader. His most important concern was the oneness among the Apostles. He was the first Chief Apostle in the current sense of the word.

The more the Apostle ministry, with its comprehensive powers, came to the foreground in the Church toward the close of the nineteenth century, the more the significance of the prophets began to diminish. By the end of the 1920s there were no more prophets active in the congregations.

The first decades in the history of the New Apostolic Church served, among other things, to consolidate the congregations and the unity among the Apostles. Beginning in 1897, the Chief Apostle ministry began to crystallise as the leading ministry of the Church. It was occupied by Friedrich Krebs until his death in the year 1905.

Other bearers of the Chief Apostle ministry were:

  • Hermann Niehaus (1848-1932, Chief Apostle from 1905 to 1930),

  • Johann Gottfried Bischoff (1871-1960, Chief Apostle from 1930 to 1960),

  • Walter Schmidt (1891-1981, Chief Apostle from 1960 to 1975),

  • Ernst Streckeisen (1905-1978, Chief Apostle from 1975 to 1978),

  • Hans Urwyler (1925-1994, Chief Apostle from 1978 to 1988),

  • Richard Fehr (born 1939, Chief Apostle from 1988 to 2005),

  • Wilhelm Leber (born 1947, Chief Apostle as of 2005).

SUMMARY Back to top

It was in the context of believing anticipation of a special ministry in the church that believing men were called to the Apostle ministry in England starting in 1832. (11.3)

In 1837 the Apostles published the Great Testimony and called upon the clergy of all the churches to subject themselves to the authority of the Apostles. This appeal of the Apostles met with no response, however. (11.3.1)

In January 1863 the congregation in Hamburg acknowledged the calling of Rudolf Rosochacky as an Apostle.

Therefore January 1863 marks the beginning of the New Apostolic Church. (11.3.3)

As of 1897 the Chief Apostle ministry began to emerge as the leading ministry of the church. (11.3.3)