Dialogue Ireland Logo Resources Services Information about Dialogue Ireland
A to Z index

The Double Apostolate (Part 1) - Johannes Aagaard

In the New Testament there are two kinds of apostolate.i There is, first of all. Peter's apostolate. which we may call the "pillar apostolate." It is mentioned in Galatians 2:9. where James, Cephas (Peter) and John are compared to "pillars." This office has been fundamental to our understanding of the nature of the episcopal office in the Church. Obviously. the purpose and nature of the bishop's office is modelled on this apostolate: but the "pillar apostolate" alone is too narrow a model.

The second apostolate is Paul's apostolate. which we may call the "travelling apostolate." Paul demonstrated through his missionary travels the dynamic character of this apostolate. He visited and encouraged the members of the young churches. and founded new ones. This apostolate was controversial from the outset: but it was made legitimate by a reference to an explicit calling by the risen Jesus, and not through succession in relation to "the twelve." Thus Paul in the early tradition of the Church was already considered to be the true twelfth apostle after the treason of Judas.

The tension between the two apostolates came to a dramatic climax in Antioch, where Peter and Paul had a dispute concerning the unity of the Church and the Holy Communion. Later generations, however, were anxious to emphasize the final agreement between Peter and Paul. There is, for instance, a famous icon representing the two locked in embrace (Gal. 2:9).

My purpose in underlining the two apostolates is not to separate them, but to call attention to the importance of the second one: the free, dynamic Pauline apostolate. This is necessary because in the Church today, Paul's apostolate has gone virtually unrecognized. It is a situation where the pillar apostolate has won the day everywhere.

The idea of the double apostolate need not be taken exclusively. The famous Danish theologian Grundtvig, for example, introduced the apostolate of St. John as an apostolate of love in continuation of the apostolate of faith and hope. For our purposes, however, the "double apostolate" will help us to understand the nature of mission.
Two Kinds of Mission

Just as there are two kinds of apostolate. there are also two kinds of mission. The words "mission", "missionary", "missionize" are not actually found in the Bible. The Latin word missio and its derivations take their meaning from the Greek word for "apostolate" and its derivations. An unequivocal transfer of meaning from one word to the other is not possible. since not every missionary is an apostle. Mission, nevertheless, receives its basic meaning and structure from the double apostolate. As far as we can see today, post-apostolic generations developed a concept of mission which had two different aspects.

1) The care of the apostles for the life and growth of the Church had its expression in the "pillar apostolate." In that sense the office of the bishop is apostolic.ii

2) The tradition that "the twelve" travelled extensively as missionaries to the whole inhabited world of their day may not be historically accurate, but theologically the idea is of paramount importance. It reflects their obedience to the command of Jesus to his disciples to "go and teach all nations" (Matt. 28:19-20). This implies that the Church is for the whole world, and is not a national sect.

The entire Church had a part in the missionary obligation to reach the whole world. The story of Priscilla and Aquila (Rom. 16:3) testifies to that. The fact that there were special services and special tasks does not mean that there was a responsible class of officials at the top and a passive base of church people at the bottom.

It is important to remember that the most influential missionaries were the martyrs, who counted many laymen among them. Later, when peace was made with the state, it was first and foremost the monks and nuns who represented the intense and extrovert aspect of Christianity. They also became the central agency of Christian mission. Among Protestants, the evangelical missionary societies parallel the Catholic orders and continue the same apostolic missionary tradition as Paul, the "travelling apostolate."

The succession and continuity of the missionary activities of the apostles therefore relates not only to the ecclesiastical offices and services, but also to the free and independent missionary activities which have been supported by laymen and martyrs, monks, and nuns, and organized by missionary societies and free independent church organisations. As we have seen, it is not a case of opposing developments but of two different aspects of the same thing. The borderline between the two types of Christian mission is not sharply defined. but there are nevertheless two dimensions which ought to be respected as two independent and distinct areas.

There are two kinds of mission. Church mission as a gradual and continuous growth is just as important today as it was in biblical times. But the non-continuous and desultory type of mission - in which churches are founded in other cultures - is just as important. Max Warren, secretary-general for the Anglican Church Missionary Society, often wrote and spoke about the necessary duality represented by "Rome and Iona."

The first type of mission takes place as local church growth. Congregations expand along natural lines such as family affiliation. ties of kinship or a feeling of national solidarity. We many call this the "strawberry-plant" method, e.g. mission through vegetative reproduction. The second type may he called the "mountain-ash" method. The airborne seeds of this tree often travel to distant places before they fall to the ground to take root.

The first type of mission results mostly in a gradual, quantitative expansion of the already existing church, whereas the second type may lead to qualitative differences. New strains of Christianity may develop in new surroundings. By way of illustration we may point to the differences between the churches of Corinth and Galatia, which both differed from the mother church in Jerusalem.

In my doctoral thesis "Mission. Konfession und Kirche" I-II (Århus, 1967), I provided some examples of the differences between the two types of mission. We may illustrate the issue graphically as follows:iii


In theological debate on what view to take of mission have been opposed for example by Inge Tranholm Mikkelsen. She dissociates herself from the idea of the double aspect in mission, while I maintain that it is necessary. She has repeatedly used the Arcot church as a typical example of the type of mission we should promote. She wants the Danish Missionary Society to co-operate with the Arcot church in its mission.

In my model of mission as local church-growth I would of course include the Arcot church. which undoubtedly is engaged in genuine mission. But the concept of mission includes more than that. My model would also include a modern experiment, the Dialogue Center-International (DCI), in which I am engaged myself. In the context of DCI we have an independent mission in mind. The DCI does not join particular churches in order to share missionary responsibility with them. It wants to be engaged directly in the mission of the Church, and to emphasize a desultory type of mission with a renewed application of the "travelling apostolate" - not derived from existing churches, but aiming at the founding of new congregations in new situations.
An Historical Aside

In the course of church history the Petrine apostolate has been overemphasized at the expense of the Pauline apostolate, and mission as local church-growth at the expense of mission through the "travelling apostolate."

It is a fact that this development was further accelerated by the Reformation, and the establishment of national churches. The idea of mission was intimately connected with colonial expansion. First the state consolidated its power and influence in an area. and mission was later added. The Trankebar Mission is a good example.

Certain theological fallacies were also at work. Luther was constantly on his guard against what he called "enthusiasts." They were travelling evangelists; but Luther repeatedly warned that they did not have a proper calling, a vocatio ordinaria. They claimed on the other hand that a vocano extraordinaria or special calling was indispensable to the preaching of the Gospel. Luther was very reluctant to accept the idea of a special calling at all. On the basis of such a calling, free and independent missionary activities would only be possible for a class of divine supermen (Gottes Wunderleute) - for viri heroici endowed with special divine talents and gifts of grace. Luther himself in fact hardly believed in the possibility of such endowment. but since it is part of biblical Christianity. he had to make room for the idea.

Lutheran orthodoxy hardened Luther's position and developed an inflexible scheme of rite vocatus which made real mission impossible. Only mission as an appendage to colonialism could be accepted. The special calling, vocation extraordinaria et interna was abolished. and vocatio ordinaria et externa was demanded as a necessary precondition for ecclesiastical and religious activities. That was the deathblow to the activities of laymen in the Lutheran churches. The great orthodox theologians declared that the Church had no missionary obligation, which, they said, had ascended to heaven with the last apostle.

The Pietists rebelled against this system, but did not break it. They advocated the possibility of a special calling, in addition to the ordinary calling of the orthodox tradition. A special conversion became a prerequisite for the special calling and made it valid. An internal experience preceded the "inner calling" which became a distinctive mark of the missionary activities of the Piestists. This is why the first Pietist attempts at mission were strongly individualistic. They spurned the idea of organization and leadership. Jesus himself should be the head. and each missionary was a travelling apostle who set out at his own risk and expense.

Not only the Moravian Brethren but also the first missionary societies of the nineteenth century followed these guidelines. This approach, however, did not last long. Missionary societies were con­sequently founded as alternatives to the official church structures. Gradually, however, they became just as strict and in-flexible as other church structures. The special calling of the Christian no longer decided whether he or she was to become a missionary, but the board of the societies bestowed a kind of vocatio externa et ordinaria on the candidate in an almost orthodox manner - in spite of the fact that they were often outside the official structures of the churches.

When men and women who are called "directly by God" - as were the missionaries Borresen and Skrefsrud - go out as missionaries, the missionary societies can do little more than support them. They operate independently of the board. There are several churches founded by such men who went their own way, and who were of a true Pietistic nature. The church of the Santal Mission is a typical example from Denmark: it was run by the missionaries themselves. In most missionary societies, however, it was different. Secretary-generals and directors held a tight-reign on missionaries as well as on "native" priests.

Interestingly it was these latter churches - subject to "remote control" from the West and not headed by the missionaries - which have experienced the easiest transition period from Western dominance to independence.
The Double Mission And The Situation Today

There are many reasons to stress the need for the double mission and the double apostolate at the present time. On the whole, mission and Church have become integrated all over the world. Missionary societies have been attached to the mother Church, but Church has not become mission.

In recent years we have witnessed a widespread stagnation in the churches. Often mission as evangelization has been removed from the agenda, and everything else is then called "mission." Today the term "mission" is applied to a broad variety of church activities, but mission in the form of evangelizing people has gradually receded into the background. At the same time, the mission that does take place is often reduced to local church-growth, which is no satisfactory solution either.

In many parts of the world today, the existing churches are made up of well-defined groups of people, of particular castes and tribes. Some churches are often so dominated by the particular back-ground of their members that they cannot absorb new members with different social and cultural traditions. We might wish it were different, but we cannot close our eyes to facts. We should not try to tone down a real problem by fine words or theological verbosity.

India offers a well-known example: Christians in India - with a few exceptions - are either rooted in outcaste or lowcaste groups or have a tribal background. They cannot possibly succeed in evangelizing their 700 million compatriots, including the high caste Hindus. The Christian faith in India normally has very little contact with Hinduism, which mainly comprises the three upper castes with the Brahmins at the top, These upperclasses live totally insulated from any influence from the Christian churches and missions.

The same phenomenon is true in Buddhist and Moslem countries. Almost all members of Christian churches have been recruited from groups on the fringe of society, without much connection with the ruling Buddhist and Moslem classes. To tell the truth, these churches are probably the least qualified to carry out realistic attempts at evangelizing members of the ruling classes. If we are to bring the Gospel to these people, we must proceed differently.

It is important to emphasize that the whole Church must reach the whole world and the whole man with the whole Gospel. There are no valid national limitations within the Church or its mission. Not only are the Indian and Japanese churches, for example, responsible for bringing the Gospel to the Indian or Japanese populations, but the Church as a whole is responsible. Those who are able to do the task are under an obligation to do it.

The work of mission must be done with respect for the existing churches, and not in opposition to them. They have their missionary obligations to fulfil, whether it is mission as church-growth on the local level or evangelization among other groups through their own missionaries. We must, however, face the fact that there may be sections of a country's population - as for instance in India - which are best reached through international missions.

It is important to understand that such alternative missions are not in any way problematic or "special," but offer the possibility for renewal. There must be room for such innovations and experimentation, or we will get stuck in the bog of inveterate habits and outworn traditions.

We must also understand that new churches which come into existence need not necessarily be incorporated into already-existing churches. We know from the New Testament that widely different churches found room within the same communion. Some will advocate the idea that genuine mission consists only in expanding the growth of already existing churches, that any deviation from the beaten track implies disloyalty and conflict; but such a policy hears the mark of stagnation, and promotes an unfortunate glorification of the established order. It is true that the existence of independent new churches may provoke contention and confrontation, but this is a law of life. True mission involves renewal and creates new perspectives. If it doesn't, it isn't true mission.
The Vital Issue

Mission as we have known it so far has hardly touched the established religions of the world. Here we find the challenge of modern mission. We need specially educated and trained missionaries for these pioneer activities. The churches in the Third World may be proceeding well, but they cannot cope alone with this overwhelming task. The Church as a whole must realise its responsibility and face the challenge, otherwise we shall not succeed.

Fortunately this point of view is now being accepted by a growing number of people. The established religions of the world are no longer the special problem of the churches in the Third World, but are obtaining a strong foothold in most countries in the West. The existence and growing influence of these religions sometimes means a threat to individual churches, which may he seriously reduced in the wake of their rapid advance. On the whole, however. this situation may be a blessing to the world mission of the Christian Church, because the urgency of new missions is now becoming realised.

In my opinion it is important that we become aware of the fact that world mission as we presently see it hardly pays attention to the world religions. The issue is evaded. The religious aspect of missionary work is the neglected aspect.

We should not be led astray by those who tell us that there is much genuine dialogue between the churches and other religions. There is hardly any. Much of what is called "dialogue" is not real dialogue but irrelevant talk which evades the issues at stake. True dialogue is a genuine communication between people who really care to understand one another's faith and religion. A committed and genuine dialogue implies challenge and confrontation.

In relation to the main religions, however, there is almost no true dialogue in mission, or mission in dialogue. There is silence, distance and ignorance. The churches and missionary societies attach hardly any importance to the study of world religions. This proves that they are not really interested in religious people, and that they do not really intend to evangelize them. If they did. they would acquaint themselves with the appropriate languages and ways of thinking; They would have lived with the world's religious masses. worked with them, and talked with them.

The propagation of the Gospel to the whole oikumene - to all the known world - must he promoted by both models of mission: by local church-growth, but also by sending out missionaries, and founding new churches in other parts of the world.

In our missionary strategy we must set our minds on reaching the masses (hoi okloi in the New Testament), but also the ruling classes and religious leaders. We must be active in the villages and the bazaars. but also in the monasteries and the temples. among monks and nuns. among priests and potentates.

Successful mission among people from the upper strata of society is not nearly as impossible as is often assumed. but it requires the joint efforts of the whole Church - for example through international teams. who can visit the centres where people live their lives. Paul did both: he evangelized the masses, and he preached the Gospel to powerful rulers, secular as well as religious. He entered into dialogue with high as well as low, and this tradition has been continued by the great missionaries of church history: Ricci, de Nobili and in modern times by L. P. Larsen, Skrefsrud, Keysser, and Reichelt.

If it is necessary for us to do it. then we also must be equipped to do it. Consequently in our theology we will have to lay an emphasis on the study of the religions of the world.

This is the first in a series of articles on mission by Prof. Johannes Aagaard, adapted from "Seven Theses on Mission." These theses on the double apostolate are the result of a study-process with the Danish Missionary Council over a period of two years. After the initial position paper. a number of comments were received from missionaries in Africa and Asia, Aagaard had sessions with the boards o some of the Danish missionary societies, and during a joint seminar the whole issue was debated at some length. The final rewriting created the present article, which first appeared in MISSION, Nordisk Missions Tidsskrift, København. and in Ekumenisk Orientering. Uppsala in 1986.


i The idea of a double apostolate has been drawn from the books of Andre Seumis. L'Anima dell Apostolato Missionario (Bologna, 1958) and Apostolat, Structure Theologique (Rome, 1961). The research of Johannes Munck into the theology of Paul also points in this direction.

ii There were, however, false "apostles". See 2 Cor., chapters 10-13.

iii See for instance pp. 312 ff., 580 ff., 655 ff.