Summary: Is the Bible still being laid as the foundation-word for the church, or is something else supplanting it? Individual messages addressing this critical question.
1. Of Christian Foundations
Has the foundation for the Christian faith been laid once for all, or do we look for new foundations to be poured in every generation? To ask such a thing is to answer it. The idea of digging up the old foundation of a building every forty years, so as to lay a new one is ridiculous. Then if it is certain that the foundation has already been laid, we must be careful to build on that rock only.
In I Corinthians 3:11, Paul likens himself to a construction engineer who is in charge of a special project in his day. He claims that his preaching of Jesus Christ to the Corinthians was essentially the laying of the foundation for the church there. While his comment could be interpreted locally, it is clear that Jesus Himself concurs with Paul's assessment as He speaks to Peter in Matthew 16:
"...upon this rock I will build My church." What rock is that? Peter, to whom the words were addressed? Peter denies that assertion in his own letter, calling himself and the persons to whom he wrote, living stones, themselves built on the chief cornerstone, Jesus Christ. It was the fact that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Holy Spirit words that emanated from Peter's mouth, that became the foundation of the church worldwide. Every church formed in every generation must preach that message first to qualify as a true church of the living God. Churches built on men alone are disqualified.
But the question of foundations does not end with these statements about Jesus. Ephesians 2:20 indicates that we have been built also upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. If Jesus Himself is the foundation rock, the cornerstone, then those who have preached that message first must be considered a part of that foundation also. Historically, it was apostles and prophets who were in the "mix" of foundational material.
Once we identify apostles and prophets as primary, we of course must go on and tell which apostles and which prophets, and here we run into some problems.
First, the prophets. Are these the Old Testament prophets, most of whom offered some insight into the coming Messiah and His role? Isaiah who foretold His sacrifice. Jeremiah who saw His covenant. Daniel who told us the time of His birth. Micah who pinpointed the place. Malachi who identified His forerunner. Even Moses, who prophesied a prophet who was to come like himself. David also is called "prophet" in the New Testament, and for good reason. He saw Jesus on the cross, and then saw Him in His final reign over all the earth.
Were these prophets the foundation-stones on which the church was built? Works for me. But some may prefer to put forward first century prophets who gave oral revelations about Jesus as eyewitnesses before there was much in the way of a written revelation. Together with apostles, every necessary word and action of Jesus was established, then recorded for us.
Finally, to whom does Paul refer when He speaks of apostles? Any apostles of all time? The twelve? And if so, which 12? Not such easy work here. Paul does open the door to the possibility of apostles being with us throughout the church age. While most evangelicals decry the idea of apostles in their midst, they are quick to empower "missionaries", a title which is seen nowhere in Scripture.
Or is it? Missionary means "one who is sent". So does apostle. The former is from the Latin, the latter from the Greek. So Baptists believe in apostles after all! And just for the record, some of their Western-based church boards would be shocked to hear stories about their mission fields that equal episodes from the Book of Acts, showing that not only apostles, but signs of apostles, are still very much with us. Wisdom demands that those boards not hear everything...
Or so I am told. Anyway, if apostles could be with us now, are they foundational? That was, after all, the original question of this article. I think that there we can be conclusive in our answer. Jesus Christ was offered as the original foundation, unchanging. Similarly there was a first century group that was originally assigned a special position in the church. That foundation must not be laid again. I believe that today's apostles, if they exist, do not qualify as originators, only as confirmers. In fact if they do originate, and their doctrines defy the words already given us, they are to be ignored and/or exposed.
Does that leave then, only the "12"? I believe I am on good ground here in saying, yes it does. Jesus told that special group in Matthew 19:28, "You will sit on 12 thrones judging the 12 tribes of Israel." It is this very specific calling and office that motivated the apostles (Acts 1) to elect immediately a man to take the place of Judas, who obviously is not bound for a throne. Their choice of Matthias receives no comment from Heaven, for or against, though many have speculated that it was probably Paul who was designated by the Father to occupy that chair. We'll have to wait and see, since all the speculation in the world will not change the actual fact.