And I also say to you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16:18
Jesus spoke these words to his disciples after Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God. It is the opinion of this writer, that Jesus was referencing all of the apostles as “this rock” and not just Peter. This opinion is supported by other passages pointing the apostles as the foundation of the church. In Ephesians 2:20 Paul writes the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Himself being the chief cornerstone.” In addition, when John sees the New Jerusalem in Revelation 21 he describes the wall of the city as having, “twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb (verse 14).
These passages describe the unique role the apostles played in beginning stages of the church. They continued Jesus’ work by proclaiming Him the Son of God to the world and acting as witnesses of His resurrection. But the apostles were more than just couriers. In Matthew 28:18-20 Jesus passed authority to the disciple in what is commonly called the great commission. Jesus said, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” The words of the apostles carried the weight and authority of the words of Jesus. As the apostles preached His message the Holy Spirit would bring to remembrance all the words Jesus spoke to the them (John 14:26) and guide them in all truth (John 16:13). Their words carried this authority because, in reality, they were the words of Jesus and of God.
The scriptures make it clear that as the church was established it followed the instructions and ordinances provided by the apostles. On the day of Pentecost after hearing about their guilt in hanging the Son of God on the cross the convicted multitude desperately looked to the apostles and asked, “Men and brethren, what are we to do (Acts 2:37)?” Upon hearing Peter’s instructions those who believed gladly complied and continued to follow their teaching. “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them. And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread and in prayers (Acts 2:41 & 42).” From these passages the apostles’ role of establishing doctrine and ordinances of the church is clear. When answering the question from the multitude they provided instruction on how an individual accepts the risen Christ as their savior (Acts 2:38). Then after the multitudes’ conversion it was the apostles’ teaching and instruction that lead the church. This pattern continues through the book of Acts and the letters written by the apostles in the New Testament.
The teaching and example the apostles provided is the foundational basis of the church. God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit provided them with the capability and authority to establish the doctrine and operation of the church. Even though the apostles are long dead and buried the necessary teachings and example they left behind are preserved in the word of God. Like the multitude on the day of Pentecost, questions of “what are we to do?” should still be directed to the apostles’ doctrine and teaching. Their words and deeds carry the same authority today as they did when they were first spoken. The doctrine they preached is the doctrine the church is to follow. The organization and function of the church they taught is the organization and function the church is to follow. The path to salvation they proclaimed is the path to salvation. Their example and teachings are ancient landmarks meant to guide the church in truth and holiness. The church should strive to follow their teachings and build upon the foundation they established.