The end of Matthew’s gospel has Jesus proclaiming that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. This seems to be a proper starting point and the source of the church’s authority. Some will argue that the authority is in the apostles (especially Peter) and the traditions they hand down. Yet if we look at the biblical record, the traditions are very simple. Gospel. Baptism. Eucharist.
The gospel proclaimed by the apostles was not overblown theological fluff, nor elaborate dogmatics, nor propositional arguments for God’s existence. The gospel story evinced in apostolic preaching is that of a Jewish rabbi that was crucified and was raised from the dead. The call to respond to the gospel wasn’t and isn’t responding to things about him but rather responding to him. This living Christ is the one in whom to find salvation, healing, forgiveness, peace and reconciliation. Things are made right between God and humanity and between fellow human beings in Christ.
Baptism is the symbol of the reception of that person the gospel proclaims. The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is symbolized in the immersion (death) and raising up (resurrection) of the believer. The picture painted in baptism is powerful yet simple. This powerful simplicity likewise can open the possibility to presenting the gospel again to those who witness it. Baptism also symbolizes our entry into the new covenant and the community if that covenant.
The final tradition handed down is the Eucharist. This is the celebration of the broken body of Jesus Christ and of the blood he shed for the new covenant. The Eucharist was taken within the context of a meal. The later reduction of the celebration to a wafer and a sip of wine seems to overlook the sense of community found in a communal meal. Likewise, the service of the Eucharist limited to one person takes away from the priesthood of all believers and the serving of one another in the church. The Eucharist is a celebration that all should have the privilege and opportunity to serve to one’s brothers and sisters in Christ.
The apostolic traditions are not elaborate but simple. This simplicity however does not mean that a wealth of meaning and spiritual insight is not available in these traditions. A minimalist view of apostolic tradition provides a simple expression of Christian faith in practice, which one can easily pass on. Granted simple need not provide an outright rejection of sophisticated expressions either. Simplicity allows for a starting point that is accessible to all.
Just as the person of Christ is the source of the apostolic traditions, so too is he the source of any authority in the church. Only one man has all the authority for the church, that man is Jesus Christ. So do we look to the Sent One or someone else? Do we embrace the simplicity (and depths) found in Christ or someone or something else? Should what we pass down to new believers become a who instead?