What is an 'Apostolic' Church?

I often see churches that call themselves apostolic in their name. What does this mean, and how is it different from the catholic idea of apostolic succession?

Apostolic Churches
The epithet Apostolic (apostolikos) occurs as far back as the beginning of the second century; first, as far as known, in the superscription of Ignatius’s Epistle to the Trallians (about 110), where the holy bishop greets the Trallian Church (en apostoliko charakteri): “in Apostolic character”, viz., after the manner of the Apostles. The word Apostolic becomes frequent enough from the end of this century on, in such expressions as an “Apostolic man”, an “Apostolic writing”, “Apostolic Churches.”

All the individual orthodox churches could, in a sense, be called Apostolic Churches, because they were in some more or less mediate connection with the Apostles. Indeed, that is the meaning in which Tertullian sometimes uses the expression Apostolic Churches (De Praescriptionibus c. xx; Adversus Marceonem, IV, v). Usually, however, especially among the Western writers, from the second to the fourth century, the term is meant to signify the ancient particular Churches which were founded, or at least governed, by an Apostle, and which, on that account, enjoyed a special dignity and acquired a great apologetic importance. To designate these Churches, Irenaeus has often recourse to a paraphrase (Adv. Haer., III, iv, 1), or he calls them the “oldest Churches”. In the writings of Tertullian we find the expressions “mother-Churches” (ecclesiae matrices, originales), frequently “Apostolic Churches” (De Praescriptionibus, c. xxi).

At the time of the Christological controversies in the fourth and fifth centuries some of these Apostolic Churches rejected the orthodox faith. Thus it happened that the title “Apostolic Churches” was no longer used in apologetic treatises, to denote the particular Churches founded by the Apostles. For instance, Vincent of Lérins, in the first half of the fifth century, makes no special mention in his “Commonitorium” of Apostolic Churches. But, towards the same epoch, the expression “the Apostolic Church” came into use in the singular, as an appellation for the whole Church, and that frequently in connection with the older diction “Catholic Church”; while the most famous of the particular Apostolic Churches, the Roman Church, took as a convenient designation the title “Apostolic See” (Vincent of Lérins’s Commonitorium, c. ix). This last title was also given, though not quite so often, to the Antiochian and to the Alexandrian Church.


It is not possible, in a summary, to give an account of the missionary labours of the Apostles and of the foundation of Christian Churches by them. we have, if not complete, at least sufficient, information about the preaching and the works of St. Peter in Jerusalem, Antioch, and Rome; of St. James the Elder in Jerusalem; of St. John in Jerusalem and Ephesus; of St. Paul at Antioch, Iconium, Lystra, Derbe, Troas, Ephesus, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, Corinth, and Rome. In these towns - and not all entitled thereto are included in the nomenclature - there were Christian communities founded by the Apostles that could be called Apostolic Churches. However, when the writers of the second and the third century speak of Apostolic Churches, they refer ordinarily to some only of these churches. Thus, e.g., Irenaeus (Adv. Haer., III, iii, 2) mentions the Roman Church, “the greatest, most ancient and known to all, founded and established by two most glorious Apostles, Peter and Paul”, the Church at Ephesus, and the Smyrnaean Church, where he was Polycarp’s disciple. Tertullian enumerates others (De Praescriptionibus, c. xxvi): “You who are rightly solicitous for your salvation, travel to the Apostolic churches. . . . If Achaia is not distant, you have Corinth. If you are near Macedonia, you have Philippi, you have Thessalonica. If you can go to Asia, you have Ephesus. If you are in the neighbourhood of Italy, you have Rome.” Then follows a splendid panegyric of the Roman Church, the first among the Apostolic Churches (see also c. xxii).

I live in the US. I don’t believe any of the apostles stopped by Michigan during the 1st century.So why then, do these churches use ‘Apostolic’ in their names. Especially if they aren’t catholic?

Same reason Mormons put Jesus on thier Church -
Make themselves “FEEL” better

But what is their claim to being ‘Apostolic’?

None - Call them and ask them

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit www.catholic.com.