Archaeologists working in what they believe to have been the biblical city of Bethsaida claim to have recently found the Church of the Apostles, a fifth-century church supposedly built over the home of the disciples Peter and Andrew.
While it will likely take at least a year to be certain, the mosaic tiles found in the location “only appear in churches,” according to Professor R. Steven Notley, who helped lead the project.
In 725 AD, the Bavarian bishop Willibald toured the Holy Land and wrote of seeing the church of Peter and Andrew, but, until recently, there had been little evidence to corroborate the report. That no other churches have been found in the region supports the notion that the latest discovery is authentic.
However, as Notley said, “It would be normal to find an inscription in a church of the Byzantine period, describing in whose memory it was built.” Until such an inscription is unearthed, it will be difficult to verify the claim with any real certainty.
Given the significance of Peter and Andrew—and if the location can be verified—the Church of the Apostles is likely to become among the most popular historical sites in the region, and particularly for members of the Roman Catholic Church since they consider Peter to be the first pope.
Does the Church of the Apostles matter today?
As exciting as it would be to find verifiable evidence of such an ancient church, does anything about this story take it from being merely interesting to being personally relevant?
After all, we don’t need the Church of the Apostles to exist to believe that Peter and Andrew did. And, even if the church is proven to have been built over what fifth-century Christians believed was their home, how can we know they were correct?
So, what relevance can this story have beyond possibly piquing our interest for a few minutes or offering a welcome distraction from the other news of the day?
Ultimately, there are three reasons I believe this discovery is relevant to our lives and our mission to help the lost find the Lord.
First, this discovery reminds us that we serve a God who has been faithfully worshiped by his people for thousands of years.
In our culture, it can be easy at times to feel isolated in our faith or to question its legitimacy in light of current social trends and accusations of irrelevance (or worse). While the truth is not based on how many people have done something or for how long, it’s reassuring to know that, when we worship, we also join a legacy of believers that extends so far into our collective past.
The same God who was worthy of worship sixteen hundred years ago is still worthy of our worship today.
Second, the Church of the Apostles reminds us that persecution will come, but our faith is built on something that goes far beyond whatever challenges it might face.
Around ninety years before Bishop Willibald would have passed by the church, this region of the Holy Land fell to the Muslims as they expanded north. While the building was apparently left standing, any who worshiped in it did so under very different conditions from when it was founded.
Our faith is not new. It predates any challenges from those who would like to discount it and has stood strong against attacks from governments, opposing religions, societal movements, and popular opinion long enough for us to take comfort in the fact that it will survive whatever current generations can throw at it.
While our history gives ample examples of how we have not always navigated those battles well, God has protected his church and will continue to do so.
Third, the Church of the Apostles was built because the men over whose home it was established were faithful to the calling they received from their Lord.
Peter, Andrew, and the others among that first generation of believers recognized Jesus as humanity’s only hope for salvation. They took that message forth into the world around them with courage and conviction. We can read about their stories and study their methods, but, if we don’t follow their example, then our churches will one day resemble the ruins that were recently discovered.
Our mission—then and now
Our culture is no more lost than that of ancient Rome. It is no more immoral either. And the challenges it poses are no greater than those overcome by those first generations of believers.
That doesn’t mean our mission will be easy, but Christ didn’t promise ease. Rather, when he challenged his earliest believers to go and make disciples of all nations, the only thing he guaranteed was that he would always be with them (Matthew 28:16–20).
And that was enough.
The Church of the Apostles is relevant today because our faith is relevant, and our mission has remained unchanged from that of the earliest believers.
How will you continue their legacy?