The Continuance of the Apostles

It was he [the ascended Christ] who gave some to be apostles (Eph 4:11)

It would be interesting to know how many of my readers don't believe in modern-day Apostles. However, in much of the church the received wisdom is that the ministry of Apostles died out with the original twelve. There is some difference of opinion as to how Matthias (who the eleven appointed to replace Judas) and Paul fit in to this picture. Some maintain that the eleven jumped the gun and that Paul was God's chosen replacement for Judas, others that Paul was an exception, a one off addition - one "abnormally born" into apostleship.

To many who hold this view the idea of finding a modern day Apostle is as shocking as finding a living dinosaur, or it is viewed with deep suspicion as something cultish.

However well established such received wisdom may be, one must ask the question - is it Biblical?

If Paul was the only Apostle who was, or ever would be, appointed by the ascended Christ, why doesn't Eph 4:11 read, "It was he who gave one to be an apostle"? Or, even clearer, since it was Paul himself who was writing it, "It was he who gave me as an apostle." Examining the context of Ephesians 4:11 closely you will see that Paul clearly implies a plurality of apostolic ministry appointed by the ascended Christ.

The New Testament itself also bears testimony to the plurality of the ascension-ministry apostles. Although Paul is the best known apostle appointed by the ascended Christ, he is not the only one. Barnabas is referred to as an Apostle, and so is James the Lord's brother (Ac 14:14, Ga 1:19). Neither of these men where among the original twelve.

So if the apostolic ministry extended, as the Bible clearly teaches, beyond the original twelve, then the automatic assumption that this ministry terminated circa AD100, with the death of John, is no longer justified. We must look for another cessation criteria. We don't have to look far, Ephesians 4:13 gives the same criteria for all the ascension ministries: "Until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."

This also silences the second biggest objection to modern day apostles, for Eph 4:14 does not say, "Until the Canon of scripture is complete", but "Until the church reaches maturity!" Despite what some assert most strongly, and incorrectly, the continuance of apostles does not necessitate an open Canon. Although apostolic approval was used as a litmus test for inclusion in the New Testament Canon of scripture by the church councils, this does not mean that the role of an apostle is integrally entwined with the writing of Scripture! There were scriptures written by those who were not apostles, and apostles who wrote no scripture. The establishing of the ascension ministry of the apostle, and the completion of the canon of scripture are two independent events in the purpose of God that just happened to overlap for the first century. If the purpose of an apostle was revealed to be the writing of scripture, we would be correct in assuming the need for them had passed, but since the New Testament teaches they are necessary to bring the church to maturity and to a full measure of the fullness of Christ, then they are most certainly still needed today!

This last point is critical, for Christ himself was and still is an Apostle (Heb 3:1): for he was sent (root meaning of apostle) from the Father. And he chose the twelve that he might send them out too. In fact he stated, "As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you." The Apostle, like all the other ascension ministries, therefore, has a measure of Christ's own gift to impart to the church (Eph 4:7). Without apostles the ministry gift of Christ is incomplete, and so will be the image of Christ that is formed in the Church. This is why it is vital that all these gifts including apostles remain until Christ is formed in the church in all fullness and maturity. [See Aspects of Christ]

One of the criteria for Christ's second coming is that the Bride has made herself ready (Rev 9:17). This will not - can not - happen without the ministry of apostles. This is Paul's own apostolic teaching as laid out in the fourth chapter of Ephesians.


carl said...

I think the assertion that there are no more apostles is in part based on misunderstand about who the original apostles were and what they did. Many claim that the Apostles wrote the NT. But most did not have any writing canonized and Luke did a lot of writing.

On another note, if an apostle is one sent by Jesus then we know there were at least 94 apostles. Luke 10:1 says He sent out 72 others. The apostles seem less exclusive and less special when viewed in these terms.

I think the error in current apostolic terminology is that the modern trend is to call what is biblically a bishop, an apostle.

I firmly believe that there are those who are gifted to function in apostolic ministry, and just like the first hundred or so apostles, a few will stand out from the rest by the design of God and the rest will live mostly anonymous lives.

They are not special, just gifted for a specific ministry.

Mark H said...

FWIW, I suggest that some misuse the term Apostle to mean uber-Pastor where they also misuse the term Pastor to mean Leader (one of one) or Elder (one of many). I suspect there are many people operating in the apostolic gifting who do not carry the title, just as there are many operating in the pastoral gifting who do not carry the title (and vice-versa).

IMHO, with respect to Ephesians 4 nouns, we would do well to de-emphasise title and instead restore a recognition, appreciation, and appropriate honouring of gifting - i.e. look to the fruit, and celebrate the strengthening of the church. For example, Paul seems to refer to himself as Apostle for the purpose of recognising his God-appointed function. He chooses to step up to the plate with humility and a desire to serve, rather than seeking to establish a title or position.

I believe that all the gifts exist, operate, and remain necessary until Jesus returns. I believe that they all serve and strengthen the church, and they should be recognised as they visibly mature in individual servants. But I suspect that we have a cultural pre-occupation with badges, titles, and position, which is used by the enemy to deny us the blessing of gifts serving the church as God intended.

A challenge for you Chris: how about some articles helping us to further understand what the Bible says an apostle is (and is not). Help me to develop my understanding.

Elwyn Jones said...

Yet again Chris you have posted a challenging and throught provoking blog, especially to those of us who believe that the Apostolic office ceased with the death of John the Apostle, for it's qualification was that the holder should be a witness of the Lord's Resurrection, and Paul was a witness of that (1 cor 15; 3-8 )

However those of us still believe it's the Will of God that the office of the successor's of the Apostles, the Pastors, Elders and Teachers of God's flock should be filled by Holy Spirit chosen men (acts 20;28 )

Without getting into a long discussion on the subject of modern day Apostles I would be interested to know if you see us in any type of error or even sin if we reject these modern day Apostles ?

May I say I have appreciated Mark H comments and what Carl has said.
and I enjoy your blogs.

Chris HH said...

I also like what Mark says, particularly: "I suspect there are many people operating in the apostolic gifting who do not carry the title." Which is undoubtedly true.

First, because, as Carl points out, all who are sent by Christ are "apostles" in the same way that all who share the good news are "evangelists". Part of the function of the ascension-ministry Apostle is to make us more apostolic in this way - so that we represent Christ to the world.

Secondly, a man is either an Apostle or not by virtue of the measure of the gift of Christ that he carries to the church, not by the badge he wares. Mark also made this point clear.

Calling someone an Apostle does not make him so, but equally not recognising an Apostle for what he is does not cause him to cease to be what Christ has made him. I believe there have been many such men throughout church history.

It's not a question of sin, but of revelation (of which none of us have a full measure). It goes beyond just using the right names, or ticking the right box in your spotters guide to ministries. There is a blessing to be had when those who not only have a gift to the church, but are such a gift, are recognised and received for what they are.

"The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet's reward"

Matthew said...

Chris - your drawing out of Eph 4 the point that Paul talks of apostle as a gift of the ascended Christ clearly shows that the 12 apostles of the Lamb could not be the only apostles as their call was prior to the ascension.

So the NT ifself suggest 2 orders of apostles, those who were eyewitnesses to his earthly ministry and resurrection (the Apostles of the Lamb) and those appointed by the asended Christ.

I also fully support the idea of unrecognised apostles in the church - particularly as we look through history to periods of great advance of the church where the office of apostle was not recognised or even looked for.

Jerry said...

I agree fully with the present day ministry of apostles. Far to often the emphasis is on the apostle and we forget they worked in concert with other ascension gifts, not to build churches or establsih coverings over other Christians but for the purpose of preparing the Bride, not just raising up a few leaders, but equipping ALL the saints, until we all grow up into the Head. That hasn't happened yt, SO we still need ALL theascension gifts working together to accomplish the purpose of God.

tigi32@earthlink.net said...

The Church will not be the Church He died for until the Body functions wholly and complete. Without the acceptance or gift of the apostle and prophet the Body is deformed and will not be Who it should be. The Church needs sound doctrine. I believe the churches in other countries like China for instance are undergoing persecution because of the Word and not the Church. There is a difference. One persecution is global and the other is not. In spite of all of this the Church will be the Church. It is inevitable in Him.