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Bring Forth the Apostles and Prophets!
In Ephesians 4, Paul describes the five ministry gifts that will lead to the church:
But to each one of us was given grace according to the gift that Christ measured out … And he gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some pastors and teachers. They would equip the saints for the work of service to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the adult population of the fullness of Christ. (Eph 4:7, 11-13).
In my Swedish house church, we once looked at this passage and realised that not only are the apostles and prophets extremely rare in the West, but when they still show up, we become terrified. Especially if they dare to call themselves apostle or prophet. This probably stems from the prevalence of cessationism in Protestantism, which elevated teaching as a major component of church life while prophecy and apostleship were viewed as obselete.
Today, most European churches have abandoned cessationism, and many realise that the Bible does not limit the title “apostle” to the twelve guys closest to Jesus. Yet, we have incredibly difficulties using the terms apostle and prophet. We look with skepticism when, for example, Christians from Africa are not afraid to liberally use these terms for describing their leaders. (more…)
Are there Apostles Today?
The issue of modern apostles is a controversial one; since the apostles had such authority in the early church, modern-day apostles obviously would have a great degree of spiritual authority, and people usually doesn’t like that. The historical churches argue that their bishops are sort-of modern day apostles, and several Pentecostal and charismatic churches use the a-word when describing some of its leaders, especially in the majority (so-called “third”) world. Some evangelicals protest against this, arguing that there are no apostles today. I think they’re wrong.
To solve this question we obviously have to define what an apostle is. The word apostolos means “being sent out”, and when we look at what the apostles did in the New Testament, they were translocal church planting leaders who did miracles (Paul says that miracles are the sign of an apostle in 2 Cor 12:12). Now, these people do hang around today. Surprise Sithole, Heidi Baker and Hans Sundberg are just some people that have those kinds of ministries. Still, some are not ready to call these people apostles.
The main reason for this is that they point to Acts 1 where Matthias is elected to be an apostle since he has witnessed Jesus life from His baptism until his ascending to Heaven. Thus, since nobody has seen that today there are no apostles today, the argument goes. But if one thinks that the Acts 1 description is the definition of apostle, then Paul isn’t an apostle.
The key is of course that “the twelve” and apostles are not the same thing – there are many apostles, Paul lists additional ones in his letters (e.g. Rom 16:7). I would say that the Biblical understanding of an apostle is what we today call missionary – somebody travelling around planting churches, spreading revival and equipping the body of Christ. We’ve got rid of the title, not the ministry.
The Ministry of the Apostle
“Pastor” comes from the Latin word for shepherd, and is commonly used as a description for the person leading a congregation. You know how many times the term is used in that sense in the Bible?
Once: Ephesians 4:11.
The other ministries Paul lists there – apostles, prophets, evangelists and teachers – are much more described and discussed in the Scriptures. Still, in many churches and denominations today, pastors are much more common than apostles and prophets (and often evangelists as well).
Let’s focus on the ministry of the apostle. The Greek word describes someone who have been send, a clear illustration to Matthew 28:18-20. Looking at the lives of Peter, James, John, Paul and the others we see that their ministry simply is about missions and church planting. It’s a translocal ministry that equip local churches and start new ones so that the Gospel may reach the end of the world.
Catholics and Orthodoxs have tried to replace the ministry of the apostle with church tradition. Protestants have tried to replace it with the Bible. In both cases, apostleship is viewed as something cessational and temporary, a ministry that gave us the foundation of our faith only in order to disappear after that. This is contradicted by the simple facts that:
1. Apostleship is never described in the Scriptures as something that would cease or decline; on the contrary, more and more apostles pop up the further we read the New Testament (Rom 16:7, 2 Cor 8:23).