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Are There Still Apostles Today?

Table of Contents

Group 1 - "The Founders of the Faith"
Group 2A - "The Founders of the Churches"
Group 2B - "Those that Follow the Founders"
Group 3 - "Those that Think Apostolically"
Group 4 - "The False Apostles"
Conclusion

Does the church of God still have apostles today? Are all claimants to apostleship today frauds and imposters ripping off a gullible Christian public? If genuine apostles exist what can we expect them to be like? I've heard two common answers to this 1.The apostolic ministry ended with the death of John the apostle or at the formation of the New Testament. 2. Apostles exist today they are called missionaries. ("Missionary" comes from the Latin "mission" I send, as "apostle" comes from the Greek "apostelo" to send.) As I sought an answer to this question I found that the New Testament seems to have the apostles grouped in different categories. Four of these categories probably still exist today and the fifth "The Twelve" have passed into history. Now the categories are my own and you might want to put things slightly differently however I find them a useful framework when thinking about the topic of apostles today.

Group 1 - "The Founders of the Faith"

These were the miracle working witnesses to Jesus who knew Him from the days of John until the ascension and were filled with the Spirit at Pentecost. As the eyewitnesses to Jesus ministry their testimony can never be replaced. These are the Twelve, minus Judas, but including Matthias. Some theologians speculate as to whether Paul not Matthias should be the twelfth apostle. However while Paul did not see himself as inferior to the Twelve he never includes himself among them. The qualifications of those in group A, are neatly summed up by Peter in...

(Acts 1:21-22 NIV) "Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, {22} beginning from John's baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection."

These 12 have a very special place in God's Kingdom (Revelation 21:13-14 NIV) "There were three gates on the east, three on the north, three on the south and three on the west. {14} The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb." None of these "Founders of the Faith" exist today, and so those who answer "No" to the existence of apostles are right at this point.

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Group 2A - The Founders of the Churches

These are those who are called apostles, do not rank among the twelve, but play a foundational role in the spread of the gospel. Their task is to go into regions that have not yet heard the gospel and establish the church. They are the Paul's and Silas' - front line pioneer missionaries and establishers of movements of God. These apostles saw miracles as light conflicted with darkness and suffered poverty and persecution, just as many of God's faithful servants do today.

I would include the great reformers and re-establishers of the faith in this apostolic category. Men like Martin Luther, John Wesley and George Fox must surely be considered as having more than a merely pastoral or teaching gift. Theirs was a God-given authority to plant movements of God. Such apostles are characteristically itinerant with large "territories". They are highly sensitive to political realities. Unable to stand still too long they see themselves as part of a dynamic move of God. As leaders they have a sense of momentum about them that carries both them and others forward. As administrators they are opposite in temperament to the steady pastoral types whom they leave in charge of the works they establish. Paul describes some characteristics of this kind of dynamic suffering apostleship:

(2 Corinthians 12:10-12 NIV) "That is why, for Christ's sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. {11} I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the "super-apostles," even though I am nothing. {12} The things that mark an apostle--signs, wonders and miracles--were done among you with great perseverance."

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Group 2B - Those That Follow The Founders

Paul planted, Apollos watered but God caused the growth. After the great founding apostles come those who establish and deepen their work - Paul and Apollos, Peter and Mark, Luther and Melancthon. Paul seems to have had a dedicated missionary band that followed up on areas he established - Barnabas, Titus, Silas, Timothy and Apollos are among the more prominent names that come to mind. Many of the early bishops fall into this category. Theologically this category is indistinct from the previous group but the observed differences in temperament and function between founders and followers indicates that a separation for functional reasons may be useful. This is particularly so for understanding correct staff placement and in aiding conflict resolution. Church history books are full of comparisons between founder and follower.

Unfortunately, they also record the conflicts and misunderstandings that can arise between these very different temperaments - from Paul and Barnabas onwards (Acts 15:37-40).This steady minded group of apostles seek to stabilise the work and grow the church in the grace of God. Those that follow the founders often appoint pastors and church leaders and train the church in the apostolic teaching

(Titus 1:5 NIV) "The reason I left you in Crete was that you might straighten out what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you.". Paul instructs Timothy

(2 Timothy 2:2 NIV) "And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others."

Some of these were itinerant but others simply had a fairly large local area (such as Crete or Ephesus) appointed to them. This group of apostles are essential to the perpetuation of the faith in a recently evangelized area. A movement of God quickly becomes too great for a single human being to oversee. Unless the new churches are properly tended and firmly established they can quickly go back to their old ways. This group of apostles tends not to participate in the miraculous. Scripture records very few miracles at the hands of most of those that follow the founders (Barnabas being a notable exception) - yet they are still named as apostles.

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Group 3 - Those That Think Apostolically

They are the apostles that seem to be confined to a local church or under the authority of a more senior apostle. They can be both male and female. Andronicus and Junia (Romans 16:7), the two anonymous apostles in Scripture (2 Cor 8:18-23), and Epaphroditus (Phil 2:25-30).They have the common gift and office of apostle.

(Ephesians 4:11-12 NIV) "It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, {12} to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up."

It is not an easy task to characterize these "miscellaneous apostles". The key to understanding them seems to be that they are apostles because they view the church of God through their gifting as apostles. Each gifting has its own way of viewing the church. Evangelists tend to see the church as a rescue station for the lost, pastors tend to see it as a place of growth and nurture and so on for each of the ministry giftings. Apostles have their own way of viewing the church too. Those who think apostolically ask questions like "Is this church walking in the truth? At what points is it departing from the purity of the gospel? What issues of discipline and ethics need to be raised?". Apostles are concerned with the general health of the church.

This fourth group of apostles often exist under the authority of the local church or of other apostles but their heartbeat is for the general health of the church. In authority they are not like Titus who was to be received "with fear and trembling" (2 Corinthians 7:14,15) neither do they seem to possess the fearful disciplinary powers that both Peter and Paul exercised (Acts 5:11, 2 Cor 10:1-9). Rather they are honored brothers and sisters in Christ who serve God faithfully and keep His church healthy and balanced (2 Cor 8:18-24).

Many a missionary today has this role. They serve alongside and under a national church where they help to develop leadership and maintain health and balance in the churches they are responsible for. They are honored brothers and sisters in Christ and faithful servants of God. They are reported as being ill or as suffering for the gospel (Romans 16:7, Phil 2:26,27). They do not seem to abound with the miraculous or have an all conquering faith. They are commended for diligence, faithfulness and sacrifice for the cause of Christ as well as for their outstanding and godly character ( Romans 16:7, 2 Cor 8:18-24, Phil 2:25-30).

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Group 4 - The False Apostles

It is sad to say but not all who claim to be Christ's are his, and many who claimed to be apostles were not. This was such a common problem that one early tract "The Didache" contained instructions on how to distinguish between false and true apostles. An over- concern with money and comfort seems always to be a distinguishing feature. Judas is of course the perfect example. False apostles are addicted to Mammon and betray Christ. Paul speaks of false apostles who were setting themselves up rather nicely at the expense of the Corinthian church:

(2 Corinthians 11:13-20 NIV) "{13} For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. {14} And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. {15} It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve. ....{20} In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face.". Such "apostles" do not preach the true gospel but one of their own manufacture tailored to their listeners desires.

(2 Corinthians 11:3-5 NIV) "But I am afraid that just as Eve was deceived by the serpent's cunning, your minds may somehow be led astray from your sincere and pure devotion to Christ. {4} For if someone comes to you and preaches a Jesus other than the Jesus we preached, or if you receive a different spirit from the one you received, or a different gospel from the one you accepted, you put up with it easily enough. {5} But I do not think I am in the least inferior to those "super-apostles."

The church was to test those claiming to be apostles, presumably a test involving life and doctrine. The resurrected Jesus commends the Ephesian church for their diligence in this matter.

(Revelation 2:2 NIV) "I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false."

False "evangelists" preach "another gospel" (Galatians 1:6-9); false teachers teach doctrines of demons (1 Tim 4:1-7); false prophets lead people into idolatry(Deut 13:1-3); and false shepherds feed on the flock (Jude 1:12); so false apostles teach false doctrine and plant deceptive and erroneous "movements" contrary to God (2 Cor 11:1-23, Romans 16:18). These false workers share certain common characteristics. They divide and erode the Christian church (Romans 16:17-19). They are among Satan's chief workers (2 Cor 11:13-15). As leaders they often possess a great deal of personal power and a certain charisma (2 Cor 11:5,6). They masquerade as servants of righteousness (2 Cor 11:13-15) but when tested lack any real character (Matt 7:15-21, 2 Peter 2:1-3).

Unfortunately, they are often quite successful in their deception. One of the most frightening words in the New Testament is the "many" (Gk. "polloi" meaning a multitude, most, a majority) of Matthew 7:22. (Matthew 7:22-23 NIV) Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' {23} Then I will tell them plainly, 'I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' This is in the immediate context of deception by false prophets. It suggests a deception that will be amazingly successful and ensnare most of the earth.Jesus reinforces this later on the Mount of Olives:

(Matthew 24:24 NIV) "For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and miracles to deceive even the elect--if that were possible."

Paul reiterates this to the tender and persecuted Thessalonian church:

(2 Thessalonians 2:9-11 NIV) "The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, {10} and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved."

I believe the church of God is in great danger from false apostles and false prophets. However the solution is not to deny the apostolic and prophetic giftings but to have our senses trained to discern good from evil. The problem of false or inferior prophecy reared its head in the young Thessalonian church. Paul's exhortation was to godly discernment not fearful reaction.

(1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 NIV) "Do not put out the Spirit's fire; {20} do not treat prophecies with contempt. {21} Test everything. Hold on to the good. {22} Avoid every kind of evil."

One quick test is to look at their ministry in the light of the cross. Does the claimant to apostleship accept that the only path to power is via the cross? Do they see servanthood as their lot? Or do they exalt themselves and name their ministries after themselves? Do they see godliness as a means of great gain or are they prepared to be content in humble circumstances? How do they react to criticism? A "crucified disciple" is hurt but humble. Apostles can be judged by their life and character, their fruits, their doctrine, their love and their attitude to the body of Christ. If all these line up with God's word then the apostle is truly one sent from God.

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Conclusion

Claims to apostolic authority by some leaders must be taken with considerable caution. By far the majority of apostles active in the church today are in the third and fourth groupings. I cannot think of any Christian leader who I can say is of sufficient apostolic stature to have generalized disciplinary powers within the body of Christ. I am also very skeptical of those who claim to be "the Lord's anointed" apostles. Some have gone so far as to say that God will slay their critics for speaking against them or that to speak against their ministry is to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. These claims are the manipulative resorts of false apostles. No New Testament apostle ever implies that criticism of his ministry is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. Even Jesus did not claim this of Himself (Matthew 12:32). We must beware of men who "compare themselves with themselves" commending themselves through the use of worldly status symbols such as wealth, international travel, unearned doctorates, and titles. Scripture speaks plainly when it says that such "super-apostles" are unwise. (2 Corinthians 10:12 NIV) "We do not dare to classify or compare ourselves with some who commend themselves. When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise." We should not be unwise but wise in whom we approve as true apostles...

(2 Corinthians 10:18 NIV) "For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.

Despite these cautions there is an exciting place for the gift of apostle within the body of Christ. Genuine apostles are an enormous blessing to the church - they are the "doctors" that keep us healthy and united. We should not let the fear of false apostles stop us from recognizing them. False teachers abound but we still develop Bible teachers - and so we should. The best protection against the false is abundant exposure to the genuine. So true apostleship should be not be feared but rather nurtured and encouraged along Biblical lines. We often intuitively recognize people of an apostolic gifting. However when we fail to understand the limits and function of the gift we can make unsatisfactory appointments.

Apostles need a large area to operate in, they are "big paddock" people. They are more like "ranchers" than "shepherds". The practice of appointing returned missionaries to a small church needs to be reevaluated. If they have had an apostolic role their vision may be too large for the "energy level" of the small church to bear. Mutual frustration can be the sorry result. If we are to properly utilize their giftings they should be circuit preachers, denominational officers or ministers covering a wide area where their enormous energy and vision can be properly channeled.In summary -the New Testament seems to have different classes of apostles ranging from the Twelve to the unnamed brothers of 2 Corinthians. They all possess the apostolic gifting and are all called apostles - "ones sent out". They all have a measure of authority given to them by God.

Their common characteristic is their intense concern for the health of God's church. The upper ranks have all seen the resurrected Christ and performed miracles. The lower ranking apostles seem to lack these spectacular distinctives. However, they do share in the gifting and the apostolic mental orientation. As true apostles abound so false apostles deceive. We are not to gullibly follow all who claim great authority in Christ or all who possess miraculous powers. We are to show discernment and wisdom - encouraging the true gifting and rebuking the false.

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