Why It Really Matters That Apostles Exist Today

imagesWhen I write or teach, I tend to speak quite a bit of theo-babble while forgetting to consider many practical matters. And we should remember that theological talk (or babble) without practical application really doesn’t serve the body of Christ.

So I’m aware of my tendencies.

In the midst of this series on the ministry gifts spoken of in Eph 4:11-16, some might ask, What’s the point? Why does it all matter?”

Really, why does it matter? Is it really that important whether or not we believe apostles or prophets still exist today? Not to mention, if we want to hold to such a belief, we’ve got a lot of Christianity standing against such a belief.

But here’s the thing: It’s not just about whether one believes apostles and prophets still exist today. It comes down to what I have emphasized from the first article: Jesus was the great apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher, and his great desire is that his body, his representation on the earth, continue in those same ministries. As I keep reiterating, we are to be all of Christ in all of the earth.

The broken record is still turning, still repeating, I know. But I cannot emphasize these things enough. Matter of fact, if we lay aside the ministry of apostle and prophet, I believe we will be missing a large portion of the ministry of Christ (two-fifths by mathematical calculation, if that’s important). That’s quite a lot to sever from the ministry of Christ.

Now, having said that, I find much comfort in the reality that God doesn’t need our permission in regards to outworking his purposes. Whether or not people recognize apostles and prophets, he will get on with his work in his world. I’ve met people in my life that might not be recognized as having an apostolic ministry, but there are pointers in many ways to the ministry in their lives.

This isn’t too different from other gifts amongst the body. There are plenty of folk who haven’t been identified as evangelists, but they still carry an important role of bearing good news and drawing people to the aroma of Christ. The same with shepherds and teachers.

So God will be God in accomplishing his purposes.

However, I would say there is a benefit with identifying these two needed ministries of apostle and prophet today. They will help equip and prepare the community of Christ to be apostolic and prophetic. They will because that is one of the major points within the life of these two gifts to the church.

Do you remember Paul’s words to the Corinthians in regards to spiritual gifts: I do not want you to be uninformed (1 Cor 12:1). And I assume the same would stand true with apostolic ministry. Many will wonder what an apostle or prophet is. Aren’t they the blokes that wrote Scripture – and we don’t do that anymore? Well, that’s just it. That really wasn’t their primary focus, all though some of them had such an important task.

So it might be worth taking some time to be informed, diving in a bit more to determine what it means to be apostolic and prophetic.

Yet, on the other hand, I’m personally not bothered about titles. Well, matter of fact, I’m not sure we can find precedence for these five ministry gifts in Eph 4 being labelled as “titles”. They are ministries, meaning they are serving gifts. That is of utmost importance here! They are given to the help equip and prepare the body of Christ for serving the body and the world. And as they equip and prepare us, we will move towards unity and maturity, which is the goal offered forth in Eph 4:11-16. The mandate is quite clear.

So, this really does matter – again, not the title, but the ministry function. We really want to be all that Christ has called us to be. And so, if one is not interested in recognizing present-day apostolic and prophetic ministries, I don’t think it would be the end of the world. But, in all, we must get on with being an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching community. That is our call as the body of Christ, since he, himself, lived and breathed the call of these five ministry gifts.

Lastly, Paul tells us that these gifts were given: until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”

I think we can all agree we are not there yet, which is one great pointer as to the deep-seated need for these ministries today. How are we going to get there without two-fifths of the ministry of Christ? Can we get there?

Those are questions I’ll leave you to ponder.

But let us be challenged as to why this really does matter.


24 thoughts on “Why It Really Matters That Apostles Exist Today

  1. Surely the Apostle Paul (Saul), was the LAST Apostolic and certain “Apostle”!

    “Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me! … Whether then it was I or they, so we preach and so you believed.” (1 Cor. 15: 8-11)

    “For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.” (2 Cor. 12: 11-12, ESV)

    It does seem that the “signs and wonders and mighty works” of the Apostles and Apostolic are quite passed! But now we have the/this redemptive history (2 Cor. 2: 14-17), in the NT Canon especially, in this Day of God’s Grace & Glory!

    • Robert –

      I think the normative passages argued for the ceasing of apostolic ministry are misapplied. But I’ll come to many of those along the way.

      As to 1 Cor 15:8-11, this passage is normally offered in tandem with the argument that apostles must have seen the resurrected Christ. But the thing is, we don’t know if folks like Barnabas, Apollos, Junia, Silas & Timothy ever saw the resurrected Christ. There were apostles that might have not physically encountered Christ post-resurrection. So I don’t think the argument from 1 Cor 15 actually supports any notion that apostles ceased with Paul.

      Also, noting 2 Cor 12:11-12, the thing is that Paul uses the word “signs” in 2 different ways. The first use – “signs of a true apostle” – has to do with his suffering (not in regards to “signs and wonders”). This is in opposition to the so-called super-apostles. Paul is arguing that a true apostle is attested by his suffering, which these fake apostles had not undergone. He, then, secondly refers to “signs” in regards to things like miracles and hearings.

      We’ve got to pay a bit better attention to both the wording of particular passages and the sweep of the NT.

      Of course, we could always ask why Paul said that apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds & teachers were needed UNTIL the church reaches unity & maturity (Eph 4:11-16). I suppose we can agree we aren’t there yet?

      • Scott: Of course the use of the word “apostle” (sent-ones) itself, simply must be seen in the biblical context! But the Apostle Paul was very “adamant” about HIS Apostleship! And I myself don’t see him sharing that with any others, save the 12! But I shall read your arguments! 😉 Though as a classic “churchman”, and surely Protestant, though Anglican, my mind is fixed on the classic view of cessation!

      • Robert –

        A couple of things:

        1) How about Barnabas’ role in shaping & helping Paul after his conversion? It’s something similar to the role Priscilla & Aquila had with Apollos. Barnabas assisted Paul early on before they worked as a team together.

        2) What do you personally mean by “NT apostle”? Are there only 13 of those? Do we get a kind of definition that there are only 13. Where does James fit into that, making that 14? I think the formulated box isn’t going to hold as tight as we think – at least as we read the Scriptures as is without forcing them into a particular system.

  2. @Scott: Barnabas was most certainly one (note one) of Paul’s apostolic delegates, but was and is he an Apostle like one of the 12? Most certainly not, he has not left the Church the history as per a Peter or John, etc. And then of course a Paul!

    As to “James”, well since he was a “brother” or relative in reality to Jesus (not a blood brother). And his place in Jerusalem, and the Jerusalem Church, he had certainly an Apostleship like his own. But the standard per se of an Apostle is simply (as James btw), was one that had been chosen by the Lord Jesus Himself, and had seen his Resurrection! And we cannot forget as Paul said: “The signs of – literally- of the apostle, a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” (2 Cor. 12: 12) Surely the true and real signs of the Biblical Apostle/Apostles appears to be in full cessation. That’s my position anyway, and the general history of Christendom!

    • Robert –

      How is Barnabas only an apostolic “delegate” when he was instrumental in helping connect Paul with the other apostles located in Jerusalem and they worked together as a team, side by side?

      Ok, from what we have in “writings” we might say Barnabas did not leave the church the history as Peter, John or Paul (though, again, would Paul have launched out in the way he did without Barnabas?). But Simon the Zealot, Andrew and others did not have such a known ministry, but they were still apostles. Remember Scripture itself identifies Barnabas as an apostle (Acts 14:14).

      Yes, apostles have encountered the risen Lord & were chosen by him, but I think we put such a strict barrier on this when we say it had to be “in person”. I’d argue Paul didn’t have this “in person” in the way the others did. James, Barnabas, Apollos and others were apostles – not delegates, but actual apostles. An apostle is an apostle. There are only apostles, not super-apostels and delegate apostles.

      And 2 Cor 12:12 says more fully: The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience…… with signs and wonders and mighty works.

      Again, the first use refers to the suffering, which was very different from the boasts of the “super-apostles”. And this is qualified with these signs being done with “utmost patience”. Suffering as a true apostle with utmost patience. AND he performed signs, wonders & mighty works.

      • Scott: One thing is most certain about St. Paul, he did NOT share his Apostleship, in the very strict sense with anyone else: “Paul, an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised Him from the dead). (Gal. 1: 1) And as we know Barnabas was the first to see Paul’s great change from Paul’s preaching of Christ, (Acts 9: 20-22). And Barnabas was the first one that…”took hold of him (Paul) and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road”…etc (Acts 9: 27.. thru verses 30.) Note Barnabas was himself given his name (“son of comfort”) by the Apostles.

        There is simply NO evidence of “biblical” signs, wonders & mighty works of any so-called Apostles after the first century!

      • @Scott: Actually you are the one that has missed it here! Note my point about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, (before and after). Before this great and wonderful reality, there was simply NO NT Church, (John 7: 39)! And the Apostles really connect the Old Covenant with the New, but surely not until the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ, and the fullness of the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 1: 4-5 ; 8 / chapter 2, especially verses 30-36!)

        Indeed God IS Sovereign… In both Covenants! Again, the Book of Acts is a Book of Transition, from the Old Testament ground, to the New! (Acts 1: 6 ; 8 ; 28: 23-31) But God will fulfill His promises to National Israel, in His time & purpose! (Rom. 11: 26-32, etc. / Acts 1: 6 )

    • And btw, the great ministry and apostleship of Paul is most certainly one of a kind itself! HE simply wrote most of the NT Letters themselves. St. Paul was THE Apostle to the Gentiles or Nations! And too Paul always sought to go to his Jewish people and nation first! (Rom. 1: 16)

      “But I am speaking to you who are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify my ministry, if somehow I might move to jealousy my fellow countrymen and save some of them. For if their rejection is the reconciliation of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead?” (Rom. 11: 13-15)

      Btw Paul knew God would return to the nation and people of Israel! But, only a Remnant will be saved in the end, (Zech. 13: 8-9)…a “third”…”And I will bring the third part through the fire.” But oh the “fire” in the day of “great tribulation” (Mk. 13: 19-20 / Matt. 24: 29)! And btw too, we are seeing more and more the apostasy of the Gentile Nations today!

      • The NT words spoke mainly into their historical context. The judgment came upon apostate Israel, as Jesus had told it would within a generation of his statement. Now a new Jerusalem, a new creation, a new people has been formed – one ekklesia & bride – made up of Jew & Gentile. 🙂

      • I maintain that Barnabas was a sort of low case “apostle”, or more fully an apostolic delegate, but nothing like the “office” of the early 12, or certainly Paul’s “Apostleship”! But of course Paul’s apostleship was one of a kind! His whole ministry is from the Risen & Ascended “Christ Jesus”, which we see more fully especially in the so-called Prison Epistles.

        And of course my point was the full aspect to the signs and wonders that was part of the gift of the 1st century Apostles, they have surely ceased! This is the general position of Christendom, and has been for centuries.

      • @Scott: That text by itself (Acts 14: 14) only shows that both Paul and Barnabas were acting as sent-ones as missionaries, in the name of Christ and the Church. I have admitted that the term “apostle” can have a secondary sense. But, in the sense that Christ called His Apostles (men) “par excellence” (the Twelve, etc.), they are like no other, with St. Paul also! See any good Bible Dictionary (like the old James Hastings).

        This is quick, I know.. more maybe later?

      • Robert –

        I began reading Acts again yesterday. It’s interesting how many will focus on two aspects of what makes one a true apostle, coming from mainly two passages in Acts 1:

        Vs2 – after he had given commands through the Holy Spirit to the apostles whom he had chosen.

        Vs21-22 – So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.

        The two points:
        1) Physically hand-picked/chosen by Jesus
        2) Witnessed his resurrection

        First off, on point 2, the wording of this is more likely that there would testify that Jesus had risen from the dead, rather than having physically seen the resurrected Jesus. And Paul still wasn’t “chosen” in the way the 11 were (not including Judas).

        But here is the ironic thing – what about Judas’ replacement, good ol’ Matthias? He actually does not fall into category #1 – physically hand-picked by Jesus. He was actually chosen by the 11, and that being through casting of lots. Now, I have no problem with the casting of lots, as it was a very Jewish practice (i.e., Prov 16:33).

        But Matthias doesn’t fit the usually prescribed method of these 2 points. Now, some might try & pull a quick one on us and say – “Yes, but he does fit into the statement in Acts 1:21 that says: accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us.”

        But, then again, Paul doesn’t fit that one.

        I’m fine with some of the parameters offered for consideration. But, in actuality, Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, James, Apollos and others don’t neatly fit into those boxes. Yet, they were actual commissioned apostles who had a very important ministry in those early years.

      • Some scholars believe that the Church’s choice of Matthias, and really the whole turning back to the Jewish system of lots, was simply NOT on NT ground! For me the essence of the Apostles was Christ’s choice of the original 12, and of course Simon Peter! (Luke 6: 12-15, see too verses 17-19)

        Indeed the choosing of Saul/Paul was quite a most definite and even different Apostleship! Which the Book of Acts, and of course Paul’s own Letters quite reveal!

      • I’m happy with Matthias’ replacement, sense Scripture never says it went wrong, not to mention that the Jews were used to the casting of lots (Prov 16:33).

      • The casting of lots was surely an OT thing, note the Urim and Thummin, etc. One should see magic, divination, and sorcery in the OT also. The belief of the power of spells, in the thought of the efficacy of “cursing” and “blessing” when these were uttered by specially endowed persons (Num. 22: 6 / Jug. 5:23). Again see the old James Hastings Dictionary Of The Bible. There is no mention again of any casting of Lots, after the Baptism of the Holy Spirit!

      • You’re still not dealing with the text, but serving a system in your mind. Matthias was chosen, through the help of casting lots because they believed the Lord controlled it, with Scripture never dismissing that choice of Matthias. I’m not advocating casting lots as a way to discern the Lord now. I’m saying there it is and I’m pretty sure the sovereign Lord, whom you also believed in, directed the choice of Matthias. And he did not fit into the usual “categories” of a preferred system about what makes an apostle.

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