PDF Document on Apostles Today

Last Friday, I finished out my lengthy, 17-article series on apostles, specifically putting forth a case of why apostles continued to exist following the first century AD and up to today.

No one wants to browse 17 articles on my blog and read them all. Well, I don’t even know if anyone wants to read any of the posts. But, if you are interested, below I have uploaded the complete series in PDF document form. It is 53 pages long, so well in depth. But hopefully it can be of use to others.

Click on this link here – Intro to Ephesian 4 Ministries & Apostles

What Is An Apostle?

Many will know I am that blogger guy who believes apostles still exist today. That is a loaded statement, is it not?

Apostles exist today?!

It has been quite a while since I posted an article on my lengthy series on apostles today. You can review the previous 16 (yes, 16!) articles by clicking on this link. But do be advised that, early next week, I will post a PDF document that will contain the whole series in one place. That might be easier for people to access if they would like to engage with me on this topic.

Still, as a summary, my major premise was mainly four-fold:

  1. Christ was the greatest apostle to ever exist. We might not have thought of him as an apostle, but he was.
  2. The Holy Spirit was sent in Christ’s stead to continue the exact same work he began. Thus, the Spirit of God is an apostolic Spirit.
  3. Christ, by his Spirit, has empowered the church to be all of Christ in all of the earth.
  4. Thus, Jesus desires to have both an apostolic body as a whole and continue to gift people in apostolic ministry.

As I progressed through the series, there were 3 specific sub-issues that I hit on:

  1. Apostles in New Testament Scripture
  2. Objections to the existence of apostles today
  3. What an apostle actually is

I addressed the first 2 above, but not the third. Hence, this final article on what an apostle actually is. As a forerunner, you might be interested in this very practical post on what should be true in the lives of all leaders within the church. Apostles, or shepherds for that matter, do not have some ‘position’ or ‘title’. Rather, they have a ministry to serve the body by equipping it to be all that Christ would have it be.

Now I move on to highlight seven summary points about apostles.

Sent One

As I repeatedly emphasised, noting the essence of the Greek word, apostolos, an apostle is a sent one. And all apostles are specifically sent and commissioned to a particular mission task. It does not mean all missionaries are apostles. Some missionaries will function in other ministries like that of an evangelist. Nor does one have to go to far-off nations abroad to fulfil an apostolic ministry. But, in whatever task they have been appointed to by Christ, they are ‘sent’ knowing they have a particular mission-task to accomplish.

Foundation Layer

Apostles are foundation layers, as we saw in our discussion of Ephesians 2:20. As previously discussed, they are not called to lay a completely different gospel foundation from the first apostles (and prophets). Rather, while treasuring that very important foundation, the call of apostles (and prophets) today is to lay foundations that equip the church to live out the gospel in this day and culture. Specifically, as foundation layers, I would say that apostles are spiritual architects par excellence.

Equipper

As with all five ministries of Ephesians 4:11-13, apostles are called to be equippers of God’s people so that the body of Christ can get on with ministry and be built up in Christ. And, at the same time, this will assist the body in moving towards the ultimate goal of unity and maturity.

We can see an example of laying foundations and equipping through the constant work of both Paul and Barnabas in the book of Acts. Many times we see them returning to the churches they had established, all that they might strengthen the disciples and even appoint leadership in the churches. See these insightful passages below:

  • Acts 14:20-23
  • Acts 15:41
  • Acts 16:5
  • Acts 18:23

Servant

Apostles are servants, as Paul stated about the ‘true signs of an apostle’ in 2 Corinthians 12:12. The great apostle, Jesus, was the greatest servant ever (see Matthew 20:25-28). Therefore, we should expect apostles to be exemplary in serving (washing feet and laying down their lives) as well.

Teamwork

Apostles believe in teamwork, not in lone-ranger ministries. This we see in the life of Christ and in the life of people like Paul. They also recognise the importance of accountable relationships. Though they have a strong and important measure of gifting in God, they do not get a free pass on being accountable to the body of Christ. And, of course, in understanding such an important call, they will take joy in such relationships with Christ’s body.

Authority, Anointing and Revelation

Apostles will carry a special authority and anointing given by Christ to help the church be strengthened and equipped in fulfilling the purposes of God. They are also people of revelation (Ephesians 3:5-6). Again, this will not contradict the tenor of Scripture. But we live in a world today in which the dynamic life of the Spirit of God is available. We need God’s Spirit to continue to provide revelation for living out Christ today. Apostles will be utilised in such to help the body of Christ.

Also, I would note that apostles would be people generally utilised in the miraculous. Some will have a stronger miraculous ministry than others, no doubt. Just as some leaders in Christ’s body hold a stronger measure of teaching than others, etc. Of course, looking at New Testament apostles like Barnabas or James, we are not certain if they were ever used in the specifics of miracles and healings. So, though some would claim this as a hard-line proof of apostolic ministry, I wouldn’t be so dogmatic. Yet, as a general acknowledgment, I recognise that apostles have been and will continue to be people who function in the miraculous.

Leaders To Leaders

We could say that, as foundation layers, apostles will be people of wisdom, insight and compassion, providing leadership to leaders. Or, I might state it this way: apostles are pastors to pastors, shepherds to shepherds. This is to be seen as a great blessing to other gifted leaders.

Of course, I could have spent loads of more time fleshing out these characteristics. But suffice it to say, these are seven very important factors in the life of those who are apostles (whether first century or today). Remember, apostle is not inherently defined as Scripture-writer. Though some of the first apostles were utilised in the recording of the New Testament Scripture, it is not part and parcel to such a ministry, noting that plenty of apostles never penned Scripture.

Keep your eye out for the full PDF document post next week.

Wayne Grudem on Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5

Many people who have spent time studying pneumatology (theology of the Holy Spirit) and the gifts of the Spirit will probably be aware of Wayne Grudem and the works he has written around such topics. Grudem believes the charismata gifts of 1 Corinthians 12 still exist today. He is one of the many ‘theologically-minded’ and scholarly Christians now standing as advocates for these gifts of the Spirit. Others are Sam Storms, John Piper, Gordon Fee, Mark Driscoll, Jack Deere, and many other such people.

Though one can get a taster of his theological stance on the gifts of the Spirit in his Systematic Theology (pgs1016-1088), another of his writings, The Gift of Prophecy in the New Testament and Today, gives a much more in-depth treatment of the gift of prophecy, as you would expect from such a title.

grudem prophecyThough the book definitely stands as an evangelical stalwart for study on the gift of prophecy, I believe the book fails to incorporate the full biblical teaching on prophecy, as well as the nature of apostles and prophets. I want to deal with one area where I believe his work has some shortcomings. This revolves around his discussion on New Testament apostles. With this specific matter, Grudem offers what I believe is faulty exegesis on the passages of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5. You can see his discussions in chapter 2 of the book (pgs45-47), as well as in his Appendix 6 (pgs329-436). Remember, this is in the revised edition from 2000. I don’t believe earlier copies have Appendix 6.

Before analysing some of his words, let’s quote the two biblical passages. I shall give a little bit of context around these verses up for discussion:

19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Eph 2:19-22)

4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Eph 3:4-6)

What does Grudem teach about New Testament apostles and prophets by looking at these two Scriptures? The two bullet points below are a summary of his thoughts:

  • New Testament apostles are equal to the Old Testament prophets in their authority. Therefore, these two groups, NT apostles and OT prophets, are the authoritative recorders of Scripture.
  • Subsequently, New Testament prophets have much less authority than New Testament apostles.

In discussing the two Ephesians texts, Grudem gives four possibilities of how to understand the roles of apostles and prophets in the New Testament. Those possibilities are below, with the emphasis being his own:

  1. the apostles and the Old Testament prophets
  2. the teaching of the apostles and New Testament prophets
  3. the apostles and New Testament prophets themselves
  4. the apostle-prophets themselves (that is, the apostles who are also prophets)

His conclusion is that the best interpretation can be found with the fourth option. For Grudem, from a New Testament perspective, these two verses in Ephesians teach that apostles and prophets are mainly one joint ministry rather than two distinguishable ministries. Such helps maintain his viewpoint that New Testament apostles are the authoritative writers of the New Testament while the prophets of the Old Testament era were the authoritative writers of the Old Testament.

Grudem goes on to state:

After considering these views…it seems best to me to conclude that Ephesians 2:20 has meaning 4, that the church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles who are also prophets,” and Ephesians 3:5 should be understood to mean that the mystery of the Gentile inclusion in the church “was not made to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles who are also prophets by the Spirit.” (p46)

But such a view only seems contrived to prove one’s point rather than to be carefully founded in exegesis of the Scripture. For starters, in every other place outside of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5, apostles and prophets are actually distinguished from one another. The two main places we see this distinction are:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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 (Eph 4:11-13)

28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? (1 Cor 12:28-29)

One other major point Grudem brings up to try and prove that apostles and prophets are one group in both Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 is that, in both instances in, the definite article ‘the’ is found before the word apostle, but not before prophet. Thus, Paul is referring to one joint authoritative group, mainly apostle-prophets.

Theologian, Edmund Clowney, who oddly enough used to be Grudem’s seminary professor, and they maintain a great relationship to this day, answers Grudem in his own work:

The absence of the article before ‘prophets’ in Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5 indicates, then, not that prophets are identical with apostles, but that they are closely linked with them since they, too, receive and communicate revelation. (The Church, p261, italics mine)

This makes perfect sense, for we see prophets carrying a very unique and important ministry amongst the body of Christ within the New Testament. Some examples are:

  • Acts 13:1-3 – Prophets utilised in the apostolic commissioning of Paul and Barnabas together.
  • Acts 15:22-35 – Following the Jerusalem council, Judas and Silas, who were prophets, accompanied Paul and Barnabas on their trip to Antioch. We read that these two were ‘leading men among the brothers’ (vs22) and of their strengthening role they had to the church (vs32). Noting that in vs32 we are told these two are prophets, we can assume that the verse is not simply telling us they were simply doing a little encouraging. But it is highly probable the strength and encouragement came out of their prophetic ministry. Not to mention Silas’ continued role in Paul’s apostolic-ministry team.
  • 1 Cor 12:28 – Though I am not up for pyramid-like leadership structures, we still get a sense of the important role prophets had from reading this verse – first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…
  • Eph 4:11-13 – Prophets are part of a team of ministries that are given by Christ to the church to help equip and prepare them for ministry. They have quite a significant role, along with apostles, evangelists, teachers and shepherds.

I’m not negating the role of apostles, nor would I even look to negate their primary role within the New Testament. But apostles never replaced prophets in any sense. They both existed alongside each other, as we find in the testimony of the New Testament itself. Prophets were foundation layers, in conjunction with apostles (hence Eph 2:20 and 3:5). Prophets were revelatory communicators, and still are.

Therefore, my conclusion is that apostles and prophets are two distinguishable ministries, yet both working together in an all-important, authoritative role within Christ’s body. For practical purposes today, this does not mean we add to the biblical canon, making their words the rule of faith for the entire body of Christ for all time. But, by His Spirit, God still utilises these ministries in relaying revelation from God. And such would make sense, for God has always been communicating even outside the bounds of the biblical canon. This was even taking place in biblical times as Scripture was being authored and inspired by God.

So, when God speaks today, it doesn’t mean we write 4 John or 3 Thessalonians or 1 Brussels. It simply means that, as people speak forth revelation (or what they claim as revelation), we learn to weigh it against Scripture, keep it before the leaders we are connected to, keep it before the wider body we are in relationship with, and pray for discernment. It doesn’t make it easy. But it makes us move towards becoming the men and women God desires His body to be – hearers of His word. How amazing to hear the living God through both His written revelation and through His spoken revelation.

Thus, in all, though I do believe I understand the desire of Wayne Grudem to uphold the importance of the revelation of God as found in the trustworthy, God-breathed canon of Scripture, I do not believe that we faithfully accomplish this by somewhat watering down the role of prophets, claiming that apostles replaced prophets as the only authoritative revelatory communicators of the new covenant era. Nor can I agree with another major premise of his, mainly that God’s revelation can come to the mind (or spirit) with 100% accuracy, but by the time it is spoken from the mouth of humans today, it is no longer 100% accurate. But, hey, challenging that notion is for another day and another time. In all, I would call Grudem to rethink his exegesis of Ephesians 2:20 and 3:5

Jesus the Apostle Video

In the past, I have written plenty of articles here at The Prodigal Thought defending the present-day ministry of apostle and considering what an apostle would look like in the world today. I have always looked to centre this theological belief in Jesus Himself. Why? Jesus was the greatest apostle to ever walk the earth, the great sent one from the Father. And, not only that, but Jesus sent the Spirit to continue His apostolic work and empower the whole body of Christ to be apostolic. Thus, according to Ephesians 4:11-16, one of the greatest gifts given by Jesus to help the church become apostolic is the ministry gift of apostle.

That’s a brief summary, and you could read more of my thoughts by doing a search for ‘apostles’ on my blog. But more than that, I provide an hour’s teaching video below entitled Jesus, the Apostle. A close friend and ministry partner of mine, Alan Scotland, specifically looks at what it means to be an apostle and does this by considering specific aspects of Jesus’ life. Christ is the great apostle, so it’s best to look at His life and apostolic ministry. I hope the video stirs you.