I recently preached on the nature of Apostolic ministry today at The Bridge Church – A couple of people have said it is the clearest teaching on it they have heard. Unbelievable! So here is my manuscript, hope you find it clear and helpful too! You can listen here too
Asked to talk about “Apostles in the modern church” and what that means to each one of you!
Start from a baseline – range of understandings and probably misunderstanding in the room today!
Used to be that you’d only call someone who lived post 300AD an apostle if they were an amazing missionary and they are dead – so people like Hudson Taylor or J.O.Fraser
Recent years find the term being used far more freely – seems more modern or Biblical than the term Archbishop. So you find lots of African Pentecostals Apostle Blah Blah. Some churches use it as the title of the senior leader of the Church – all very hierarchical.
Others use it as a title for an entrepreneurial leader.
So what is an apostle – a conference speaker? Leader of a large church? A guy with lots of air miles? Barney Coombs wrote this “Let me give you a Biblical picture of an apostle: he is a weak little chap with a poor voice (2 Cor 10:10) a jailbird (Acts 16:23. He looks under-nourished and his clothing is disreputable (1 Cor 4:11). If you look at his hands they are stained and cracked by the hard work of softening skins and sewing them into tents, of that is his livelihood (Acts 18:3). At times he is very ill, even despairing of life (2 Cor 1:8-11; Gal 4:13; 2 Cor 11:30). Perhaps these infirmities have come from the terrible sufferings he has undergone (2 Cor 11:23-28).
Nevertheless many struggle with term. There are I would say four views about apostles today
- Cessationist – the view that most of the gifts of the Holy Spirit described in the New Testament ceased after the first century, including the gift of apostle. That view is based on an interpretation of 1 Cor 13:8-10 Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away.
People would say that “perfect” is the Canon of Scripture- so that once the full revelation of the New Testament was given there is no longer any need for partial forms of charismatic revelation. In answer to that I would say that “perfect” is when Jesus returns and we see Him face to face. Spiritual gifts to build up the Church won’t be needed then.
- 12 Plus Paul – often with the view that Matthias who replaced Judas was a mistake and they should have waited for Paul. The view here is that the 12, apostles were witnesses of the resurrection (Acts 1:22) and they were important to make sure we got an accurate NT revelation about Jesus. They were in essence infallible Scripture writers and to claim to have that authority today is wrong.
The problem with this view is that most of the 12 didn’t write any Scripture and a lot of the New Testament was written by non-apostles like Luke and Mark! The New Testament a lot more apostles like Adronicus and Junias, Apollos, Barnabus and James.
Why would Paul need to warn the Corinthians (2 Cor 11:13) to be on the look at for false apostles, if apostleship was confined to the 12 and Paul?
- Some Ministries today but not apostle – here gifts continue, but not the gift of apostle. This view acknowledges that Jesus gave all five of the ministry gifts for the founding of the church, but not all continue today.
Open your Bibles to Ephesians 4
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building 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 mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
So MLJ argued only pastor and teacher exist today – writing of the evangelist: “as churches were established and became more settled, this office likewise disappeared”. His view was that an apostle had to have witnessed the resurrection and been commissioned by the risen Lord in person and have a supernatural revelation of truth that is infallible.
I’d say a more natural reading of Ephesians 4 is that all the gifts are needed by each generation to help us be quipped for ministry, built up, looking to attain unity, maturity, stature and protection from being blown around!
- Fourthly there is the view that all the gifts and ministry gifts are available to day
Most of the other views are cleared up when you realise that there are three types of apostle in the New Testament!
1) Jesus is our apostle and high priest Heb 3:1
2) The 12 were the apostles of the resurrection – foundational to the whole church and whose names are symbolically written on the foundations of the new Jerusalem to come!
3) Apostles of the ascended Christ – given according to Eph 4:11 to equip the church in every generation. As Terry Virgo puts it “They were not witnesses of His resurrection, but gifts of His ascension”
When you see that you see apostle isn’t gone because they were scripture writers, the gift is there to equip the church in every generation for maturity!
When you see what Paul was like from earlier and that job description in Eph 4 you see it is not hierarchical at all. Indeed Paul while confronting the Corinthians health and wealth “Kingship” in 1 Cor 4:8-13 writes this
Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Without us you have become kings! And would that you did reign, so that we might share the rule with you! For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are wise in Christ. We are weak, but you are strong. You are held in honor, but we in disrepute. To the present hour we hunger and thirst, we are poorly dressed and buffeted and homeless, and we labor, working with our own hands. When reviled, we bless; when persecuted, we endure; when slandered, we entreat. We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.
Some of you will have been in settings with a very hierarchical view of leadership – where apostles have the biggest car or there is a great deal of heavy shepherding. Paul turns that on its head.
What do apostles do?
1) Lay foundations
a. Overall purposes of God – Paul wanted his churches to understand the revelation of the mission of God in the world is being done by Jesus and His Church. In the book of Ephesians he lays out that role, wanting them to grasp that as members of that church they were part of God’s mission.
It’s not just me and my salvation and my church – we are part of a bigger thing that God is doing.
Apostles paint that picture and get us caught up in it. So you are caught up in what we are doing in King’s Lynn and boy have your prayers, words and finances have helped what we are trying to establish there!
b. Correct doctrine and application – not blown around by every wind of doctrine – that is explicitly laid out as a purpose of the Ephesians 4 gifts. People get blown around by all sorts of strange teachings or even taking things to extremes – all the more so with the internet and Christian TV – quite the daftest example I heard of was an appeal by a TV channel for a million trees to be planted in Israel to welcome the Lord back. Daft! When Jesus comes back He is going to renew and restore all things anyway. What a colossal waste of money and energy.
The early church were devoted to the Apostles teaching – and today apostles help us ensure correct doctrine and application from Scripture in the churches they oversee and care for.
c. Elders – when a church is planted by an apostolic team, the responsibility lays with that team until elders are appointed. Paul returned to Ephesus to appoint elders – who had emerged and been recognised by that church and then commissioned and had hands laid on by the apostles. Apostles check propsective elders out in accordance with1 Tim.
2) Establish Churches
Apostles are concerned with planting churches – which is the best way of evangelising an area. Sometimes Paul went into a town to plant by preaching, or by debating in the synagogue. The whole of Asia was saturated with church plants (acts 19) because Paul taught daily in the hall of Tyrannus – he worked hard in the morning making tents, spent the siesta training people and then the evening visiting people house to house – sounds like hard work to me
a. Preaching the Gospel
b. Sending teams
3) Father to Churches
Pauls was an exceptionally relational guy – he mentions 70 people by name in his letters! In 1 Thees 2 he writes “For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God.” He told the Corinthians to imitate him by observing his spiritual sons!
4) Ongoing care
Paul provided ongoing care through repeat visits letters and sending his team to visit. True apostolic ministry won’t always mean the apostle himself visits every 6 months – Paul sphere was too big for that and the same is true today. Often he would spend some time laying foundations for a while, then move, write a letter, send Timothy or Epaphroditus and so on. Picking the right people to come and serve.
5) Regions beyond
The next aspect is looking to the regions beyond 2 Cor 10:15 Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our sphere of activity among you will greatly expand,16 so that we can preach the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in someone else’s territory. The apostle is lookingto open up new areas for the Gospel
6) Care of the poor
The Jerusalem council of apostles released Paul to his apostleship to the Gentiles with the proviso that he remembers the poor, which in Galatians he writes as the everything I wanted to do. The church laid their money at the feet of the apostles in Jerusalem to care for the poor and the same happens today through local churches.
So what?aught up in apostolic mission
King’s Lynn – supported, loved and prayed for, provided for
Should I stay or should I go? – church planting in the nations – leaders and followers. Priscillas and Aquillas
Rob & Karen Foreman – elder who worked for Shell, early retirement, visits Churches for a period to encourage them!
How should we receive apostles?
Welcome them warmly – Acts 15:4 When Paul & Barnabus came to Jerusalem they were welcomed by the Church… Acts 21:17 When we arrived at Jerusalem we were welcomed warmly.
Be expectant for a great download! Mt 10:41 Anyone who receives a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward – the same must be true of a prophet! If we receive someone as a God-given apostolic ministry, that is the deposit we will get. Expect to receive impartation and from God through them!
Listen carefully to what they say Acts2:14 “listen carefully to what I say.” – ask questions, listen, draw them out
Try to expose them to homes as well as big meetings 1 Thess 2:8 says Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. – be very careful of the guy that wants a nice hotel room!
Anticipate being a blessing and encouragement to them too Rom 1:11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith.
Send them on with love and prayer Acts 15:33 After spending some time there, they were sent off by the believers with the blessing of peace to return to those who had sent Don’t be so in awe of them, you don’t send them off with gratitude, love and prayer.