Do Apostles Really Exist Today?
Apostolic Foundations and Apostolic Patterns - Part 2
What Does Scripture Say?
Are there apostles today? First and foremost, the Bible must be our authority. So what does it say? If God Almighty dropped a book down to us on the proverbial desert island, and we knew absolutely nothing of what the twenty-first century church was saying or doing, could we possibly come up with anything vaguely resembling the religious world today just from looking in the Bible? No possibility.
What would you decide about the nature of the Church and the way it functions? Could you come up with “Sunday morning worship services”? I’m afraid not. Even the phrase “first day of the week,” is not Biblical; the literal translation is “first of the week,” not “first day of the week.” But even if it did mean “first day of the week,” how many times does it appear in the book of Acts? You can count the number of occurrences on one hand, from the beginning of Acts all the way to the end of 60 years of recorded church history. Their lives together as the people of God did not revolve around Sunday mornings—that is a settled fact.
But if we were to record twentieth century American church life, every other paragraph would read: Sunday morning we did this; Sunday morning we did that; Wednesday night we did this. That’s what you would read because about 98% of what we call Christianity in the world today happens on Sundays and Wednesdays. That tells me that if we were recording history today, “first day of the week” would be in every other paragraph. But in the first 60 years of church history, when God’s Glory exploded, they only mentioned the first day of the week a couple of times. Can we ignore such a discrepancy? No! I’d say that Biblical Christianity has nothing to do with Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. And if the Bible is our only standard, rather than the traditions of men, our lives had better not center around special days either. And that’s only the beginning.
What would you decide about apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers? Let’s zero in on the question of apostles, as it relates to foundations and patterns. Do they exist? If you were to eliminate everything you ever heard about the subject and just looked at the Bible, I suspect you would come up with a dramatically different conclusion than what the evangelical, fundamental world has come up with in these last days. Somehow the lack of power we see around us is justified by a doctrine of our own imagination, a doctrine that holds that apostles are obsolete. In the New Testament we clearly see that the apostles testified with great dunamis, great power. We see the testimony of power in the apostolic life of the first century, and because we don’t see that power today, we wrongly conclude that it isn’t meant to be.
Do you see the faulty logic? The Bible says that God will display apostolic power in His Church. But we don’t see it, so we conclude that there’s no such thing. We’ve got the cart before the horse. We’re trying to create a doctrine based on what we see with our own eyes, rather than based on God’s Word. We feel the need to rationalize our powerless existence by creating a doctrine to explain it. That’s not acceptable. God did give us a book, and I intend to look at it with brutal honesty and not shut my eyes to what I see Biblically in order to create a doctrine to explain my own failures and inadequacies. I’m going to call upon the Word of God as the standard.
“All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the Word of the Lord endures forever” (1Peter1:24-25).
Men are like grass and have failed for generations, but the Word of God endures forever. I don’t explain what I read by the grass of the last 2000 years; I explain it by the enduring rock of the Word of God. That’s my Rock—that’s the only place I stand. I don’t care if no one else is living in the fullness of God’s power and presence, I’m not going to give my life over to the “grass,” to men and their traditions. Even if I never see all that God says is “His inheritance in the Church” (Eph.1:18), I refuse to settle for anything less than what the Word of the Lord, which endures forever, says the Church must be!
Even if I never see it with my own eyes, I’m going to be like the people of Hebrews 11: “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. For those who say such things declare plainly that they seek a homeland. And truly if they had called to mind that country from which they had come out, they would have had opportunity to return. But now they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country. Therefore, God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them” (Hebrews 11:13-16).
Those people were earnestly “looking for a city whose builder and maker (whose architect) was God.” I’m looking for that too—nothing less. And, like them, I have opportunity to turn around to the other world, if I want to. But I’m not going to do that. If we have that attitude and trust, God will not be ashamed to be called our God, and we will be His People.
I ask you again: Are there apostles today? If the Bible is our authority, what does it say about apostles? Does it really say that they would become unnecessary and “pass away”?
I’m not referring to the twelve “apostles of the Lamb” (Rev.21:14), whose apostleship was an office (Acts 1:17-26, 2:14, 6:2). Jesus called these men to be apostles before “He ascended on High” and “gave some to be apostles…” (Ephesians 4). Theirs are the only twelve names on the twelve foundations of the wall of the Holy City.
But what about those who were chosen by God after Christ ascended on high? Paul wrote that “when He ascended on high,” Jesus gave gifts to men: apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers. These are not “the twelve,” for they were called before the ascension! “When” is the literal Greek word in the text. Clearly then, there is a distinction made in the Word of God between the twelve apostles of the Lamb and those men who were called to be apostles when Christ ascended on high. The apostles who are included among the “ascension gifts” are those that we will consider as we explore the Foundations and Patterns of God.
All His Gifts
As in all aspects of God’s Truth, the apostolic of God has its beginning and ending “in Christ.” Every spiritual blessing is found in Christ (Eph.1:3). That means He had it first! Any gift you want to name, He had it first. “For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives….” He was the covenant Man who went before us and who, in bodily form, possessed all the giftedness of God Himself. And He was the Man who ascended and went and sat at the right hand of the Father in Glory. So every spiritual blessing is in Him. After He ascended, the gifts that Jesus Himself first had were then given to the entire Body!
Jesus was and still is the ultimate Apostle. He is the “builder of the house,” “the Apostle and High Priest whom we confess.” Jesus is the Great Prophet.11 He said of Himself that a Prophet has no honor in His hometown. Jesus is the Evangelist. He came to proclaim good news to the poor, to set captives free, to heal the lame, to give sight to the blind, to declare the year of the Lord’s favor. He came to seek and save those which were lost. He was manifest to destroy the works of the devil. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He came to replace those false shepherds of Israel who didn’t heal the sick, who didn’t bind up the broken hearted, who didn’t wrap the wounds of those who were lame, and who didn’t seek and save those which were lost. The long-awaited Messiah would be called the Son of David. And, finally, Jesus was the Master Teacher, as seen throughout the gospels. “Jesus began to do and to teach” (Acts 1:1). He began to teach them and they followed Him.
Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher. Jesus was the Master. The Standard. The Founder of all good things. It follows, then, that if all these Gifts are not part of the totality of the Giftedness of the Body, how can it really be the “Body of Christ”? How can we call ourselves the “Body of Christ” if all of Jesus’ Giftedness isn’t present?
“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being...” (Hebrews 1:3).
“And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way” (Ephesians 1:22-23).
No one man has all of the gifts except Jesus, who was the sum of all spiritual things. He was the exact representation of the Father, and the Father’s Glory was manifest in the face of Jesus Christ. He had all the giftedness of Deity. And because He, the firstborn from among the dead, ascended to the Father, we (plural) also can become partakers of His giftedness. We share in the fullness that was given to Him. The fullness of Christ dwells in His Body, the Church. All the Gifts that He had were taken and spread throughout the whole Body of Christ. If, as a whole, we don’t have ALL the gifts, then we’re not the Body of Christ. It’s just that simple.
And please do not be lulled into thinking that “the Body” refers to the Church “at large,” as some intangible, “invisible” entity out there that possesses all the characteristics of Christ. It was about relationships and responsibility and co-working daily within the visible, identifiable local Church—living out the Christ life together, “daily in public and from house to house.” Paul said THIS was the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way: the Body of Christ, “all together and lives merged,” where no one says, “I have no need of you” until next Sunday. In the very next chapter he wrote, “In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too (the Ephesian Church) are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph.2:21-22).
Building the House
Since Jesus is THE Apostle—the Builder of the House—HE is our standard for understanding the apostolic.
Jesus said, “I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it” (Mat.16:18).
According to the Hebrews writer, “Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself” (Heb.3:3).
“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain” (Psa.127:1).
So, when we talk about the building of God’s Church, we’re talking about apostolic things. The House of God can never be separated from the building up of the House of God. The two are inseparable, so we need the apostolic in order to be the True Church of Jesus.
And since the building is in shambles, how much more do we need the architekton, the master builder! Those who can read the blueprints in the Heavenlies and architect the construction project are just as vital as ever. They are just as vital now because the project is just as important now as it ever was, if not more so.
We’re not in this to merely exist, and “keep house.” We’re in this to become a habitation of God with ever increasing Glory—to grow up into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
But we’ve got to do it God’s way! Without this vital aspect of the giftedness of Christ, the apostolic, His Body will be disjointed and scattered. The “great power” (literally dynamo) of Acts 4:33 will be conspicuously absent. “The apostles testified with great power…and great grace was upon them all.” Great grace is the product of the apostolic life.
Until We Reach Unity in the Faith
“It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God, and become mature attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
Note the word “until.” It literally means “duration of time.” Has the Church reached the whole measure of the fullness of Christ? I think not. If we don’t have unity of the faith…if we don’t have the full knowledge of the Son of God…if we don’t have the full measure of the Stature of Christ (His productivity and fullness)…then we are not there yet. And if we’re not there yet, if the “until” hasn’t come yet, then the extinction of these Gifts from on high is impossible!
All of the Gifts—apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers—were given to the Church until we all reach unity in the faith, the full knowledge of the Son of God, and the full measure of the stature of Christ. If we can ignore that word “until,” then we might as well throw the rest of the Bible out the window as well.
Make no mistake about it, nowhere in the Scriptures are the gifts discussed separately as though some gifts would continue and others would not. That is a doctrine of men, and if a man writes his own scriptures, he makes himself out to be a god. I suspect we should be very humble and accept the Scriptures the way they are written. That’s not an overstatement.
The apostle John was called to write down the book of Revelation in about AD 96, long after the other 12 Apostles of the Lamb had died and graduated into Jesus’ presence. The Lord told him to write to the Church in Ephesus (Rev.2:2) that He knew they had tested those who claimed to be apostles but were not, and had found them to be false.
Didn’t John miss the perfect opportunity to say, “Hey, don’t you know I’m the last living apostle? Quit testing these men and just rest assured that there aren’t anymore left?” He could have, and indeed should have made that statement if it were true. But John did not perceive that he was the last living apostle. Otherwise, he would have called it “error” instead of encouraging the people to “test them.” Apparently, John didn’t think there could be no more apostles—they just needed to be carefully tested, since many were making false claims.
The Gift Not the Office!
There are as many as 23 apostles mentioned in the New Testament, not just the 12, 13, or 14 that most of us have been taught. Here are some more references where the literal Greek and the context of the passage point to apostles other than the “Twelve Apostles of the Lamb”:
Matthias (Acts 1:26).
James, the Lord’s brother (Acts 1:14; 1Cor.15:7; Gal.1:19; 2:9).
Paul (Acts 14:14; 22:21).
Barnabas (Acts 4:36, 11:22-30,14:1, 4, 14; I Cor.9:6).
Epaphroditus (Php.2:25, Messenger = Apostle).
Titus (2Cor.8:23, Messenger = Apostle).
Two unnamed (2Cor.8:23).
Timothy (Acts 19:22; 1Thes.1:1, 2:6).
Judas (Acts 15:23).
Silas/Silvanus (Acts 15:23; 1Thes.1:1, 2:6).
Erastus (Acts 19:22).
Paul’s calling as “one abnormally born” (1Cor.15:5-8) seems out of place if all you consider are the Twelve. In fact, the job description to be one of the Twelve included the requirement that he must have been “with us” from “the time of His baptism until His ascension” (Acts 1:21-22). Paul didn’t meet the qualifications. There are only Twelve names on the Foundations of the Holy City in Revelation 21, and Paul’s name isn’t one of them! Yet, he certainly counted himself among the apostles.
Paul referred to both Apollos and Barnabas in a manner which suggests apostleship. To the Romans, Paul wrote that someone else had laid a foundation in that city and that he had thus often been hindered from coming to them. Neither Paul nor any of the Twelve had ever been there. Perhaps Rom.16:7 gives us a clue. “Greet Andronicus and Junias… They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” The Greek actually says “viewed as outstanding apostles,” not “viewed as outstanding by the apostles.”
As already mentioned, false apostles still had to be tested, indicating that the matter was not as simple as taking the original twelve, subtracting one, and adding two. And apostles were given to the Church “until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (Eph.4:11-13). Let us continually cry out to God for all the Gifts He has for us!
It seems clear that the Holy Spirit considered Matthias one of “the Twelve” (Acts 2:14, 6:2, 4). And if Matthias was one of the Twelve, that makes Paul the thirteenth, at best. Paul is not on the foundation stone of Revelation, so he’s in a different class. What we are dealing with is not an office, but a gift.
Paul never claimed that his apostleship was to be recognized by everyone. “If I am not an apostle to others, yet doubtless I am to you. For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord” (1Cor.9:1-2). His was a gift, not an office.
“We, however, will not boast beyond proper limits, but will confine our boasting to the field God has assigned to us, a field that reaches even to you. We are not going too far in our boasting, as would be the case if we had not come to you, for we did get as far as you with the gospel of Christ. Neither do we go beyond our limits by boasting of work done by others. Our hope is that, as your faith continues to grow, our area of activity among you will greatly expand, so that we can proclaim the gospel in the regions beyond you. For we do not want to boast about work already done in another man’s territory” (2Corinthians 10:13-16).
8Mk.3:14, 6:30; Mt.10:2; Lk.17:5, 22:14, 24:10. Back
9Eph.1:23, 2:22, 3:19, 4:13, 24; Col.2:9-10; 1Cor.12:12-28. Back
11Heb.1:1-3; Mt.13:57; Acts 3:22. Back
12Lk.4:18-22, 19:10. Back
13Jn.10:11; Eze.34:8-24; Psa.23:1. Back
15See also 1Cor.12:12-28. Back
16The Greek word was architekton, or “architect.” Back
17This brings up an important point that I think needs to be clarified in today’s evangelical world. Knowing the Scriptures really well does not make one a layer of foundations. Just because a man has read his Bible backwards and forwards, that does not mean that he has the ability to read the blueprints of the Church. Never was a person called an apostle in the New Testament because he knew the Scriptures. It was a Gift from on high, and it is the same now. Back
18mechris—Strong’s #3360, 3372. Back
19Even if we were to assume that the Church has reached the whole measure of the fullness of Christ, this passage presents a problem for modern theologians. For that would mean that not only apostles and prophets, but also evangelists, shepherds, and teachers, have become obsolete! Back
20Another at least minor indication that apostles and prophets aren’t going anywhere until this is all over is found in Rev.18:20-21. The apostles and prophets will rejoice over the judgment of God on the world system (Babylon) “for the way she treated you.” To this day, it doesn’t seem that the world system has been destroyed. And, according to John, when that destruction does come, the apostles, prophets, and saints will rejoice. Therefore, it only makes sense that there will have to be apostles at the time when God destroys Babylon in order for the rejoicing of the apostles to occur. Back
21Incidentally, the Bible (while not yet glued into one binding) was well circulated and quoted by this time (AD 96). If anything happened to change John’s assessment that apostles needed to be tested rather than automatically rejected, it was certainly not the “coming of the scriptures.” Nor was it the fall of Jerusalem (AD 70), which was already history. Has anything happened since that time which would have changed John’s words concerning apostles? Back
221Thes.1:1, 2:7; Acts 14:4, 14; 2Cor.8:23; Col.4:12-13; 1Cor.15:5, 7; Gal.1:19; Acts 12:17, 21:18, 15:13, 19; Php.2:25; Rom.16:7; 1Cor.9:4-6. Back
231Cor.15:9, 1:1; Rom.1:1, 5. Back
241Cor.3:6, 4:6, 9. Back
272Cor.11:13; Rev.2:2. Back
28In fact, probably 17 years after Paul’s commissioning by Christ Himself, and after many years of “turning the world upside-down,” Paul’s apostleship was still not an established fact in the place where Christianity had its very roots. “I was unknown by face to the churches of Judea which were in Christ. But they were hearing only, `He who formerly persecuted us now preaches the faith which he once tried to destroy’” (Gal.1:22-23). Back