Are there Apostles Today?
And God hath set some in the church, first apostles . . . And he gave some, apostles . . . For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11-12)
It is becoming more common today to hear church leaders referring to themselves and one another as apostles. Furthermore, those attaching to this title generally claim authority that is equal with—or superior to—the original office just as the condemned Montanists did in the 2nd Century.
But are these claims warranted? Do they meet the Biblical criteria for apostolic authority? A close examination of the Word of God and church history proves they do not.
Now wait! Before you accuse me of being unlearned, unloving, or unsaved, grab your Sword and let’s search the Scriptures like the Berean’s, to see if these things are so (Acts 17:11).
Who were the apostles?
There is little doubt regarding the identity of the original NT apostles. The transliterated word apostolos actually means a sent one. In that broad sense, every born-again Christian should be operating in this gift. However, Scripture bears witness this term was never used loosely and there is a deeper meaning as evidenced by many NT references to this office:
- The original Twelve- Mark 3:14; Luke 6:13; John 6:67, 70
- Matthias, the replacement for Judas- Acts 1:26
- Barnabas, ministry partner with Paul- Acts 14:14
- Paul- Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1; the least of the apostles- 1 Cor. 15:9
- Andronicus and Junia- Rom. 16:7 (better translated they were highly respected by the apostles)
- James, the Lord’s brother- Gal. 1:19
- And of course, the Lord Jesus- Heb. 3:1
What were the distinguishing characteristics of the original apostles?
John the Beloved defined and summarized the unique apostolic distinction: we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, of the Word of life (1 John 1:1). (see 2 Pet. 1:16, and Acts 1:21-22).
Scripture further teaches that authentic apostles:
- were limited in number- Matt. 10:1-4; Acts 1:20-26
- were selected by Jesus to minister with Him and for Him- Matt. 9:36-10:42; Luke 6:13; Acts 9:3-6
- were highly exclusionary- 2 Pet. 3:2
- were instructed by Jesus- Matthew-John; Acts 1:2-3; 9:3-6; Gal. 1:12
- were to be humble, self denying servants- Matt. 10:37-39; 20:26-27
- received a special calling– Mark 3:14; Rom. 1:1; 1 Cor. 1:1
- performed signs and miracles- Matt. 10:1, 8; Acts 2:43; 5:12; 8:9-24; 2 Cor. 12:12
- lived in Christ’s time and personally witnessed the resurrected Savior- Acts 1:22; 3:15; 4:33; 10:39-42; 13:31; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:3-8.
As you can see, none of the modern day “apostles” meet these qualifications.
What was the original ministry of the apostles?
Actually, it was focused on Israel, not the church. The fact is that during the time Christ walked on earth, there was no church. His primary focus was presenting Himself as the reigning King in an earthly kingdom to the House of Israel (Matt. 15:24). In order to spread the message, He selected, empowered, and commissioned the twelve apostles to preach: The kingdom of Heaven is at hand (Matt. 10:5-7); Luke 24:47; Acts 13:46). But instead of receiving and revering Him, they rejected, tortured, and crucified Him saying: we have no king but Caesar (John 19:15).
How was the church born?
While Jesus had been focusing all ministry on the Jews, He announced that He was going to build an organization so powerful that the gates of Hades could not withstand it (Matt. 16:18). Then on the night He was betrayed, He held a special Passover celebration with His disciples where He told them He was fulfilling Jeremiah’s prophecy of the New Covenant (Jer. 31:30-37) by shedding His own precious blood (Mark 14:22-25). What a revelation that was!
The fulfillment of that prophecy happened about 6 weeks later during one of three annual feasts every Jewish male was required to attend, Pentecost. The Lord Jesus had announced that He was leaving them but promised to send another comforter-the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17; 15:26) which they were to wait for in Jerusalem (Luke 24:49). When it happened, multitudes of Jews were gathered in the Holy City to witness it (Acts 2:1-13). The outpouring came like fire and wind when the apostles and other followers of Christ were in the upper room praying. As Peter was filled with the Spirit, he stood to preach one of the greatest expository sermons ever recorded, and three thousand foreordained souls (Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29-30) believed on Jesus, and walked the aisle to be baptized (Acts 2:14-41).
What was their ministry to this new church?
At the birth of the infant church (Acts 2), two components were missing: there was no structure and there was no Scripture (NT). So, in order to avoid chaos, God brought order through a temporary leadership core, apostles and prophets (Acts 2:42-43; 15:6; 16:4; 1 Cor. 12:28; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11). These were inspired men of God who wisely and prayerfully formulated the foundation of doctrine and duty for all the ongoing evangelism and equipping ministry we enjoy and employ today (Acts 2:42; 15; Eph. 2:20; 3:5; 4:11-12). But in order to prove their apostolic authenticity, they had to verify their gift with signs and wonders (Acts 2:43; 5:12; 8:9-24; 2 Cor. 12:12).
Scripture gives us several specific ministries they were called to oversee:
- They formed the foundation of the original church upon Christ the Cornerstone- Eph. 2:20; 1 Cor. 12:28
- They presided over all of its original ministries- Acts 2:42-47; 6:1-7; 8:14
- They either ordered or personally ordained initial church elders- Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5
- They received, and imparted new revelation of Scripture- Eph. 3:3-5; 2 Pet. 3:15-16
- They approved and or solidified new, untested doctrinal truths- Acts 15
- They led in public defense of, and suffering for, the faith- Acts 5:29-40
- They planted the original churches worldwide- Acts 8:1-28:31; 1 Cor. 9:2
How was the apostolic gift abused?
In light of their high visibility and miraculous nature, everyone was kept in awe by the power of the apostles (Acts 2:41-47). This of course was coveted by many who witnessed them in action (Acts 8:18-19) which fostered many false claims of apostolic authority (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 2:2). To combat this as well as other intrusions, Paul challenged the Ephesian elders: Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them (Acts 20:28-30).
My friend, today’s church would be far better off if its appointed overseers would heed Paul’s charge to examine and expose all manner of heresy (Titus 3:10) rather than ignoring it in the name of “love and ecumenism.” For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ. And no marvel; for Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore it is no great thing if his ministers also be transformed as the ministers of righteousness; whose end shall be according to their works (2 Corinthians 11:13-15).
What happened to the gift of apostle?
If Scripture alone is used to judge the validity of apostles in today’s church, there is no justification for their ongoing ministry. We know Paul the great apostle wrote as many as 14 NT books if we count Hebrews. He and Barnabas set up the original church structure (1 Tim-Titus), ordained its elders (Acts 14:23), and commissioned others to go and do likewise. By 65-67 AD apostles (and prophets) were fading from prominence. You recall, when Paul instructed Titus to ordain elders in every city (Titus 1:5), he never mentioned ordaining apostles. In fact, he didn’t even mention them in his three final books we refer to as the pastoral epistles (1 Timothy-Titus). Obviously this was intentional on Paul’s part, for he gives us the clearest instruction regarding church order and organizational government we have anywhere. So was he ignorant? Obviously not. Paul knew that while apostles were necessary overseers and protectors of the baby church (Eph. 2:20; 4:11) once the Gospels, General Letters, and his own epistles (ie, the Scriptures- 2 Pet. 3:15-16) were circulating amongst the maturing churches now led by elders, the offices of apostle and prophet vanished with the need, Paul himself becoming the final one (1 Cor.15:7-9).
They aren’t hurting anyone, so why in the name of Christian love don’t you leave them alone?
Please think about that question. While what they do may seem to be very innocent now, as Dr. Stanley says, a toehold of error today can become a stronghold of it tomorrow. It all comes down to what you will tolerate.
Jimmy Jones and David Koresh both claimed to speak for God. However, they would not have been able to lead their followers into mass suicide without first being given permission via power. Make no mistake my dear friend. The time (has) come when they will not endure sound doctrine (2 Tim. 4:3). Instead, they will choose to follow the damnable heresies Peter warned about (2 Pet. 2:1). These indeed are days of deception foretold by Jesus, Paul, Jude, and others (Matt. 24; 1 Tim. 4:1; Jude). He that hath an ear, let him hear what the spirit saith to the churches (Rev. 2:7).
Is there a sure-fire way to know what is true and what is not?
Yes! Jeremiah’s words settles it once and for all: Set up a standard in the land (Jer. 51:27). Sadly, for whatever reason, fewer and fewer of us even care to listen to those words anymore. As a result, in the midst of a chorus of convincing voices, the Body of Christ is contemplating which of two standards will rule our Christian ministry and life: one is emotional, the other is empirical. The former believes that if someone claims ownership of truth, then it is so. The latter says Sola Scriptura, if it isn’t in the Bible, I’m not buying in!
What about you: do you lean toward the emotional or the empirical? Let me ask it the way brother Elijah did: How long halt ye between two opinions (1 Kings 18:21)? If you allow yourself to sidestep the Book by accepting unsound teachings, you can count on a Corinthian style chaos that will ultimately lead to deception and division: Whoso boasteth himself of a false gift is like clouds and wind without rain . . . Woe unto them! for they . . . ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward . . . clouds they are without water, carried about of winds . . . and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive (Prov. 25:14; excerpted from Jude 1:11-12 and Eph. 4:14).
Until her death in 1997, many considered Jeanne Dixon a prophetess from God. And while she was I’m sure sincere, her prediction success rate was well below 10 percent. So was her “gift” really of divine origin? Not if you hold to the Standard. The Bible teaches us that God’s prophets would never and could never be wrong (Deut. 18:22).
Now I must ask you my friend. Is it not the pinnacle of hypocrisy for us to use the Bible as our Standard for rejecting a false prophetess like Jeanne Dixon, while at the same time embracing so many others today whose alleged gift is in equal violation of the very same Standard?
I’ll leave that question for you to answer before the Lord.