Friday, April 2, 2010

The Emperor’s New Clothes – A Comparison to Authentic Authority

I am reminded of the children’s story when discussing the new wave of ‘biblical authority’ in the church over the past 60 years. This new wave concerns the ‘five fold ministry’ as described in Eph 4:11. To the church extant, this movement has given rise to roles such as Prophet and Apostle being common offices among the current churchscape. Now, I know I am probably going to get some flack about this but hear me out. I think it is very relevant to explore this topic not because it might not be authentic but because it allows the analysis of the current applications of these offices of ministry in the light of the hard evidence – the scriptures and of course church history. As was true in the first century – and backed by the scriptures themselves by Paul and others -- if one says they have these levels of authority, they must indeed back up their claims by meeting the scripture’s requirements. If one is to confirm the legitimacy of these offices, how would they go about this to a layman as well as today’s biblical scholars? Well perhaps a comparison of what the perception an apostle or prophet is according to the biblical record should be laid down and if one desires to call themselves by those monikers let them confirm that they comply with the basic requirements of the office and stature that they claim to possess. The body of this entry concerns specifically the office of the apostle.

First, What Really is an Apostle?

The word apostolos in the Greek means a delegate or messenger (from my post ‘The Pursuit of Happyness – I introduced this concept of the delegated nature of God’s authority to man). Now that is a pretty generic definition. But let’s take a closer look. Who ‘delegates’ them? The Lord…personally and specifically. Now, let’s take Paul the Apostle. Is he different than the other Apostles? Yes, significantly different. Why? Because he did NOT witness the physical resurrection of Christ as the other apostles did immediately after the resurrection event - he was not one of the twelve. This sets him apart and all those who would claim to be apostles after the advent of Christ in His earthly ministry and subsequent ascension. What we do know is Paul in his related discourse in 1 Cor 9:1-2 is said to have ‘seen’ the Lord – whether this was a theophany, we do not know. However, to be consistent with the other twelve and in the context of his Corinthian account, we could make the statement that it was. Given in this discourse, Paul is combating the Judaizers that put a high degree of emphasis on personal intercourse with the Lord – that is having had physical contact -- so it is not a far fetched statement to see this as a Theophany. Paul, according to the scriptures, receives a direct commission by Jesus Christ and subsequently received the full revelation regarding the gospel he would preach from that time forth. Now, why is this important? If you claim to be an Apostle, confess that Jesus has appeared physically to you as He did to the original twelve and Matthias, and as Paul would confess through his comparison to the other apostles. I am not talking about a vision of the Lord but a physical revealing of Himself. When Jesus appeared to the twelve, it was a physical appearance. In fact, he even asked Thomas to physically touch His wounds to prove He was who He said He was. Also, if we read the record of John the Beloved in the book of Revelation, such was his account of the Word of God – a fearsome sight that caused him to be struck as a dead man (Paul had a similar account). So an apostle must be a witness to the physical resurrection of Christ (see Lightfoot’s commentary of Galatians). If one is to claim to be an apostle they must make a similar claim. This is no ‘vision in the Clouds’, voice or bursting revelation in one’s mind but a physical encounter. Now just how rare is a theophany in the Biblical Record? They are quite rare in its roughly 4000 year span of time. Please hear what I am saying, I am not saying it is not possible, it just isn’t very probable.

Second, What does an Apostle do?

Secondly, what did the apostles do after their encounter? Well, if the historical record is recounted, they established the gospel message in places where it had not before been heard. As a result of this churches were born. Subsequently to that they wrote epistles in the church to relate the implementation of the gospel in concrete form. These writings were not only inspired but manifested universally. What I mean by that is God preserved them, sustained them and made them universal – that is not only made them available but accepted by all Christendom. As a very good example, Peter makes reference to the writings of Paul in his second epistle. He does not discount the writings of Paul in any measure. This is an implicit acceptance of Paul’s writings. As time passed, the epistles were examined and those approved as authentic, we embraced through all the ages as being the inspired word of God. The teaching in them is applicable to all and most recognize them as authoritative. One key element that will be evident in an apostle is their writings are accepted as authoritative to the degree that they become universally accepted. This is a very rare thing. Frankly, this fact would point out the low probability of any writings today being universally accepted, we just do not stand at a point in time where that is even feasible. I will write a post sometime in the future that details this improbability. In short, we have to understand that the apostles in the first century were a ‘bridge’ from Old Testament to New Testament. In essence, their background and perspective was Hebrew and Aramaic. From this perspective they wrote in the koine of the day – Greek and Coptic languages. Hear what I am saying, these were Hebrews that had thousands of years of tradition and the teachings handed down to them. If there was ever a time when the scriptures could be ‘bridged’ it was only at this time – think of all the Old Testament references and types cited on the New Testament. The perspective and application that was made then could never be made now. Jerusalem was destroyed in 67 A.D. and so, the society that would have proffered the ‘Hebrew’ way was shattered and scattered to the winds. To be simply put, there is no more bridge, there will never be another. These men were walking miracles and repositories of a society and perspective of God that is not attainable presently. We simply cannot reconstruct their perspective and so illumine with the same degree and power -- yet this is claimed by both men and women of our time in the name of ‘restored’ truth. In my humble opinion, this is presumption and will be judged as such as the entropic slide of time is realized in these types of groups. In 1 Corinthians 3:10 Paul discusses the nature of laying a foundation. It is not re-laid. Furthermore, it cannot be re-laid.

Third, Is There any Latitude in the Application of the Office to ‘Minor’ Players

As far as ‘minor’ apostles (e.g. Adronicus and Junias), what can be said of them? By Paul’s own words, they are eminent among the apostles. We cannot read into what Paul has said more than what he has stated. Basically, he has set the bar for them and as such the requirements are the same. If one is to only assign the ‘messenger’ characteristic to the word apostle that describes them, then that would be acceptable. But one cannot at the same time assign the authority of a delegate of Christ. Today, there might be ‘messengers’ but they cannot and will not hold to the authority of those that laid the foundation of the church nor will their writings ever hold the degree of authority , power or knowledge that the first century apostles possessed. One must understand the fundamental rules of exegesis to see this ( I will post on this later at some point), but take it on faith that if one does the research, most of these that claim such authority do not fully understand what they are saying. One of the most referenced scriptures that is used by the modern ‘apostles’ today is the latter portion of Paul’s epistle to the Ephesians (4:11-13). This is the response that will be cited by those who are convinced the office of apostle is still active today. John Wesley, the father of Modern Pentecostalism and so the root of the modern version of the Apostolic Movement (History has shown that there were others that did not continue) says this regarding the office of Apostle: And, among other his free gifts, he gave some apostles - His chief ministers and special witnesses, as having seen him after his resurrection, and received their commission immediately from him. When I was still engaged in the Apostolic Movement, I sought to understand the linkage of the Apostolic office from the first century on to the present. After much research, I came to the conclusion that there is no linkage other than the office of bishop that was para-church in nature. The fact that this office is ‘apostolic’ is consistent with history but at the same time is delineated from the office of apostle. Simply put, there was not proffering of the office of Apostle directly after the first century. This must be explained by those who tout to be so endowed. If there has been discontinuity of the office, since Christ appoints them, why would Christ lapse such a critical component of His organization for any reason? Given His attributes of omniscience and omnipotence, this must be explained. Christ is the epitome of perfection, what must be stated is if there was a lapse in this office, it was intentional. Thus, by the very scripture being used to justify modern day apostles, if they are used for the building up of the saints until we all reach maturity, it would seem to me that they lay a charge at the Head of the church for missing such a vital ministry to His body for a majority of the church’s existence. This is an impossible since He is perfect.

In addition, many of those who gave the major discourses of the role of the bishop were trained by the apostles themselves (e.g Ignatius), yet these men did not ever mention the office of apostle that referred to anyone living. It would seem to me that if the office were to be continued, these men would have applied and implemented it, they did not. So the claim one must make must super-cede historical precedent. Finally, in the scriptures themselves, Paul in the pastoral epistles (Titus, I and II Timothy) details plainly the offices and functions within the church. There is mention of overseer (which has been leveraged into the office of apostle by some), yet the exegesis of such scriptures, will show that overseer here is not separated in meaning from a ruling elder (see,,PTID314526_CHID598016_CIID1710880,00.html as a very thorough discussion of this topic.). So the path of the one claiming the office of ‘apostle’ in this day is a very improbable one. I understand that God is not limited by time or space but He will be consistent with His words and with the Historical record because it is His revealed will.

So, What is the Bottom Line As we Apply the above to Church Government and Authority in the Present?

In a very real sense, the apostles are as much a part of the modern church as they were to whom the epistles were first addressed. In a very basic sense, when a letter is penned and sent there is a lapse of time between the writing and the reading. For us, it is simply a longer time between the two events. The difference is time not the audience, in a general sense, or the author of the letter.

A Closing Argument

Finally, the foundation of the New Jerusalem has inscribed on it only twelve names. These are often referred to as the ‘apostles to the Lamb.’ An interesting portion of scripture is found in the eighteenth chapter of the book of Revelation which mentions apostles along with prophets as well as the saints (Rev 18:20). What cannot be determined is who these are. There are three scenarios, these fall into two groups with different conclusions:

Scenario 1 and 2 – Pre or Mid-Tribulation Rapture of the Saints

If the rapture of the church precedes the period known as the Tribulation or, as most Apostolic based churches believe during the Tribulation (i.e. the revealing of the man-child - which is the company of Saints that are the real and true believers aka The Remnant, Joel’s Army, The Sons of God, etc), then they could not be the modern day apostles because they have been ‘caught up’ already. If the scriptures are interpreted as making no distinction between the church terrestrial and the church celestial, then the apostles addressed here could be the first century ones.

Scenario 3 – Post Tribulation Rapture of the Saints

If the ‘Post-Trib’ position is taken then it is possible that the modern day apostles are being referenced however if this is the case the major doctrines of most groups that claim the presence of modern day apostles does not jibe with their most important doctrines regarding the ‘Manifestation of the Sons of God’. To put this succinctly the doctrine is taken from the passage of Revelation chapter 12 where the man-child (for these groups, this are the overcoming saints, not the Christ as in traditional views) is caught up before being devoured by the great dragon (in symbol – Satan). If Babylon is spoken of prophetically in chapter eighteen, then the last verse might be a clue as to the presence of modern day apostles. The last scripture in the chapter mentions the ‘blood of prophets and of saints’ being found in it from those slain. If the context is compared with the prior scripture mentioned (Rev 18:20), there is no reference in the latter to apostle. While this might be a minor detail, it does yield some consistency to the argument that the apostles mentioned in the first verse referenced are likely concerned not with modern day apostles but the first century apostles.

In either case, the probability that the closing book of the Scriptural Canon leans towards the cessation of the office of the apostle beyond the first century is very high.

This leads to very precarious conclusions for those that have stated that they are apostles in any century since the first. There is little historical and even theological grounds for such statements to be made. I have purposely steered away from signs and wonders completely because these are at best very difficult to prove and document. God does heal today but in essence, one does not have to be an apostle for this to occur. Many people have been used mightily by God in Church History to lead and to guide that did not call themselves by such monikers. Even the great Reformers gave no indication that they themselves were apostolic in their function. If any could have claimed it, they could have but they did not. Personally, I have fallen under such teaching and even at some point aspired to such a position. Yet in the end, I needed to repent of even holding the thought that this was at all possible. Let the record show, that I was mistaken as many, many others have been.

Perhaps these movements will continue until the Lord comes, who knows. Ironically, as they themselves often cite, their presence may infer the end times are here. In the Laodicean church so often applied to the generation that will see the Lord ‘s return, a major statement by Christ is that Laodicea sees itself as clothed royally when in fact, it is poor, blind and naked. I for one have been one of the crowd hailing the ‘Emperor’ as they were passing by. In the midst of the crowd amongst the shouts of those cloaked by modern theology, there is one who whispers that says ‘but he has no clothes…’ His name is History.

1 comment:

  1. Another insightful post. I look forward to them. It grades out how you are healing. The thing that you talked about that intrigued me most was the office of Apostle. I too was in a cult as you know and there was always this unspoken reverence and allure for the office of Apostle. It was only for certain ones, and funny how those were usually related to the others. I saw no familial lineage of the Apostolic in the New Testament, and clearly saw none there either. I think history has borne out moreso that the Apostolic was a special creation by the Lord and demands the utmost respect, but today's clammoring for the apostolic at times seems more like a quest for a ring of power in Lord of the Rings, than it does a quest for the lord Himself. Thank you for another insightful post, i will be waiting for the next.