Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Apostle Test: A Case for the Modern Day Apostle

When the Apostle Paul wrote to the Church at Ephesus these words

 “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…”

We might come away at first blush with the premise that all offices are in play up to the current time. I mean, certainly, it would seem by all accounts that we have not: come to a unity (universality) of the faith, our knowledge is still incomplete to bring us possibly to perfection and the full stature we would have in Christ. So the conclusion is the offices of Apostle, Prophet, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers must be not only present today but essential in the operation of a fully functional church in any sense. 

Well there you have it, the argument for Modern Day Apostles, it is right there in the Bible written by perhaps the most revered apostle, Paul himself. Let’s all pack our lunches and start finding places where these guys are and set up shop.

This is the mindset of many and I have to be frank, I was one of them at one time. Not to get nasty because I honestly believe these men and some women (gasp) believe themselves to be apostles. Unfortunately, there are requirements for them that are not so easily achieved. Paul met many of these false apostles who on their part claimed credentials for the most part that they were approved messengers from the esteemed leading apostles on the counsel of the Jerusalem church. These men would enter the churches Paul had established with these credentials and preached a false gospel that mixed the pure gospel of Christ with circumcision.

In the New Testament there are actually two applications of the word apostle:

11>   Primary – the primary usage surrounds the actual apostolic call that was given to the original twelve and Paul. These are men that were personally called by Jesus Christ to their ministry. We could call them  ‘Apostles TO the Church’ What this means is covered below.

22>   Secondary – the secondary usage surrounds those who accompanied and aided the Primary Apostle in his spreading of the gospel. We could call them ‘Apostles OF the Church’
This is a good working definition of the usage of term ‘apostle’ as it is used in the bible in a grammatical, contextual and thematic way. One thing to notice here is the Secondary group of apostles is dependent on the presence of the Primary group. This secondary group either accompanied the apostle or was sent as a messenger by the Primary apostle. Let’s stop here for a moment and ponder this. I think the conclusion we could come to is there is not necessarily a symbiotic nature to this relationship where both independent parties find and share in ministries. No, the presence of the secondary group can only exist as messengers ( the term apostle used in a more general sense than the specific use of it when applied to the Primary group). For example, John Calvin had this conclusion regarding Andronicus and Junias when the term apostle is applied to them: “…he {sic Paul} calls them Apostles: he uses not this word in its proper and common meaning but extends it wider, even to all those who not only teach in one Church, but also spend their labor in promulgating the gospel everywhere…” (Calvins Commentary of the Epistle to the Romans). So the ‘wider’ usage of the term is quite different than the primary term in the sense that one is sent/commissioned by a Primary Apostle for a specified purpose. The key to understanding the usage here is that we might better interpret the role of this secondary group as a Relay/deputy of the Primary group.Ths can be said for any of the extraneous people who were mentioned as apostles or at least where mentioned when the term was used: Andronicus, Junias, Timothy, Silvanus, Epaphroditus, possibly Apollos and James.  Taking all this into account, explains the simple count of ‘apostles’ including both the primary and secondary group as approximately 22 give or take. .

Here is the first test: Can the ministry of an apostle exist on its own, independent of any other human person? If it can, then that person qualifies in part as an apostle in the Primary sense. In other words, their ministry is not dependent on another person. Of all in the secondary group, we can say in most every case, their ministry would not be possible without the Primary Apostle. This discounts them into a secondary group as messengers not apostles in the Primary sense.

Interestingly, the multi-ethnicity characteristic is removed from the Primary group. All these men, the Twelve, Matthias, Paul, Barnabas, Apollos and James were Jews. This will become a lynch pin in the forthcoming analysis.

This does not directly address the question at the outset. ‘Are there modern day apostles?’ In fact, there are many today that claim to be apostles whose ministries we could say can survive on their own. But the above does address one key issue, the secondary group of apostles (messengers), have a dependence that their ministries lifeblood is in their association with a primary apostle. In other words, where there is no primary apostle, there is no secondary on either. While this does not address the key question, it is a crucial point to note as was trudge on.

Now that we have separated the groups and defined the nature of the Primary Group, we can better define this group. Let’s start with the 14 Primary Apostles (I use 14 here at the outset).

Who were these? They were the original 11 plus Matthias. These would could sub-divide as the Apostles to the Lamb. They had been with Jesus through His Earthly Ministry, Had seen him resurrected physically, been charged directly by the Resurrected Christ (save one Matthias who was chosen by lot to replace Judas Iscariot) to preach the gospel to the known world at that time. The thirteenth was Paul, who had also been commissioned by Christ and witness to the physical resurrection of Christ. (Acts 26:16). Paul was born as one out of time (1 Cor 15:8). This likened him to one premature born in the sense that he was not a ‘developed’ as the Apostles to the Lamb since he had not been trained by Christ during his earthly ministry yet seen as a peer to his ‘brothers’ having the same One that commissioned him. Then there is Barnabas. While known as a Cyprian Jew and his earliest mention in the scriptures right before the ordeal with Ananias and Sapphira  (Acts 4:36). What we do not know is of his commission by The Lord Jesus. We do not know if he was of the company that was with Jesus during His earthly ministry like Matthias. What we do know he was not chosen as one to cast lots for the lost office of Judas Iscariot. Frankly, we cannot know by the scriptures if he even saw the resurrected Christ. In all estimation, these have to go into account when we talk about his apostleship and it’s nature. I have no doubt that he was separated with Paul for a work to which they were called. I know that he was present with the working of miracles in their ministry but this is still no proof of him being in the primary group. An apostle? In some sense for sure but in my estimation and by the criteria above, he does not qualify as in the primary group. One additional note is that when there was a break with Paul, there is no more mention of Barnabas in additional ministry other than re-visiting the churches He and Paul had established. This in my mind relegates Barnabas to the Secondary grouping. Apollos was from Alexandria and by scriptural accounts was preaching the message of John the Baptist possibly during  and definitely after the ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the church. So, we stand at fourteen. The final reduction is Matthias, James the brother of Jesus and Apollos. While they meet all the criterion, there is one key factor missing: There is no mention of either receiving no documented personal calling by the resurrected Christ. Specifically, James no doubt was seen as a key leader but the formal title he held was bishop of the church at Jerusalem. He is credited with the writing of his epistle and is to be considered as perhaps holding a unique case concerning that. This is a true sign of an apostle which is that his teachings and works are universally accepted as canonized. However the bible is not clear regarding is personal call by Christ as the others.  This is crucial since to be in the Primary Group, the personal charge and choosing by the resurrected Son of God done in a physical form, is essential. Apollos was from Alexandria and by scriptural accounts was preaching the message of John the Baptist possibly during  and definitely after the ascension of Jesus Christ and the sending of the Holy Spirit to the church. There simply is no record of Apollos receiving any direct charge from Jesus Christ and he in scripture is never associated with the term apostle in the primary sense. He deserves all honor but canonly be relegated to the secondary grouping, So in my estimation while apostles in the sense of the general use, they are relegated to the secondary group. We are down to twelve: The original eleven plus the Apostle Paul.

Here is the second test: Has the person been an eyewitness to the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ and in that same time space been personally charged by Jesus Christ Himself to be a witness and carry His revelation to the entire world. Now let’s pause here a minute and ask ourselves what this really means. First of all, this is no vision. This is a physical presence. He could be seen, heard and felt. He could be interacted with as Paul actually had a conversation with Him in his calling. Is this a rare occurrence in the Bible. Yes, one of the rarest. The number of theophany events that include a personal manifestation of God are something you can count with your fingers in recorded biblical history. It is rare, very rare. There has not been one I know of that has been recorded in over two thousand years. Secondly, the personal charge of Jesus’ revelation to bring into the world would simply mean that they would not be repeating the truths already recorded and known but would be revealing new revelation as they received it from  Jesus Christ through His Holy Spirit and recording those revelations in holy writ. These men were innovators and were actually the conduit for the holy writ to come into being. They were the vehicles for God’s revelation in Jesus Christ.

So if we recap here in order to be  a part of the primary group of Apostles, one must be an eyewitness to perhaps the rarest of events. Can this take place in modern times? Yes but it is a possibility not a probability. One thing we do know, is one in the primary group would be able to add to the revelation of Jesus Christ being so charged by Jesus Himself with that very task. To be clear, this does not include the unlocking of the existing scriptures, it is being directly involved in their composition.

So after the whittling down a bit we are down to twelve key figures. These twelve have everything required in common as described. Here is an interesting fact: they were all Jewish. That might be obvious at first glance but here is what is not so obvious. Each was raised as a practicing Jew and were well acquainted with the Jewish practices, traditions and each passed the rite of transition into manhood where they lead the reading of the scriptures in a synagogue. Paul perhaps eclipsed them all being a Pharisee, a Jew of Jews. Why is this so important? It is because they were the products of the collective Jewish people from the beginning point from Abraham on ( and ever further back than that!). They knew the culture and the scriptures and how those ancient writings could be brought into the revelation of Jesus Christ to buttress and support it through examples and quotations inter-sprinkled in the new revelation they were recording. They understood the prophetic heritage of the Jewish people and were able to leverage it and emphasize the Lord Jesus being the fulcrum upon which the entire creation rests. They were able to reflect the nature of Yhwh into the person of Jesus Christ. These men were bridges to an ancient culture where they were physically the roadway and passage of the Revelation of God from the Old Testament to the New. These men were walking miracles in my opinion. Their grouping is perhaps one of the most unique in recorded history.

Here is the third test: In order to be common to the primary group, one must not only create teachings that extend the known revelation of God to the world, they must have a perspective and human experience that reflects and is common to the primary group. These writings as holy writ were confirmed by the fact that they were universally accepted by the churches at large during the first century and thereafter. This is a key factor to the proof one is truly an apostle: their teachings are universally accepted by the church at large. This is a challenge for any person who would propose that they are an apostle – in fact history would show that there has been no one since that primary group that has scribed anything to this scale. In addition, I would venture to say that if one is not of Jewish origin, there can be no claim to be in the primary group. That person simply has no basis or standing for it.  Without these points, at best, those persons must be relegated to the secondary group of apostles.

The twelve we have whittled down to all suffered for their ministry. In most cases, each died a martyr for their Lord. Countless beatings, shipwrecks, imprisonment, being exiled were the fate of these men. There is suffering in modern times I know. But what must be compared are the degrees of suffering using these men as a baseline.

Here is the fourth test: In order to be in the primary group, suffering must be documented that is to the degree documented in the bible of the primary group. It is easy to say one has suffered but holding one’s suffering to this standard and being able to compare them and conclude they are comparable, is a requirement. If not, then that person must be relegated to the secondary grouping.

This primary group was renowned for their spiritual power. This can be listed as the working of signs and wonders that accompanied their preaching the gospel to parts unfamiliar to the message as confirmation of the truth of their words. This is the most difficult one to assess objectively by the subjective nature we all hold about signs and wonders. What is a sign and wonder to me might not be that to you. So in order to cut down the list of a sign and wonder, let’s use the scriptures themselves to define what these are:
11>   A sign and wonder must be generally accepted by all. The example here is the working of signs and wonders by the Apostles Paul (primary) and Barnabas (secondary) in the city of Iconium. That caused the people to call them deities.
22>   Miraculous deliverances such as Peter’s and Paul’s deliverances for prison.
33>   Healings of people who had permanent disabilities from birth.
44>   Raising people from the dead.
55>   Power over natural creatures: On the island of Melita, Paul was snake-bit but survived.

These types are in a class by themselves that caused one thing to happen, conversion of people of those cities to Jesus Christ resulting in the establishment of churches.

Here is the fifth test: In order to be in the primary group, a person must have documented evidence that is generally accepted as miraculous that has also been documented to have caused the revival of those places in which the sign or wonder had taken place. This is because the main purpose of any sign and wonder was documented to be in an evangelical action or effort or the result or consequence of an evangelical action. Signs and wonders are done in the field of service and not within church walls. So, a true apostle must be one in the field actively working most of the time to even qualify for the potential of manifesting a sign or wonder as a result of their intent to forward the revelation of Jesus Christ to the world: If these are not evident and in operation in a person, at best they must be relegated to the secondary group.

So, how did your candidate fare with the test?

 Did he pass the test as an Apostle in the primary grouping?

What about the secondary grouping?

I would venture to say that there are still twelve.

What about the secondary grouping. Maybe your candidate falls more into the second grouping. Well, that might be true but the key here as detailed above, the secondary group depends on the presence of a Primary

Where there is no primary, there can be no secondary. 

We still have twelve.

The Final Analysis

The office of apostle has no legitimacy in this age because the group is still twelve. There are no more. There will be no more. A person can say they have ‘seen’ Jesus, any one can say that and often do. This is no different than the false apostles (messengers) in Paul’s day who brought false credentials in the name of the Council of Jerusalem to foist their additions to the gospel message in the form for the requirement for post-repentance acts such as circumcision. What one cannot do is be a bridge to a past that is no longer is present. The space-time window for an apostle is over. There is no being a bridge to transition the revelation of God from the Old to the New Testament mainly because it has already been done. There can be no tie or heritage or perspective to a culture lost to history. It is simply impossible. There will be no universal acceptance of anyone’s teachings to the magnitude of the works of the primary group. The scripture canon has been closed for almost two thousand years in a formal sense. There is no new revelation and according to John’s Revelation those that seek to add or take away will suffer dire consequences. To continue, the suffering one can undergo in this day can be heinous but is it ever to be to the degree of this primary group? I doubt it. Finally, the working of signs and wonders although controversial can be clearly legitimized as to the fruit those actions produce, namely people coming to Jesus as a result of the sign or wonder. The whole point is, has your candidate been enough in the field to produce even the possibility of these events occurring?
So, let’s revisit the scripture in Ephesians that we started with:

And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, 
pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ…”

Our questions that we had at the beginning are still unanswered at first take aren’t they. But let’s look again using the analysis above on the office of apostle.

If there is no presence of an apostle made in the modern church, it would seem that there is no progression of the Lord’s church to reach full maturity. This is the conclusion of some and as such, they still make a case for modern-day apostles. It would seem that this scripture is at odds with the findings of the analysis thus far. What is the answer? The answer comes in the subject of the verse. The church. It is for the church that Christ gave the gifts unto men as he ascended to take His rightful place. These gifts were to the church described here as in the ministries listed in this verse. 

To get it down to basics, there are stages to any building. There is preparation of the building site such as the removal of brush and debris, perhaps terra-forming to some site plan. There is also the building of a foundation upon which that church will rest. There is the actual building, its occupancy and maintenance. In this analogy, the office of apostle can be seen as the building phase. They do the prep work and lay the foundation (see 1 Cor 3). The primary role of the apostle was to establish the foundation of the Church of Jesus Christ. This was through their life’s work of preaching and writing the scriptures to establish the church and to provide its foundation. Once that work is accomplished, the church is ready for the next step. All the while the vision of Jesus for His church becomes more a reality upon that foundation laid where the scriptures written provide the vehicles for unity and maturity. It is not that we ever arrive at perfection. We will not in this life but the church goes beyond life. What is pictured here is a life lived in a foundation built that allows entry into the church, a life lived housed in the church of Jesus Christ where the man enters and is established by that foundation and grows and changes into maturity through their life and when their life is reaching completion, they are ready for the next phase where the full stature and the unity of the spirit are manifested, in the presence of their Lord and Savior. This process of the saints within the church is balanced and confirmed with Ephesians 2:19-20:

“Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone…”

This scripture confirms a general sense unity of the body as well given this is addressed to a gentile based church. The emphasis of this scripture is that there is one unified body and there is no difference between Jew or Greek. Both are built upon the foundation of the apostles (New Testament) and prophets ( the Old Testament is also a part of  that foundation because the word of God spans both time frames).  Taking these scriptures into account, the fact that the foundation is laid and there can be no other ( 1 Cor 3). As a point of emphasis, the phrase ‘are built’ is in the aorist tense in particular the first aorist tense. The aorist tense is used to set the action firmly at some point in time in the past. There is no on-going or continuing action. It is set firmly in the past.

The redeeming factor here is that in the analysis presented, the ancient primary group is essentially active and present even though their physical presence is not. They are most certainly there in everything the church does, everything the church grows into and everything the church will be. The same way a foundation is active in the sense it supports and upholds all activity that will occur in a structure. I will mention in passing that the teachers and pastors as well as evangelists play an active and continuing role  during the church age but the role of prophet in the sense of writing holy writ and the role of apostle as being a living personified force is long past.

The point being, there is no need for modern-day apostles because the role of the primary group is STILL active and powerful as when they trod this world. In eternity, there is no time. These are men of eternity, being a bridge from an ancient past into the ever present. They are still with us so there are no needs for their replacement.

So, where does this put a modern day Apostle?

This has great implications for those who press the issue of modern day apostles. There is no more shakier ground to stand upon than to say the foundation of the church is flawed and needs supplements. In fact, the assertion of the need for the continued apostolic office does not fully appreciate the work of Christ for the church. In the words of our Savior:

It is Finished.