By Charles Carrin
Dear Pastor, Would you comment on the "Gift of Apostle" being present in the church today? L.C.M.
As I understand Scripture, Apostleship falls into two categories: First, there are the "Twelve Apostles of the Lamb" whose names are written in the foundation of the Holy City. Revelation 21:14. This number is fixed, inalterable, and will never be exceeded. The qualification for these men was that each had been a "witness of Jesus' Resurrection." Acts 1:22.
Secondly, in the Greek Scripture where the word "apostolos" appears more frequently than in English translations, it means "sent ones," "delegates," "ambassadors," or "messengers." Let me give Scriptural examples: "If anyone inquires about Titus ... or if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers (apostolos) of the churches ..." II Corinthians 8:23.
"Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus ... but your messenger (apostolos). Philippians 2:25. Barnabas is also called an apostle: "But when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul heard this, they tore their clothes ..." Acts 14:14. These men are not equal with the "Apostles of the Lamb" but in a lessor way are legitimate bearers of this title.
In Paul's First Thessalonian Letter he begins with the names, "Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy," and then proceeds to use the personal pronouns "We," "Our," "Us," some twenty times.
Count them. In chapter two, verse six, he says: "Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as "Apostles of Christ." Notice the letter "S." The word Apostles is plural. Not singular. 2:6. What is Paul saying? He is acknowledging that Silvanus and Timothy were Apostles with him. Were they his equal? No. Their ministry never achieved what his did. Even so, Scripture acknowledges them as "sent ones" in a valid sense. To deny their Apostleship would be a flagrant denial of Bible fact.
In Acts, chapter one, Matthias was chosen to replace Judas Iscariot. That restored the number Twelve--but we later find that King Herod killed the Apostle James, Acts 12:1,2, and another James, "the Lord's brother," was added to the Twelve. Paul makes specific reference to seeing this Apostle during his visit to Jerusalem. Galatians 1:19. It was this new "James" who presided over the Council of Jerusalem. Acts 15:13. Approximately 25 Apostles are identified in the New Testament.
To me, the most significant proof that the Five-Fold Ministry of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Teachers, is still with us, is verified by the Ephesian Letter: The original Apostles were given before the Resurrection and were witnesses of it. Jesus gave other Apostles after the Resurrection. Paul explains, "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men ... And He Himself gave some to be apostles ..." 4:8,11. Study this judiciously: "When He ascended on high (after the Resurrection) ... He Himself gave some to be apostles." These came later than the original Twelve.
In the Book of the Revelation, Jesus commended the church at Ephesus because it "tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars." 2:2. Why would the church have tested anyone if there were only the Twelve? On the contrary, believers had to examine those claiming Apostleship because the gift was still present and functioning. The church in our day must heed this same admonition: Every one claiming ministry in the Body of Christ, whether Apostle or Pastor must be put to the test of Scripture. Beware those who are prideful, arrogant, self-serving, controlling. "Follow after that which is good." Remember, "There are many false prophets gone out into the world." I John 4:1.
What proof do we seek in those recognized as Apostles? Paul answers that question. Of himself, he said to the Corinthians, "The signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds ... I myself was not burdensome to you." II Corinthians 12;12,13. Observe that Paul identifies two character traits, "Perseverance," (patience) and his not being "burdensome" to the saints. Secondly, he lists "signs, wonders, and mighty deeds." In varying degrees, these qualities must be present in those claiming Apostleship today.
Let me also answer another question: In what capacity were the Apostles of the Lamb infallible? Peter tells us that "Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit." II Peter 1:20,21. As the Holy Spirit articulated through them, they wrote correctly. He dictated; they transcribed. He inspired; they recorded. Jesus had earlier promised them, "The Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all things that I said to you." John 14:26. The writing of Scripture was not trusted to men's fallible memory but to the perfect revelation of God. Of Himself, Jesus declared, "My doctrine is not mine but His who sent Me." John 7:16.
The Bible teaches Apostolic infallibility only in regard to the writing of Scripture. There is no such claim for the Apostle's private lives, personal faith, indestructible health, etc. It is important that we understand this. Without this knowledge, we will needlessly try to force Scripture into positions that are unrealistic and wrong. The Apostles and Prophets were men "of like passions as we are." James 5:17. Not only were they subject to fail but frequently did so. Paul rebuked Peter to his face because of his inconsistencies regarding the Jews. Galatians 2:11. Trophimus was left at Miletus sick. II Timothy 4:20. Paul and Barnabas' quarrel ended their joint ministry. Acts 15:36-41. Timothy endured "often infirmities." I Timothy 5:23. At one point Paul "despaired even of life." II Corinthians 1:8. Was it his personal faith that triumphed in crisis? No, the weakness of his faith brought despair. Instead, God's grace was his sole rescuer.
Paul apparently suffered eye disease at one point in his ministry. Galatians 4:13-15. The Galatian letter, which he identifies as having been written with his "own hand" in "large letters," also speaks of the people's willingness to "pluck out their eyes" for him. To the Corinthians he confessed that his "bodily presence was weak." II Corinthians 10:10. These were not discouragements. He later explained, "I glory in my infirmities that the power of Christ may rest upon me." II Corinthians 12:7-10.
In view of this should we assume that Paul, Peter, Timothy, Barnabas, and the others, were free of failure, sin, and disease? Not at all. Rather, we are to rejoice that God used these men in spite of their weakness. Identically, our failures do not keep us from sharing in Paul's testimony: "The Lord delivered me out of them all!" II Timothy 3:11. Simply stated, we must realize that these men were not angelic beings, living in glorified bodies, immune to frustration and failure. Each was subject to the same consequence of humanity as we are today. The Holy Spirit worked His perfect will through imperfect men. The glory therefore goes to Him--not them. They triumphed over their adversities--so may we! Hallelujah!
Are there Apostles today? Yes. These are "sent ones." They did not volunteer for ministry but were called. Like Paul, many struggled with that Divine Summons. Some fought it. But "God's hand was stretched out and who shall turn it back?" Are these men infallible? Not at all! But they are aflame with holy love for Christ and His Bride. Do they promote or advertise themselves as "Apostles"? No. They are concerned with truth--not titles. They seek God--not gold. Purity not praise. Pray for these men! Support them! From the others, turn away. Thanks for the question! ___ CCC