Monday, October 21, 2013

A Biblical Response to the Question: Are There Modern Day Apostles?

Just a few days ago I was talking with a friend about a local group, rooted in the new apostolic reformation, and was asked if for my thoughts on "modern day apostles."[1] Now one has to clarify what the word "apostle" so that we understand the question. For example does the word, apostle mean a reference to the "office" going back to the New Testament period or does it mean just a practical application of one who is a messenger. Since the question pertained to the office like that of the New Testament Apostolic office this posting will address the question from this angle.

Simply stated, the answer to this question as it pertains to the New Testament office is a resounding, "NO!" However, I will not let it go there. Allow me to defend this position and why there is no apostolic office in the church of the Third Millennium. 


The Definition of "Apostle"

The Greek word for apostle is “apostolos” (αποστολος),  a person who is sent by another; a messenger or an envoy. The word is used once as a descriptive designation of Jesus Christ, the Sent One of the Father (Hebrews 3:1; John 20:21).  It is also used, generally as a designation of the body of disciples to whom Jesus entrusted the organization of His church and the dissemination of the gospel message. The gospel accounts point them out as "the Twelve" (Matthew 10:1-5; Mark 3:14; 6:7; Luke 6:13; 9:1).


Who Were the Original Apostles?

In the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke), we see four lists of the apostles, one by each of the writers (Matthew 10:2-4; Mark 3:16; Luke 6:14) and one in Luke's account in Acts 1:13.  It is interesting to note that no two of these lists perfectly coincide.

The Lord gave the "keys of the Kingdom" to the apostles and by the gift of His Spirit, He equipped them to be the founders and the governors or leaders of His church (John 14:16-17, 26; 15:26-27; 16:7-15). As representatives of His church, he commissioned them to "preach the gospel to every creature" (Matthew 28:18-20).

After Jesus' ascension, He gave them supernatural gifts, as He promised, enabling them to perform their duties (Acts 2:4; 1 Corinthians 2:16; 2:7, 10, 13; 11:2; 2 Corinthians 5:20). There is much question and misapplication of this title "apostle" following Jesus' ascension and Pentecost.

Judas Iscariot, who was one of "the Twelve," fell by betraying Jesus, and Matthias was his replacement (Acts 1:21). Saul of Tarsus, who would be later known as "the Apostle Paul," was afterward added to their number (Acts 9:3-20; 20:4; 26:15-18; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2:7; and 2 Timothy 1:11).

Though not one of the Twelve, Luke, the Third Gospel writer, recorded what happened to Peter, John, and the two Jameses (Acts 12:2,17; 15:13; 21:18), but beyond this, we know nothing definitive about the rest of the original Twelve. After the martyrdom of James the Greater (Acts 12:2), James the Less usually resided at Jerusalem, while Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, usually travelled as a missionary among those whom he ministered to (Galatians 2:8).


What Were the Qualifications for Apostleship?

The qualifications for apostleship were specific and binding. In this part, I will give the Scripture references and the reasons why those in movements like the International House of Prayer, the Prayer Furnace movement, and the Latter Rain movements along with their derivative movements need to abandon their views on modern day apostles. When looking at the data from the New Testament, I see three definitive qualifications and possibly a fourth.

The first qualification was that they should have been an eyewitness of the Lord. In other words, the first century apostle had to have seen the Lord and be able to testify of Him and of His resurrection from personal knowledge (John 15:27; Acts 1:21-22; 1 Corinthians 9:1; Acts 22:14-15).  Since the Lord has ascended and is currently seated at the right hand of the Father, no modern day movement can bestow the title of apostle upon another person and remain biblical. 

The second qualification is that the person must have been selected to the office by the Lord or the Holy Spirit  (Matthew 10:5; Mark 3:13-14; Luke 6:13; Acts 1:26; 9:15; 22:14-15,21; 26:16).  Since Christ is in Heaven awaiting the final trumpet to come, make the final judgments, and restore the Kingdom, there is no way possible for someone, in the Third Millennium in the modern day Christian church, to make the claim that they are called to apostleship by Christ.

The third qualification is that an apostle was invested with miraculous power to the extent that HE could perform miracles, including the capability of conferring the ability to work miracles to other individuals through the laying on of his hands  (Mark 3:15; 16:17-20; Luke 9:1-2; John 14:12,26; 15:24-27; 16:13; Acts 2:43; 4:29-31,33; 5:12,15-16; 6:6; 8:14-18; 19:6; 2 Timothy 1:6; Romans 1:11; Hebrews 2:3-4). Jesus referred to His bestowal of miraculous capability upon the apostles when He promised they would be “endued with power from on high” (Luke 24:49).

So if there is anyone who claims to have the power to raise the dead, I know a couple of people I would like them to try and raise from the dead. One being my Mom, because I miss our talks and times together and she would have just celebrated her 74th birthday. The second is my grandfather, with whom I loved talking about the great game of baseball; and I know he would have loved to see the Red Sox in the World Series this year. [2] I am sorry, cannot nor do I expect that to happen.

Modern day self proclaimed apostles really cannot claim that they are eyewitnesses to Christ and His resurrection.  They cannot claim that they have been selected to the office by the Lord Himself, and given miraculous power by the Lord through laying on of hands.  There is a fourth and final qualification that some would see; and that is the early apostles were infallibly inspired and protected from error in the public teaching whether in word or writing (John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thessalonians 2:13).

While they were sinful men redeemed and called by the Lord to serve is the office of the Twelve Apostles (though there is a question about Judas Iscariot), they were protected in their teaching and their writing, which is why we can trust the letter of the Apostle Paul, Peter, Matthew, and yes even  Mark.[3] The first century apostles are the only authoritative teachers of the historical doctrines of the Christian faith. The office of the apostle is one thing that ceased with its first holders.

If there is a modern day application to the word "apostle," then there are only two (2) instances that we see "apostles" as not being translated apostle.  In these two instances the word apostle is  translated "messenger" or "representative" and the Scriptures for these instances are found in 2 Corinthians 8:23 and Philippians 2:25.


Concluding Thoughts

We live in a day where there are several groups making claims to affiliation with the Christian faith and making allegations of having apostles.  Among them include Roman Catholicism, the Church of JesusChrist of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) and a handful Pentecostal and Charismatic groups.

There is no living person today who can meet the qualifications given in holy Scripture for being an apostle.  No one living today has been an eyewitness to Christ's resurrection.  Jesus Christ has selected no one living today for the role of an apostle. No living individual today possess the miraculous capabilities of an apostle. No one should not be surprised that people falsely claim to be apos.  

Jesus warned of this, saying that "false prophets would come in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves (see Matthew 7:15).  The Apostle Paul described some of his opponents in these words:

13 For such men are false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. 14 No wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 Therefore it is not surprising if his servants also disguise themselves as servants of righteousness, whose end will be according to their deeds.

Further warning was issued to the Galatian churches: “But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed” (Galatians 1:8). 


Anyone claiming to be an apostle today who teaches anything in addition to the New Testament is clearly not an apostle of Christ! The Apostle Peter added his voice on the same subject: “But there were also false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). And it is no wonder John admonished: “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1; cf. Matthew 24:11,24). In the Revelation, the church at Ephesus was commended because they “tested those who say they are apostles and are not, and have found them liars” (Revelation 2:2). 

Those of us who live in the Third Millennium, and live out the faith that has been “once for all delivered to the saints” need to stand firm on the biblical truth and lovingly and respectfully point out the errors to those who might succumb to the false teachers of our day. [4]

             
            Notes
         [1] It is strange on the timing of this posting comes on the heels of John MacArthur's "Strange Fire" conference and his calling out various charismatic movement leaders and the hullabaloo that has manifested from recent news of the conference. In that conference, “Johnny Mac” called out folks like those in the New Apostolic reformation movement and the prosperity preachers Mike Bickle, Lou Engle, Marilyn Hickey, Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn, and Todd Bentley, along with the others. Though I do not agree with Johnny Mac on everything; particularly his recent condemnation of our charismatic brethren at large, I do agree with his concern for biblical truth in the church at large. This is a double edged sword since there is plenty of merit for his calling out those who are miles away from biblical orthodoxy and ortho-praxy. Let it be said that I am not one of those  but who believes that all of the gifts of Holy Spirit ceased and that He went on hiatus after Pentecost.

[2] One will here of miracles today, and indeed God still does miracles. The problem with the apostolic movements like the New Apostolic reformational movements is that there is a fixation on miracle working power, that one may not be given by the Lord. One of those miracles was the ability to raise the dead. One would have to read the works of Gary Habermas on the subject NDEs (near death experiences) to understand the real meaning of clinical death. I make this point because there are folks in the prosperity movements and the new apostolic movements that make claims of being able to raise the dead, when in fact the person may not be “clinically” expired. 


[3] The entire Bible is trustworthy, but I mark out these personalities because of their holding the apostolic office. The canon is closed, and any writing today by a "modern self-proclaimed apostle" is not authoritative in the way that Scripture is authoritative.


[4] There is plenty of Scripture to point out the dangers of those teaching error and claiming to hold the apostolic office. Perhaps I will share more if you would like to comment or ask a question.  Thank you for engaging this posting.

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