Cultural changes in the world are evolving at such a mind boggling pace as to challenge the mental and emotional balance of even the most rational and mature individuals. Obviously the Church is not exempt from the momentous thrust of such dramatic shifts in attitude and behavioral patterns. If nothing more than feeling the tension of trying to “ contend for the faith ” in a hostile environment, the serious believer senses an overwhelming need for every available resource afforded to the New Testament Church.
While this feeling of desperation is not unique to this generation, it has quite likely been escalated by the rapid advance of technology, placing at our disposal a first hand view of world wide events in real time. We are provided with a steady diet of the bountiful harvest of sin's dastardly consequences upon fallen man. In this, or perhaps because of it, many believers have embarked on a search for a deeper understanding and experience of reality and truth. This is a positive sign, as the Church has always flourished in a hostile culture unless they became integrated into it.
However, such intense desire for the power of God may lead to extremes. Historically, such swinging back and forth of the hermeneutical pendulum in the Church can be easily documented. In fellowships (communities of believers) where personal experience is highly regarded, the record indicates a high level of occurrence. One may recall such issues as the Latter Rain movement, Shepherding , Inner healing, or some other excess in doctrine or practice. In spite of the easy access to Scripture, sound exegesis, word studies, church history through the centuries, and almost everything associated with Christianity, the tendency is to comfortably settle into a place of contentment or even complacency until our own snoring startles us back to reality.
Most doctrinal extremes are an over exaggeration of a biblical truth, which has been created by an under emphasis of that particular truth.
Consequently, in the last decade or so there has been a strong emphasis on the “restoration” of the scriptural ministry of apostles and prophets. This teaching has been both heralded and categorically rejected.
While all Bible believing followers of Christ declare allegiance to Scripture, two dangerous extremes lurk ever near. First, there are those who simply refuse to acknowledge the sovereign moving of the Spirit. They want to be safe—they are like the Judaizers of the Early Church . They cling to personal experience as the singular basis for spiritual evaluation. Nothing, not even divine reality, can dislodge them from their concepts. As an example, one might recall that many devout followers of Christ very adamantly rejected the Pentecostal message just over one hundred years ago. These are good people, but have preconceived ideas of when, where, and how God will fulfill His own purposes in the Church.
On the opposite extreme are those who are eager and willing to accept any and every new idea. Find some “new revelation” and they embrace it—without even a moment's consideration of evaluating it by the Word. They want everything available to them in the spiritual realm, but often they are immature, like the “loaves and fish” crowd who followed after Christ for personal blessings.
Thankfully, most spiritually mature leaders do not fit into either of these patterns. Suffice it to say that it is appropriate and good and the scriptural responsibility assigned to God-called and anointed spiritual leaders that careful Scriptural examination be given to every “teaching” that makes an entrance on the stage of Church doctrine and practice . The guiding principle for such polemic must always be love. Those who become elitists or condemnatory create a disruption of fellowship and open wide the door for skepticism among unbelievers. Our final conclusions must come from the Word of God, and as Paul said, “Be eager and strive earnestly to guard and keep the harmony and oneness of [produced by] the Spirit in the binding power of peace” (Ephesians 4:3, Amp).
The two passages most often referred to in discussion of this subject of specific ministry callings are 1 Corinthians 12:28 and Ephesians 4:11
“And God hath set some in the church, first
apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers,
after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps,
governments, diversities of tongues.”
“Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets;
and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and
teachers;” (Ephesians 4:8, 11)
In both passages Paul is defining relationship among believers (Jewish and Gentile) and calling for unity in the “Body of Christ.” In context, the issue being addressed is not weighted toward administrative process or specific levels of authority. There is no evidence from this or other writings of the apostle that his motivation was to prescribe a system of government. Rather, in using the analogy of the human body, his plea is for every member of the Church to become a contributing member to the benefit of the whole spiritual body (1Corinthians 12:27 ; Ephesians 4:16 ).
The Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada adopted a position paper relating to apostles and prophets in the contemporary Church. In examining the “five-fold” ministry expressed in Ephesians 4, the following conclusions are noted.
“ Ephesians 4:11. The primary objective of Paul in Ephesians 4 is to now address one specific practical dimension of the church as a spiritual community, that being its unity. Urging believers to live lives worthy of their calling, he appeals for ‘every effort' (Ephesians 4:3) to be made to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (also Ephesians 4:13 ). However, as is typically Pauline, he is careful to also recognize that individual members of the ‘new humanity' are endowed with diverse gifts (Ephesians 4:7-13 compare Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12-14). These gifts are to be expressed through a life marked by humility, gentleness , patience, forbearance and love (Ephesians 4:2) that seeks to contribute to the strength and vitality of the whole (Ephesians 4:12, 16). In Ephesians 4:11 -12 specifically, the ministers given to His church, such as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers (or pastor-teacher), are examples of ministries that in a variety of ways equip all members to fulfill their Spirit empowered service.
“Consequently, in Ephesians 4:11, Paul is not presenting an exclusive list of ministries, nor an administrative/ authority structure for the present or future church, but rather is affirming the fundamental value and importance of the grace given to ‘each one' (Ephesians 4:7) for the sake of the ‘whole body' (Ephesians 4:16) as ‘each part does its work' (Ephesians 4:16).” 2.
The ministry gifts of Ephesians 4 are often referred to as Ascension Gifts of Christ to the Church. Again, it is to be understood that Paul provides a very specific revelation of truth as he identifies these ministry gifts. It is also essential to recall that these early New Testament believers did not have the New Testament Scripture as a point of reference. In fact, some of the Jewish believers, including leaders, were still struggling with an attitude of exclusivity. On the other hand, many of the Gentiles who accepted Christ had previously been idol worshipping pagans, and often had no concept of God's plan for holy living. Blending these opposites into “ one body ” surely posed a monumental challenge. Throughout his writings the apostle Paul frequently addresses this basic concept of developing spiritual unity among believers. (Reference
Romans 11-12; Galatians 3; Ephesians 3; etc.)
A brief outline of Ephesians 4:11-16 might be as noted here may be helpful to our understanding of the context.
Perfecting of the saints
Work of the ministry
Edifying body of Christ
Unity of the faith
Knowledge of the Son of God
Unto a perfect man
Measure of the stature of the
fullness of Christ
Grow up into Christ in all things
Grows to full maturity
Edifies itself in love
Those who accept the inspiration and authority of Scripture will quickly affirm that apostolic ministry must be in New Testament Church today. However, nowhere does God's Word indicate that apostles were “elected to a position” or sought for personal recognition and title.
Apostolic ministry is a function of spiritual leadership proceeding from godly maturity, scriptural experience, unquestioned integrity, compassionate works flowing out of a servant's heart, all cloaked in a garment of true humility.
A.W. Tozer expresses it profoundly.
“ A true and safe leader is likely to be one who has
no desire to lead, but is forced into a position of
leadership by the inward pressure of the Holy Spirit
and the press of external situation. Such were Moses
and David and the Old Testament prophets. I think
there was hardly a great leader from Paul to the
present day but that was drafted by the Holy Spirit
for the task, and commissioned by the Lord of the
Church to fill a position he had little heart for. I
believe it might be accepted as a fairly reliable rule
of thumb that the man who is ambitious to lead is
disqualified as a leader. The true leader will have no
desire to lord it over God's heritage, but will be humble,
gentle, self-sacrificing and altogether as ready to follow
as to lead, when the Spirit makes it clear that a wiser
and more gifted man than himself has appeared.” 3 .
NEW TESTAMENT USE OF WORD APOSTLE
Apostolos means “ ambassador, messenger, delegate ” or “ one sent with a specific message ” and is applied in both a specific and general sense in New Testament texts.
Apostle/Apostles is employed approximately 85 times in Scripture, exclusively in the New Testament
(Gospel of Luke—6 times; Acts—30 times; 1 & 2 Corinthians—9 times; Ephesians—3 times;
Revelation—3 times; others 1 or 2 times each).
Apostello meaning “ to send forth ” is used approximately 130 times in the New Testament.
Paul introduces himself as an “ apostle ” in nine of his letters and epistles (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 & 2 Timothy, and Titus).
Peter introduces himself as an “ apostle ” in both 1and 2 Peter.
Christ Himself, the Apostle and High Priest of our profession. “ Therefore, holy brothers, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, the apostle and high priest whom we confess ” (Hebrews 3:1, NIV).
“ The Twelve ” are Apostles by a unique series of definitive criteria in the New Testament, specifically the Gospels and book of Acts.
Firsthand witness to ministry from baptism to
resurrection of Christ (Acts 1:22 , 1 Cor. 15:7)
“ An apostle had to be a firsthand witness to both the
Resurrection and the teachings or sayings of Jesus .” 3.
All were appointed prior to Pentecost
Matthias was appointed after Judas betrayed Christ, between the ascension of Christ and the Day of Pentecost (Acts 1:23 -26).
Personally commissioned by the Lord to preach
“ You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last ” (John 15:16 , NIV).
“ Then said Jesus to them again, Peace be unto you: as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you ”
Became the foundation for the NT Church
“ Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone ” (Ephesians 2:19, 20, NIV).
Judge the 12 tribes of Israel
“ Jesus said to them, ‘ I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel' ” ( Matthew 19:28, NIV, also Luke 22:29,30).
Names in Foundation of New Jerusalem
“ And the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and in them the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb ” (Rev. 21:14).
The Apostle Paul is unique in that he did not walk with Christ during His earthly ministry, nor did he personally witness the post resurrection appearances of Christ prior to the ascension. However, twice after the actual event of Paul's conversion and call (Acts 9:1-19), he rehearses the details of his call to apostleship. Luke records Paul's dramatic conversion experience, along with his specific call to the Gentiles, once before an angry Jewish mob in Jerusalem (Acts 22:4-16) and later before King Herod Agrippa (Acts 26:9-18).
Since Paul did not have the same credentials as “The Twelve,” he often found it necessary to defend his apostleship (1 Corinthians 9:1,2 and 2 Corinthians 12:11,12) on the basis of (1) the personal revelation of Christ to him, (2) his Jewish heritage, (3) the number of revelations that he received, (4) the miraculous signs, and (5) the many hardships that he endured in following Christ. 4.
In the powerful chapter concerning the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15), Paul lists each of the post resurrection appearances of Christ and then succinctly notes that “last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time” (1 Corinthians 15:8). While there are various approaches to interpretation of this passage, it is commonly understood that Paul was stating that he was the last apostle to whom Christ actually appeared.
“ Paul not only regularly defended himself as an apostle in his letters and, when necessary defended the legitimacy of his apostleship, but he also insisted repeatedly on at least five facts about his apostleship. First, he insisted that his apostleship was divine in origin. He was called to be an apostle (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1). His apostleship was by the will of God (1 Corinthian 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; and Ephesians 1:1) and by the commandment of God (1 Timothy 1:1). Second, his apostleship was uniquely to the Gentiles, that is, to the uncircumcised (Romans 11:13 ; Galatians 2:7). Third, he is both the recipient himself of divine revelation and also the agent of divine revelation (Romans 16:25 , 26; 1 Corinthians 9:10 ; Ephesians 3:5 and Titus 1:1-3). Fourth, he has given evidence of the marks of an apostle through signs, wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12 ). Fifth, he is, not insignificantly, the last (eschatos) of the divinely called and commissioned apostles who had seen the resurrected Christ (1 Corinthians 15:8). 5.
For those who accept the inspiration and authority of Scripture, there can be little doubt that Paul was divinely chosen to serve in a unique capacity in the spreading of the Gospel to the then known world.
There are relatively few other New Testament leaders other than “The Twelve” and Paul who are given the title of apostles. This list would include Barnabas and Silas, Paul's well-known missionary companions; James, the Lord's brother (Galatians 1:19 ), Timothy and Silvanus (Silas)(some lists include them based on 1 Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:6); and Andronicus and Junias, Paul's relatives who were in prison with him (Romans 16:7).
Additionally, there were anonymous “messengers/ delegates” named by Paul (2 Corinthians 8:23 )) and Epaphroditus who was “sent” from Philippi to Rome to minister to the physical needs of Paul (Philippians 2:25 ). Since there was also a rather general usage of the word “ apostolos” most English bibles translate these two passages as “ messenger.”
“ The apostle is the first messenger of the King. An apostle always breaks up new ground; and flashes light into darkness which has never before received it.” 6.
“Apostolic ministry, then, is a church-building, fellowship-building work, exercised with accompanying miracles that are the work of the Spirit. The apostles left behind them established churches…” The true apostles built the Church. None of them ever tried to build a following for themselves .” 7.
Gifts of the Spirit working through them in
Fruit of the Spirit giving evidence of Godly character
“First, outstanding FRUIT of the Spirit, then outstanding GIFTS of the Spirit. The balance between the two is consistent with the New Testament all through; and probably the lack of balance between fruit and gifts is one of the principal reasons why false claimants to the office sooner or later come down with a crash. The sufferings of an apostle are such as demand the fullest possible exhibition of all the fruit of the Spirit.
“…it is still more deeply true that conspicuous gifts can plunge the possessor into the depth of spiritual disaster through pride, unless they are balanced by exceptional grace and Christlikeness—usually perfected by suffering. ” 8.
Authority within the church relating to:
guarding the purity of doctrine
“ A primary task of the New Testament apostles was to establish churches and to ensure that they were founded on sincere devotion to Christ and the New Testament faith. This task involved two main burdens: (a) An urgent God-given desire to maintain the purity of the church and its separation from sin and the world and (b) A continuing burden to proclaim the New Testament gospel and to defend it against heresy and false teachers .” 9.
The Scriptures are the inspired revelation of God and His redemptive plan for man. As such there is no duplication or equal today.
One of the most significant criteria for canonical recognition was that the book (1) had been written by an Apostle or (2) it was specifically approved by the Apostles.
From the level of concern expressed by the New Testament authors relating to doctrinal and behavioral purity, it would seem that this, rather than administrative procedures, was of primary importance to them. It is also quite likely that Paul's expression that the New Testament Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets” is defined in the context of the revelation of truth rather than organizational structure.
Understand and experience persecution and suffering for the cause of Christ
“ Are they servants of Christ? (I am out of my mind to talk like this.) I am more. I have worked much harder, been in prison more frequently, been flogged more severely, and been exposed to death again and again. Five times I received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, I spent a night and a day in the open sea, I have been constantly on the move. I have been in danger from rivers, in danger from bandits, in danger from my own countrymen, in danger from Gentiles; in danger in the city, in danger in the country, in danger at sea; and in danger from false brothers. I have labored and toiled and have often gone without sleep; I have known hunger and thirst and have often gone without food; I have been cold and naked. Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches ” (2 Corinthians 11:23 -28, NIV).
Train and mentor others to lead local congregations
“ You then, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things you have heard me say in the presence of many witnesses entrust to reliable men who will also be qualified to teach others ” (2 Timothy 2:1,2, NIV).
Anointed/Uncompromising proclamation of the Gospel
Authentic/Christ exalting miracles/manifestations
Establish/Reproduce viable New Testament churches
Scripturally train/Spiritually mentor developing leaders
Protect/Preserve Scriptural truth
Define/Defend Biblical holiness
Understand/Practice Servant leadership
MINISTRY OR OFFICE?
Frequently questions relate to the “position” of the “apostle” in the 21 st century church. Thankfully, there are scriptural guidelines to assist us in considering this important matter.
The Scriptures provide no indication of “ Apostolic succession .” That is, provision for the selection, election, or appointment of Apostles to replace or follow “ The Twelve ” is in no way mentioned in the New Testament. Obviously, Paul, who in his dramatic experience on the road to Damascus saw the resurrected Christ, met the qualifications of apostleship. In his letters to the Corinthians he both explains and defends his apostleship. Notice 1 Corinthians 15:6-8. “ Appeared to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also… ” Other than Matthais, who replaced Judas Iscariot, prior to the Day of Pentecost (beginning of the New Testament Church), there is no hint of any selection of “replacement” apostles. Had such been the case, quite likely another person would have been chosen after James was executed (Acts 12).
The absence of any instruction, provision, or example in Scripture for the future selection of apostles or any evidence that selection was made by the Early Church seems to indicate that while the “ apostles and prophets ” were foundational in establishing the Church, they were not necessarily “administrative officers.” The passages in Ephesians ( 2:20 and 3:5) have a very specific purpose— UNITY in the Body of Christ. Paul is instructing these Gentile believers that it is by God's grace that they as “ strangers and foreigners ” have now become “ fellow-citizens with the saints ” and are a part of the “ household of God .” W. E. Vine offers a clear explanation of the Ephesians 2:20 passage, “ And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets .” The “ of ” is not subjective. That is, the foundation does not consist of the apostles and prophets . Rather, it is objective , being laid by the apostles and prophets . 10. Most scholars will agree that the “ foundation ” is the Word of God, with Christ Himself being the Chief cornerstone. Simply stated, the apostles and prophets spoke words of revelation to this first generation of Jewish Christians and to former pagan Gentiles who had received Christ. This expansion of revealed truth came from those who had the authority of experience with the Lord (2 Peter 1:16 -21). An anointed voice to guide, instruct, encourage, and edify the people of God was far more important to them than rank or position . From all evidence, the infilling of the Holy Spirit resolved the carnal, self-serving attitude often observed among the disciples prior to Pentecost.
Instructions/qualifications are given for the selection of local church leadership (bishop—overseer, elder, pastor, or deacons), but not for apostles. Bishop or overseer — episkopos (Acts 20:28 ; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:1-7; Titus 1:3-9)
Elders— presbyteros (Acts 14:23 , many other passages)
Deacons— diakonos (Acts 6:3; 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
Pastor/shepherd— poimaino (1 Peter 5:1-4)
While not seeking position or title, one would conclude
that persons with an “apostolic ministry” in this generation would of necessity have the same qualifications and experience of the NT apostles, with the exception of not having personally been involved in the earthly ministry of Christ or having seen the resurrected Christ prior to His ascension.
The discussion relating to present day Apostles persistently focuses on the “ OFFICE ” of the Apostle. There is general agreement from Scripture as to how the apostle functions in ministry.
In the research that accompanied this article, it seemed quickly apparent that the “New Apostolic Reformation” views the present moment in Church history as a time when the “office” of the apostle is to be restored. The subsequent conclusions among the proponents of this movement grant almost unlimited authority to the apostle in all aspects of the Church, relating both to ministry and administration. It is my conclusion that it is at this point that confusion and disharmony may develop.
Whether the authority is individually assumed or collectively granted , the full scale impact of such an interpretation is that the apostle becomes the highest authority in all matters of governance, as well as faith and practice. According to the language of contemporary proponents of an apostolic office, personal accountability to a fellowship, communion, or denomination is bypassed in favor of the restored office (authority) of the apostle.
First, it should be noted that several of the leading voices (C. Peter Wagner, John Eckhardt, Hector Torres, Bill Harmon, and others) see this day as providential in the “restoration” of the office of the apostle to the Church.
In his book, The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets, Hector Torres identifies the restoration process in the Church from the Reformation until the present. For our purposes, it will be noted only from 1950 forward.
1950 Deliverance Evangelist ministry and mass
1960 Charismatic Renewal of all restored truth to
all past movement churches.
Pastors restored to being
sovereign head of their local
1970 Faith Faith confessions, prosperity and
victorious attitude and life.
Teacher ministry reestablished as
a major fivefold minister.
1980 Prophetic Prophetic, activating gifts, war-
fare praise, prophets to nations.
Prophet ministry was restored
and a company of prophets
1990 Apostolic Miraculous signs and wonders,
apostolic ministry, and unity,
great harvest of souls.
Apostle ministry being restored
to bring divine order and
structure, finalize restoration
of fivefold ministers. 11.
Further, Torres states: “According to Dr. C. Peter Wagner, post-denominational affiliations are springing forth around the world which are coming together for what has been called the New Apostolic Reformation. This movement is generating the most radical changes in church government since the sixteenth century.
“There is no doubt that God is bringing about these changes to the Church to restructure its governmen t and to reveal new strategies. In order to establish His objective of establishing the kingdom of heaven here on earth, God is restoring all the truths that had been lost. Those who refuse to accept this movement of the Spirit, with His new and marvelous strategies, in the end will cease to produce fruit and will disappear.” 12. (emphasis mine)
Perhaps John Eckhardt, in Moving in the Apostolic , presents the most definitive expression of this concept of the apostle as an “officer” in the Church.
“ As an officer in the Church, the apostle is
also an executive . He is a person who executes
power in the Church . In other words, he has the
power and authority to execute the plans and
purposes of God.” 13. (emphasis mine)
“ The ministry of apostleship is not just a man ;
it is an office.” 14.
“ The Apostle is an officer in the Church. As an
officer, the apostle has duties and functions to
execute .” 15.
“ This influential office carries a tremendous
amount of power and authority . God has
deposited this power and authority in this
office because the duties of the office require
it.” 16. (emphasis mine)
Eckhardt also identifies 26 duties executed by apostles. Among these, he lists the following:
“ To impart . Apostles have an ability to impart spiritual gifts to the saints. This impartation enables the saints to fulfill their callings and destinies.”
“ To order . Apostles bring order and government to the Church. The apostolic anointing is a governing anointing.
“ To legislate . As officers of the Church, apostles legislate. The issue orders and Kingdom decrees for the Church.
“ To war . Apostles are territorial warriors. They are spiritual commanders of the highest rank.
“ To enforce . Apostles are spiritual enforcers. They enforce Kingdom conduct, holiness, and biblical standards of righteousness. To enforce means to put in force, to compel obedience.
“ To ordain . Apostles ordain and set in place qualified leadership. This includes selection and confirmation.” 17. (emphasis mine)
He quotes from Paula Price's book , God's Apostle Revived.
“ Apostles exude authority. Active or dormant, their authority is difficult to disregard. It is the first obvious distinguishing feature .” 18.
His conclusion? “ Without apostolic authority, the Church will be unable to complete its mission. The Kingdom of God is established and maintained through authority.” 19.
Torres emphasizes that all other aspects of the fivefold ministry are subject to the apostle. He speaks of linking the relationship of an apostle and prophet together much in the ilk of a “pitcher and catcher” on a baseball team. While emphasizing relationship and humility, he concludes that the prophet must always be submissive to the apostle.
“ Only a foolish apostle would receive and act on every prophetic word sent in their direction. As I have said, I only enter a small percentage of the total number of prophetic words I receive in my Prophetic Journal . ” 20.
“ I feel that it is my personal responsibility to judge prophecies that come my way. In many cases I am judging the prophecy as it is being given, and half way through I know that the Holy Spirit, who has filled me, is not allowing me to bear witness to it.” 21.
“ The prophets, in turn, humble themselves before the apostles. They do not try to control the way the apostles interpret and execute the words they have received. This is humility, because many times the prophet “knows” that the apostle is on the wrong track. In the apostle-prophet relationships that have gone sour, the lack of humility on the part of prophets who overstep their boundaries and try to do what the apostles are supposed to do has often been a chief contributing factor.” 22.
It would seem that such statements as these noted would tend to a spirit of infallibility and superiority. Perhaps herein is the grave danger of this “apostolic reformation.”
Attempting to rank ministries is far different than a humble recognition that God Himself has called and qualified certain individuals to specific assignments.
It is interesting to remember that Jesus called Himself the “Son of man” on 24 occasions (out of 25 times the expression is used) in the Gospel of Luke and referred to God as “Father” more than 100 times in the Gospel of John. Jesus was frequently instructing the disciples about serving rather than being served. He washed their feet (John13) to counter their ongoing feuds about rank and position in the Kingdom.
The New Testament Church, founded on the Day of Pentecost, continues to this day in and through the work of the Holy Spirit. Our Lord's Church in the 21 st century should expect and experience the same supernatural manifestations of God's power as are recorded in the Book of Acts. However, it should be remembered that this inspired account is of the Acts of the Holy Spirit —not the Acts of the Apostles!
The New Testament provides the essential record of and for the Church and was written by men who were inspired by the Holy Spirit. While the Word in its entirety is for all generations, there are specific times when specific truths seem to be emphasized by the Holy Spirit.
The Word of God is inspired, authoritative, and productive. As such, it has no equal in any generation.
The Word enunciates the principles;
The Spirit illuminates the particulars.
God has indeed “called” and “gifted” certain individuals for special places of service. This is for His own eternal purpose; consequently, no person can exult in the manner in which he/she has been used by God or in the number of “accomplishments” that have been achieved. Pride caused angels to become devils and man to sever his relationship with God. Extreme care must be taken to avoid assuming any portion of God's glory to one's self.
One need never seek after “title” or “position” in the Lord's Church. To walk in obedience to His will and subsequently experience the anointing of the Spirit is more than adequate compensation for the child of God who understands the rewards of eternity.
Those whom God has raised up to carry forth what may be appropriately described as an “apostolic ministry” in this generation must not consider themselves to be spiritually superior, doctrinally infallible , or relationally dominant. Such leaders must exemplify a pattern of Biblical holiness in both public and private venues. They will humbly encourage others to follow them only as they follow Christ.
The Church of the 21 st century must remain sensitive and open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit. This requires deep contrition of heart before God and a willingness to “ hear what the Spirit is saying unto the churches.” Quite likely, from time to time, extreme teachings will surface. This is neither novel nor unique. Reference the church at Corinth . It is at such times that Spirit filled leaders will earnestly seek divine wisdom and strive for unity, yet without compromising the authority of Scripture.
The word prophet —“ prophetes” ( Greek) is used more than 475 times in Scripture (including both Old and New Testaments), with twice as many references in the Old Testament as in the New. Most are quite familiar with ministry of Old Testament prophet, as 17 of the 39 books of the Old Testament are identified as being written by prophets. Consequently, it will not be our purpose to discuss the particulars of the Old Testament seers.
Again, let us quickly affirm there is scriptural precedent and great need for prophetic ministry in the church today. However, as in the case with apostles, there is no scriptural indication that a person with such a calling from God was to be appointed or selected to a specific decision making position, or to exercise authority in matters of church administration or governance.
It should also be noted that the ministries of the apostle and prophet are often linked together in New Testament context. In the order of listing, in the two passages referred to at the opening of this article (1 Corinthians 12 and Ephesians 4), apostles are identified first, and prophets second .
In a white paper approved by the General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God, seven basic conclusions are identified relating to prophetic ministry during the early Church years as recorded in the New Testament.
“These accounts make clear that (1)there were recognized groups of prophets in the early churches often closely associated with the apostles; (2) the apostles themselves (as Barnabas, Silas [both of whom on occasion appear to be recognized as apostles], Saul [Paul], and John) also functioned as prophets (Acts 13:1; 15:32; Revelation 1:3); (3) these prophets did travel on occasion from church to church; (4) both men and women were recognized as prophets; (5) prophets, while never appointed to ruling functions in their capacity as prophets like overseers/elders did exercise spiritual influence with the apostles and elders in the belief and practice of the Early Church; (6) the integrity of the prophet was maintained by authentic inspired utterance that was true to the Scriptures and apostolic doctrine; and (7) there is no provision for qualifying or appointing prophets as part of the church leadership hierarchy for succeeding generations.” 23.
In several easily observable ways the ministry of a New Testament prophet closely parallels the Old Testament prophets. However, we shall limit our discussion here to three specific areas of the prophet's ministry.
Explanation of truths (mysteries) relating to Old Testament revelation (i.e. Law of Moses)
Of the more than 160 references to “ prophets ” in the New Testament, only a very small number (less than 10) refer specifically to New Testament prophets. Those who are actually named: Agabus (Acts 11:28 and 21:10 ); Judas and Silas (Acts 15:32 ); Barnabas , Niger , Lucius, Manaen, and Saul (Paul) were included in a group identified as “ prophets and teachers ” (Acts 13:1).
On rare occasion, and only in the Book of Acts, is the particular ministry of the prophet explained (i.e., Agabus prophesied of a coming drought and of Paul's impending imprisonment). The references in Ephesians ( 2:20 ; 3:5, 4:11 ) provide the level of importance that was afforded the prophet in the Early Church .
As the major transition from the Law of Moses to the Covenant of Grace was in process, throughout the Gospels and the Book of Acts there is consistent explanation of the heretofore not understood mysteries concerning Christ as Savior/Redeemer for all mankind. The apostle Paul seems especially committed (having been a Pharisee prior to his conversion) to “speak of God's secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began” because “God has revealed it to us by his Spirit” (1 Corinthians 2:7, 10, NIV).
In this sense, the prophet was standing at the pivotal cross road of human history and looking both backward and forward. His spiritual eyes saw what God had intended for man to see through the progressive revelation of His own glory. But it had been translucent, obscured from the full understanding of even the most devout. The Old Testament prophets did not fully comprehend the “ whosoever will” plan of redemption that was to be available through the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. What a great moment this must have been for these New Testament prophets—to see the eyes of the heart brighten as revelation brought light and the joyful embrace of this “once and for all” Redeemer.
While this is indeed a vital segment of the prophet's ministry, it must not be construed as singular or paramount in importance. Unfortunately, some have abused this aspect of ministry and sought to build a “reputation” on proclaiming future events, both for individuals, churches, and nations. It is my opinion that a significant percentage of the Old Testament prophecies were coming directly from the culture in which the prophet lived. Knowing the Word of God, they fearfully warned of imminent judgment.
Allow a personal experience to illustrate this point. I was guest speaker for a meeting (outside of the USA ) and one morning another speaker—who identified himself as a prophet—gave several pastors instructions concerning the future of their ministry. The following morning, in a ministers session where I was the speaker, one of those pastors stated that shortly before coming to this gathering another prophet had told him that he was to do exactly the opposite from what he had just been told yesterday. Now, he wanted to know which was correct. I tried to provide scriptural balance by saying that the Lord may indeed use another to “confirm” or “affirm” His will. However, it is highly unlikely that we, as Spirit filled believers, must rely on another's revelation for ministerial direction.
Then, I privately approached the brother on the matter. He responded that he was generally correct about 80% of the time, and, after all, people understood that he was human and made mistakes. My concern was about the other 20% of the time that he was incorrect!
Understanding that none are perfect, there may be occasions when personal zeal moves ahead of spiritual reality. The red flag that waves here is for the person who has publicly claimed the “title” of prophet or prophetess. In order for the integrity of the Gospel to be guarded, he or she has to live up to this declared anointing from God. Again, this is not to denigrate the ministry of those whom God has powerfully anointed, only to say that reality need not seek authentication through position or title.
The spiritually fragile desperately want to hear a “word from the Lord.” They are weighted down and long for immediate, instantaneous relief from life's issues, struggles, and hardships. A prophetic announcement promising a dream life with abundant wealth and no problems is welcomed news. But the prophet must always be true to the authority of the Word. Hence, great care should be exercised when “prophetically” announcing the future, either for an individual, church, community, or nation.
Practical application of known truth in a specific location and culture.
From my perspective, this aspect of a prophetic ministry provides, at one and the same time, the greatest opportunity and greatest challenge for the truly anointed prophet of God. Of all the areas that may be included in defining a prophet's ministry, unquestionably this is the single most compelling in a postmodern culture. Clear, uncompromising voices must proclaim “Thus saith the Lord” to this generation.
One of the most significant concerns of both Old and New Testament prophets was the tendency of God's people to gradually become assimilated into culture and stray away from a life of separation and holiness.
Looking back now over more than 40 years in the ministry, it seems that in recent times there has been a hesitancy to “ name sin as sin ” (as the earlier generation used to say). The true prophet of the 21 st century is no more likely to have “superstar” status that did Elijah or John the Baptist. His message is often downplayed, if not openly repudiated. He sees the church in desperate need of sobering, heartrending repentance.
The true prophet of this generation is pleading
“ God, forgive us ” rather than “ God, give us .”
There is plenty of space on the stage for this kind of prophet. This ministry does not require a title or position, only a broken heart and willingness to “stand in the gap.” .
Another chapter in this volume addresses the matter of the Gift of Prophecy (1 Corinthians 12); consequently the comments here will be of an abbreviated nature. In the context of the nine spiritual gifts identified by Paul in the Corinthian passage (1 Corinthians 12 –14), the “gift of prophecy” is normally exercised in an assembled body of believers and is specifically for the purposes of “edification, exhortation, and comfort” (1 Corinthians 14:3).
It should be observed that these “ gifts of the Spirit ” are resident in the Holy Spirit and the Spirit is resident in the believer . Paul reminds the Corinthians that “ All these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and he gives them to each one, just as he determines” (1 Corinthians 12:11 , NIV).
Consequently, a believer does not “own” a specific gift, but may be used by the Spirit for the expression of any of these special manifestations as is needed for the occasion. As a prophetic utterance is a spontaneous response (without previous preparation as to what is said) to the Holy Spirit, Paul instructs the hearers to judge the correctness, in light of Scriptural truth, of the word spoken.
The intervention of the Spirit into a public worship service with a special message (prophecy, tongues/ interpretation) has long been cherished by Pentecostal believers. Believers should be encouraged to be available to the Spirit. Powerful testimonies of great deliverance and victory ring forth as a result of such personal care and concern of the Holy Spirit.
The word evangelist —“ euangelistes” is used only three times in Scripture, all of which are in the New Testament. In the Ephesians 4:11 passage, evangelists are listed third in order, behind the apostles and prophets.
Philip is simply identified, without elaboration, as and evangelist in Acts 21:8 and Paul instructs Timothy to do the “ work of an evangelist” in 2 Timothy 4:5.
However, it should be noted that the companion verb ( proclamation, preach ) and noun ( Gospel, good news ) are employed more than 160 times in the New Testament. The sharing of the message of man's redemption through faith in Christ was the indisputable passion of the Early Church .
Perhaps this is the one gift that Christ gave to the Church
that has historically maintained its original purpose and intent. While there have been seasons in history when public evangelism was at a low ebb, the understanding of the ministry of an evangelist has remained virtually in tact from the early years of the New Testament Church.
However, it might be helpful to restore the purity of this ministry in practice. Simply stated, and certainly without criticism for all those who are committed to the Lord's work, not all “itinerant” ministers are truly evangelists in the scriptural meaning. Perhaps traveling ministers who more directly relate to believers should be identified as “revivalists” or some other special title relating to the specific area of ministry in which they are engaged.
Those who are called to be evangelists are committed to a very narrow and specific purpose—that of proclaiming the message of salvation to those who are lost. The evangelist does not come to condemn the sinner for sin, but rather to deliver a message of hope for forgiveness of sin.
“The whole Bible to men with this divine gift seems to contain nothing but one message; they find it in all types of stories of the Old Testament; it sings to them out of the Psalms, and inspires them from the prophets. They revel in the New Testament, for here they are most at home. Sometimes they amaze us, however, by the way they find gospel truth in parts of the Bible where we have seen nothing but pure history, or prediction, or doctrine applicable to believers only. Like Philip, their classic example, they are ready to commence at almost any portion of the Bible you please, and preach JESUS!
It is a glorious gift.” 24.
Stanley Horton makes an interesting observation in his volume , What the Bible Says About the Holy Spirit, when speaking of the unique ministry of the evangelist.
“ Here is a distinction between the evangelist and the prophet that is not often noticed. The evangelist did not go to churches. He went where the sinners were. Prophets went to the churches. In a sense, then, the prophets were revival men.” 25.
In this postmodern era, the evangelist must have a keen sensitivity to the voice of God and a compassionate heart for the both the perpetrators and victims of man's depravity. Herein is the challenge—relating without compromising. Expressing God's heart without alienating the hurting. The old adage of ever-changing methods but a never-changing message has never been more apropos than in the 21 st century. One need not adopt the cultural standards of dress, imitate the entertainment, or present a syncretistic version of contemporary spiritual life to reach the confused and broken of this day. In fact, Jesus offers a totally radical departure from the attitudes and actions of sinful humanity. The evangelist simply shares His message and the Holy Spirit reveals the living Christ.
The book of Acts does not conclude with an “Amen.” The New Testament Church has not yet been raptured out of this world. As Pentecostal believers we have the identical spiritual privileges as followers of Christ experienced in the first century. To fulfill the mission of our Lord's Church, God called and anointed leaders must lay claim to every aspect of truth provided and promised in Scripture.
All Scripture quotations are from the King James Version, unless otherwise noted. New International Version—NIV; Amplified—Amp.
Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada , Contemporary Apostles
and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada , 2002.
Tozer, A. W. “No Desire to Lead” source unknown.
General Council Assemblies of God, Apostles and
Prophets, 2001. page 4. This paper was approved by the
General Presbytery of the Assemblies of God on August 6,
2001, as the official statement on Apostles and Prophets.
Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada , Contemporary Apostles and the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada . page 7.
Carlson, G. Raymond, “The Ministry Gifts of Ephesians 4.” Conference of the Holy Spirit Digest, Volume II (1982): page 102. Carlson quotes G. Campbell Morgan.
Horton, Stanley M., What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit. Springfield , Missouri : Gospel Publishing House, 1976. page 266.
Gee, Donald, “The Ministry-Gifts of Christ.” Pentecostal Evangel (April 5, 1930): page 2.
Full Life Study Bible, page 1852.
Vine, W. E., Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words. McClean , Virginia : MacDonald Publishing Company. page 468.
Torres, Hector, The Restoration of the Apostles and Prophets. Nashville , Tennessee : Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001. page 10.
Ibid., page 15.
Eckhardt, John, Moving in the Apostolic. Ventura , California : Renew Books, 1999. page 65.
Ibid., page 91
Ibid., page 92.
Ibid., pages 92-93.
Ibid., pages 96-98.
Ibid., page 124.
Torres, The Restoration of the Apostles and Prophets,
Ibid., page 173.
Ibid., page 178.
General Council Assemblies of God, Apostles and Prophets , page 9.
Gee, Donald, “The Ministry-Gifts of Christ.” Pentecostal Evangel (June 7, 1930): page 3.
Horton, Stanley M., What the Bible Says about the Holy Spirit, page 268.
Other Resources Consulted
Guynes, Delmer R., The Gospel of the Ascension. Kuala Lumpur , Malaysia : Calvary Church Press, 1986.
Womack, David A., Pentecostal Experience, The Writings of Donald Gee. Springfield , Missouri : Gospel Publishing House, 1993.
Harmon, Bill, Apostles Prophets and the Coming Moves of God. Shippensburg , Pennsylvania : Destiny Image Publishers, 1997.
Wagner, C. Peter, Apostles of the City. Colorado Springs , Colorado : Wagner Publications, 2000.
Keener, Craig S., The IVP Bible Background Commentary, New Testament. Downers Grove , Illinois : InterVarsity Press, 1993.