New Apostolic Reformation
By James T. Bartsch, WordExplain.com
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God's household, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone, Ephesians 2:19-20
by James T. Bartsch
Initially published March 4, 2014. Updated March 12, 2014
On August 24, 2011, C. Peter Wagner issued a defense of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), a term he admits having coined himself. This defense appeared as an opinion piece by Wagner in CharismaNews.com. It is entitled, "The New Apostolic Reformation Is Not a Cult." He notes that "certain liberal media opponents of ... conservative candidates" have linked certain conservative politicians with NAR in an attempt to discredit them as being caught up in a "cult." The conservative politicians he mentions include Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, and Rick Perry. In fact, his statement is a reaction to a negative article about the movement summarizing an interview of Rachel Tabachnick by Terry Gross on "Fresh Air," produced by National Public Radio (NPR). The summary article, entitled, "The Evangelicals Engaged in Spiritual Warfare," appeared online on August 19, 2011. Apparently NPR was trying to influence the outcome of the election. In fairness to the article (I have not listened to the broadcast), it never once uses the word "cult." The article does claim that NAR is outside the pale of typical evangelical Christianity. In the interest of making a full disclosure, we should note that Tabachnick is a contributor to Talk to Action: Reclaiming Citizenship History and Faith, a left-of-center website.
In this article, I will seek to demonstrate the following, that:
There are Biblical terms related to the office of Apostle.
Biblical Apostles were personally hand-picked and personally commissioned by Jesus;
Paul was hand-picked by Jesus to be one of His Apostles;
There are only twelve Biblical Apostles;
Biblical Apostles are confirmed by means of corroborating miracles;
In the New Testament there is an observable transition from Apostles to Elders as the chief source of authority;
The Scriptures Wagner uses to justify present day Apostles have a better explanation;
What about the "other apostles"?
The terms "Elder" and "Overseer" are more appropriate for today's church leaders than is "Apostle";
The belief in ongoing extra-biblical revelation seems inevitably to lead to excess;
My conclusion is justifiable.
Is there any chance I am wrong?
Do Apostles exist today? C. Peter Wagner answers this question in the affirmative. Here is a direct quote from his response to NPR in Charisma News:
Apostolic governance. As I mentioned before, this is probably the most radical change. I take literally St. Paul’s words that Jesus, at His ascension into heaven, “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Most of traditional Christianity accepts evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not apostles and prophets. I think that all five are given to be active in churches today. In fact, St. Paul goes on to say, “And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…” (1 Corinthians 12:28). This does not describe a hierarchy, but a divine order. Apostles are first in that order.
I strongly object to journalists using the adjective “self-appointed” or “self-declared” when referring to apostles. No true apostle is self-appointed. First of all, they are gifted by God for that ministry. Secondly, the gift and its fruit are recognized by peers and the apostle is “set in” or “commissioned” to the office of apostle by other respected and qualified leaders.
I personally disagree with the stance Wagner has taken. While he has included Scriptures that might appear to legitimize his position and that of NAR, he has omitted others that undermine it.
Apostolos. The English word "apostle" comes to us untranslated from the Greek noun apostolos (652). The most basic meaning of apostolos, used 80 times in the NT, is "one who is sent," as illustrated in John 13:16; Luke 11:49 (probable); 2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25. It is possible that John's use of the term in Rev. 18:20 is a generic use of the term, similar to the use of Luke in Luke 11:49. John may have been referring generally to those sent by God, including the OT prophets, for he linked the words in Rev. 18:20. The writer of Hebrews called Jesus an Apostle (Heb. 3:1) because He was sent by God. But we do not understand Jesus to be an apostle in the same sense that the twelve apostles were.
From the very first use of the word apostolos in the NT (in Matt. 10:2), we become acutely aware that the vast majority of the Biblical uses of the word were in a technical sense. By that I mean that, while there are a few exceptions, the vast majority of the occurrences of apostolos refer to a select group of people -- the Twelve Apostles of Christ. These men were specifically appointed by Him to embark upon missions and to serve as the foundation the Church. It will be my argument throughout this document that, though there may be apostles with a small "a" who are sent by someone else, there are only Twelve Apostles with a Capital "A" sent by Jesus Christ. I call those Twelve Apostles Biblical Apostles.
It is not without accident that there are repeated references in the NT to "apostle of Christ" or "apostles of Christ." Here are the noteworthy examples: 1 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 1:1; 2 Cor. 11:13; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 2:6; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2 Tim. 1:1; Tit. 1:1; 1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; Jude 1:17. Most of these listed, of course, refer to the Apostle Paul. Exactly where he fit in with the Twelve Apostles I have explained below.
Paul spoke of the spiritual gift of being an apostle in 1 Cor. 12:28, 29 and in Eph. 4:11. But that should not be misconstrued to mean that God gifted certain people to be apostles independent of the other criteria of being an apostle. For example, even though at one time Jesus personally commissioned 70 men to go out in pairs (Luke 10:1) to heal the sick in the towns that received them, and to announce to their inhabitants that the kingdom of God had drawn near them (Luke 10:8, 9), they were never called apostles in the sense that the twelve were. What 1 Cor. 12:28, 29 and Eph. 4:11 mean is that, to those whom Jesus called as His official apostles, to them He gave the requisite gifting to enable them to perform their ministry. It cannot be assumed or proven that the gift of apostleship in the New Testament sense is being given throughout the Church Age.
In the final analysis, there are a fixed number of apostles throughout eternity -- only twelve (Rev. 21:14). Whatever may be said about other "apostles", whether they be Barnabas (Acts 14:14) or the unnamed brothers who traveled with Titus (2 Cor. 8:23), there is a clear distinction between them and the official twelve. Paul made it clear that he was an apostle "not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father" (Gal. 1:1). The twelve apostles are an elite class with unique gifts and unique authority and unique credentials (2 Cor. 12:12). There have never been and never will be Biblical apostles on a par with the Twelve.
Apostellō. The noun apostolos is, in turn, related to the verb apostellō (649), "to send." NT writers used this rather common verb 132 times. A quick perusal will assure the reader that most of these occurrences are general and non-technical. By "non-technical," I mean "having nothing to do with Jesus' sending out of His twelve apostles." The vast majority of these non-technical, general uses occur in the four Gospels and the book of Acts. Here is a sample of these non-technical uses gleaned from the Gospel of Matthew: Matt. 2:16; 8:31; 11:10; 13:41; 14:35; 15:24; 20:2; 21:3, 34, 36, 37; 22:3, 4, 16; 23:34, 37; 24:31; 27:19.
There are a number of non-technical instances in which Jesus Himself sent someone on a mission that had nothing to do with the Apostolic mission of preaching the kingdom of God accompanied by healing and exorcism. These non-technical examples would include Matt. 21:1; Mark 11:1; 14:13; Luke 9:52; 19:29, 32; 22:8; Acts 9:17; Rev. 1:1.
There are also some technical uses of the word apostellō. These refer to Jesus' sending out the Twelve, and on one occasion, the Seventy: Mark 3:14; 6:7; Luke 9:1-2; Luke 10:1, 3; 22:35; John 4:38; 17:18; 20:21; Acts 26:17; 1 Cor. 1:17.
ApostolÍ. There are but four occurrences of the noun apostolÍ (651). In the NASB it is always translated, "apostleship." These four are found in Acts 1:25, where Peter persuaded 120 brothers that it was necessary for them to replace someone in the position of apostleship vacated by Judas; Romans 1:5, where Paul referred to the focus of his apostleship -- to bring about the obedience of faith in Jesus among the nations of the civilized world; 1 Corinthians 9:2, where Paul counted the Corinthian believers as the seal of his apostleship in the Lord; and Galatians 2:8, where Paul referred to the focus of Peter's apostleship -- to labor among the people of Israel wherever they might be found. So in the NT, apostolÍ refers either to the ministry of being an apostle in general terms, or to the particular ministry of being an apostle as it relates to a particular apostle. Whether Peter's initiative to replace Judas in Acts 1:15-26 was guided by Jesus or not is a matter open to debate.
Pseudapostolos. There is one occurrence in the NT of the word pseudapostolos (5570), "false apostle." The word occurs in 2 Cor. 11:13, where Paul accused certain people of being false apostles.
Apparently there were some in Corinth who were boastfully advertising themselves as apostles on a par with Paul. Part of their motive may have been to reap financial rewards from their pseudo-apostolic ministry. Partly for that reason, Paul refused to take financial compensation from the Corinthians, in order that he might distinguish himself from these pseudo-apostles (2 Cor. 11:12).
Paul had nothing kind to say about these men. He called them "deceitful workers," men who were attempting to disguise themselves as apostles of Christ when they really were not (2 Cor. 11:13). He wrote that it should not be any surprise that men would falsely pose as apostles when they really were not. That was because even Satan himself disguises himself as an angel of light (2 Cor. 11:14). Paul concluded that, since Satan so disguised himself as an angel of light, it should be no surprise if Satan's servants, the false apostles, disguised themselves as servants of righteousness (2 Cor. 11:15)! Paul concluded this brief explanation by warning of the dire consequences awaiting these false apostles.
The Apostle John did not use the word pseudapostolos, but he quotes Jesus as implying it in Rev. 2:2. There, Jesus applauded the Ephesian church for their deeds, their hard work, and their perseverance. He was pleased they would not tolerate evil men. He praised them for putting to the test those who call themselves apostles, but are not. He congratulated them that had discovered that these self-appointed apostles were false.
Conclusion regarding Biblical Terminology. It should become clear to us that Biblical words must be evaluated in their context. The word apostellō does not always mean that Jesus is sending someone on a preaching-healing-exorcism mission. In fact, usually it does not. The word apostolos, moreover, does not always refer to someone that Jesus has sent on a preaching-healing-exorcism mission. But usually it does. Biblical apostles were hand picked by Jesus and personally commissioned by him on ministries. Biblical apostles were gifted by Jesus to perform their unique ministry - they were able to perform miraculous signs. Unfortunately, there are self-appointed apostles, or apostles commissioned by mere men, but not by Jesus. These men are dangerous, for they assign to themselves power and authority that does not come from Jesus. There are false apostles. Let us beware of them!
Indisputably, the original apostles were all chosen personally by Jesus. There was a much larger group of disciples (learners) who believed in Jesus. But there were twelve that He personally hand-picked and identified as "apostles" ("sent ones"). These apostles are identified in Matthew 10:1-4; Luke 6:12-16. They are called "apostles" because Jesus, during His ministry upon earth, personally assigned them to embark upon missions of preaching, healing, and exorcism (Matt. 10:5-15; Luke 9:1-11).
Matthew, In his gospel, recorded the last conversation Jesus had with the eleven remaining disciples (Judas, the betrayer, had committed suicide - Matt. 27:1-10). Jesus met His eleven disciples upon a mountain in Galilee. They worshiped Him, but some had misgivings. Jesus announced that all authority had been given to Him in heaven and upon earth. In view of this, therefore, as they were going, He commanded them, they were to disciple all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things which Jesus had commanded to them (the disciples). Jesus assured them, "And look, I, even I, am with you all the days, even to the end of the age" (author's literal translation) (Matt. 28:16-20).
Doctor Luke, in his second historical document written to Theophilus, rehearsed his objectives in his first account. He spoke of the fact that Jesus, "...had by the Holy Spirit given orders to the apostles whom He had chosen" (Acts 1:1-2). He told them to wait in Jerusalem for the promised baptism in the Spirit, which was to occur very soon (Acts 1:4-5). The apostles wondered if it was at this time that Jesus would restore the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6). To this Jesus replied "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority; but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth" (Acts 1:7-8).
My point is this: Jesus personally hand-picked each of his apostles. He personally assigned them to embark upon missions. Who are these "apostles" of the NAR? Who picked them? Who assigned them to embark upon missions? Was it Jesus? Have each of them personally met the Lord and been personally, audibly hand-picked by Jesus? I'm sorry, but I must confess that I strongly doubt it. I believe they are taking Scripture out of context. They are "cherry-picking" certain Scriptures that support their view, but ignoring others that do not. C. Peter Wagner strongly objects to the term "self-appointed", which some journalists use in describing the "apostles" of the NAR. (See under the heading "Apostolic governance" in his apologetic.) I will respect his wishes. I will not call him and his fellow "apostles" (see the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders [ICAL]) "self-appointed." But I will call them "man-appointed." I do not believe they have been appointed either by God or by Jesus. Why not? Because they simply do not meet the criteria. In my opinion, Jesus has not personally picked a single one of them to be an apostle. And Jesus has not personally assigned them to a mission. If you don't meet those criteria, you cannot be a legitimate, Biblical apostle. You might be someone else's apostle, but you are not the Church's, and you are not mine. I put no more credence in the apostles of ICAL than I do in the Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Any cult or church or movement can claim they have apostles. That does not make them legitimate, Biblical apostles, for there are only twelve apostles who have been personally hand-picked by Jesus and personally assigned by him to embark upon a mission. Their names either are or will be permanently embossed upon the twelve foundations of the walls of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14). Their number has been fixed. None can be added, nor can any be taken away.
What about the Apostle Paul? That is an excellent question. Let us examine the evidence.
After Jesus had ascended to heaven, the eleven apostles gathered together in "the upper room where they were staying", devoting themselves, along with some of the women, to prayer (Acts 1:12-14). It was Peter who took the initiative to secure a replacement apostle for Judas. He quoted some Scripture (Psa. 69:25; 109:8) that he believed demonstrated someone needed to take the place of Judas (Acts 1:15-20). He proceeded to set forth a criterion which the replacement apostle needed to meet -- he needed to have been with the rest of the disciples the entire time beginning with the baptism of John until Jesus ascended. This man would assist them in witnessing the resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:21-22). The others agreed, and put forward two men -- Joseph called Barsabbas (and also Justus) and Matthias. They prayed, asking the Lord to show which of the two men He had chosen to replace Judas (Acts 1:23-25). Then they drew lots, "and the lot fell to Matthias; and he was added to the eleven apostles" (Acts 1:26).
And that is the last time we ever hear the name of Matthias mentioned.Now why is that? Here is my opinion, based primarily upon what happened subsequently in Acts. I don't think Jesus chose Matthias. Peter did the best thing he knew to do. I'm certain he felt it was the right thing to do, the Biblical thing to do. The others obviously agreed. But in my opinion, they were all wrong. They should have had an empty chair or empty seat in the lot-drawing. That would have given Jesus the opportunity to say, "Neither!" But they didn't do that. They assumed this was the right, even Biblical course of action. But there is one problem. Luke does not record that Jesus told Peter to do what He did. Jesus was strangely silent. He was prayed to, but He remained silent. In my opinion, when we reach New Jerusalem and stroll an exceedingly great distance around the entire perimeter of that gargantuan city, we will be able to read all the names of the twelve apostles (Rev. 21:14). But I am convinced Matthias' name will not be there. There is another, much more likely candidate. Who is he? Let us read on in the book of Acts.
When we reach Acts 7:1-60, we read of the first martyr of the Church, Stephen. As his murderers (who thought, by the way, that they were doing God a favor) were stoning him, the witnesses laid their cloaks at the feet of a man named Saul (Acts 7:58). Saul was in hearty agreement with Stephen's execution (Acts 8:1). Immediately, there began a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and all were scattered except the apostles (Acts 8:1). Saul began an intense and systematic persecution of the Church. He became the Church's greatest enemy (Acts 8:3). He obtained permission from the high priest to arrest any Christians he might find in the synagogues of Damascus, the capital of Syria (Acts 9:1-2). He was nearing Damascus when something stopped him dead in his tracks, as it were. You see, Jesus had other plans.
"...[S]uddenly a light from heaven flashed around him" (Acts 9:3). He fell to the ground and heard a voice asking him, "Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" (Acts 9:4). To which Saul replied, "Who are You, Lord?" In reply the Lord responded, "I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do" (Acts 9:5-6). It should be noted that the men who accompanied Saul could vouch for his story. They stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no one (Acts 9:7). They led the now-blind Saul into Damascus (Acts 9:8).
The Lord then raised up Ananias to serve as His prophet. He was to go to Saul and lay his hands on him, restoring his sight. Saul was Jesus' chosen instrument to bear His name before Gentiles, kings, and the sons of Israel, suffering great things for Jesus' sake (Acts 9:10-16). As a confirmation to Saul, Jesus gave him a vision of Ananias coming to him (Acts 9:12). Ananias did so (Acts 9:17-19).
Saul had, apparently, been converted to believe in Jesus almost instantaneously. Paul had seen Jesus and been blinded by Him! Furthermore, Jesus, through the prophet Ananias, had personally called Saul to be His apostle, informing him of his life-long mission. Saul took his mission seriously, immediately proclaiming Jesus as the Son of God, the Messiah (Acts 9:19-22).
So what are we to make of Saul, who later became known as Paul (Acts 13:9)? He was not one of the original twelve. But he certainly did see Jesus (Acts 9:3-6; 1 Cor. 9:1), and unquestionably Jesus called him into ministry (Acts 9:10-19). Paul repeatedly identified himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1, 5; 11:13; 1 Cor. 1:1; 4:9; 9:1-2, 5; 15:9; 2 Cor. 1:1; 11:5; 12:12; Gal. 1:1, 17; 2:8; Eph. 1:1; Col. 1:1; 1 Thess. 2:6; 1 Tim. 1:1; 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:1, 11; Tit. 1:1.
It is significant that Paul identified himself as "an apostle (not sent from men nor through the agency of man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from the dead)" (Gal. 1:1). Those whom Jesus does not appoint, but whom men send or confirm are thus not really apostles. At least, they are not Biblical apostles. Of such, beware!
So I return to the question, who is the twelfth apostle? In my judgment, the facts are overwhelming. Matthias was not Jesus' choice to be the twelfth apostle. Paul was. Peter retains prominence as the leading apostle through the first twelve chapters of Acts, but then almost fades from view. From Acts 13 to Acts 28, it is the story of Paul, arguably the greatest apostle of all. Of the 27 documents comprising the NT, Paul wrote 13, almost half of them!
Say what you will, but I am convinced there are but twelve apostles whom Jesus personally called as such. The names of the original twelve, minus Judas, plus Paul will be the names enshrined forever on the foundations of New Jerusalem, the eternal capital city of both redeemed Israel and the Church (Rev. 21:14). The early church thought they were doing Jesus a favor, and arranged it so that Matthias was called an "apostle." But he wasn't really, for Jesus never chose him. Paul was Jesus' choice for the twelfth apostle. Man proposes, but God disposes.
In much the same way ICAL participants think they are Christ's apostles. They can even quote Scripture to prove it, much as Peter did concerning the eventual selection of Matthias. But they are, in my opinion, just as wrong as Peter and the early apostles were about Matthias. Men may pronounce them apostles, but I don't think Jesus has. He may have moved them into a position of ministry, but they are not His apostles. There are only twelve of them. And I don't think the names of C. Peter Wagner or John P. Kelly will be among them.
The Apostle Paul was under attack by the church in Corinth. He wrote virtually the entire letter of 2 Corinthians to defend his apostolic ministry. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul made a most remarkable statement as part of his proof that he was, indeed, an apostle. Here is what he said: "Indeed, the signs of the apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, with all signs and wonders and powerful deeds" (author's translation). The word "signs" (Paul used it twice in this verse) is the plural of sÍmeion (4592), meaning, in this context, "authenticating miracles." The word "wonders" is the plural of teras (5059), meaning "that which causes the observer to wonder or marvel because of its unusual nature." In the NT, teras only appears in tandem with sÍmeion and three times also with dunamis (2 Cor. 12:12; 2 Thess. 2:9 (in connection with the Antichrist!); and Heb. 2:4). The word "powerful deeds" is the plural of dunamis (1411), which, linked with the other two words, refers to "powerful miracles." The reader can easily click on the numbered links above to see for himself the uses of each of these words in the New Testament.
The point Paul was making in 2 Cor. 12:12, and which I am also making, is that one needs to be able to prove he is a Biblical apostle by his ability to perform authenticating miracles. Paul certainly demonstrated that ability. He blinded Elymas, the magician, for several hours. The miracle had a salutary effect upon Sergius Paulus, the proconsul -- he believed in Jesus (Acts 13:8-12)! He healed a man lame from birth (Acts 14:8-10). The crowds were so impressed they concluded that the gods had come down among them (Acts 14:11-13). The fickle crowd, stirred up by Paul's opponents, stoned him and left him for dead. While the disciples watched, Paul got up and entered the city. The next day he left with Barnabas for Derbe (Acts 14:19-20). Was it a miracle? I don't know, but it sounds as though it was. Would you have been able to walk miles to another city the next day after you had been stoned within an inch of your life? I wouldn't have.
In Philippi, Paul cast out a demon from a demon-possessed fortune-teller. Her slave-owners were instantly able to tell the difference and grew enraged because of their loss of profit. They dragged Paul and Silas before the authorities and succeeded in having the pair beaten, and tossed into the inner prison, and further shackled with stocks (Acts 16:16-24). God sent an earthquake that opened the doors of the prison and loosened everyones' chains (Acts 16:25-26). As a result the jailer and his household became Christians (Acts 16:27-34). At Ephesus God performed extraordinary miracles by the hand of Paul. Handkerchiefs or aprons were carried from his body to the sick. Their diseases left them, and evil spirits were expelled (Acts 19:11-12). Unbelieving Jewish exorcists were unable to duplicate the power of God through Paul (Acts 19:13-16). As a result, many burned their magic books at great cost, choosing rather to believe in Jesus (Acts 19:18-20).
Paul's miracles were not performed in a vacuum. In retaliation against Paul, Demetrius the silversmith started a mob uprising that led to the people of the city gathering in the amphitheater against Paul and his converts. By the grace of God, the unruly mob was finally mollified (Acts 19:23-41).
In Troas, Paul raised from the dead a young man named Eutychus, who had fallen from a third story window in his sleep (Acts 20:6-12). Did the young man die, or did he merely lose consciousness? Dr. Luke was there, and he records that Eutychus "was picked up dead" (Acts 20:9). After Paul fell upon him and embraced him, he said, "Don't be troubled, for his life is in him" (Acts 20:10). It sounds to me as though Paul raised him back to life from the dead.
Arriving in Jerusalem, Paul was seized in the temple and spent the next couple of years imprisoned in jail for political purposes (Acts 21:27-26:32). Finally, having been forced to appeal to Caesar to preserve his own life, Paul, still a prisoner, embarked upon a ship heading for Rome. On the way, the ship was beset by a fierce storm and was wrecked on the island of Malta (Acts 27:1-44). While gathering firewood, Paul was attacked by a venomous snake. The island inhabitants were certain he would die, but he merely shook off the viper into the fire (Acts 28:1-6). Thereafter Paul healed the father of Publius from recurrent fever and dysentery (Acts 28:7-8). Subsequently the rest of the people who were ill came to Paul and were cured (Acts 28:9-10).
I can go on, detailing the miracles of Peter in the early chapters of Acts. At an entrance to the temple, Peter and John healed a beggar who had been lame from birth (Acts 3:1-10). Peter, with omniscience granted to him by the Lord, deciphered that Ananias and Saphira were lying about how much they had gained from the sale of their property. Both Ananias and Saphira fell down dead at Peter's words of rebuke (Acts 5:1-10). Understandably, great fear came upon the entire church, and upon others who heard (Acts 5:11).
At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people (Acts 5:12). Many believers were being added (Acts 5:14). In fact, people were carrying their sick out into the streets and laying them on cots and pallets so that when Peter came by at least his shadow might fall upon them (Acts 5:15). Moreover, people from the cities surrounding Jerusalem were also bringing those who were sick or afflicted with evil spirits, "and they were all being healed" (Acts 5:16). Obviously these healings were not done in a corner. The apostles' mortal enemies certainly were convinced they were genuine. They apprehended the apostles and placed them in a public jail. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison and commanded them to go to the temple and speak "the whole message of this Life" (Acts 5:17-21). They did so. When the Israeli officials discovered the missing apostles, they were extremely perplexed. When informed that the apostles were preaching in the temple, the guards peacefully ushered them back before the Sanhedrin. Rather than punishing the apostles further, the Council simply warned them to cease speaking in the name of Jesus, then released them (Acts 5:21-42).
At Lydda, Peter healed Aeneas, a man who had been bed-ridden for eight years. Those who lived at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord (Acts 9:32-35). At nearby Joppa Peter raised Tabitha (Dorcas) from the dead. It became known all over Joppa, "and many believed in the Lord" (Acts 9:36-42).
In Jerusalem, Herod executed James the brother of John. Since it pleased the Jewish leaders, he arrested Peter, planning to execute him as well. On the very night before Herod was planning to put Peter to death, an angel awakened Peter, sleeping between two guards. His chains fell off, the gates of the prison opened, and Peter was able to walk free and greet the Christians who were praying for him in the house of Mary, the mother of John Mark. The poor soldiers guarding Peter did not fare so well. They were put to death (Acts 12:1-19).
My point is this: All the apostles performed miracles as proof that they were men of God who had been chosen by Jesus and sent forth on a life-long mission. Their miracles proved their apostleship. Peter performed many spectacular miracles that proved he was an apostle called by Jesus. Paul could prove by his extensive miracles that he was an apostle. Time and again these miracles were performed in a public way, and they were witnessed by people who served as a control for the validity of the miracles. No one doubted that the apostles could heal. People brought their sick and all were healed. Even the enemies of the apostles did not dispute the reality of their miracles. They simply arrived at the wrong conclusion about their meaning.
My question to the "apostles" of ICAL is this: Where are your authenticating miracles? What multiple miracles have each of you performed that are so extraordinary that you would convince even a skeptic like me? To me the classic enigma in the modern day Pentecostal / Charismatic movement is a man like Oral Roberts. He claimed to have the gift of healing. Yet he built a good-sized hospital, the City of Faith Medical and Research Center! Why in heaven's name would you build a hospital if you had the gift of healing? To me, what he built completely counteracts any claims of miracles he might have made. Can you believe Peter or Paul building a hospital? I cannot. Why would you need to do so?
One might argue that initially, there was only one office in the Church, that of apostle (apostolos, 652). Without any comment, Luke mentions the existence of elders in the Jerusalem church (Acts 11:30). Clearly now there were two offices, that of apostle and that of elder. All apostles were also elders, but not all elders were apostles.
As the Church expanded, Paul and Barnabas, on their First Missionary Journey, appointed elders in each city in which they had planted churches (Acts 14:23). Apostles and elders would help decide the issue of circumcising Gentile converts at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:2, 4, 6, 22, 23; 16:4). In the outlying Gentile churches, there were only elders, not apostles, unless an Apostle, such as Paul, happened to visit (Acts 20:17). By the time Paul appeared in Jerusalem after his Third Missionary Journey, only elders are mentioned in the Jerusalem church (Acts 21:18).
Qualifications for elders (presbuteros, 4245), also called overseers (episkopos, 1985) were given by Paul in his pastoral letters to Timothy, stationed at Ephesus (1 Tim. 3:1-7), and to Titus, stationed at Crete (Titus 1:5-9). Paul gave qualifications for deacons to Timothy (1 Tim. 3:8-13), but not to Titus. Paul and Timothy wrote to all the saints in Philippi, “including the overseers and deacons” (Philippians 1:1).
The deacons employed a serving / administrative ministry, not a teaching / ruling or overseeing ministry. The Greek word for deacon (diakonos, 1249) means, literally, a (household) servant, as opposed to a slave (doulos, 1401). From Acts 6:1-7 it seems fair to conclude that the office of deacon was created to assist the apostles (who also served initially as elders), in the (non-teaching) serving (ministry) aspects of the Church. This would prevent the Apostles from compromising their own more important responsibility, which consisted of serving the word and praying, not serving tables (Acts 6:1-2, 4).
There is an observable transition in the New Testament from apostles as the sole authorities over the Church as a whole to elders as the only surviving authorities over local churches. One proof is the frequency and distribution of the occurrences of certain words in the Book of Acts. As one might expect, the word "apostle" (apostolos, 652) occurs frequently in Acts, 28 times, to be precise. But the distribution is revealing. The first occurrence is in Acts 1:2, but the final occurrence is in Acts 16:4! By way of contrast, the word "elder" (presbuteros, 4245) occurs 18 times in Acts. So it is used less frequently. But its distribution is revealing. It occurs first in Acts 2:17, where it refers to aged men, not officers. The last occurrence is found in Acts 25:15, where it refers to elders of Israel. Since there were two competing "elderships" in the NT -- elders of Israel and elders of the Church, one must be careful about word frequency. The first reference to elders in the church is in Acts 11:30. The final reference to elders in the church is in Acts 21:18. Nevertheless, the reference to church elders in Acts chronologically outlasts the references to apostles. That doesn't mean the apostles were less important. But it does mean that there were fewer of them and they were more scattered as time went on. Of necessity, there was a transfer of power and authority from apostles to elders.
There are other indicators of the rising influence of elders and the waning influence of apostles. There were only twelve apostles to begin with, including Paul. By the time we reach Acts 12:1-2, one of them, James, had been martyred. The apostles were eventually scattered, and began to die off. Of necessity, elders became the focal point of leadership in the local churches. James, for example, urged the sick to call upon the elders, not the apostles (James 5:14). Though Peter identified himself as an apostle (1 Pet. 1:1; 2 Pet. 1:1; 3:2), he also identified himself as a fellow elder (1 Pet. 5:1). John, the apostle with the greatest longevity, identified himself as an elder (2 John 2:1; 3 John 1:1. In his Book of Revelation from/of Jesus, there are more references to elders (twelve) (Rev. 4:4, 10; 5:5, 6, 8, 11, 14; 7:11, 13; 11:16; 14:3; 19:4) than there are to apostles (three) (Rev. 2:2; 18:20; 21:14).
In an interesting aside, it is instructive to observe that the writer of Hebrews indicated that Jesus had first spoken of salvation, and that he passed that message on to those who personally heard him, i.e. the apostles. Those who heard Him (the apostles), in turn, passed the message on to the third generation, which included the writer of Hebrews. God confirmed the apostles' message "both by signs and wonders and by various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit according to His own will" (Heb. 2:1-4). It would have greatly enhanced the authority of the writer of the book of Hebrews if he could have cited "signs and wonders" and "various miracles" and "gifts of the Holy Spirit" that he and his generation were able to perform. But he seemed unable to do so. That signifies the uniqueness of the apostles and their extraordinary abilty to perform miracles. It also signifies the transitional nature of the early Church. Gradually authority was, of necessity handed off from the apostles to elders and to people like the writer of Hebrews.
We conclude then, that by the time the last apostle, John, died some time after publishing the Book of Revelation, all the apostles commissioned by Jesus were gone. God's appointment of apostles to the church (1 Cor. 12:28-29; Eph. 2:20) had served its foundational purpose. There were no more apostles. Elders were the God-appointed leaders of the churches. Today we are well up into the superstructure of the Church. There is no need to lay again the foundation of the office of apostle.
C. Peter Wagner, in his apologetics article, "The New Apostolic Reformation is Not a Cult", supports his thesis that Biblical apostles exist today by citing two Scriptures: Eph. 4:11-12 and 1 Cor. 12:28. In regards to the first (Eph. 4:11-12), he stated, "I take literally St. Paul’s words that Jesus, at His ascension into heaven, “gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry." I cannot disagree with his analysis. But then he made a statement with which I disagree. He said, "Most of traditional Christianity accepts evangelists, pastors, and teachers, but not apostles and prophets. I think that all five are given to be active in churches today" (emphasis mine). Then, in regards to the second he stated, "In fact, St. Paul goes on to say, 'And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers…' (1 Corinthians 12:28). This does not describe a hierarchy, but a divine order. Apostles are first in that order." Again, I cannot disagree with this analysis of 1 Cor. 12:28). So the whole dispute is over the longevity of the gifts of apostleship and prophecy. Let us leave the discussion of prophecy for another episode. What about apostleship?
Peter Wagner takes the position that, if Jesus gives a gift to the Church, by definition He must give it to the Church in every generation. But that is presumptive on his part. Charismatics and Pentecostals often accuse us cessationists of "putting God in a box." But I believe it is they who have put God in a box. To demand that God must always work the same way is putting God in a box.
We have already seen that Biblical apostles are those who have been personally selected and commissioned by Jesus. Eleven of the original twelve fit that criterion. Matthias does not, but Paul does. He makes the twelfth apostle. We have also seen that all Biblical apostles must be able to corroborate their apostleship by the ability to perform "signs, wonders, and miracles." All of the original twelve did so, and so did the Apostle Paul. We have also observed that there are a finite number of Biblical apostles, twelve to be exact. The most logical assessment is that the eleven originals plus Paul comprise that number. They, and only they will have their names written upon the foundations of New Jerusalem (Rev. 21:14).
On these grounds, none of the apostles of ICAL meet those criteria. What does that mean? It means that there is a better explanation than that which C. Peter Wagner has laid out.
The better explanation is that Jesus did give the gift of apostleship to the Church. But He only gave that gift to the eleven plus Paul. If Jesus gave the gift to anyone, however limited that number might be, He gave the gift for the benefit of the entire Church down through the ages.
Today, we, the Church of the 21st Century continue to benefit from the gift of apostleship given to the original twelve. We have the Scriptures authorized by Jesus through His apostles. He had predicted that the Holy Spirit the Father would send in His name would teach them all things, and that He would remind them of everything Jesus had said (John 14:26). The Holy Spirit of truth would testify to them about Jesus (John 15:26). The apostles would testify also because they had been with Him "from the beginning" (John 15:27, emphasis mine). The Holy Spirit would guide these apostles into "all truth" (John 16:13). He would even reveal to them events that were to take place in the future (John 16:13).
Jesus made good on His promise. The Holy Spirit did come. And He did reveal truth to those first apostles. He did reveal the future to them. When John the Apostle completed his writing of the book of Revelation in about A.D. 96, that was the last book to be written. Fittingly, it was the capstone of revelation about future events. For 1900 years now, no Scripture has been added to the canon of Scripture.
If we have Biblical apostles today, one would think that Jesus would have included them in his promises to the original apostles. Since we have had no Scripture written down for 1900 years, a more apt conclusion is that we have no Biblical apostles today. We have man-made apostles, but we have no Christ-made apostles.
I conclude that a gift given to the early church, apostleship, is a gift given to the entire Church. To insist that we must have apostles today does not fit the data of Scripture. To insist that we must have apostles today is to put God in a box. That is something none of us should do.
I would be less than honest if I were not to admit that every position taken in theology has its own difficulties for the one who holds to that position. The position I have taken is not without exception. It is this: In the New Testament there are some individuals labeled as "apostles" who were not members of the original eleven plus Paul. Who are they, and what do we make of them?
John 13:16 refers to a generic slave who is sent by his master. In context, this slave would not qualify as a Biblical apostle. In Acts 14:4 Barnabas was designated, along with Paul, as one of the apostles. How can this be? The answer is quite straightforward. It is because the Holy Spirit had sent Saul (also known as Paul) on a mission to the Gentiles. That Divine sending was also recognized in a human sending (Acts 13:1-3). That does not obviate the fact that there are only twelve apostles (including Paul) who were personally selected and commissioned by Jesus. Barnabas does not qualify as a Biblical apostle in the sense that Jesus did not personally call Him and commission. Barnabas did not have the same authority as the original apostles plus Paul wielded. In Romans 16:7 it might appear that Andronicus and Junius were "outstanding" as apostles. But it is entirely appropriate to state that these two, who had become Christians before Paul, had an outstanding reputation among the apostles. That is the probable meaning of Paul's greeting. In 2 Cor. 8:23 Paul apparently refers to at least two unnamed believers who were officially designated as messengers (apostoloi, 652) of the churches. Obviously these were not official "sent ones" of Jesus, but "sent ones" of the churches. They did not have the same authority as Biblical apostles. In 2 Cor. 11:13 Paul referred to men who were "false apostles, deceitful workers, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ." These, of course, were in contrast to a "true apostle," among which Paul counted himself (2 Cor. 12:12). Paul referred to Epaphroditus, whom he described as the Philippians' "messenger (apostolos) and minister to my need" (Philippians 2:25). Since Epaphroditus had been sent to help Paul by the church at Philippi, he was their apostle, not Christ's apostle. The writer of Hebrews identified Jesus as "the Apostle and High Priest of our confession" (Heb. 3:1). Obviously, Jesus was sent by God, but Jesus certainly did not send Himself. Therefore He does not qualify as one of the fixed number of twelve apostles. The last item to be considered is the occurrence of apostolos in Rev. 2:2. There, Jesus commends the Christians at Ephesus for having "put to the test those who call themselves apostles and they are not, and you have found them to be false."
It is accurate to conclude that, though there are references to apostles outside the original twelve, every one of them can be explained as not fitting the definition we established at the beginning. That definition is that Biblical apostles must be personally called by Jesus and personally commissioned by Jesus. These "other apostles" do not fit that criteria. And neither, I might add, to the apostles of ICAL. The latter are, I greatly fear, commissioned by men, but not commissioned by Jesus.
If it is our goal to be biblical, there are better terms for modern day church leaders than the term "apostle." There are only twelve Biblical apostles. By Biblical apostles, again, I mean those who have been personally chosen by and commissioned by Jesus. The other apostles are not commissioned by Jesus. They may have been sent by the Holy Spirit, but not by Jesus (Acts 13:1-3). Or they may have been sent by churches, but not by Jesus (2 Cor. 8:23). Or they may have been sent merely by men or through the agency of man (Gal. 1:1). Or they may be false apostles, claiming to be among the true apostles but in actuality damaging the cause of Christ (2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2).
If we are to be Biblical, let us use the Biblical terms. Church leaders today are called "elders" (plural of presbuteros, 4245) because of the gravity of their office and their proven steadfastness and tenure as mature believers. Of lesser frequency is the term "overseers" (plural of episkopos, 1985), so called because this term denotes a job description of the elders.
If we want to be Biblical, why not use Biblical terms for our church leaders? The office of elder is the highest office in the church today. Let us not demean the office of elder by tainting it with men who take on the mantle of being called and recognized by mere men. Otherwise we may be open to the same charges leveled against the Mormon Church and other churches, such as the Roman Catholic Church, who believe in apostolic succession, even though it be solely through their church. (See for example the Apostolicae Curae "On the Nullity of Anglican Orders" by Pope Leo XIII.)
For more information about the role of elder in the New Testament Church see "Biblical Eldership" by WordExplain.
In Wagner's article defending the NAR, he cites the movement's belief in extra-biblical revelation. First he uses the debate about canonicity over "a couple of hundred years" to demonstrate the existence of extra-biblical revelation. In that he is mistaken, I believe. Canonicity has nothing to do with revelation, and everything to do with the sovereignty of God in preserving the true text of Scripture. The councils of the early church did not make Scripture. They simply confirmed what the Church already believed. What Wagner has stated is, in my opinion, a non sequitur. He goes on, however, to say the following:
Beyond that, I believe that prayer is two way, we speak to God and expect Him to speak with us. We can hear God’s voice. He also reveals new things to prophets as we have seen. The one major rule governing any new revelation from God is that it cannot contradict what has already been written in the Bible. It may supplement it, however.
Christians get into a great deal of difficulty when they confuse prayer with revelation. How many times have we heard Christians say, "Well, I feel led by the Holy Spirit to do such and so"? But when we examine their decision, it is both unwise and unbiblical. How many Christians in a less than satisfying marriage have justified their action to divorce their spouse because "the Holy Spirit is leading me"? I often feel sorry for the Holy Spirit and all the bad decisions he gets blamed for.
There is a supreme difference between a Christian's perceived leading by the Holy Spirit and the infallible proclamations of the apostles and prophets as preserved in Scripture! The Roman Catholics believe in the dogma that "The Pope in the Chair (ex cathedra) cannot err" (Can. 749). Let us not fall prey to that dogma!
When Wagner states that "new revelation" can "supplement" the Bible, he has, in my opinion, left a gate wide enough open that one may drive a semi-trailer truck through it. Because of their belief in ongoing revelation, it seems to me the Charismatic / Pentecostal movement has left itself wide open to excess. One has only to witness videos of people in the audience being "slain in the Spirit," engaging in raucous, uncontrolled, undignified behavior, convulsing on the floor, or howling like wolves to know what I am talking about.
I have never attended a meeting of the International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL). But I can read from the coalition's website "About-ICAL" page. "A group of international apostles" first banded together in 1999 in Singapore. There they "discussed how God could use the combined efforts of global apostolic leadership to advance the Kingdom of God more effectively." Here is ICAL's definition of an apostle:
An apostle is defined by ICAL as a Christian leader gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of a church or business within an assigned sphere by hearing what the Holy Spirit is saying and one who sets things in order accordingly for the growth and maturity of the group or complex of groups (churches or businesses).
ICAL has taken apostleship to new levels. I'm certain Jesus would be intrigued to learn that, in addition to the apostles He personally commissioned, we now have "international apostles", "vertical apostles", "horizontal apostles", and "marketplace apostles"!
To me this symbolizes the excess to which segments of the church fall into when they insist upon ongoing, extra-biblical revelation. I do not question the sincerity of these people. I do not question their Christianity. But I most certainly question their exegesis of Scripture, their interpretation of Scripture, and their application of Scripture.
In summary, I disagree with NAR that Biblical apostles exist today. I do not believe the apostles of ICAL meet the fundamental tests of being a Biblical apostle. I do not believe they have personally been chosen by Christ, nor do I believe they have been personally commissioned by Christ. Since Christ authorized His apostles to write Scripture, apostles of the NAR are shown to have no Biblical basis. There has been no Scripture added to the New Testament for 1800 years. That is unthinkable if there are Biblical apostles today. NAR apostles use Scripture to justify their existence, but there are better explanations of these Scriptures than that which they offer. Their claims to apostolicity cannot be verified by bona fide, controlled miraculous signs. As a whole, their movement is characterized repeatedly by excesses that cannot be defended from Scripture. In short, the apostles of the NAR may be apostles of ICAL, but they are not apostles of Christ. I hesitate to call them false apostles (as in 2 Cor. 11:13 and Rev. 2:2), but that may be an accurate term. I will leave Jesus to decide what to call them.
Why do I write this article? I write in obedience to the words authorized by the Holy Spirit in Jude 1:3, in which Jude appealed to us to "contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints."
However, I am not the judge of the adherents of the NAR nor of ICAL, nor are they mine. The truth is that "...we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
I close with these words from the Apostle Paul, peculiarly the Apostle to us Gentiles (Rom. 11:13), as found in Romans 14:10-12:
10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God.
11 For it is written, "AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD."
12 So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.
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What if I am wrong?
Is there any possibility I am wrong? There certainly is. I am simply a Bible teacher (Acts 13:1; Rom. 12:7; 1 Cor. 12:28, 29; 14:26; Eph. 4:11; 1 Pet. 4:10, 11) and, unlike Biblical prophets when they prophesy, I make no claims for infallibility. But if I am wrong, and Biblical apostles do, indeed exist today, then several things must follow. (1) These apostles have the same authority as Peter or John or Paul. You are either a full-fledged apostle or you are not. (2) We must find who these Biblical apostles are and follow them. Their authority cannot be questioned or challenged. (3) Of course, there will always be pseuo-apostles, even if there are Biblical apostles (2 Cor. 11:13-15; Rev. 2:2). So it will behoove us to test these false apostles and sort them out from the genuine, Biblical apostles. (4) These Biblical apostles will be performing miracles that make headline news. No one will be able to question the credibility or the reality of the multiple sensational miracles performed by these apostles. Hospitals will be emptied as loved ones bring their sick to these Biblical apostles to have them healed. Everyone will be healed without exception. (5) These apostles have been given authority by Jesus to write Scripture. Let us expect new Scripture to be added to the canon of Scripture in the next few years.
Of course, these things have not happened, nor will they happen. So I don't foresee myself changing my mind. Feel free to call me a skeptic. That is exactly what I remain. I remain skeptical that ICAL is made of of Biblical apostles. ICAL and the NAR have redefined apostles to fit their own human guidelines. These "apostolic leaders" have not been sent by God to be Biblical apostles. They may be ICAL apostles, but they are not Biblical apostles.
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