Having discovered that the stat of Paul’s letter to the Philippians is all about his joy in their partnership with him in his apostilc calling, I decided to look at
1) What an apostle is, and
2) How as a local church we can partner with apostles.
The word “Apostle” literally means “one who is sent”, which could refer to all Christians of course, but many times in the NT it is used to refer to a person with a particular function or gifting in the church. Let’s start by looking at a clasic passage on aposles and asking a few basic questions.
 grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,
“When he [Jesus] ascended on high he led a host of captives,
and he gave gifts to men.”….And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, (ESV) Eph 4:7-12
So what are apostles for? They are for “building up the body of Christ”, that is the church. More on that later but for now lets ask another question. “Who are they from?”. Again, that’s easy, they come from the ascended Christ. That means Paul is does not have in mind the 12 apostles that Jesus chose to be with him, but rather we the apostles that Jesus gave after he ascended. I am sure the 12 where “given” too for the building up of the church but surely they cannot be here primarily in view. That means that anything we say about these other apostles does not effect the 12’s unquestionably unique role and place in salvation history.
The 12 are unique in that John had a vision of their names on the foundation of the new Jerusalem plus it seems that the original 12 needed to be first hand witnesses to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus (Acts 1:21-22). However, they are not necessarily unique in their Apostolic gifting and role, as others are subsequently referred to as Apostles in the New Testament. First there was Paul (1 Cor 9:1) but also Andronicus (Rom 16:7), Apollos (1 Cor 4:6-9), Barnabus (Acts 14:14), James (Gal 1:18-19), Silas (1 Thes 1:1, 2:6) and I think there were others too.
The only little spanner in the works that I can see is the past tense of “gave” in the Ephesians passage. Does “he gave some to be Apostles” mean that after Paul made this statement Jesus never went on to give any more Apostles in the future? I don’t see that it does and in any case the aorist verb can be used of a future action as the Greeks emphasised aspect more than time. Well, that’s what my little bit of Greek knowledge tells me at this point. The usual disclaimer applies though as I am still only half way through a course on Basic Biblical Greek grammar.
It seems obviouse that the churhc will continue to need Apostles to build it unless the first ones did something in the first century that replaced their work. Ah! They wrote the bible didn’t they? No. Well, some did, some didn’t and actually non-apostles write a few books too. The bible in no way replaces the work of an apostle. There are also some great sermons in the bible but we still need pastor teachers. Philip did a great job of evangelizing Samaria but we still need evangelists. Paul’s letter were not a complete substitute for his work in one church let alone all churches for all time. Where does this idea come from that the completion of the New Testament rendered obsolete Apostles, Prophets, miracles, etc. How can a record of the gifts of the Spirit and the wonderful working of the Holy Spirit in individuals push out the need for the Spirit to continue to do those things? Why would God, as soon as he had caused to be written down a record of how the church got going, completely changed the way he did things. It is a master stroke of our enemy that he manages to pit one aspect of God’s trinirtarian working agsint another; the word against the Spirit and the Spirit against the word.
That reminds me of a great prophetic word Smiths Wigglesworth once gave:
“During the next few decades there will be two distinct moves of the Holy Spirit across the church in Great Britain. The first move will affect every church that is open to receive it and will be characterized by a restoration of the baptism and gifts of the Holy Spirit. The second move of the Holy Spirit will result in people leaving historic churches and planting new churches. In the duration of each of these moves, the people who are involved will say “This is the great revival’, But the Lord says ‘No, neither is this the great revival but both are steps towards it.
When the new church phase is on the wane, there will be evidenced in the churches something that has not been seen before: a coming together of those with an emphasis on the Word and those with an emphasis on the Spirit.
When the Word and the Spirit come together, there will be the biggest movement of the Holy Spirit that the nation, and indeed the world, has ever seen. It will mark the beginning of a revival that will eclipse anything that has been witnessed within these shores, even the Wesleyan and the Welsh revivals of former years. The outpouring of God’s Spirit will flow over from the UK to the mainland of Europe, and from there will begin a missionary move to the ends of the earth.”
Oh yeh! Bring it on. Anyway, back to the questions. We have looked at what apostles do, and have strayed from the “who gives them” into the “when are they for” so let’s stay with that for a bit. In saying they are from the risen Christ we are hopping at least that they will be continued to be given and as we read on in the Ephesians passage our expectations are confirmed. They are given until:
we all attain to the unity of the faith and of
the knowledge of the Son of God,
to mature manhood,
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (ESV) Eph 4:13-14
I don’t think we are quite there yet so we still need apostles, as well prophets and evangelists and teachers. Having established that I will look next in more detail at what they do.