WHAT IS AN APOSTLE ACCORDING TO THE BIBLE? (Part One)

Do modern day apostles hold an authoritative spiritual position over other christians within the church? Is the growth and effectiveness of the body of Christ dependant on the church’s alignment under their teachings? Is the position of “authority” of which they claim to have over other believers ordained by God? Are they the foundation of the church?

There is no shortage of those who claim to be apostles and if the truth be told, many who who claim to be apostles want to have the preeminence. If those who claim to be apostles really knew what being a true apostle was all about, very few of them would embrace it.

True Biblical apostleship is not about having the preeminence. It is about servanthood. In the book of 1 Corinthians, Paul describes  how he viewed the ministry of an apostle.

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. We are fools for Christ’s sake, but ye are wise in Christ; we are weak, but ye are strong; ye are honourable, but we are despised. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place; And labour, working with our own hands: being reviled, we bless; being persecuted, we suffer it: Being defamed, we intreat: we are made as the filth of the world, and are the offscouring of all things unto this day. ~ 1 Corinthians 4:9-13

This should be the “life verse” if there is any such thing, for all who think they are called to be apostles. While today’s “so-called apostles” seek to be first, Paul felt that the apostles of his day were last because of the call to servanthood and the sacrificial life to which they were called.

Within the pages of scripture, the ministry of an apostle was never about establishing governmental authority and leadership within the collective body of Christ. Those who think it is have misunderstood the teachings of scripture.

In scripture, the ministry of an apostle was never about having a position of power and wealth within the church. It wasn’t having the authoritative daily word to guide the church, rebuking Jezebel, declarations of shifts in the atmosphere, etc.

Instead, it was about preaching the gospel with authentic miracles and signs following. It was about establishing believers in the person of Jesus Christ with wholesome and sound doctrine which glorified God among unbelievers.  It was never about having an authoritative position within the ranks of ministry to which others in the collective body of Christ should submit themselves unto. 

Paul never attempted to exert authority over believers he had not established in the Lord.

For we are not overextending ourselves, as though we did not reach you. For we were the first to come all the way to you with the gospel of Christ. We do not boast beyond limit in the labors of others. But our hope is that as your faith increases, our area of influence among you may be greatly enlarged, so that we may preach the gospel in lands beyond you, without boasting of work already done in another’s area of influence. “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. ~ 2 Corinthians 10:14-18

Paul and his co-laborers in the Lord had reached the Corinthians with the gospel and had established sound doctrine concerning how they should live as ambassadors for Christ. Paul had no desire to rule over the spiritual lives of the Corinthians: Not for that we have dominion over your faith, but are helpers of your joy: for by faith ye stand. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:24

Paul’s view of his apostleship to the Corinthians was that he had preached the gospel to them and had established them in Christ with sound doctrine. Paul held the Corinthians accountable to Christ in these matters and that is how Paul demonstrated his apostolic authority among them. The spread of the gospel among the Corinthians was the result of Paul’s labor in the ministry and rightfully, Paul cultivated the work he had invested in the Corinthians.

Paul did not seek their money nor their homage. Instead, Paul sought their growth in the faith and in Christ-like character, so that the gospel he had delivered to them would flourish among them and spread through them to others. Paul was not seeking his own kingdom of rank and file.

Unlike many of today’s “so-called apostles” who think they are called to be in authority while others serve them, Paul took the position of a servant and set the example of godly living by working and paying his own way – that’s a far cry from the modern day, self proclaimed apostles. 

Contrary to their claims, modern day apostles do not hold a place of spiritual authority over the collective body of Christ, and the growth and effectiveness of Christ’s body is not dependant on them. They are not the foundation of the church. Jesus is!

But doesn’t the Bible teach that apostles are the foundation of the church and therefore the church is to come into alignment with their apostolic authority? No, it does not! 

In Ephesians 2, Paul declares that the union of Jews and Gentiles into one body in Christ and is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. ~ v. 20

Paul is not establishing an hierarchical governmental structure for the collective body of Christ in the text above. Paul is contextually referring to the revelation of the gospel which was given to the apostles and prophets who were called by God to preach the gospel during the inception of the New Testament.

Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints, and of the household of God; And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstoneIn whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord:  In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. FOR THIS CAUSE I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, If ye have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which is given me to you-ward: How that by revelation he made known unto me the mystery; (as I wrote afore in few words, Whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ) which in other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is NOW revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit; that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel: whereof I was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto me by the effectual working of his power. Unto me, who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ… ~ Ephesians 2:19-3:8

The foundation of which Paul is referring is not that of governmental structure within the collective body of Christ. It is the establishment of the truth of the gospel among the Gentiles. Before Christ, the Gentiles were outside the covenants given to Israel, but now in Christ Jesus have been made fellow heirs with believing Jews and are members of the same covenantal family, for there is one body, and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. ~ Ephesians 4:4-6

This is a far cry from the message of many who call themselves apostles. 

While many who claim to be apostles seek to have the preeminence because they want to be in authority, Paul saw himself as the least of all saints, who was given grace to minister Christ.

The foundation has been laid by those who were called by God in the inception of the New Testament Church. Their testimony and teachings became the scriptures we call the New Testament.

The true ministry of the apostle continues, not in those who think they are the  foundation of the church with divinely authoritative revelation, touting their dominion as anointed leaders in the body of Christ. Instead, the true ministry of apostleship continues as humble servants of God sacrifice their lives (often as missionaries) to bring the truth of the gospel to a lost and dying world.

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