[by Dave Wells] The days in which we are living are not normal times. We are beginning to move into a season of the greatest outpouring of the power of the Holy Spirit and the greatest harvest of souls in all of Christian history. The beginning of the last century was characterized by great moves of God. This century will be the same. In light of this, the church of Jesus Christ cannot just continue with “business as usual”.
If our church structure does not conform to a New Testament model, we will be blown out of the water by what is coming. “Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord; and that He may send Jesus, the Christ appointed for you, whom heaven must receive until the period of restoration of all things about which God spoke by the mouth of His holy prophets from ancient time.” (Acts 3:19-21)
We have experienced times of refreshing that have swept around the world. There are other names for this: revival, renewal, awakening, etc. The purpose of these outpourings of God’s Holy Spirit is to revive His church and move it forward into His purposes and destiny. In the last 400 years we have seen many times of refreshing being poured out on the Body of Christ. Each of these refreshings has moved the church forward and resulted in a restoring of truth and ministry to the Body of Christ that were formerly lost. We have seen truths like justification by faith, holiness, divine healing, praise and worship, gifts of the Spirit and offices of ministry restored to practical function in the church. Much of this has happened in the latter part of the twentieth century. These last 40 years have been incredible, with God moving at an ever-increasing rate. It takes your breath away to see how quickly the church is returning to New Testament dynamism.
As God pours out His Spirit, there are the usual manifestations including people being saved, worship and devotion to God, etc. But when you look back historically you see that something very significant has also being taking place. The structure of the church has been changing radically and returning to the pattern we see described in the New Testament. The question we need to ask is: Does not the structure of the church still have to change?
We know that the first century church functioned in incredible power and turned the known world of that day upside-down in one generation. I believe that the glory of the latter house will be greater than the former. I believe the last century church will be more powerful and dynamic than the first. An end-time move is coming and may even be upon us that will eclipse all other revivals in history. I believe we are already tasting of the first fruits of this revival.
One of the things that has been happening structurally in the church in the last 40-50 years through repeated outpourings is a process of restoration where the Ephesians 4:11 gift ministries have been returned to the church (apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, evangelists). In the 1950’s, the body of Christ was flooded with evangelists. In the 1960’s and 1970’s, pastors and teachers began to come into their own. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, prophets began to arise and be accepted on a wide basis.
The only office left to be fully developed and recognized is the ministry and office of the apostle. It is beginning to happen now! I believe a mighty apostolic wave is rising and beginning to roll through the church.
There is an “apostolic movement” taking place.
With this movement already upon us some very important fundamental questions arise: 1. What is an apostle? 2. How does an apostle function in the church? 3. What part do they play in this end time move of God and how important are they to it?
I do not believe that apostles are more important than any other ministry offices such as pastors or teachers, but I believe that they are as important. Without the restoration and full functioning of the apostolic ministry we will not have a full-blown five-fold ministry functioning in our midst. I do not believe that we can fulfill the mandate of Ephesians 4:11-16 without the apostle. Recognizing the apostle will shake the structure of the body of Christ like nothing else.
Let’s explore the concept of the “Church in the city”. The word “church” (“Ekklesia”) is mentioned 114 times in the Greek New Testament.
Once it applies to Israel as the church in the wilderness (Acts 7:38). Three times it refers to a secular city meeting in Ephesus. Fourteen times it refers to a local church in a home, for example, that of Priscilla and Aquila. Fifteen times it refers to believers in all ages, Jew or Gentile living or in heaven, in other words, the universal body of Christ. Eighty-one times it refers to the believers of the city church. New Testament references to the church are primarily city and not local. The church of Jerusalem had seven deacons for the entire city church, which consisted of perhaps 300 to 1000 local churches in the home. Plurality of eldership was, in the beginning, not local but city.
Concepts of the Apostle
ver the last several centuries much of the body of Christ has not recognized the existence of apostles. Much of the church accepted the teaching that apostles disappeared in the first century or at least with the completion and recognition of the canon of Scripture. This view assumes that the task of the apostles was limited solely to writing the inspired witness of the gospel. However, the Scriptures teach nothing of the sort. Others would be a little more open-minded but would limit the role of apostolic ministry today to missionary work in areas of the world where the gospel had never yet been preached. In fact the word “missionary” comes from a Latin word meaning the same as the Greek word for apostle, “apostolos” – one sent forth.
In many ways it is hard to understand why we are so reluctant to recognize men as apostles. We have readily recognized pastors, teachers and evangelists but not prophets and apostles. I think one of the reasons is that we perceive the offices of prophet and apostle to be lofty ones, and therefore think it is prideful for anyone to call himself a prophet or apostle. I think another reason is that Satan fears the establishment of the ministry of the apostle like nothing else, and will do all he can to make sure it doesn’t function.
God Has Appointed First Apostles
“And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
f the Lord promised to give the church apostles in every generation from Pentecost until His second coming, then we need to ask the question: Why has He set apostles in the church as the first among the five-fold ministry gifts?
One reason is that apostles have the primary duty to extend the borders of the kingdom of Christ by preaching the gospel to all nations. They are gifted to be the most effective church planters. Yet in much of the literature on church planting these days, the impression is often given that anybody can plant a church and in many ways. Paul said of himself as an apostle, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder…” (1 Corinthians 3:10 – NIV)
A second reason is that apostles, by virtue of their calling and anointing, have the fullest revelation of what the Lord desires the church to be, as was true of Moses and the tabernacle in the wilderness. It was not Aaron or Joshua who oversaw the building of the tabernacle but rather Moses to whom God gave detailed blueprints by revelation. (Hebrews 8:5)
Finally, apostles have the greatest responsibility among the five-fold ministers to see that the church on earth conforms to God’s own standards.
Apostles are the wise master builders God has given so the church can be properly built. To this end, they are sent from the Throne, not just to get individuals saved, but to build these individuals into functioning bodies, and to build functioning bodies into a worldwide expression of Jesus.
We think of five-fold ministry gifts or ascension gifts to be ranked in order of importance (“First apostles, second prophets, third teachers…”). This is not true. They are not built on top of each other but ranked in order of the process of building the church. An apostle is the concrete man who builds the foundation. This is a dirty, messy job. The teacher and pastor frame up the building. Without the apostle we will never see the church built up and functioning the way it should.
There are many of us who have for years acknowledged — in our heads — that apostles were valid for today. But we have been fuzzy around the edges for some time in this area. We have lacked definition in this area for several years but I believe that the time has come for us to define several aspects of the ministry of an apostle, to begin to clearly recognize those in our midst who are apostles, to receive their ministry, and to support the ministry of an apostle so that it can actually function.
Failure to do this will result in stagnation and confusion, and will cripple individual churches. They will never develop properly according to Ephesians 4: 11-16. They will never be in a position to fully participate in the great move of God that is to come and may even now be in the beginning stages.
Absence of Apostolic Ministry
In the absence of apostolic ministry, most congregations usually choose one of two options: either they remain entirely independent with no outside oversight whatsoever, or they join up with some kind of denominational organization, be it highly structured or loosely knit.
Denominational structures are a natural growth out of the need of churches for supervision, protection and fellowship. They have served a good purpose. They effectively coordinate the efforts of local churches in missionary enterprises as well as other worthwhile projects. Good denominational supervision is better than total independence.
On the other hand, there have been some negative results for the local church. Some denominations have taken unnecessary control of the internal affairs of churches. This amounts to a usurpation of local church autonomy. Also, at times, instead of protecting the local church from doctrinal deviation, they have led their churches into liberalism and skepticism. As well, local churches have sometimes been obliged to support programs that are contrary to the Word of God. Another drawback to this structure is that due to a lack of relationship, denominational overseers often make damaging decisions regarding the internal affairs of local churches. For example, they sometimes will erroneously side with the congregation against the pastor, or with the pastor against the congregation. In addition, the methods by which denominational leadership is selected have often produced carnal power struggles. As well, there is the danger of the policies and practices of denominations, over time, being elevated above the Word of God.
The New Testament shows us a better way: not large organizational structures but apostolic oversight. In studying first century local churches we find three principles governing their relationships. 1. Every local church was independent (self-governing). 2. All local churches were interdependent. 3. All local churches had apostolic supervision.
An independent local church is a contradiction in terms because the very nature of the body of Christ is interdependency. While it is true that local churches are autonomous, that is, self-governing, they dare not live out their autonomy in isolation or they will encounter great difficulties. Every local church needs contact with all five expressions of the Ascension gifts and particularly the ministry of apostle.
Many who form new congregations in the name of being free to follow the Holy Spirit do not anticipate or understand the problems that arise when you leave the denominational structure. The old system may appear to be bondage but it is also a blessing in that it helps to maintain some sense of order and predictability. If trouble develops you can always call the denominational headquarters for counsel or intervention. Once outside the denomination, it is like being on the Western frontier where there was no established law and order. The man with the fastest gun survived!
Many independent charismatic churches that flourished five or ten years ago no longer exist. Some have split several times and hang by a thread. Others have gotten off on doctrinal tangents and resemble cults. Still others have been taken over by dictatorial pastors whose word is law. Well-intentioned charismatics with great hope and zeal have flitted from group to group looking for order, and finding none, have reluctantly returned to their former denominational churches or have settled for a “lively” evangelical church which suppresses the manifestations of the Holy Spirit.
I have witnessed this destruction and confusion for more than 25 years and wondered how this could possibly be the plan of God. Surely there must be a way in which new congregations can be formed so that Jesus’ body can come forth in life, power and balance.
Into this vacuum the Lord Jesus is sending forth modern-day apostles to lay solid foundations in local churches. Over the past decade several new networks, each involving hundreds of churches, have come into being. In such groups, depending upon the maturity of the apostolic leadership, God’s saints have found a better place to live out their faith and see their ministries blossom.
Different Realms of Apostleship
Apostle: [def] – Gk. – “apostolos” – means “the sent one”. The word “apostle” was used of men who were naval officers or merchant mariners responsible for an entire fleet of ships. It was also used to refer to an emissary or ambassador.
First realm of Apostle
The first realm of Apostleship is The First Apostle, Jesus Christ, who is referred to as “The Apostle” in Hebrews 3:1: “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of a heavenly calling, consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession.” He was “the sent One” from God the Father. Jesus often referred to the Father as the “the One who sent me”. There is absolutely no one who can take His place. Jesus not only laid the foundation, but also is the foundation to the universal church. This realm of apostleship is a sealed realm given only to our Lord and Savior.
Second realm of Apostle
The second realm of Apostleship is that of The Twelve Apostles of the Lamb, the original twelve disciples, recorded in Matthew 10:2-4, “Now the names of the twelve apostles are these: The first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; and James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax-gatherer; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot, and Judas Iscariot, the one who betrayed Him.” Matthias replaced Judas Iscariot. Acts 1:21-26 tells us that he was numbered with the eleven. In Acts 2:14, the Holy Spirit numbered him with the eleven that stood up with Peter. This realm of the twelve apostles is also sealed. This realm carried the qualification of having walked with Jesus while He lived in the flesh. They were not just called “apostles”, they were called “the twelve apostles”. Our Lord told Peter that one day they should “sit on thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Luke 22:30).
The number of these apostles is fixed — no more or less than twelve.
Revelation 21:14 says, “And the wall of the city had twelve foundation stones, and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”
Third realm of Apostle
The third realm of Apostles includes those appointed after the ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Father appointed Jesus Christ to be “The Apostle”. The Son while on earth appointed “The Twelve” to be apostles. Then we had the Holy Spirit who appointed the other apostles we read about in the book of Acts and the Epistles.
1 Corinthians 15:5-7 mentions that after the resurrection Jesus appeared to the “twelve” and then also to “all the apostles”, indicating that there were apostles other than the twelve. There were warnings against “false apostles” in 2 Corinthians 11:13 and Revelation 2:2. These warnings would be nonsense if apostles were limited to the twelve.
Paul was by far the most prominent of all the apostles in this category.
He almost seems to be a transition to the other apostles. The Lord gives him special honor in that he penned a good portion of the New Testament. However, we find others in the New Testament who also walked in this realm of apostleship such as: Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas and Timothy (1 Thessalonians 1:1), James the Lord’s brother (Galatians 1:19), and Andronicus and Junias [Romans 16:7], Apollos (1 Corinthians 4:6-9), Titus (2 Corinthians 8:23), etc.
This type of apostleship is still open and functioning today. There is absolutely no hint that any of the five-fold ministries has ceased. Quite to the contrary — the Scriptures say that these ministries will be with us until we come to the unity of the faith and into the full stature of Jesus Christ.
A practical definition of this five-fold ministry apostle is: One who is called and sent by Christ to have spiritual authority, character, gifts and abilities to successfully reach and establish people in Kingdom truth and order, especially through founding and overseeing local churches.
The next question would be: What makes an apostle? How is it determined who is or is not an apostle?
Qualifications of Apostles
Apostles are commissioned.
Before they are commissioned, they need to have an inner witness of their call. In Paul’s case, God had shown it to him personally. Galatians 1:15-17 says, “But when He who had set me apart, even from my mother’s womb, and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia, and returned once more to Damascus.” Paul also had it confirmed prophetically — Ananias confirmed Paul’s call even though he didn’t mention specifically the term apostle (Acts 9:10-19).
Apostles do not appoint themselves. 1 Timothy 2:7 says, “And for this I was appointed a preacher and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying) as a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.” 2 Timothy 1:10-11 says, “but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, for which I was appointed a preacher and an apostle and a teacher.”
Apostles are appointed and sent out by the Holy Spirit, being recognized and confirmed by human agency. In this process, apostles are unshakably aware of their calling through the Holy Spirit.
One of the clearest examples of this is the commissioning of Saul and Barnabas, found in Acts 13:1-4. “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers: Barnabas, and Simeon who was called Niger, and Lucius of Cyrene, and Manaen who had been brought up with Herod the tetrarch, and Saul. And while they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away. So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia and from there they sailed to Cyprus.”
The best scriptural pattern we have for the process of selecting, ordaining and setting legitimate apostles into office is this account of the prophetic gathering at Antioch. This tells us that the appointment of apostles is a Spirit-led activity, that is done publicly and in a context of prayer and worship, and that several proven leaders need to agree. They laid hands on them to impart blessing and anointing. It was the final seal upon their calling.
To proceed in apostolic ministry without having this process take place would be out of order in the emerging apostolic movement. This helps to eliminate abuses and errors. This process should happen before an apostle pursues the fullness of his apostolic call.
Note: it was the local church that did the commissioning in this case.
As a result, in the earlier years of their apostolic ministry, Paul and Barnabas reported back to the local church that had laid hands on them and sent them out.
It is important to note that apostleship is an office, not a gift. An office is that which someone receives as a result of a commission. A gift is something that a person receives on the basis of grace. Therefore an apostle will have varying gifts and strengths. An apostle may be a prophet or a teacher. An apostle is one who is sent out to exercise the various gifts of ministry he has received and developed under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. For example, Paul and Barnabas were listed as being prophets and teachers at Antioch, but after they were sent out, they were referred to as apostles. A gift of government is common in many apostles for obvious reasons, which we will see when we look at their function. There is no gift of “apostleship” listed among the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Therefore different apostles can vary widely in their gifting and types of ministry.
It is important to note that when the apostles returned to the local church they functioned as elders, not as apostles to that church.
Apostles are recognized by other apostles.
Other apostles must recognize a person as an apostle before apostolic ministry can be entirely legitimized. Galatians 2:7-9 says, “But on the contrary, seeing that I had been entrusted with the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter with the gospel to the circumcised (for He who effectually worked for Peter in his apostleship to the circumcised effectually worked for me also to the Gentiles), and recognizing the grace that had been given to me, James and Cephas and John, who were reputed to be pillars, gave to me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we might go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised.”
Apostles must have fruit that demonstrates their apostleship
In 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, Paul says, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.” Fruit of Paul’s ministry was clearly seen to include planting churches, establishing foundations in churches, and being received by churches as an apostle. The Corinthian church is clear proof of Paul’s apostolic ministry.
What about the “qualification of seeing the Lord”? Paul in this passage of Scripture is simply stating four facts. He is not trying to prove his apostleship by stating that he “had seen Jesus the Lord” any more than saying he was an apostle because he was “free”. It is vital to understand that the context of what he is saying is in the previous verse, 1 Corinthians 8:13, “Therefore, if food causes my bother to stumble, I will never eat meat again, that I might not cause my brother to stumble.” In 1 Corinthians 9:1-2, he is giving an illustration from his own life of the principle of 8:13. Just because he was free, an apostle, had seen Jesus, had established the church at Corinth did not make him an exception to the principle in 8:13. He did not take advantage of the rightful privileges he had.
Is having witnessed the resurrection of Jesus a requirement for being an apostle? Is that what 1 Corinthians 15-5-9 indicates? “and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as it were to one untimely born, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Again, the context of this Scripture portion is to prove the resurrection, not to validate those who were apostles.
The 500 who saw the resurrection were not apostles.
Apostles must have perseverance
In 2 Corinthians 12:12, Paul says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Perseverance or endurance is the greatest proof of spiritual strength and power. It is the ability to endure steadfastly under continuous pressure that tests the reality of an apostolic call.
From God’s perspective, character comes first in apostolic ministry. Signs and wonders without character would prove to be dangerous and destructive in the long run. Apostleship is a matter of character over and above any other single quality. The tendency, though, is for us to look at the external signs as more important than the internal.
Perseverance or endurance embodies the concept of proven character more than any other quality because perseverance implies a character that has been tested in difficulty, and has been proven over a period of time.
Romans 5:3-4 says, “And not only this, but we also exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope;”
Endurance and persistence are important for standing in the face of opposition. Endurance is required in suffering. From reading the Scriptures, it is clear that the apostles suffered greatly. They were threatened, falsely accused, beaten, imprisoned, martyred, etc. All of the twelve apostles met violent deaths except John. They tried to kill him by boiling him in oil but he was miraculously spared and died a natural death. Barnabas was stoned to death; Paul was beheaded in Rome. The description of Paul’s sufferings is incredible.
Apostolic ministry and suffering are inseparably entwined, and those who answer the call must be prepared to face it. Without this ingredient in place, the ministry of the apostle and the whole apostolic movement will not endure.
Signs and wonders follow the ministry of the apostle
The apostles of the New Testament experienced the power of God in their lives because they were intimate with God. They gave themselves continually to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Being in the presence of Jesus was the key to the power the apostles experienced. The key to power in the emerging apostolic movement will be prayer, praise, and worship.
The ministry of the apostle is a very public ministry. In Scripture, we see that their ministries attracted people and crowds. Apostles imparted gifts and the Holy Spirit through the “laying on of hands” (Romans 1:11). People were healed through the “laying on of hands”. They supernaturally heard from God regarding their ministry. They had visions, words of knowledge, moved in the prophetic, etc. They were involved in casting out demons and in raising the dead.
We need to be careful to note that there is a lot of diversity in the apostolic call. We don’t want to squeeze people into a mold that says if you don’t do every one of these things you are not an apostle. If someone who is an apostle has not yet raised the dead we need to be careful not to imply that that person is not an apostle.
What needs to happen is that those who have an apostolic call on their lives need to call on the Lord to increase their faith. (Luke 17:5). I believe that as God raises up apostles in this hour He will also begin to release His supernatural power through them. We also need to understand that apostles are developed through time just as other ministries are. We need to allow that to happen.
In the second section I would like to take a look at the role and function of the Apostolic ministry.
Based in Regina, Saskatchewan, Dave Wells serves as a team leader of LifeLinks International, giving apostolic input to a number of churches around the world. He has ministered in such countries as Guatemala, Ireland, England, Austria, Holland, China, Philippines, Vietnam, Marshall Islands, Zambia, Uganda, Rwanda, Sri Lanka, India and Spain.
More in this series on the Ministry of Apostles:
- Are Apostles for Today by Dean Smith
- Ministry of an Apostle — Part 1 by David Wells
- Ministry of an Apostle — Part 2 by David Wells
- How the 1948 Revival impacted the Church by Dean Smith
- Apostles and Prophets Part I: Five or three by Keith Hazell
- Apostles and prophets Part 2: Working together in teams
- Apostles and prophets Part 3: The Apostolic Explosion