Part 3 Are there apostles in the church today?
●The Functions Of The Office Gift Of Apostle
4. THE FUNCTIONS OF THE OFFICE GIFT OF APOSTLE
Recently I mentioned to a member of the church that I am attending that I was doing a study on the functions of an apostle. Even though the head leader of this church is called an apostle this member responded by saying that he had no idea about what the functions of an apostle are. Hopefully this chapter will help provide these answers.
Go Ye Into All The World
Jesus has risen from the dead having appeared to Mary Magdalene and others. Eventually, he appears before the eleven disciples (apostles) in Galilee, and upbraids them for their unbelief concerning his reported resurrection by others. He then tells them to:
…Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.
The apostles had no fixed place assigned to them, but were charged to spread the gospel through the whole world; and for this reason, when they left one city or district to go to another, they were wont to place fit men as their substitutes, to complete the work which they had begun20.
The first function of an apostle is as follows.
●The apostles were commissioned by Christ to go into all of the world and preach the gospel (good news) to every creature. Mark 16:15
In the next book that we are going to look at, the Book of Matthew, the apostles are told to teach, baptize, and teach again. What does this mean?
Teach All Nations, Baptizing Them,…Teaching Them
Jesus has risen from the dead and appears to Mary Magdalene and others. Eventually, he appears before the eleven disciples in a mountain in Galilee, and then tells them to go and teach (make disciples of; to convince someone to become a follower of) all nations. As such those who respond will be baptized (brought into union or communion) with God, who is one in essence but three co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal persons21.
19 Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in (into) the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost:
Those who are converted are now to be taught (instructed) to observe the same things that Jesus has commanded the apostles.
20 Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen.
A few functions of an apostle are mentioned here.
●An apostle is to go into all the word and teach (make disciples) of Christ, who because of such will be baptized (brought into union or communion) with God, who is not only one in essence but three co-equal, co-infinite, and co-eternal persons22.
After which they are to teach the newly converted to observe the same commands that Jesus commanded them. Matt. 28:19-20
In the Book of Acts we will find another function of an apostle.
Ye Shall Be Witnesses Unto Me
The Holy Spirit will indwell the apostles on the Day of Pentecost. The result will be that they will be witnesses (one who gives testimony; to testify to the life, instructions, death, and resurrection of Christ, even in the midst of persecution and death23) throughout the world.
But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.
So here is the next function of an apostle.
●The apostles are to be witnesses (to testify to the life, instructions, death, and resurrection of Christ, even in the midst of persecution and death24) throughout the world. Acts 1:8
So far there is nothing distinguishing about this position. Let’s continue on and find out more.
The next section tells us about the choosing of an apostle by the apostles. How was this done?
Must One Be Ordained To Be A Witness With Us Of His Resurrection
Just prior to the arrival of the Day of Pentecost, an apostle was to be chosen to replace the vacancy left by the deceased Judas Iscariot.
Men and brethren, this scripture must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost by the mouth of David spake before concerning Judas, which was guide to them that took Jesus. For he was numbered with us, and had obtained part of this ministry. Acts 1:16-17
The apostle Peter suggested that the replacement should be filled by someone who was in the group (possibly of the 70 disciples), when Jesus was their constant companion during his earthly ministry, beginning with His baptism by John the Baptist until the time when He ascended into heaven. This would imply that this person witnessed Christ on earth following His resurrection while in His glorified body.
Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. Acts 1:21-22
Two men were appointed, one named Justus and the other named Matthias.
Who appointed them, the apostles or the disciples?
The scriptures don’t appear to be clear on this. However, if we were to look at the appointment of the seven deacons in Acts 6 and the appointment of elders in Acts 14 we could assume that the protocol followed was similar. An announcement was made concerning the choosing of one person to the office of apostleship. Prayer was engaged in for guidance in the choosing of these men. Even though the baptism of the Spirit hadn’t taken place it could be assumed that the assembly would consider choosing out those who exhibited a Godly character. After the choices were made, in this case of two men, a vote was taken for approval.
And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, Acts 1:24
The method of choosing one of these men for the position of apostle was by lot. The way this seemed to work was each name was written separately on a stone and placed in an urn. Someone of the group picked one of the rocks out of the urn. Whosever name was on it, would be the apostle, who would take Judas Iscariot’s vacancy.
To me at first glance this method seemed quite unusual, but I have to believe that God put this approach on their heart.
Is this the standard protocol for appointing someone to the office of apostle?
I don’t know. We’ll have to look at more scriptures in order to find this out.
This function of an apostle can be summed up as such.
●The apostles let the assembly (disciples) know that a person would be appointed to the position of apostle, that was vacated because of the death of Judas Iscariot. It can only be assumed by the examples of choosing deacons in Acts 6 and elders in Acts 14 that the assembly (disciples) were asked to vote for approval those whom they chose. A few things might have preceded this such as:
the requirement that any person chosen would have to have accompanied Christ beginning with Jesus baptism by John the Baptist until His ascension into heaven; there being qualities of Godliness evidenced in each candidate’s life; prayer for direction and guidance in the choosing and subsequent voting for approval.
Two men were chosen and voted on for approval. One was appointed to this position by means of using a method known as by lot. Acts 1:12-26
The next story tells us about a function of the apostles that was evidenced in the midst of persecution. Whether this function was exclusively designated for the apostles only is not clear.
Distribution Was Made Unto Every Man According As He Had Need
Suggested Reading: Acts 3:1-4:31
A man, who was born crippled at birth, was placed at one of the 9 gates of the temple at Jerusalem to beg for money. He was healed by the Holy Spirit, through the intermediary of the apostle Peter. After the healing he entered into the temple with the apostles Peter and John. The people knew of this man’s physical disability and were amazed at his healing.
Peter speaks to the people and says that it is through faith in the name of Jesus Christ that this man was healed. Then he said to them that they needed to repent (to have a change in one’s attitude or mind toward sin and Christ). They were to acknowledge their sins along with their wrongful mindset concerning Christ as the Messiah, and be converted (turn to God by belief in this Christ, the Messiah). By believing in Christ, their sins will be blotted out (to no longer have any guilt) so that now they can experience the times of refreshing (divine peace and joy) in their life, which shall come from his presence.
As a result of this healing, five thousand Jews repented and believed in Christ as their Messiah/Savior. Peter and John are then apprehended by the priests and captains of the temple and brought before the Sanhedrin, the highest ruling court in Jerusalem. They are told to stop teaching and preaching in the name of Jesus.
Eventually, they are let go, and proceed to go back to the company of believers, who are now assembled together in one place, and report back to them all that the chief priests and elders said unto them. This group of believers that had gathered together were harmonious in thought and affection toward one another.
At this time the Christian Jews were being persecuted by both unbelieving Jews, who would cut them off financially by terminating their employment or if they owned their own business by not supporting them, and the Roman government, who offered anyone that turned a Christian into the authorities 10 percent of their assets.
Those who were financially destitute received help from their fellow Jewish believers, who sold lands or houses, and gave the monetary value of such to the apostles, who distributed what was given according to needs of the believers.
34 Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold,
35 And laid them down at the apostles' feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.
How would we describe this function of an apostle?
●The apostles received monetary contributions from those in the assembly, who sold lands or houses, for distribution to their fellow Jewish believers that became financially destitute, because of persecution. Acts 3:1-4:31
Well what do you think so far about the functions of an apostle.
Are you surprised by anything that has been said?
There is a lot more to be presented about this office gift. So let’s find out what it is.
The next function of an apostle is found in Acts 2.
They Continued Stedfastly In The Apostles' Doctrine
On the Day of Pentecost about 3000 people believed in Christ as their Messiah/Savior.
What did they do after they were saved?
The scriptures state that they continued steadfastly (attended constantly; continued eagerly) in the apostle’s doctrine (teaching) and fellowship (A relation between individuals which involves a common interest and a mutual, active participation in that interest and in each other25) along with the breaking of bread (daily meals, later reduced to weekly), which was centered on intimate worship, sharing, and learning the scriptures26, that occurred in believers homes to be followed by partaking in the Lord’s Supper; and prayers (In supplications to God for an increase of grace and life in their own souls; for establishment in the truth which they had received; and for the extension of the kingdom of Christ in the salvation of men27).
42 And they continued stedfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers.
The apostles would convey to the new believers the new truths about this new life in Christ as made known to them by revelation of the Spirit. The Spirit would also remind the apostles of everything that Jesus had said to them while he was with them.
Here is another function of the apostles.
●They would convey to the new believers new truths about the new kingdom that they entered into at salvation by means of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Acts 2:42-47
This next section is quite intriguing. As stated in an earlier section the vacancy left by Judas Iscariot among the 12 apostles resulted in the apostles choosing out from among two candidates, one who would take the vacant position. This person had to be someone who was with the group when Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist until Jesus was ascended into heaven, which implies that he saw Christ after his resurrection while he was on earth in his glorified body for 40 days.
The questions that need to be answered are two-fold.
In the choosing of an apostle, is the person chosen by the existing apostles (those who alive at the time)?
Secondly, is one of the qualifications for a person to be considered for the position of an apostle that they had to be with the group who were with Christ beginning with the baptism of John until His resurrection, which infers that he saw Christ on earth at some time during the 40 days when he was in His glorified body?
If this is indeed the case, then after the apostles of the early church died no one else would meet these qualifications.
In the next section of scriptures, there were some in the Corinthian church who believed that Paul was not an apostle. Let’s take a look at this and find out why they thought that this was the case.
Have I Not Seen Jesus Christ Our Lord?
Suggested Reading; 1 Cor. 9:1-27
Paul is addressing some in the Corinthian church who are questioning his calling to the office of apostleship.
He does this by presenting four questions.
Am I not an apostle? Another word am I not one who is sent under commission?
Am I not free? Free from the obligation to work for my living28? Another word, if I am an apostle, then shouldn’t I be supported financially from you to whom I have ministered?
Have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? It was probably to this question that they would say to him, no you haven’t.
What does it mean to have seen the Lord Jesus? That’s a good question.
Let’s look at the next question, and then get back to this one.
Are not ye my work in the Lord? Have not you been converted from sin, and turned to holiness29 as evidence that God has sent me?
1 Am I not an apostle? am I not free? have I not seen Jesus Christ our Lord? are not ye my work in the Lord?
2 If I be not an apostle unto others, yet doubtless I am to you: for the seal of mine apostleship are ye in the Lord.
While it is true that the believers in Corinth had at a point in time repented of their sins, believed in Christ as savior, and had received the indwelling Holy Spirit, it is conceivable that some of the believers weren’t questioning that God didn’t use Paul to preach the gospel, but that he was not an apostle, because he had not seen the risen Christ.
What does it mean to have seen the risen Christ?
Well these verses do not provide the answer. So please go to 1 Cor 15:8.
And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.
In this verse Paul says that he had seen the risen Christ. Where and when did this happen? Was he the only witness?
Please go to Acts 9.
Lord, What Wilt Thou Have Me To Do?
Suggested Reading: Acts 9:1-7
Saul (Paul) was born in Tarsus, the capital city of Cicilia, a Roman province in the south-east of Asia Minor. His father and mother were both Jews of the tribe of Benjamin and were also Roman citizens. At about age 13, he attended the University at Jerusalem studying divinity and Jewish Law under the tutelage of Gamaliel, an eminent Pharisee.
It is believed that he eventually became a member of the Sanhedrin. This was the supreme administrative and judicial council of the Jews, which many believe originated during the time of the Maccabes (175 BC). It is believed to have consisted of 71 members, the high priest being president, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders of the people. Their usual place of meeting was in the temple or at the home of the high priest.
Saul applied for and received a commission from the high priest to inquire among the synagogues of the Jews at Damascus, if there were any there that belonged to the sect of Christ. If he found any, then he was to bring them back as prisoners to Jerusalem to be tried before the Sanhedrin.
While on his way to Damascus with an accompaniment of men, a great light shined around him and he fell to the earth. The men that were with him heard words, but did not understand what was being said, and neither did they see any man in their periphery speaking to Saul.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. Acts 9:7
Paul upon hearing clearly words that were spoken unto him responded by saying, who are you, Lord? The response was, this is Jesus whom you have been persecuting. It seems that it was at this time that Paul believed in Jesus as the Messiah/Savior, when he responded to Him by saying Lord what will you have me do?
There is no mention by Saul that he saw the risen Christ in these verses. However, as mentioned earlier in 1 Corinthians 15:8 he said that he did.
So how does one know if Paul or anyone else who makes the claim that they have seen the risen Christ is actually telling the truth?
Let’s stay in Acts 9.
Even Jesus That Appeared Unto Thee In The Way
When Saul arose from the earth and opened his eyes, he realized that he couldn’t see. The men that accompanied him brought him to Damascus.
While there a Jewish Christian, named Ananias heard the Lord speak to him in a vision, directing him to go to a certain man’s house, where Saul was residing, and lay hands on him so that he might receive his sight.
Ananias complies with the Lord’s directive. When he enters the house he puts his hands on Saul and makes a statement of confirmation concerning Saul seeing the risen Christ. He says to Saul the following words that are found in verse 17.
…the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Here was someone, who was not present with Saul on the road to Damascus that conveyed to him in words about an occurrence that had taken place; this occurrence being that he had seen the risen Christ.
What a confirmation.
Immediately after Saul receives his sight and partakes of food for physical nourishment he goes into the synagogues and preaches Christ. This riles up the Jews to the extent that they take council to kill him. He is forthwith rescued by fellow disciples, who bring him to Jerusalem. Somehow he meets up with a man named Barnabas, who brings him to the apostles that are abiding there, telling them that Saul had seen the risen Christ along with speaking to Him.
And when Saul was come to Jerusalem, he assayed to join himself to the disciples: but they were all afraid of him, and believed not that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him, and brought him to the apostles, and declared unto them how he had seen the Lord in the way, and that he had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. Acts 9:26-27
There was no immediate response brought forth by the apostles which stated that Saul couldn’t have seen the risen Christ, because he wasn’t of the group that was with them from Jesus baptism by John the Baptist until His ascension.
Another thought to take note of is that it’s probable that Barnabas had heard about Ananias receiving a vision from the Lord concerning how Saul had seen the risen Christ; and that it was probably because of this confirmation that he was willing to bring him before the apostles at Jerusalem.
So there you have it. What we have just learned might not be considered as functions of an apostle, but as qualifications of an apostle.
●One of the qualifications for a person to be considered for the position of apostle is that they must have seen the risen Christ. This doesn’t mean that they would have to have been of the group that saw Jesus beginning with his baptism by John the Baptist up to his ascension.
However, they could have seen Christ after his ascension by means of what is called a theophany. A theophany could refer to persons, whether divine or demonic, who suddenly come on the scene and are only visible to the one or ones that they are sent. Another example of a theophany is found in Acts 12:1-11.
The second qualification for a person to be considered for the position of apostle is that there would be another witness, a disciple, who would have received a confirming word by whatever means, albeit in this case a vision, that this person had indeed seen the risen Christ. By the way just for the sake of clarification a vision is an altered state of consciousness in which extrasensory audiovisual experiences, usually revelatory in character, are perceived in private by individuals30 when they are awake. Acts 9:8-19
There is one more qualification for a person to be considered to have been called to the office of an apostle. The next verse taken from 2 Corinthians 12:12 will provide both a qualification and function of an apostle.
Truly The Signs Of An Apostle Were Wrought Among You
2 Cor 12:12; 2 Cor 10:2,10
Paul is responding to the allegation, that he is not an apostle.
Along with this there are those, who are accusing him of walking according to the impulses of the flesh.
But I beseech you, that I may not be bold when I am present with that confidence, wherewith I think to be bold against some, which think of us as if we walked according to the flesh. 2 Cor 10:2
They also considered his bodily presence weak (nothing of majesty in his manner; awkward in gestures; short; bow-legged; eyebrows knit together; a hooked nose); and as someone who was not a polished speaker.
For his letters, say they, are weighty and powerful; but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech contemptible. 2 Cor 10:10
Paul responds to the allegation that he is not an apostle by saying that there are certain evidences or tokens by which one is proved to be an apostle, as one who is divinely commissioned. These evidences were accomplished among the Corinthians by means of patience (remaining loyal to the faith in trials and sufferings); in signs (miracles with emphasis on their ability to increase spiritual understanding by pointing to a spiritual reality); in wonders (in the sense of awe, which the miracle creates); and mighty deeds (miracles resulting from divine power). These three words: signs, wonders, and mighty deeds probably indicate the three different ways of looking at miracles.
Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds. 2 Cor 12:12
Someone might ask, if any believer evidences miracles, are they an apostle?
This is an interesting question. In Acts 6:8 one of the believers chosen and voted on by the assembly, and then appointed (laid hands on) by the apostles to the position of deacon, was named Stephen. He was said to be a man full of faith (trusting entirely in God’s promises) and power (divine energy) that did great wonders and miracles among the people. The words “wonders and miracles” are the same words used in the Koine Greek for wonders and signs as ascribed to the apostle Paul in 2 Cor 12:12.
And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people. 2 Cor 10:10
What does this indicate?
This indicates that a believer can have a gift of miracles, but not be an apostle.
Conversely it could also mean that someone who is believed to an apostle is simply someone who has the gift of miracles.
Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. For to one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; To another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; To another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discerning of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues:1 Corinthians 12:4; 8-10
What follows could be considered a qualification and function of an apostle,
●An apostle will evidence patience (remaining loyal to the faith in trials and sufferings); in signs (miracles with emphasis on their ability to increase spiritual understanding by pointing to a spiritual reality); in wonders (in the sense of awe, which the miracle creates); and mighty deeds (miracles resulting from divine power). 2 Cor 12:12; 2 Cor 10:2,10
I wonder how many in the churches of today if they saw someone in the body of Christ exercise the gift of miracles would consider them to be an apostle.
There is no indication that the apostles at Jerusalem thought of the deacon Stephen as having the office gift of apostle, prophet, evangelist or pastor-teacher.
While someone who is called to be an apostle would evidence signs, wonders, and mighty deeds with patience, they also would have to have seen the risen Christ, which would have to be verified by a fellow disciple, who had received divine confirmation (e.g. by means: of a word from Jesus in a vision; of a word from the Holy Spirit; of a word from an angel; etc.) of this.
A fellow believer who exercises the gift of miracles should not be automatically assumed to be an apostle.
I want to leave you with the following story before closing this chapter.
In the late 70’s I responded to the saving knowledge of Christ. A short time ensued and I began attending a small church gathering in my hometown. I was told on many occasions that the President of an affiliate Bible College would be speaking on Friday nights in a neighboring town and that I should go to listen to him speak. As it was I was already attending Thursday night, Sunday morning, and Sunday evening gatherings, the messages of which were presented by a young and dynamic speaker. At this time I didn’t see the need to attend the Friday night service.
Over time I would hear time and time again by the other members of my hometown assembly who had attended the Friday night assembly that the messages were enlightening and the presence of God was saturating. So I decided to go. When the President of the Bible College got up to speak the first thing I noticed was that he had a toupee on his head which in my opinion looked kind of out of place.
This mental occupation soon dissipated while the message was being brought forth. Being newly converted to the faith I can honestly say that I didn’t understand a lot of what was being said. However, the message itself was captivating. There was no instruction to kneel at this or that time or to repeat a word or a group of words that had been a part of a church format that I had attended with my parents when I was a little kid. There was not an emphasis on world peace or doing certain things that would procure God’s favor. What there was, was an awareness about the new person that I had become at salvation. There was conviction about what sin is and how to address it. And lastly, there was an intense impact of God’s presence penetrating my inner being.
I found out later that this speaker had a spiritual encounter with God in the early days of his ministry. It was alleged that God called him to go into a certain section of woods near a particular lake. While there he received certain promises from Him. Over time a ministry was developed that emphasized preaching, teaching, evangelism, and missions. Eventually this ministry extended worldwide.
Was this encounter in the woods near a lake the place where this speaker saw the risen Christ?
If so, was there or has there ever been a confirming witness of this?
Is he an apostle?
I can honestly say that I don’t know if he was an apostle. However, there have been many accounts of miracles, signs, and wonders having taken place at various times and in various places in this ministry.
Are there apostles in the church today?
In the next chapter we will continue to look at more functions of an apostle.