So we have no more apostles?

 “I am the least among the apostles….”


The issue of the gifts of the Spirit, or rather, certain gifts of the Spirit, all depending on who defines the issue, brings an ongoing question to almost every table. Have the gifts ceased or have they not? Frequently the bland statement is made that they belonged only to the era of the apostles, and with the end of the specific category of those apostles their equipment has also been removed.
    It seems then that it is important to establish the NT view of what apostles were and are. If we do not do our homework on that topic confusion must reign. Without a shadow of a doubt Christ invited, called and selected 12 men whom he also equipped and sent on ‘missions’. This number was so vital that when one fell away from the group then a replacement was urgently to be found. So we read in Acts 1:21f of the way the disciples, who were waiting for the promise of God of the Holy Spirit, went about selecting a replacement for Judas Iscariot. 
Thus one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time the Lord Jesus associated with us, beginning from his baptism by John until the day he[c] was taken up from us—one of these must become a witness of his resurrection together with us.”So they proposed two candidates: Joseph called Barsabbas (also called Justus) and Matthias. Then they prayed, “Lord, you know the hearts of all. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to assume the task of this service  and apostleship from which Judas turned aside  to go to his own place.”  Then they cast lots for them, and the one chosen was Matthias; so he was counted with the eleven apostles.” 

    I have long felt that this was wrong, forgive me Lord, because I, as many other, saw Paul of Tarsus as the natural replacement for Judas. This is not so. When we move along in the life of the assembly of the baptised we take note that ‘Peter stood up with the eleven’ in Acts 2:14. Matthias is then without a shadow of a doubt one of the Twelve. Paul had not yet been converted. So whatever else Paul went through, he was never one of the Twelve. And that then brings us to the next question: was the apostolic fellowship ever limited in number to coincide with the lifespan of the Twelve? Listen to the word. While Christ was alive he called, equipped, commissioned and sent the Twelve on specific tasks all related to the Kingdom of God. The apostles where stationed in Jerusalem and acted in unison within the Church and great signs and wonders were done by them. So it continues in the first 12 chapters in Acts. The further importance of the unique standing of the twelve is seen in the city of God in Revelation where the city of God has twelve gates, each bearing the name of one of the 12 Apostles.
  
  Then comes chapter 13. The church in Antioch has been established by the ministry of Paul and 
Barnabas as we are told in chapter 11. The men of God who had been forced out of Jerusalem due to the Roman persecution came to Antioch and started preaching to the Jews only, but soon some came who were not Jews and they shared the same message with the Greek gentiles who lived there also. The Lord was with them and numbers grew. Report is sent to Jerusalem and the Apostles sent Barnabas to take stock of events. He assessed the situation and on his own initiative went of to Tarsus to look for Paul. Bringing him to Antioch the two of them now do the full scale work of Church planters and builders of the living Church! A full year and the combination of Jewish end Gentile believers was by their fellow citizens identified as Christians, as men who claimed to live in Christ and having Christ living in them. No doubt as a slur and ridicule. The church is visited by prophets coming from Jerusalem. In Jerusalem Peter is in prison and James is killed. The Apostle’s ranks are being thinned out. There is no question of replacing James as they had with Judas.                                                                     
    The next development occurred in Antioch. We are told that Paul and Barnabas were part of a collective leadership of Prophets and Teachers. After one year of teaching the work of Paul and Barnabas had raised up at competent leadership of different men. They worshipped and served the Lord and in one such event the Holy Spirit, in a manner not told us, but unequivocally audibly “said unto them set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.” No Apostolic succession, no Jerusalem authorisation, no accreditation from the Eleven. The elders of the Church obeyed the Spirit of Christ and did exactly what Christ had done when he first selected and sent his Disciples on their mission. Saul and Barnabas were called, equipped, commissioned and sent by the Holy Spirit in co-operation with the body of believers. The Church affirmed by the laying on of hands what the Lord sovereignly had told them to do. The church neither created them as sent ones or licensed them to do so. But they obeyed the Lord, the Head of the Church and by sending them to the work which the Spirit had sent them to do they made them “apostles”. That is: those who are sent. “Apostello” in its original Greek meaning means only that: One who has been called, equipped, commissioned and sent to do someone else’s bidding. Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man and the Son of God is the APOSTLE of all apostles, as he was sent by the Father, so he would send his disciples. See Hebrews 3:1, John 17:3. And as the Church grew, He as the Head of the Church continues to ‘send’ along the very same lines, but these sent ones are never mistaken for the original twelve. Neither do they make that claim for themselves. But they are called what they were in function and office, but not as a title within a hierarchy. 
    In Acts 14:4 we are told that the area of Iconium was divided over the message brought by Paul and Barnabas, some sided with the Jews in the synagogue and some sided with the ‘sent ones’ i e the apostles. Notice: this is the first time Paul is called apostle. And notice secondly: this sending of these two men was attested by ‘signs and wonders’ that followed. Important! “So they stayed there for a considerable time, speaking out courageously for the Lord, who testified to this message of hid grace, granting miraculous signs and wonders to be performed through their hands.” Hold this thought: apostles are confirmed in their ministry by divine favour. In uncommon signs and wonders. It is part of the ‘sending you to do greater things than these’. Their status as sent ones is attested to by God. And if the gifts of the Spirit were confined to those sent ones, then we would expect them to follow any such in our time. 
    In 1 Thessalonians 2:5-8 Paul is writing to the Church in northern Greece. He refers to himself and his two co-workers Silvanus and Timothy as apostles in a most forthright manner: “For we never appeared with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext of greed-God is our witness- nor to seek glory from from people, either from you or from others, although we could have imposed our weight as apostles of Christ; instead we became as little children among you.” Plainly and obviously Paul counted his two comrades as apostles to the Thessalonians.
    In 1 Corinthians 15:5-7 We are told of the resurrection appearances of Christ. First to Cephas, then on another occasion to the Twelve, (sometime after Acts 1), then of five hundred at once, then of James alone, and then “of all the apostles”. Obviously not the Twelve, but another company of such officers of the Church. 

    Was Paul the last apostle? Still in 1 Corinthians 15 we read:Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” Having listed the previous occasions on which Christ showed Himself to people Paul finishes his account by saying that “and the last occasion I will mention is, that I myself also saw him (Damascus road)”. He never claims to be either the last apostle nor the last one to see the risen Lord. (John in the first chapter of Revelation puts paid to that idea.) But Paul is convinced that he is the least of all apostles on account of his former persecution of the Church. Later Paul refers to the gifts of Christ for the Church as ‘some as apostles’ etc Eph 4:10ff. But note that Paul never sent anyone as ‘his apostle’. Whatever gifts are needed for the task, are given to men who on the strength of those gifts become gifts to the Church, but very often they are the ones breaking new ground in new places, so they are seminal gifts around whom the new church grows up. Basically fulfilling the great commission.. as the original apostles. But a different sort of apostles since these now “build on the foundations of the Prophets and Apostles.” Apostles of this second order are workers sent out to continue the building that was initiated by the twelve, and as they do so they are also fulfilling the role of the Apostle. They have not disappeared at all. They have been renamed. If the church had been finished at the end of 1st century, then apostles would have ceased. But the work has gone on for 1900 plus years, with the same equipment! 
    They have no more disappeared than the city of Oslo has disappeared because of the change of name from Christiania to Oslo. It happened in 1924 when Norway had finally come out into full independence after having first been dominated by Denmark, and then for some decades had belonged to and been in union with Sweden. The Danish king Kristian renamed Oslo to Christiania in about 1650 AD in honour of himself. But in 1924 the now free and independent Norwegians took back the original name and threw the offensive ‘Christiania’, so redolent of national humiliation, out of the window and into the Bay of Oslo. 
    Again: the Greek word ‘apostello’ is the verb ‘to send’, ‘to put in a place with a view to a service’. The Church gradually became more and more latinized because of the dominant role of Rome, and ‘apostello’ became the latin ‘mitto’, since that is the exact same verb: to send, to release, set in motion, throw, expel, ejaculate etc etc. So the apostle became the missionary! So yes, in that sense the apostolic office is gone. But only in name. Every one of the TWELVE were missionaries. All the consequent apostles were missionaries, sent on mission by Christ! Every missionary is by definition an apostle. Identical terms if the conditions are fulfilled: ‘called by the Holy Spirit on the bidding of Christ, equipped, commissioned and sent.’How many missionary’s biographies have you read? The often overwhelming obstacles that these men and women overcame began with a resolute decision to obey the heavenly calling. They went indomitably convinced of Him who called them. And nothing could stop them. Not even the Church. 
    Back in 1 Corinthians chapter 4 Paul defends his apostleship in a very clear manner. He invites the reader to evaluate even Paul as to his stewardship of what God had entrusted to him. Basically: I am the Lord’s servant, not your slaves. Leave judgment to Him who sent me. I was sent by Him and am accountable to him only. And he now makes this apostolic circle wider: He includes Apollos into the apostolic frame work. “I have applied these things to myself and to Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn ‘not to go beyond what is written’, so that none of you will be puffed up in favour of one against the other. For who concedes you any superiority? What do you have that you did not receive?… For I think that God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to die, because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and people.” There can be little doubt that Paul considered Apollos and Timothy and himself as a sort of apostle different from the Twelve. An ongoing service to the Church as he declares in Ephesians 4.
In 1 Corinthians 9 Paul sets out his credentials as apostle. "Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus the Lord If I am not an apostle to others, at least I am to you, for you are the confirming sign of my apostleship in the Lord. This is my defence to those examine me." "By their fruits they shall be known.." Notice how Paul refuses to use ‘apostle’ as a title, and plainly states that the apostle’s work is the changed lives of people. Only by the direct personal effects of his ministry will people know that they have met one sent to be a “fisher of men”. That those who shut their eyes to that do not acknowledge the apostle is neither here nor there. He does not defend a title, but defines a mission. We know how keen he was to be found running his race unto the crown of glory. No human accolade can add to that dimension of assurance of the calling to the work.

    One last reference to apostles should settle the issue as to how long apostles were known as such in the time of the Bible. Revelation 2:2 reads thus. “I know your works as well as your labour and steadfast endurance. You have even put to test those who refer themselves as apostles (but are not) and have discovered that they are false.” If apostles were not in existence at that time, then the need for testing the claims of ANY apostle would not be necessary. The first person to claim any such standing would be thrown out ‘prima vista’, on first sight. The need to discern presupposes a basic mass of apostles from which to sort out the good from the bad. So there could not have been false apostles at all unless there had been some genuine ones among whom, like wolves in a flock of sheep, the false were hiding. At this time, round about 96 AD, when John as the last living of the Twelve is writing, we are informed that apostles of the second order, indeed ‘the gift to the church order of apostles’, is very much alive and well enough to be counterfeited by the enemy. And there is not a slightest indication anywhere in scripture that the church of today is in any less need of ‘first apostles, second prophets, third teachers etc’ than when Paul wrote of Christ’s gifts to the Church. If the apostles are no more then neither is the Church. 
    Well what about after the death of John and those mentioned in Ephesus? It cannot come as a surprise to anyone that the 'Didache', or 'Didaskalion', a 2300 word, early Church manual, has a clear section on apostles. As it was written around 150 AD it provides ample proof that apostles had certainly not passed out of time or the life of the Church some one hundred years after the death of most of the original 12. And fifty years or more after the death of John. The manual is written to protect the church from just those false apostles of which John had written in a message from the Lord to the churches. Hear hear: “Now as concerning the apostles and prophets, according to the teaching of the gospel, do this; let every apostle that comes to you be received as of the Lord; and he shall stay but one day, and if need be, the next day also; but if he stay three days he is a false prophet. When the apostle leaves, let him take nothing but enough bread to see him to his next stop. If he asks for money, he is a false prophet.”Whatever else the Didache said, this is certain, apostles were commonly on the roads long after the end of the NT canon. So how can their ministry be said to have come to an end and their charismata with them? The charismata, the gifts of grace were not the possession of the apostles. They belonged to the entire church. And since they were not even tied to the apostles, it would not make any difference if the apostles had disappeared, it would not have affected the spiritual gifts in the Church at all.


    There is no such thing as an ‘apostolic gift’. The gifts of the apostle which are the needed equipment for the role of apostleship vary. Paul and Barnabas are very different in the gifts they have, and they complement each other since Christ never ‘lays all eggs in one basket’. But the apostles are a gift given by Christ to the Church. There is no calling to become a statutory apostle either. The proof of being an apostle is in the sending, going and doing. It never is an honorary title, but a job description. There is a calling by Christ to serve Him by being an apostle, a sent one, to a place and a nation and people to whom Christ has the errand of proclaiming the Kingdom and proclaiming the need for salvation, and pointing to the Saviour and Lord. An apostle is a witness, in word and life and deed to the risen Lord Jesus Christ. The apostle may be a prophet or a teacher or an evangelist, whatever the equipment Christ bestows on the person is what will be turned into the service to the people. It may be church planting among some who came to Faith by the work of an evangelist, or it may be ‘raw hide evangelism’ for years with no visible result. 
    The ‘sent one’ gives account to the Sender. Being faithful in the task is critical, success is accidental. Being found faithful unto death is the hall mark of the one thus called and eternally embraced by the Master. The approval of the many is of little consequence to the one who knows the voice of the Shepherd.

 

    So, once again, have apostles ceased to be on the scene of the world with the end of the Twelve apostles? No they have not. In generation after generation Christ has called men and women to be the ones sent on His behalf, whether they were acknowledged by the Church in their time or not. And never once in Scripture is there a slightest hint that the Church of tomorrow can do with anything less than was needed for the Church in the beginning.
But here is our problem: there are many who claim to know that conditions for the Church of today somehow have changed radically from what we see and read in the NT. The claim is made that God is not a solid Rock, but a shifting sand. The doctrine of the immutability of God, the faith in a God who says ‘I change not’ is replaced by the feeble minded mumblings of those who base their theology on ‘it depends’.”Sound and firm doctrine” is no more. All that is left is the Bible filtered through a medium which worships the lack of distinction and hails relativity. The ultimate irony is this: the stauncher the principle of ‘Sola Scriptura, Sola Fide, Sola Spiritus  Sanctus and Soli Deo Gloria' is maintained, the more commonly the gifts in and to the Church are denied.
     
    They claim that the Word of God does not mean what it says, but must be understood in the contemporary context. If what the Word says does not fit with what we experience then the word must be theologically refitted to suit the landscape. But what we experience depends on what we believe! If we believe there are no apostles then we will not accept either them, or that which always follows them: signs and wonders. Because, like it or not, apostolic mission continues to be corroborated by signs and wonders. Every time that the gospel breaks through into a new culture, a new language group or a new nation, the breakthrough is attested by the very things that ‘happened to us in the beginning’, as Peter affirmed to the Church in Jerusalem.

 

    The writer to the Hebrews, probably another apostle of the second order, wrote very serious words:Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him,while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.” In every generation the church starts the same way as in the beginning. No spiritual life is ever inherited, but the result of the new birth in new generations of believers. The church 2021 is not the later growth of that first generation, but a new growth in the same field of humanity. The need for conversion, redemption, reconciliation and salvation of the individual is the incarnation of the same Word of God as in the beginning. And the process is the same, the given dynamic is the same and the signs and wonders needed are the same. The gospel was to be attended by signs and wonders. And “as the Father sent me, so send I you!” “These signs shall follow them that believe”. How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation? We shall not, indeed the rapid loss of membership and the rapid decline of the position of the Church proves beyond doubt that we are suffering the consequences of our collective neglect. Where the Church grows in the world, there it acknowledges the apostles even if many more style themselves apostles than there is call for. Never was it more true than “not all that glitters is gold.”
It was first… and there is no hint of that not also being at the last, since Jesus Himself is the initiator, author of, and Finisher, the Alpha and the Omega, of our faith. To insinuate that the one who is the beginning and the end should have omitted the entire content in the middle between A and O is not only incredible, it is also a direct denial of the immutability of God. The Church of today must dare to say this of Jesus Christ: “Remember your leaders, who spoke God’s message to you; reflect on the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday and forever.” What place is there for a faith that eliminates a large part of the things that were revealed by the Spirit to Paul and the other writers about the gifts to the church? None at all, because if you remove what Christ said he would reveal to Paul, then you no longer have a Christian church, the Christ has gone from Christian.
Acts 9:15-17 “But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”So Ananias departed and entered the house, placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

 

    When Paul shared with the Corinthian church about various matters he frequently refers to “I received from the Lord…” It would be very hard to maintain that this is true of the 13th chapter but was not true about chapters 12 and 14. By what trickery and deceit does the cessationist reject the cover teaching surrounding the teaching on love, when the very gifts spoken of in the 12th and 14th are Gods gifts to demonstrate the Love of God to the world through the Church? Does a normal logical reading of those three chapters allow you to reject the one preceding and the one following and only retain one or two phrases of the middle one? What is the better way? Better is a comparative, so better than what? 
    In the previous chapters Paul has dealt with one matter after the other that was brought to his attention about the state of things in Corinth. All sorts of wrong ways of doing things in a number of areas. Including that of how the gifts of God were understood. If there is a wrong way to do, then they did it. But there is a right way of using the gifts, a better way than that which was prevalent in Corinth. In chapter 12 he lists their misconceptions relative to the gifts. They had them, but did not understand how to handle them, they knew little of the Body of the Church in operation, they thought of the gifts in a fleshly and self-centered way. They were after all designated as children in the faith in chapter 3. Giving gifts to children is always fraught with danger. They thought that all must have this or that gift to be genuine, much because they had them, or so they thought. (The equivalent today is the Pentecostal claim that every true child of God speaks in tongues.) The gifts, says Paul therefore, must no longer be seen from that wrong perspective. They must be operative within the framework of Love. A love that seeks not its own, that is never arrogant or proud, not self seeking, not impatient not easily angered. And the love with which the gifts are used will transcend the gifts the same way that the essential me will survive my body. But until that time the gifts are the gifts of Love from the Father of lights. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift.” Rom 8:32  “Indeed, he who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, freely give us all things?” If you ask anything in my name..
And far far from saying that the gifts are limited in time the fourteenth chapter launches them for all the Church in all ages. “Since you are eager for the manifestations of the Spirit , seek to abound in order to strengthen the Church.” (14:12) As in the first verse: “pursue love and seek, be eager, for the spiritual gifts.” Not either or, but love essential for the use of the Gifts. To Timothy Paul admonishes: “Stir up the gift within you”. To the Thessalonian Church he warns not to extinguish the Spirit by forbidding prophecy. (1 Thess 5:18-22) A very apt warning, and a very real danger. As evidenced in the silence of the Spirit in most evangelical churches. The only voice that is heard is the voice of someone preaching about the word, and often denying the very work of the Spirit without which no spoken words ever produce that for which they were sent. The Body of believers, being the new body that has been prepared for the Head in Heaven to express Himself in the World for the glory of God, Father Son and Holy Spirit.
Neither the gifts of Christ to the Church in the form of Teachers/Shepherds and Prophets, Apostles and Evangelists are in evidence in any Church which denies that those are for the Church. Neither will there ever be evidence of the gifts of the Spirit in a church where there is no Body concept and no understanding of what ‘building up the body’ means.
Oh you can call people by those titles as long as you ignore the biblical credentials for them.

 

    You can even claim to be led by the Spirit as long as nobody contests your teaching on the things you claim that the Spirit has long since stopped doing. You can have all the elemental paraphernalia in place that constitute the popular idea of what Church is, and as long as you don’t get down to the brass tacks of scripture then you can create and constitute any number of organisations with the name of being Church. But begin to ask the Head for illumination, begin to search the scriptures and a certain unease creeps in: is this all?
“And the Spirit and the Bride say: come..and let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wants it take of the water of life free of charge.”
* * *
Teddy Donobauer, Doncaster 12 June 2021

For a more comprehensive text about the cessation of the gifts: see Blogtext. Have the spiritual gifts come to an end? ~ Teddy Donobauer


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