By Mark Swarbrick
Some modern churches claim to have a “five-fold ministry.” They get this moniker from Ephesians 4:11 where it says:
“And He gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, some as pastors and teachers…”
The Catholic Church maintains that their pope is an apostle. Additionally, there are a number of non-Christian cults that claim to have apostles or prophets.
These ministries claim that this one isolated passage proves that the church should have apostles today, even though the traditional interpretation of Protestant Church theologians down through the centuries has been otherwise. The fact of the matter is that all real apostles passed away during the 1st century, as God intended.
What is an Apostle?
An apostle is someone who can give eye-witness testimony to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. They have incredible power to work miracles and were commissioned to write Scripture. Our New Testament is written exclusively by apostles, or the close associate of an apostle. In Acts Chapter 10 Peter proclames the authority of the apostles to be witnesses:
“And we are witnesses of all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death by hanging him on a tree, but God raised him on the third day and made him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead.” (Acts 10:39-41)
The idea of being a “witness to the resurrection” meant far more than just claiming a vision of Jesus. One had to have known Jesus had lived, seen him during his earthly ministry, been aware that he was killed, and then spent time with Jesus after His resurrection and be personally called by Him to be an apostle. Obviously, one cannot give such an apostolic testimony without having been a contemporary of Jesus.
Apostles are Foundational to the Church
Apostle’s were given to the Church to establish its foundation in the 1st century. If one thinks of building a house, one lays down the foundation and then builds on top of that. One does not keep putting down new foundations after the house is being framed. Apostles were intended to function only at the beginning of the Church. The benefit of this foundation is available to us today through the Bible. The New Testament is our apostolic foundation. Each New Testament book was written by an apostle or the close associate of an apostle. The Old Testament is our foundation that comes down to us via the Old Testament prophets. Prophets and apostles togther give us the entire Bible, which is foundational to the Church. All doctrine must fall in line with the teachings found in Holy Scripture.
Requirements for Apostleship
- A Contemporary of Jesus: An apostle must be able to give witness to Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. The apostles proclaimed: “The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed…we are witnesses to these things…” (Acts 5:30-32). The apostles were eye witnesses. To be this kind of witness, one must have lived during the time of Jesus. “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21-22) This passage sets the precedent that at the very least, one of the qualifications for being an apostle is to be a contemporary of Jesus and the other apostles.
- Have Seen Jesus: An apostle must have seen Jesus. In 1 Corinthians 9:1 The Apostle Paul defends his apostleship, saying, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1). So to be able to be an apostle you must be able to testify to both Jesus’ death and to his resurrection. Since Paul lived during the time of Christ he was able to give testimony of what all those in Jerusalem were aware of – that Jesus had been crucified, and had been killed. No one can do that today because they have not lived during that time of history. Paul could testify that Jesus, whom he knew for a fact to have died, was now alive, for he not only lived during that time period, but also Jesus appeared to him and called him as an apostle.
- Taught by Jesus: An apostle must have been personally instructed by Jesus. The Apostle Paul wrote, “The gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel. For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatian 1:11-12)
- Work Miracles: An apostle works signs and wonders. In 2 Corinthians 12:12 Paul says, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works.”
- Write Scripture: Apostles can write Scripture. The New Testament was written by apostles or close associates of an apostle. Apostles had the authority to write Scripture. Peter recognized Paul’s writings as Scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16.
No Apostles Today
Since one must have lived in the 1st century to be able to be a witness to Christ’s death on the cross, and subsequent resurrection, it is impossible for there to be apostles today.
God gave apostles (past tense) when he founded the Church. We still have them only in the sense that their writings are Holy Scripture which still guides us. Jude 1:7 says, “Remember the words having been spoken beforehand by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ…” Notice that word “beforehand.” Why does it say “beforehand?” Because this was written by Jude, the half-brother of Jesus around 80 AD. Most of the real apostles had already been martyred by that time, thus we are adjured to remember what they had already taught. We are never told in Scripture to look to the words spoken by new apostles.
Scripture never tells the Church to look for new apostles, but to rely on what was “spoken beforehand.” Furthermore, Jude 1:3 says, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Our faith was laid down once by the original apostles. It was “once for all delivered” and “spoken beforehand.” It was not to be given again and again by new apostles.
While the Bible gives details of the qualifications for selecting deacons and elders, no such information is given for apostles. That is because they were not intended for today. As the years went by and some apostles were martyred, there were no accounts of replacement apostles being chosen. If there were such a thing as apostolic succession, there would be a record of this.
Ephesians 2:20 says that the Church is “built upon the foundation of the apostles…” The foundation is the first thing laid down. You don’t build a first and second floor and then put another foundation on top of that.
Many who believe in apostles for today are good Christian folks; they are simply mistaken in their theology on this point. That said, it must be pointed out that this opens the door for false teaching. If apostles are considered to be able to write Scripture and establish doctrine, recognizing someone as an apostle today gives them far more power than is biblical. Non-Christian cults such as Mormonism, 7th Day Adventism, The Perfect Church, and many others recognize apostles and prophets in their church and use this in order to prop up their false teachings. Recognizing apostles diminishes the authority of Scripture.
Recognizing apostles today also goes against the teaching of Christ that we are all brothers:
“But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ.” (Matthew 23:8-10)
Calling someone “Apostle So-and-So” smacks of prideful and pompous religiousity that is the opposite of the humility we should show as Christians. It puts too much emphasis on man, which detracts from devotion to Jesus Christ.
Cult leaders often use the unbiblical façade of apostles in order to erect for themselves an apostolic platform so that they can create their own doctrines, write their own scripture, and lord it over people with false authority. Having a so-called prophet or apostle leading a church is expressly against the teaching of our Lord, who specifically taught that there should not be an ecclesiastical hierarchy within the Church. Cults have an affinity for having a prophet for one reason – control. They want people to give unquestioned obedience to their teaching and commands. Recognizing apostles tends to lead people to follow men, rather than Christ. If you find yourself in a church claiming to have a prophet or an apostle, run for the door. It is a mark of cultism.
The Bible is the Standard, Not a Prophet or Apostle
Calling someone an apostle elevates them to a level to where people may neglect to compare their teaching to the Bible.
The standard in a proper New Testament church is not, “does it agree with the prophet or apostle,” but rather, does it agree with the Bible.
To the law and to the testimony: if they speak not according to this word, it is because there is no light in them. (Isaiah 8:20)
Now I urge you, brethren, keep your eye on those who cause dissensions and hindrances contrary to the teaching which you learned, and turn away from them. ( Romans 16:17)
Let two or three prophets speak, and let the others pass judgment. (1 Co 14:29)
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. (Acts 17:11)
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