Apostolic Legitimacy

Apostolic Legitimacy

10 October 2013

"It is he, the Lord most High, who gives each his place." (Ps 87.5)


"I have not gone after things too great nor marvels beyond me." (Ps 131.1)


"I never push myself above my station; I am untroubled when I put myself in a low place." (A Desert Father, 4th C, Egypt)


"For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ." (2 Co 11.13)


"I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." (Rev 2.2)


In the 1940s and 50s, being an "Evangelist" (in the mould of Dr. Billy Graham) was considered aspirational. In the 60s and 70s, being a "Teacher" (in the mould of Dr. Derek Prince) became the ministry "of choice". Then during the 80s and 90s, everyone it seemed, asserted that they were a "Prophet". Today, something like a stampede is on, as Christian leaders lay claim (this time around) to the office of "Apostle".


In all of these timely surges of interest in the Ascension Gifts (Ephesians 4.11), God certainly has been doing something significant...shining His spotlight and reminding us how holy and important and indispensable are those servants He gifts to His Church. Sadly, at the same time the flesh, world and devil have also been at work, putting up their own counterfeits.


Human nature that wants to continue to assert its autonomy before God (the flesh) will view Christian ministry more as a career option and path, than a "living sacrifice". (Ro 12.1) It will see the Ascension Gifts not as bond slavery, but a hierarchical stairway to be scaled and attained as swiftly as possible. Selfish ambition and spiritual greed drive such to the "summit", panting after this world's "treasures"...glory, honour and power. What kind of madness is this? Who dares clutch at that which becomes and belongs to Almighty God alone?


"Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honour and power and might be to our God for ever and ever!" (Rev 7.12)


It would seem clear that "all the angels" in Heaven know how to crash effortlessly "down on their faces before the throne". Upon the earth, the Church's "great ones" appear to believe that such behaviour does not suit their exalted station or rank?


Today the "market" is flooded with glossy literature "defining" all things "apostolic"...apostolic apostles, apostolic leadership, apostolic churches, apostolic movements. Many of these authors (or their ghost writers), having appointed themselves as "apostles", have written descriptions of their ministries...self-fulfilling prophecy, wishful-thinking, self-gratifying fantasies?


So far as trying to nail down a Biblical definition goes, I would have to say it's too late, because the "apostolic" horse has bolted...the waters of some kind of objective understanding have been muddied beyond all remedy or repair. Nevertheless, let me Elisha-like toss the following into the Church's "pot".


"Then he went out to the (bad) spring and threw the salt into it...Never again will it cause death." (2 Ki 2.19-22)


Somewhere, very, very close to the beginning, any consideration of matters "apostolic" must take as being of ultimate seriousness,


"You are...members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." (Eph 2.19-22)


First and foremost, authentic and bona fide and Heaven-sent apostles (and prophets too!) are foundation stones...foundational...people of the foundations. Hence Paul's assertion, "It has always been my ambition to preach the Gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation." (Ro 15.20)


(1) The apprentice apostle often serves some "time" as an evangelist.(1) Not only does he or she have a passion to see the "lost" saved (as should all Believers!), but they are also very concerned (in ways which might seem obsessive) that new converts have a firm footing; that their lives rest "on the rock", not on "sand". (Mt 7.24-27)


The apostle does not get very much excited about land that has been under cultivation for years. They are always looking for territory and people yet to be "ploughed" by the Gospel...yet to be established and built up upon "the stone that the builders rejected" which is the "living stone...the chosen and precious cornerstone". (1 Pe 2.4-8)


Like the Rock that "will not roll", they are pioneers of faith (Heb 12.2)...explorers, trailblazers, innovators, founders, developers. They don't follow maps, they draw them. They construct without plans, plant the wastelands, drive highways through the wilderness.


(2) The apostle's respect for the whole Bible is profound and absolute. To build anything, anywhere, anytime without it being thoroughly underpinned by the plain testimony of both Testaments is beyond their power to even begin to imagine.


"Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock." (Mt 7.24)


"Wherever we see the Word of God purely preached and heard, there a church of God exists." (John Calvin, Reformer, 1509-64, Geneva)


"Believe God, that plainly speaketh in His Word. And further than the Word teacheth you, you shall neither believe the one nor the other." (John Knox, Reformer, 1505-72, Scotland)


Yes, the true apostle is the recipient of divine and immediate and supernatural revelation from Heaven.


"For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you." (1 Co 11.23)


"I did not receive (the gospel) from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ." (Gal 1.12)


But the apostles (and prophets) know with a holy terror, more than any other ministry or Believer, that all of their oracles and unveilings must be brought in a meek spirit to the absolute benchmark and bar of the whole and wholesome counsel of the Bible...from Genesis 1.1 all the way through to The Revelation 22.21. To deviate but a splinter of a fraction from this is to begin the inevitable descent into spiritual pride and elitism, cultish deception, madness, destruction and hell-fire!


(3) The apostles (and prophets) are the guardians of history. Their love for apostles and prophets of the past is effortless, personal, intelligent. Their connection is so intimate as to seem a bit strange and eccentric. They sound as if they were sitting at the foot of John Calvin's pulpit in Geneva as he thundered forth his Reformation principles. They seem to have accompanied Teresa of Avila as she criss-crossed Spain on mule-back, planting prayer house after prayer house.


In fact they have. For they are indeed participants, vitally joined to our spiritual ancestors by "the one Spirit we were all given to drink"! (1 Co 12.13)


This should not be dismissed as a somewhat flaky or cranky concept. In fact it is obvious, commonsense that this generation's Church foundation stones will not rest upon thin air. They will sit fair and square and plumb on the originals (the Apostles of Acts and the Prophets of the Old Testament), via the apostles and prophets of every other generation in between. Today's foundational men and women will not merely be knowledgeable history buffs and enthusiasts. They will be caught up in slow-burning, affectionate and respectful submission to these Elders who, though dead, yet speak to us in terms and tones undimmed...still lively and life-giving. (Heb 11.4)


(4) Closely aligned to this responsibility is the apostle's (and the prophet's) preoccupation with "true truth"...the objective truth as it is known by God Himself.


In the Western Church today there is this extraordinary phenomenon; that if a leader asserts that something is "true" (be it a doctrine or report), then it becomes true and indisputable. Whole congregations are informed that any further discussion is un-necessary; disagreement or dissent is "rebellion". In one fell swoop two very unhealthy things take place.


(a) The Holy Spirit-enlightened consciences of individual Believers are violated and shut down. There is a massive difference between Christian unity and enforced conformity. Responsible leaders will set the "whole story" (especially the inconvenient and uncomfortable aspects) before the People of God, and then they have to trust Him to bring forth what He will from that (messy?) melange. Any other course is just far too dangerous for it inevitably skirts manipulation and control.


(b) Unresolved issues and matters do not dissolve into nothing-ness with the passing of time. They do get buried, but not unto dissolution. They lie in the "basement" of your fellowship, rotting and fermenting, biding their time.


In extremely cold parts of the world, the ground freezes during the winter and buried rocks are slowly but surely forced out and onto the surface. Just so, local church "happenings" which have been swept "under the carpet", or not Biblically, justly, openly processed and resolved. It's not just the "result" that's all important, but the degree of objective truthfulness involved.


Hence the authentic apostle's (and the prophet's) obsessive concern. They are not only foundational people, but also the guardians of the foundations. They will not tolerate "dead bodies" buried in the Church's backyard. As shocking and disgusting as it might be, they will want them exhumed, a complete "autopsy" conducted, and then a public burial in a proper "graveyard".


It won't wash to say, "Oh well, it's all ancient history now, and it's all 'under the Blood'!" For wrongdoing to be "under the Blood" of the Atonement, there must have been voluntary, heartfelt and practical repentance, restitution and reconciliation...on the part of all the parties and everyone who was involved.


I had my first taste of itinerant preaching in the summer of 1979...and for the past 21 years have fulfilled that ministry in local churches all around New Zealand. So, I have seen a little bit here and there of the Lord's "tatterdemalion" People. For the greatest part, I tremble at their beauty. But...I also shudder at the sheer volume and weight of festering and putrefying carcases which one day must burst back into the light of day, to spread their fragrant rotten-ness far and wide. The true apostles and prophets will get digging now, before the eruption.


"For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open."(Lk 8.17)


"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (Jn 8.32)


(5) These absolutely imperative phenomena (and apostolic-prophetic qualifications) spontaneously give rise to an eager interest and respect for Christian Tradition. It is "fashionable" these days among many "modern" (or post-modern?) leaders to mock and rubbish Tradition. Their approach to theology and ministry is the "scorched earth" method; burn everything to the ground and throw the previous generation of Elders overboard. "Now we'll show you," they boast, "how it should be done!" Not for them the humility of the "relay race"; they salivate for the glory of the solo run..."winners" from beginning to end?


"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses...let us run with perseverance the race marked for us." (Heb 12.1)


But who are these "witnesses"? Who but those who lived "by faith" before us (Hebrews 11); those who have already run their part of "the race"; our spiritual ancestors! They have run and passed on the "baton". Now they watch eagerly to see how we will run our portion and pass on our (and their) spiritual inheritance to the next generation. The "scorched earth" programme is tantamont to an athlete in a relay team throwing the baton away and saying, "It impedes the fluidity of my running style and slows me down!"


Of course there is religious Tradition which is rotten.


"Why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?...You nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition." (Mt 15.3-6)


But there is Christian Tradition which is holy and life-giving.


"Stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle...Withdraw yourselves from every brother that walks disorderly, and not after the traditions which he received of us." (2 Th 2.15 & 3.6)


Wholesome Tradition is the testimony handed down to us of the "inner witness" of the Holy Spirit received by previous generations of Christians - especially the apostles and prophets. That "witness" is at least as important and valuable and integral to the construction of the Church today, as it was in its own time. God help any so-called "leader" who tramples upon this or discards it as so much "yesterday's news" and garbage. Such may spend a lifetime of ministry re-inventing the wheel.


Holy and wholesome Tradition does not bind us to a defunct past; it lifts us up and into God's future. That leader who knows where they come from, will know where they now are, and where they need to go tomorrow. Bona fide apostles and prophets build on this foundation, and so become foundational themselves.


(6) Apostles love profoundly, unstintingly and faithfully the other living foundations...first and foremost, The Chief, and then the prophets.


"God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." (Eph 2.19-20)


Some of today's pseudo-apostles are eager to brandish 1 Corinthians 12.28 ("In the church God has appointed first of all apostles..") like a great, big beat down the "competition", and knock everyone into line. But elsewhere the Apostle Paul writes,


"I think that God has set forth us the apostles last." (1 Co 4.9)


The 1 Corinthians 12.28 text is not a hierarchy, it's a list. The Church's true foundations are not a pecking order. They are a burial site. Apostles and prophets are not glittering, decorative church steeples. They are united with Christ and are "therefore buried with him through baptism into death". But with Him they have the power to bear the weight of His Body with their bodies because "as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father", they too "live a new life". (Ro 6.1-5)


Neither is the prophet the apostle's assistant, underling or little helper. He's not wheeled out from time to time to dazzle with a little "mail reading" to authenticate the apostle's credentials. The apostle loves the prophet, and the prophet loves the the right hemisphere loves the left hemisphere of the brain; as the left loves the right hand; the left foot loves the right. Without both equally yoked and respectful and deferential, local churches and their movements will "progress" in circles, fall over, or even (in a crisis) drop dead.


Yes, by their very nature apostles can be impatient, go-getting autocrats. And the prophets likewise, may be obsessive, eccentric utopians. But one dominating the other is no answer. The divine plan is for their "marriage" together to The Chief, and the subsequent life of ongoing death and resurrection. In the unbearable heat of these "odd conjoinings", the flesh will be annihilated and the gold rise to the surface of the Refiner's furnace.


The question is not, where are the apostles and prophets? It is, will there be any with sufficient faith in the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ, to embrace again and again the similitude of His Death?(2)


"I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead." (Php 3.10-11)


This essay is by no means a comprehensive definition of the nature and ministry of the apostle. But it is a foundational study of foundational concerns for foundational men and women. Are parts of it a little over-drawn, over-heated? Of course. But what could possibly be more important than laying fit foundations, upon which will rest and utterly depend the "living stones, (who) are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ"? (1 Pe 2.5)


To those who aspire to the apostolic (or prophetic) office, consider this. If you do plant yourself in the Church's foundations on your own account, then you should hope that His mercy will pluck you out and cast you to one side. For if not, then the weight of what God builds upon you will test you to the uttermost. The true stones will stand; the pseudo will be exposed, for they will crumble under this very great pressure.


"He who falls on this stone (the builders rejected) will be broken to pieces, but on whom it falls will be crushed." (Mt 21.44)


"I will tear down the that its foundations will be laid bare (discovered) will be destroyed in it." (Ez 13.14)


Sadly, I do not think these few lines are going to make any difference whatsoever to those who have already staked an illegitimate claim to apostleship. In each case and to varying degrees, such are blinded by their own reflections in the mirror of their selfish ambition. They have probably put themselves beyond reproof and amendment. Such "super-apostles", according to the Apostle Paul, have minds "somehow led astray...from sincere and pure devotion to Christ". They are, he says, "deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ...Their end will be what their actions deserve". (2 Co 11.5,3,13-15)


So, why bother writing at all?


(i) Because the People of God who question such claims and such persons are praised by the Church's Head.


"You have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not." (Rev 2.2)


(ii) Because the authentic, legitimate and valid apostolic (and prophetic) God-given "gifts" (Eph 4.8) will find that certain, key phrases written here will cause their ears to prick up and their spirits to "bear witness". And so such genuinely foundational men and women will be encouraged to grow up and into the mould of "the Apostle...of our profession, Christ Jesus" (Heb 3.1), who "did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant." (Php 2.6-7)


"Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." (Mt 20.26-27)


Francis of Assisi (1182-1226) was and still is a foundation stone upon which the Church has leaned incredibly hard for ten centuries. As he lay dying, he crawled off his bed to lay himself out on the great, cold stones of the floor. He asked his few, remaining friends to throw ash all over him.


Now, that's "apostolic"!



(1) As an evangelist, the apprentice-apostle begins to learn to "work" signs, wonders and miracles.


"The Lord...confirmed his word by the signs that accompanied it." (Mk 16.20)


"The things that mark an apostle - signs, wonders and miracles - were done among you with great perseverance." (2 Co 12.12)


(2) Catherine of Siena (1347-80) was a woman alone in an unbelievably macho, chauvinistic Italy. She was a mystic and an apostolic woman who "spoke truth to power" and exerted "exceptional influence" over the Church, politics and history. She was esteemed as a "brilliant" theologian and teacher, who understood this "secret" of apostolicity. She said, "I turn to the tree of the most holy Cross of Christ crucified; there I lean; there I want to nail myself fast."