In our sermon series on the book of Acts, we see the topic of apostles come up on a regular basis. What does it mean to be an apostle? Are there apostles today? How do different denominations treat the topic of Apostleship?
The Office vs. The Function
The word “apostle” comes from the Greek noun apostolos which comes from the verb apostellō which means “to send.” Herein lies the nuance — there is a difference between the office of Apostle (Apostle with a capital “A”) and the function of being apostolic.
In one sense, all Christians are “sent ones”. In a similar sense, there are leaders who are apostolic in that they start new movements or plant churches in new place. It is sometimes helpful to describe these gospel-entrepreneurial types as having “apostolic gifting.”
In a different sense there is the formal office of Apostle. In Acts 1:12-26, in replacing Judas, we see the vision for Apostle as a distinct and formal position.
The Office Today?
This poses the question: is the office of Apostle something that “was for then” or something that “is for now?”
There are three types of institutions that ordain people for roles similar to Apostles in the 21st century:
- “High Church” Denominations such as the Roman Catholic Church or the Episcopal Church which hold to a doctrine called Apostolic Succession. To learn more about this mode of thinking, read this article.
- Some Pentecostal/Charismatic Denominations and other Independent, Non-Denominational Churches
- Some Cults/Heretical Churches such as the LDS Church
There are many denominations and non-denominational churches which don’t ordain Apostles, including Redemption Gateway. Here are three reasons why we don’t use the term “Apostle” to refer to our leaders, though in many senses we see them as “apostolic”:
- In Acts 1:21-23 a qualification for an Apostle is that they were an eyewitness to the risen Christ. We now “believe without seeing” (John 20:29).
- None of the other Apostles are replaced at their death but Judas. “It is Judas’s apostasy, not his death, that requires his replacement” (Darrell Bock, Ph.D). Paul views himself as the last apostle.
- A key reason Jesus appointed Apostles was to capture his Words in Scripture (Matthew 24:35), though not all Apostles wrote Scripture. We believe no new Scripture is being written, thus there is no longer a need for Apostles; God rules his church by the Spirit and through the Word, not by means of the Apostles.
- Paul said he was the last of all the Apostles (1 Corinthians 15:7-9).
- If we ordained Apostles, then God’s ordained authority structure (Elders under the Word led by the Holy Spirit) could be dangerously undermined. “Indeed, if anyone claims to be an apostle today we should be concerned, for such a claim opens the door to false teaching and to abuse of authority” (Thomas R. Shreiner Ph.D).
This blog is intended to be an summary and therefore might have raised more questions than it answered. Here are three recommendations for further reading on the topic and related topics:
- A Multiple Views Book: Who Runs the Church? edited by Paul Engle
- A Blog Post: Are Apostles For Today? by Sam Storms
- A Perspective From Church History: The Story of Christianity, Vol 1 by Justo Gonzales
*this blog post was put together by the Gateway Theology & Research Team. If you have questions about this post or would like information about being on the team, email firstname.lastname@example.org