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Home > Issues > 2008 > Spring > Apostles Today?

We all know about the apostles named Peter, Paul, and John, but have you ever heard of Andronicus or Junia? Some are surprised to discover that the New Testament identifies more apostles than the twelve men who followed Jesus around Galilee. That fact raises some interesting, and even controversial, questions. What exactly is an apostle, what does the gift of apostleship look like, and how should we understand an apostle's role today?

Various theological streams and ecclesiastical traditions hold opposing views on apostleship. Some believe the gift was limited to the twelve disciples closest to Christ. Others contend that apostleship flourished during the foundational era of the church but is no longer active today. On the other end are those who believe modern apostles exist and possess the same authority as the Apostles who penned the New Testament.

Somewhere in the middle are those who affirm the gift's activity today but in a more generic capacity. The word literally means "sent one," a designation that may be applied to many believers. But the middle-ground viewpoint acknowledges there is a difference between being gifted as an apostle (little "a") and possessing the authority of an Apostle (capital "A").

Terry King, pastor of Bridge of Life Church in Hagerstown, Maryland, says there are men and women currently doing apostolic ministry all over the world. As the executive director of Leadership Development Resources, a role that has King working with church leaders in over 20 nations, he has seen the evidence. "But," he adds, "very few of them recognize it as apostolic ministry, and they don't call it that."

The aversion to using any form of the word "apostle" is a holdover from the Reformation. "For hundreds of years Protestant churches have tried hard to not be Roman Catholic in terms of hierarchy and structure," says King. "But we still need leadership and structures. So the apostolic gift is still working—we just find new titles for it."

William Beasley, the network leader for the Midwest region of Anglican Mission in the Americas, concurs with this assessment. "The apostolic gift has many manifestations," he says. "In the East African church you find people serving as bishops who have highly apostolic gifts." But like many Protestant traditions, they do not assign the word "apostle" to those exhibiting the gift. "The East African church is an incredible combination of a highly structured order of authority, but it is still growing spontaneously through the presence of apostles."

Spiritual entrepreneurs

The apostolic African leaders typify the primary function of the gift—the extension of God's kingdom. Beasley sees this exemplified by Paul in the New Testament. "Initiating new works to bring people to Jesus is apostolic. You see evidence of that in Paul's desire to go to places where no one has yet preached the Gospel. He didn't want to build on someone else's foundation."

Dave Ferguson, senior pastor of Community Christian Church in Naperville, Illinois, adds, "People with the apostolic gift see over the horizon. They're able to look at the spiritual landscape and see where God is working." Ferguson recognizes this drive to extend God's kingdom and initiate new things within himself, but he avoided the term "apostolic" for years. Instead, he described himself as a "spiritual entrepreneur"—a term with less theological baggage and more cultural panache. "I once assumed there were only twelve apostles. Later I discovered there were at least seven other apostles mentioned in the New Testament. And Paul lists apostleship among the leadership functions given to the church in Ephesians 4:11."

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Skye Jethani is the executive editor of Leadership Journal, an ordained pastor, and the author of numerous books. He co-hosts the weekly Phil Vischer Podcast and speaks regularly at churches, conferences, and colleges. He makes his home with his wife and three children in Wheaton, Illinois.

From Issue:New Ways Teams Lead, Spring 2008 | Posted: June 13, 2008

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Displaying 1–3 of 3 comments

Dr Shirley Lynn

April 22, 2014  11:43am

The original twelve were the apostles. This ministry does not exist today it is no longer needed. We have the Bible they had a mission and they completed that mission. It was a gift for that time. There are no longer apostles today they must have walked with Jesus and no one today has seen or walked that walk!! Wow such terrible teaching and we have such a need to study God's Word.

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Paul Coulter

May 08, 2013  8:15am

I'm sorry but this is a really poor article. The author talks about a gift of apostleship that simply isn't mentioned in the New Testament. Ephesians 4:11 and 1 Corinthians 12:28 do not speak about a gift of apostleship but people who were given as apostles. There are two ways in which 'apostle' is used in the NT and they are quite distinct. Basically an 'apostle' is sent by someone as their authorised representative (like an ambassador) to speak on their behalf. There are apostles of Christ - the Twelve, Paul and a few others all of whom saw the risen Jesus and were commissioned directly by Him as recipients of the gospel revelation and authoritative founders of the church - and apostles of the churches - representatives of the various churches sent by them to join in Paul's mission team. There can be no apostles of Christ today. We do need pioneers and entrepreneurs, but let's not use a biblical word in an unbiblical way to describe them.

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Ray Gordon

October 13, 2012  11:56pm

I strongly agree with this article and have been reflecting on the fact that Jesus focussed primarily on developing 12 men with gift or role of apostle during His 3 years. This seems strategic in that the need for expansion after Pentecost was for called and gifted people (apostles) who could carry this out. The other ministries would follow in the wake of the apostolic. I think this ministry has certainly existed since Pentecost and operates today.

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