Thursday, August 02, 2007

Apostles Today!

The danger in enjoying restored truths is that they are taken for granted. I have grown up all my life in an atmosphere where Christ's Ascension Gifts (the Ephesians 4 Ministries) were welcomed and only really had to debate the issue when my home church changed it's fundamental doctrines on the Holy Spirit - this included the Ascension Gifts. The official stance of the church was the traditional evangelical view that the role of apostle and prophet was temporary and had ceased whereas the other three continued. Since leaving that environment I have once again begun taking the presence of the Ascension Gifts for granted. This is especially true in an atmosphere like at Brighton where they are so wonderfully active and present.

However the following comment was left on a blog in response to Terry Virgo's recent blog post on Apostles. It is a worthy reminder that we must be 100% biblical in why we believe what we believe.

Here is the comment;

"Terms are important here. Big ‘A’ and little ‘a’ is important.

Sloppy terminology > unbiblical expectations of ministers > poor church government > ruined churches > dishonoured Christ.

Clearly no one today is appointed eyewitness of the resurrected Christ, nor has anyone been personally commissioned or empowered to attest that calling. (e.g. No one today performs miracles in the way Paul/Peter did.) No one is authorised to write Scripture today or have revelation equal to it. Obviously the unrepeatable foundation of the BIG ‘C’ Church (1Cor.3:10, Eph.2:20) cannot be laid again. Every minister today builds on that foundation and should “take heed how he builds on it.”

For these reasons I do not use the term Apostle of ministers today. My caution to those who do would take Paul’s example: 2Cor.10:13, “We, however, will not boast beyond measure, but within the limits of the sphere which God appointed us”. While I desire to be as much like Paul as possible, I believe God has set different limits to my sphere today. We should accept that. Eph.4:7 “But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift.”
This said, a ministry may be apostolic (by church-planting, input to many churches etc.) without interfering with the independency of the local church. The obvious people today are missionaries (cf. missio.Latin, apostello.Grk) who should be church-planting, training etc. But, we should take note to whom the Apostles devolved their authority (see Tit.1:5, 1Tim.3, Acts 14:23). The Apostles passed on the baton to elders responsible for each independent assembly.

Simple clarification of terms helps lessen the perceived Reformed/Charismatic divide.

Now… Prophets today…Oh don’t get me started!"

Now I must make it clear that the commenter is a man I knew from my home church and respected - he is a church pastor - so I don't write this lightly. To disagree with another fellow Christian isn't something that should, I think, be done lightly! Wayne Grudem presents three excellent reasons as to why boundaries should be held and debates fought;

"1. False teaching harms the Church. 2. If false teaching is not stopped it spreads. 3. If false teaching is not stopped, we will waste time and energy in endless controversies rather than doing valuable Kingdom work".

So on the one hand we have this commenter arguing against the presence of apostles today - yet on the other hand John Hosier argued passionately for them in his seminar at Brighton;

"When nothing is happening – don’t let nothing happen. Fight! You need Ephesians 4 Ministry that will stir and rally the people. In a time of stagnation, the Ephesians 4 Ministries will be a major weapon of attack against stagnation. You may need to call in apostolic ministry to lay some foundation of grace. You may need prophetic ministry in the church to awaken vision again".

Both the commenter and John Hosier clearly and obviously long for Christ to be honoured and clearly therefore neither are false teachers - yet neither can both be right. I think the key principle that Wayne Grudem laid down for the arguing of apostles and indeed Christ's Ascension Gifts today is the principle of which position will most forward the advance of the Kingdom of God. Like John Hosier, I believe the Ascension Gifts and their spread throughout the church today are essential. I am going to draw attention to others who have argued this far more adequately and ably than I.

1. The Complete Canon.

The commenter's primary concern is the supremacy of the Word of God (quite rightly). He said;

"No one is authorised to write Scripture today or have revelation equal to it".

In his contributing chapter to the volume; "Preach the Word!" - Terry Virgo is well aware of that traditional argument and wrote;

"So often the chief reason that is given as to why there can no longer be apostles in the Church today is that the Scriptures are complete and the fear is that anyone named an apostle would wish to add to the Scriptures ... Although (that view) is motivated by a proper desire to keep the doctrine true and pure ... it fails to look at the whole picture. It concentrates solely on the authority of Scripture and fails to take the role of the apostle into account".

Note this in particular:

"Since not all the NT apostles wrote Scripture and since not all the authors of the Bible were apostles it is a mistake to associate the two so closely".

2. Foundations Laid Once or Ongoing?

The commenter's next issue is with one of foundations. He believes the foundation laid by apostles and prophets was laid once and for all. He said;

"Obviously the unrepeatable foundation of the BIG ‘C’ Church (1Cor.3:10, Eph.2:20) cannot be laid again. Every minister today builds on that foundation and should “take heed how he builds on it.”

Terry Virgo was aware of this traditional argument also and wrote;

"We need to expand our thinking on the work of the apostle ... His purpose was to extend the New Testament community ... the apostles literally laid a foundation in each of the places to which they were sent by the Holy Spirit. Yes the apostles laid the foundations of the universal chcurch at the beginning but the work goes on".

"The dynamic ongoing ministry of apostles is to lay foundations".

Terry then gave a specific example from Acts which will be persuasive based on whether or not you believe that the narrative teaching in the book of Acts has relevance for us today. Jesse Phillip's paper carries vital arguments to this respect.

"In Acts 8 when, as a result of the work of the evangelist Philip, people were saved in Samaria, the apostles did not just applaud another evangelistic breakthrough and then leave the fledgling church to establish itself. On the contrary their response was to send Peter and John down to Samaria where they laid hands on the new believers so that they received the Holy Spirit".

Terry concludes;

"Such apostolic involvement indicates I believe that not only did the apostles lay the foundation for the universal Church but that they needed to lay a foundation for the new communities of believers that were coming into being".

3. Is 'Independent' Really Such a Good Thing?

The commenter made a point which I believe is key to much of the present and traditional suspicion about apostles today. He said; "This said, a ministry may be apostolic ... without interfering with the independency of the local church". Key word - Independency. The traditional underlying fear of the Roman Catholic church is clearly still alive and well. Yet once again - why should we agree and submit to losing the genuine biblical principles because of fear of the counterfeit?

4. "Until".

Ephesians 4 clearly carries the key to our understanding of the Ascension Gifts or the Ephesians 4 Ministries and as to when they were given, how they were given and why they were given. Greg Haslam makes a valuable comment on this (also from "Preach the Word!").

"Please note the time reference in Ephesians 4:13 - "Until". This indicates Christ's continous donation of them to His Church until the climax of history and not their cessation at a much earlier time as some have maintained ... these goals have not been attained yet so the means must still be available".

In conclusion I refer back to John Hosier's passioned plea from his seminar at "Together on a Mission". Some may see Christ's Ascension Gifts as an optional secondary issue to the Gospel and refuse to discuss it for fear of offending cessationist brethren. Some may take pride in their doctrinal orthodoxy by arguing (as this man has) against their existence and mocking the excesses of those who believe in them. But I am struck by the word "Gift". A gift is an act of pure grace from a loving heavenly Father to children He loves. Of course a gift may be rejected. But I would far rather receive everything the Bible says is offered than risk grieving the Holy Spirit and the ascended glorified Christ who gives them to His Church that we may go on to maturity.
It strikes me that this traditional, familiar argument presented here is fear-based. Fear of error. Fear of excess. Fear of unorthodoxy. How much better to have a view that is vision-based, Kingdom-based, nations-based! If Ephesians 4 Ministries or the Ascension Gifts will help my church go onto maturity which means advancing across nations with the glorious Gospel then I want them in full measure!


James B said...

I agree. Ignoring the ministries of Apostles and Prophets means that you miss out on a huge deal that God has for His Church. I read this on Joel's blog;

"We received fantastic ministry from amazing men and women of God including our apostle Keri Jones. All my life I've been part of a Church that recognises and welcomes apostolic ministry, and I praise God for that. I've had the privilege of being part of a Church under the apostleship of Keri for almost all my life. He's an incredible man of God, with such a huge vision and annointing. To those who say that apostles (and prophets) are no more please look at the scriptures... as the Church needs men of God with an apostolic gift if it's going to become all Christ intended it to be. Apostles are for todays Church!

"It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ."
Ephesians 4:11-13

Tomorrow I travel down to Cambridge, to gather with the Church there(under the apostolic direction of Terry Virgo, another amazing man of God!) and to preach to the congregation there on 'Being A Vocal Community.' There is a power in what we say, the power to nourish life or destroy life. We're made in the image of God and so we're called to be those who speak life, truth and goodness into this world! We have something to say, so let's not hold back in saying it! I'm really looking forward to this opportunity, and I believe what I'll be bringing is the 'now word' for us a body there!"


What Joel keeps emphasising again and again and AGAIN is APOSTOLIC MINISTRY IS GOOD!!

These things must be arugued.

Scotty B said...

Amen. I think it's time that those arguing for the tired traditional view stopped with their incessant catterwauling that men are naming themselves apostles and flying around in jets and start seeing that serious, godly men are being recognised as apostles because they are building foundations in churches, they are bringing doctrine to churches and they are imparting the Holy Spirit to churches.

Anonymous said...

Strangely while I can see this guy's point and his problem I can also appreciate the distinction you are trying to make here. If the issue of Scripture is left safely aside (and by the way - I have yet to meet an "apostle" today claiming to or add to Scripture! Even Benny Hinn or Morris Cerullo don't do that!) and also the uniqueness of the 12 - then we must make way for such ministry today.

I think the commenter needs to update his arguments somewhat - and what on earth did he mean by his final comment about Prophets?! Clearly another cessationist living in MacArthur land.

Dr S A J Burgess

Jesse P. said...

Outstanding! I appreciate your care and respect for the folks engaged in this discussion, as well as your passion to debate and defend truths that are valuable to us.

Dan Bowen said...

Thanks Jesse! And you guys too. The more and more I consider this whole issue, the more and more I see it as vital. The excesses of Roman Catholics or of the Shepherding Movement aren't adequate reason to reject apostolic ministry. Greg Haslam's comment has to be answered!

"These goals have not been attained yet so the means must still be available".

Does rejecting Apostles and Prophets mean that the work of the Kingdom can't go on? No of course not. God's sovereign. His Gospel will advance despite our flaws. But it seems a little foolish to not take up every tool and every gift that the Word of God offers us to get the job done properly!!

It's a like a soldier marching off to battle without his night-vision googles. Or his commanding officer.