I was spurred into re-thinking through the biblical position on the full five ministries of Christ's Ascension Gifts being available and indeed vitally needed today by a comment disagreeing with Terry Virgo's blog on Apostles. Though I didn't mean for this to turn into a mini-series I finished reading C Peter Wagner's book "Churchquake!". I first heard of the book at Stoneleigh Bible Week 1999 when Terry Virgo recommended it, but didn't get round to buying it. Wesley Owen were selling it off for £2.50 so I couldn't resist! It is an excellent and very interesting book. Some of Wagner's predictions such as the fading out of the term "charismatic" have been proved wrong but there is still some very valuable material.
Before I get into some of the key quotes he brought, here are the first two parts:
Part 1 - Apostles Today! - dealing with the traditional objections to apostles today.
Part 2 - Apostles Mean Fathers! - Independent churches aren't always best!
1. Missionaries or Apostles?
I noted that those who do not accept apostles today tend to make much use of the term "missionary" to explain away those who may actually fit the criteria of modern apostles! However Peter Wagner helpfully distinguishes between the two terms.
He defines the ministry of the apostles as following;
"The gift of apostles is the special ability that God gives certain members in the Body of Christ to assume and exercise general leadership over a number of churches with an extraordinary authority in spiritual matters that is spontaneously recognised and appreciated by those churches".
And missionaries as following;
"The gift of missionary is the special ability that God gives to certain members of the body of Christ to minister whatever other spiritual gifts they have in a second culture".
Wagner goes on to examine the subtle differences in both Paul and Peter's ministries.
"Notice the contrast between Peter and Paul. They were both apostles but Peter was not cross-cultural. He was the apostle to the circumcision namely to his fellow Jews. Paul was an apostles primarily to the uncircumcision, the Gentiles ... Peter had the gift of apostle but not the gift of missionary. Paul had both the gift of apostle and missionary".
It is not enough I believe to use the term "missionary" as an acceptable substitute for modern day apostles. My home church was a strong missionary sending base and sent many individuals out to various countries including Africa and Japan. None of them planted churches to my knowledge and I never heard of them imparting the Holy Spirit to those they were ministering to. Their function seemed fall more within Wagner's definition - that they took their giftings whatever they were (usually teaching) and ministered within another culture.
2. Apostles Must Be Fathers!
Wagner went on to emphasise the function of apostles as fathers - this is key. Once again there is much talk of "apostolic ministry" around today but it is hard sometimes to see those who claim to have an apostolic ministry actually behaving as spiritual fathers. Wagner is absolutely correct - being a spiritual father isn't just about domination or authority but about releasing. He wrote;
"Spiritual parents provide ... (a) parental role of empowerment when taken seriously and exercised wisely will raise up children in the faith, many of whom will be subsequently released for their own parental ministry".
And he quoted Bill Hamon as saying;
"True prophetic and apostolic fathers are more interested in those they are fathering come into their ministry than in magnifying their own ministry".
Reading Wagner helped me to understand that that despite the restoration of the Ascension Gifts since the early 1970's - there is still much confusion which is why "Churchquake!" is a useful book. It seems that when we spend the majority of our time defending the biblical view, there is less time available to develop our understanding of it. Peter Wagner is well positioned to do this. Terry Virgo mentioned in his review at Stoneleigh Bible Week 1999 that we would not agree with everything he writes (and that is true) but it doesn't take away from the use of this excellent volume. Let me close with a quote from Wagner as to what he believes the powers of darkness make of the restoration of the Ascension Gifts!
"How the enemy dreads the apostle! How he fears the full restoration of this ministry! A New Testament apostolic function fully deployed within the Church today would significantly impact the dominion of darkness. Satan knows this and I'm sure all of hell shudders at the prospect of the revitilisation of apostles and apostolic people".