Clarifying Apostleship, Etc.

by Steve Crosby, Greg Austin and Don Atkin
early_art There is considerable fussing and fuming over apostles and apostleship these days. When a topic like apostleship becomes trendy, some who are not really called or graced as apostles—for a variety of unsanctified reasons—try to be apostles. Others, who are genuinely graced and called, prematurely attempt to make their own place within an old religious system rather than waiting upon the Lord to reveal His divine intention for them and their servanthood.[1]

Excesses continue to hinder the purpose of God.  The two most popular extremes are (1) to dismiss apostles as not having a place in today’s church, or (2) to exaggerate the role of apostles, placing a greater importance upon their role than that of others in the body. In balance, the church can never come to the fullness of God’s intention without functioning apostles. The same is true for every individual in the body.  We are all horizontally placed under the headship of Christ, who will be revealed in glory through His body as we honor and yield to one another.

A bird that continually has to call attention to itself or describe itself, is not much of a bird. If a bird simply gets on with what it is created to do, everyone will know it is a bird by reason of its flying. While we need not apologize for our calling (e.g.: Paul, an apostle, etc.[2]) none of us needs to emphasize our calling. Our identity in Christ is the source of our ministry, not our calling or “anointing.” Kingdom ministry proceeds from healed, transformed, new creation identity, not our “gift”—apostolic or otherwise. If we preach Christ and Him crucified, live the same, and just get on with being who God has made us to be, everyone born of the Spirit will know who, or what we are, without the need for ourselves to it point out for their presumed enlightenment and benefit.

God’s eternal purpose and ultimate objective is to fill the earth with His governance and glory by multiplying fruitful sons through whom He subdues all of creation under His mighty hand.  His highest form of creation is humankind, originally made in His image and likeness, and subsequently restored through Jesus Christ.

A new creation, seeing and operating in the kingdom of God—heaven on earth—filled with, empowered by, and led by the Holy Spirit, will eventually mature in holiness and wholeness, to deliver creation from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.

God’s creation mandate will finally be fulfilled as He brings many sons to glory, through the spirit of sonship and the maturing process of discipleship. To consider the specific roles of fivefold servanthood in any other context will miss the mark. We must grasp temporal assignments and anointing in the light and context of eternal purpose and ultimate objective.

Equipping graces should be subservient to the priesthood of believers when developing or expressing value systems. Equippers exist to exemplify cohesive servanthood together, not to function in executive administration.  We have allowed that vital order to be reversed at the expense of God’s purpose for a developing people.

God will not fill the earth with apostles. He will not fill the earth with prophets. Neither will He fill the earth with evangelists, shepherds or teachers.  He will fill the earth with saints, known together to be ecclesia—called out and set apart to experience, be immersed in, and to glorify—reveal and show forth--Christ, the Anointed One.

jesus_apostleEquipping servants are hands of God to—in obedient collaboration and concise action in the Holy Spirit—mold the saints for works of service UNTIL we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.  Understanding our limitations and not extending ourselves into perpetuity will release us to new levels of usefulness in the Master’s hands.

Equipping servants are individually brief in form, and collectively comprehensive in scope. There is a significant, supernatural and exponential affect when properly functioning together, each one succinct in his/her grace.  In like manner, failure to stay within the boundaries of our specific graces and spheres, and attempting to function in roles intended for others, will result in exponential error.

When a shepherd (pastor) tries to be an apostle, the result is control.
  • By divine design, the shepherd's  primary focus is the immediate community. A pastor tends to gather and hold, rather than develop and release. When a pastor tries to be an apostle, it usually results in methodologies that build the local group, but there is very little broad expression of kingdom life.
When an evangelist tries to be an apostle, the results are shallowness and insecurity.
  • The evangelist tends to come up with new projects, outreaches, missions, etc. for a single purpose: to win souls. He/she is normally not graced to build and disciple lives. The evangelist finds satisfaction in "activity." If a community of believers is viewed as not active enough, an evangelist will usually go elsewhere to find expression or keep the community "a-buzz" with activities and projects that provide breadth, but little depth.
When a prophet tries to be an apostle, the expression becomes coercive and spiritually neurotic.
  • A prophet generally lacks the supernatural gathering grace that normally accompanies an apostle. Everything from Christ within the prophet is at odds with what the prophet tries to do to be an apostle. The prophet's focus on truth that separates and scatters, means that when a prophet thinks he/she is an apostle, heavy-handed methods will have to be used to try to counteract the "scattering" effect that true prophets tend to have. Insecure prophets with unhealed identities who try to build like an apostle, cause great damage to the casue of Christ in and through the saints.
When a teacher tries to be an apostle, it results in legalism and division.
  • Teachers emphasize principles and conformity to principle, but are
    prone to squabble and divide over non-essential doctrinal differences. They
    also tend to reduce the expression of kingdom life to "teaching sessions" ad
    nauseum. Possessing the critical capacity for essential narrow focus on
    individual truths, their gift precludes the breadth of scope of a true
    apostle. When teachers try to be apostles, the "doctrine" may be correct,
    but because they lack the integrating grace of an apostle, they will produce
    relationally sterile communities that are prone to fragmentation and
When apostles act like apostles, teachers like teachers, shepherds as shepherds, evangelists as evangelists, and prophets as prophets, in personal security, love and genuine interdependency the Head is exalted, the Body is "out-fitted" (built), and the kingdom expanded.

Oh, how we need one another, healed, whole and  . . .  functioning. 

In closing, let us consider the most prolific error that continues to hinder the developing of the priesthood of believers.  Hierarchy, using Gentile authority models in the church, was condemned by Jesus—both in as many words[3] and also by what He modeled.[4]

There are two specific “titles” that have emerged in ecclesial governance with no New Covenant precedence or foundation for the way they function—Pastors and Bishops.[5] We must retreat to Old Covenant temple worship, when there was a clear divide between priests and the people, in order to find these titles in divine operation.   Many traditions cleave to two classes of believers—the clergy and the laity. Pastors exercise headship over local congregations; Bishops exercise headship over more than one Pastor and congregation.  Individually, they represent singular rule over their flock(s).

Another Bible term[6] that has taken on Babylonian baggage is leadership.  Once again, we need to turn to Jesus and study His leadership style[7] so that we may know how the leadership of the Holy Spirit[8] manifests in our lives.

We realize that many honest men and women with great integrity and with sincere desire to serve God and His people are yet giving themselves within the context of such traditions.  It is not our desire or intention to be critical or accusatory of such brethren.  We are prayerfully hoping to inspire and instruct those with open hearts and minds.

We are persuaded that the testimony and patterns of New Covenant church order present Jesus as the only Head of His church, and plural elders overseeing the flock of God in each city or region.[9] Jesus, Himself, gave us the example of leading those who follow Him,[10] not corralling, controlling or driving them like cattle.  Believers are on a par level with one another, loving and serving one another in grace.[11]

Apostolic grace[12] encompasses the global vision and kingdom values to the end that every grace gift for equipping servitude is functioning in tandem, that every believer finds his/her identity within the body of Christ, and we all become equipped for works of service according to the divine will of God.  May His Spirit continue to instruct us in His higher thoughts and ways.  May His kingdom (governance) come on the earth as it is in heaven.[13]

Governance is the normal outworking of kingdom life.  Governance does not produce spiritual life.  Spiritual life produces heaven’s governance.

From Apostolic Servants.

[1] We are using servanthood and shepherd rather than ministry and pastor.  We are hopeful that these choices of words will more clearly define God’s intention for these roles.
[2] Paul refers to himself and his calling when either defending his apostleship from attack, or when refuting heretical doctrine in the epistles. He did not make a routine practice of preaching about himself and his ministry.
[3] Matthew 20:25-28
[4] John 13:14-15
[5] Pastors and bishops are synonymous with elders, but have been given different meanings within the context of hierarchical religious structures.  We suggest that shepherd more closely defines the actual function intended by God.
[6] Romans 12:8
[7] John 10
[8] Romans 8:14
[9] Acts 14:23; Titus 1:5
[10] John 6:65-69
[11] Ephesians 5:21
[12] 1 Corinthians 3:10-17; 15:10
[13] Matthew 6:10