Thursday, February 2, 2012

So What Is an Apostle?

by Teresa Seputis

That question, "What is an apostle?" is almost as loaded as asking, "What is a Christian?" There are many dimensions to the office/role of apostle. There is still debate as to how many of these a person needs to fill to truly be considered an apostle. Even in scripture, we don't see any one person performing all of the apostolic activities. Peter and Paul performed a lot of them, but neither performed all of them. And we don't know everything that most of the other apostles did, because scripture does not tell us. Here are some of the tasks apostles do and the anointings that they carry, as seen in the New Testament (any quoted scripture is NIV):
  • Leadership
    Acts 6:1-4 shares the dispute between the Jews and Greeks about the widow's provision. It tells how this conflict was brought to the apostles, who instructed them to appoint deacons to take care of the problem. This demonstrates that the apostles were the "leadership" of the early church.
    Also, Acts 16:4 says, "As they traveled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for the people to obey."

  • Oversee Church/Ministry Finances
    Acts 4:32-35 describes how the believers were in unity and shared all possessions. The way they accomplished this was that those who had resources gave them to the apostles, and the apostles gave it to those who had need.

  • Establish Doctrine
    Acts 1:2 says, "Until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen." And Acts 15:6 shares how the apostles met together to consider a question and established a doctrine regarding it. In other words, Jesus gave instructions to the apostles and they passed those instructions on to the church.
    Paul talked about how part of the apostolic commission is to teach true faith to the Gentiles, which means he was establishing doctrine. We see this in 1 Tim. 2:7 and again in 2 Tim. 1:11.

  • Train And Equip The Saints/Release Individuals Into Ministry.
    Acts 2:42 talks about the new believers devoting themselves to the apostle's teaching. Acts 8:14 is where the apostles sent Peter to the converts in Samaria to equip them and get them baptized in the Holy Spirit. Acts 15:22 is where the apostles choose and send out some men from the church (Judas and Silas) to Antioch with Paul and Barnabus.

  • Impartation Of Spiritual Anointings By Laying On Of Hands
    Acts 6:5-6 gives us an example. When the early church had the conflict regarding care of Greek and Jewish widows, the apostles instructed them to select seven men to act as deacons and take care of the widows. When they were selected, "they presented these men to the apostles, who prayed and laid their hands on them" (verse 6). Stephen, the first martyr, was one of the seven the apostles laid hands on. Acts 6:8 tells us what happened to Stephen after they laid hands on him: "Now Stephen, a man full of God's grace and power, did great wonders and miraculous signs among the people." Stephen received an impartation of miraculous power from the apostles and became able to perform miracles himself. This demonstrates how apostles have the ability to impart spiritual gifts and spiritual anointings to others, as God directs them.

  • Perform Signs And Wonders
    This is one of the earmarks of an apostle, a person who has been granted spiritual authority by Jesus. Signs and wonders would include things like physical healings, miraculous healings (such as missing body parts growing back), taking authority over weather patterns (turning storms), multiplying food or other needed supplies, striking people temporarily blind (Acts 13:11), etc.
    Acts 2:43 has this to say about signs and wonders: "Everyone was filled with awe, and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles." Acts 5:12 says, "The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people." And Paul, when discussing his authority as an apostle, said in 2 Cor. 12:12, "The things that mark an apostle -- signs, wonders and miracles -- were done among you with great perseverance."
    I think it would be fair to say that, based on scripture, if a person claims to be an apostle, he should have signs and wonders operating in his life as evidence of apostolic authority. So be leery of those who claim to be an apostle and have no miracle level evidence to back it up. (This is not to say that everyone who moves in signs and wonders is an apostle, but we do expect that real apostles should move in the miraculous.)

  • Bring God's Discipline To The Church
    Acts 5:1-11 tells how Peter disciplines Ananias and Sapphira for lying. We also see Paul bringing discipline and correction to the churches he planted in his various epistles.

  • Do Missions And Evangelism
    Acts 2:37-41 records Peter doing evangelism. Romans 1:5 tells us that Paul and others were made apostles specifically for missions to the Gentiles: "Through Him and for His name's sake, we received grace and apostleship to call people from among all the Gentiles to the obedience that comes from faith."

  • Preach And Prophesy
    Immediately after the Holy Spirit came to the apostles, Peter preached his first big public sermon (Acts 2:14-36). The result is that many are saved. The book of Acts contains many other examples of various apostles preaching.
    The apostles also moved in the prophetic. Eph. 3:5 says, "Which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God's holy apostles and prophets." 2 Peter 3:2 says, "I want you to recall the words spoken in the past by the holy prophets and the command given by our Lord and Savior through your apostles." Jude 1:17 says, "But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold." These verses speak about evidences of the prophetic. revealing spiritual truth, speaking the words of Jesus, foretelling things.

  • Plant Churches (Or Works Of God)
    Eph. 2:20 talks of being "built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone." Also, apostle Paul plants many churches in the book of Acts.

  • Engage In Spiritual Warfare And Demonic Confrontations
    Acts 16:15-23 tells of Paul and Silas casting out a fortune-telling demon and they were throw into prison for it. Also, Acts 19:19-41 describes when Paul engaged in a conflict with territorial spirits over Corinth.

  • Spend Time With Jesus (prayer and devotional life)
    Mark 3:14-15 puts it this way, "He (Jesus) appointed 12 -- designating them apostles -- that they might be with Him and that He might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons."

  • Apostles Are Chosen By God Rather Than Appointed By Man
    Acts 1:2, "..until the day He was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles He had chosen."

  • Sent Out By God
    Galatians 1:1, "Paul, an apostle -- sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father, Who raised Him from the dead."

  • Resolve Conflicts
    Acts 15:2 is one example: "This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question." When a conflict broke out, the apostles were the ones everyone went to, to get the conflict resolved.
The above list is not exhaustive, but it begins to give you an idea of the types of things that Jesus intends His apostles to do. The book of Acts shows us that there were a relatively small number apostles compared with the number of believers. In Acts 1:20-26, we see the 11 surviving apostles (Judas Iscariot had already committed suicide) select Matthias as the 12th apostle. There were about 120 believers gathered together when the Holy Spirit was given (Acts 1:15). This was a ratio of one apostle for every 10 believers, which sounds like a lot of us might be apostles.

But the ratio quickly changed. In Acts 2:41, 3,000 new converts were added, bringing the ratio to one apostle for every 260 believers. The number of believers quickly grew to about 5,000 men plus their wives and families (Acts 4:4).

Theologians guess that number was really more than 20,000 people (counting spouses and children). That puts the ratio at about one apostle for every 1,667 people. Acts 5:14 says that even more men and women believed in Jesus, making the number of believers grow even more. And the number keeps increasing as we progress through the book of Acts.

Meanwhile, we don't see God adding any more apostles until the conversion of the apostle Paul in Acts 9. And He used Paul to bring countless numbers of Gentiles into the Kingdom of God, increasing the number of believers even more. This illustrates that God really does not need very many apostles, and that relatively few people in the Body of Christ are called and appointed by God as apostles.
By Teresa Seputis, Godspeak International