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Volume 15, Issue 2: Doctrine 101

Modern Apostles

Patch Blakey

Have you ever met an apostle? You know, someone who claims to be like Peter, James, John, or Paul? Maybe you have, and maybe you haven't. I have a friend who was approached by a modern day, self-proclaimed apostle at a conference one summer. Some churches teach the continuing office of apostle, while some Christians, in an attempt to avoid confrontation over the issue, side-step ever so slightly and just say that they are "filling the apostolic function." The implication is that the function is somehow separate from the office, as though one could fulfill the function of an ambassador without being an ambassador. Where's the authority in that? This is like the old George Carlin joke: "You be my name, and I'll be me. When someone knocks at the door, they'll ask for you."

What are we to think of this? The Bible says that the office of apostle is the preeminent office in the Church (speaking of the historical church). "And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues" (1 Cor. 12:28; cf. Eph 4:11). The New Testament office of apostle comes ahead of prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers, to list just a few. Thus, a modern day apostle is claiming a great deal of authority.
But is the office of apostle still an active office in the modern church? How would we know? The response will probably depend on whether the respondent believes that the foundation of the church has been laid yet, or if the concrete is still being poured.
Paul says that the apostles played a key role in the church's establishment: "And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone" (Eph. 2:20). Elsewhere, Paul asserts that he has laid the foundation: "According to the grace of God which is given unto me, as a wise masterbuilder, I have laid the foundation, and another buildeth thereon. But let every man take heed how he buildeth thereupon" (1 Cor. 3:10). So, it appears that the foundation has been laid already, and that the concrete is about two millennia dry. But while these passages seem to indicate that the office of apostle no longer is required, some may say that they are still not definitive.
What if some were to assert that they have performed the signs that mark them as apostles? Paul indicated this as the case for the Corinthian church, "Truly the signs of an apostle were wrought among you in all patience, in signs, and wonders, and mighty deeds" (2 Cor. 12:12). But is the performing of signs a sufficient test of someone claiming to be an apostle? Paul indicated that there are false apostles: "For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ" (2 Cor. 11:13). How could we distinguish between a true apostle and a false apostle, based on the fact that they both affirm that they have performed the signs that so mark them? This still may not be sufficient evidence to affirm or deny the office of apostle as ongoing today.
But there is one more indicator that we can try, that may be definitive in making this determination. Paul said that all of the apostles have seen the resurrected Lord: "After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles" (1 Cor. 15:7). All we need do is ascertain if our professed modern apostles have seen the risen Lord. If they say they haven't, then they fail the test, and need to apologize for their presumption. But what if they say that they have? Paul seems to indicate that possibly he had a special experience in which he ascended to the third heaven and saw the Lord. "It is not expedient for me doubtless to glory. I will come to visions and revelations of the Lord. I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one was caught up to the third heaven" (2 Cor. 12:1-2). What if our modern apostle affirms such a singular event in his own life? This is not a science project in which we can go perform a series of repeatable experiments. Do we accept him at his word or not?
If he says that he has seen the Lord, then we know that he is not an apostle, but rather a liar. How do we know this? Because the Bible says so. Paul says there was an end to those who saw the resurrected Lord. And Paul was the last apostle to behold Him. "And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time" (1 Cor. 15:8). What else could Paul possibly mean when he said "last of all" if he did not mean last? The clear testimony of Scripture is that after the Apostle Paul, no one has seen the risen Lord. Any attempt to twist the Scriptures to say otherwise, is to do violence to the text. An apostle must affirm the Scriptures. A denial at this point is fatally telling for a would-be apostle.
The Bible affirms the office of apostle and provides the means of identifying them. Thankfully, it also lays the boundaries of when the apostles labored in their service for the church. There were no apostles after Paul. Modern day apostles must be classified as false apostles.

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