Are There Apostles Today? (part 3)

Are there apostles today? As noted in the previous two posts, that depends on what you mean by an apostle. If by “apostle” you mean one of the Twelve, which is the most common use of the term in the Gospels, the answer must be No. But Paul uses the term in a broader sense than this (e.g., Rom 1:1, 13 16:7; 1 Cor 15:5-7; Gal 1:19; 1 Thess 1:1 with 2:6-7). In this broader sense, one can allow for continuing apostles. That does not settle what they are: some take them to be missionaries, others take them to be bishops, still others (including myself) take them to be those breaking new ground for the kingdom (such as missionaries or others reaching new areas in ways foundational for the gospel there).

But does that mean that everyone who calls himself or herself an apostle does so appropriately and wisely?

Not simply administrators or CEOs

I thank God for those who are gifted administratively. But biblically, apostles are not given to administratively govern the church. This view of apostolic governance fits the later Christian tradition of apostolic succession through bishops accepted in some churches. I have no quarrel with those who use such language provided (as in those churches) those who employ the title are clear what they mean by it when using it.

But most who publicly claim apostolic authority today do not belong to such churches. Rather, they want to appeal to the New Testament model of apostleship. Yet the NT model is a model not of institutional authority, which could belong to local elders, so much as gifted servant-leadership. Paul was an apostle and a leader to the churches he started, yet he usually reasoned with them and gave direct commands only when necessary. Paul warned against those who wanted to be compared to his apostolic ministry who were not doing what he was doing—starting new churches in their own spheres.

Simply convincing other people’s converts of one’s different doctrine does not make one an apostle. That is not to deny the authority of those God has called to teach his word (I would in fact be one of the last people to suggest that), but to point out that by itself this is not what apostleship is. In birthing a new movement, John Wesley did help many people who were already Christians to see the truth more clearly, but he and his movement were also strategic in reaching nonbelievers.

I see Wesley’s ministry as an example of apostolic ministry, without thereby affirming everything that he did or taught. I suspect the same for William and Catherine Booth, cofounders of the Salvation Army. Today an example of apostolic ministry with which some are familiar could be Rolland and Heidi Baker, who have catalyzed a church planting movement in Mozambique. And I meet many from the Majority World who could fit such a description.

Perhaps in a culture where the gospel was more widespread, as it was in Jerusalem c. A.D. 50, apostles spent a lot of time leading believers, alongside the local elders of the Jerusalem church (cf. Acts 11:30; 15:2, 4, 6, 22-23; 16:4). But they broke ground for that church initially, and at least some kept doing so in other areas while retaining Jerusalem as a home base (9:32-43). Within a few years after this, most of the Twelve had apparently left Jerusalem (cf. Acts 21:18). Eckhard Schnabel is probably right in suggesting that they devoted themselves to mission outside Jerusalem (see his Early Christian Mission [2 vols.; Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity; Leicester, U.K.: Apollos, 2004). In this respect, the apostolic model they followed is the same as exemplified by Paul.

Those who come along and tell people to follow them because they are apostles are not birthing churches or movements; they are raiding other ministers’ sheep pens. If they have truth for God’s people, they should trust the gift God has given them to function effectively and equip God’s people; this is not the same as claiming authority over churches by appealing to an office they have not demonstrated.


Are there apostles today? I believe that God continues to use apostles, like other ministers of God’s message, to bring Christ’s body to maturity and to equip God’s people for ministry to the world (Eph 4:11-13). I expect that they will continue until the time of the end (Rev 18:20). Those who disagree with using the title for anyone today still generally recognize that God uses some people to evangelize new regions and break new ground, so the disagreement in this sense is a semantic one. Again, neither cessationists nor continuationists such as myself claim that anyone is writing Scripture today, and all of us do believe in “missionaries.”

But in any case, the title cannot apply simply to anyone who wants to claim it. Those who have not demonstrated the humility and sacrifical service of apostles should not claim the title. People should not leave their churches just to follow someone who claims the title. Recall again the initial praise that Jesus offered the church in Ephesus: “I know your works … I know that you cannot put up with evildoers, and you have tested those who call themselves ‘apostles’ but are not, and have found them to be false” (Rev 2:2).

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