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Words, Semantics, and Titles

Many Christians believe that the Church has no need of apostles today. They believe that ever since the original Twelve began the first century Church in power, the Church simply needs no further apostolic ministry. Because of this, the subject of 'apostle' has often been consigned to the halls of history and distant past--- and left there.

It is not an exaggeration though to say that some of the same Protestants who consigned 'apostles' to the distant past also ended up assigning  the same roles and duties the apostle of the New Testament had to other people. They usually called these people evangelists or missionaries. Prior to this, Catholics long ago assigned the word 'Pope' as a title for their modern apostolic successor of the Church. The Pope, they believe, has inherited his authority from the original Apostle Peter.

At least the Catholic Church is perfectly clear about what it expects of both their Pope and their members. In contrast, when many groups use titles such as Senior Pastor or Deacon or Minister, they may not be entirely forthcoming as to what is expected of their members. Their members are sometimes told that support of the leadership means a very high level of honor and respect must be shown - at all costs. In return, the Leader begins to expect an almost cult-like adoration. So in the end, certain sects or groups of Protestantism became no different in spirit than their Catholic counterparts, whom they often criticize.

Whenever anyone makes a Senior Pastor or any other Leader into a 'mini-pope,' they are going around the block in order to arrive at the same destination. In other words, a rose by any other name is still a rose.

Or a thorn.

Substituting various and sundry manmade words in order to appear as though a fellowship or organization has distanced themselves from a high handed leadership style, when in fact they haven't, is a magician's 'shell game'. What I am saying here is that even though many sincere religious groups or movements use different labels or titles for certain leadership ministries, absence of humility and Biblical integrity cause the same problems they are trying to avoid. When people end up teaching that there should be more reverence or submission given to this new titled leader than even the apostles of the New Testament expected, we are all in trouble (Luke 22:25-27;1 Pet. 5:1-3) After that, it's all downhill from there.

What's wrong with this picture? Is it the fault of the title or the fault of the definition behind the title? In some cases both.

I believe that when we depart from the Bibical language it does not solve the problem of departing from the Biblical definition. So, instead of using different titles in order to end up with the same sort of errors, it may be better to just take the 'equippers' of the Church in Ephesians 4:11-12 as they are called, at face value. It is important to teach the correct definitions. In this short text we will explore a little bit of what the word 'apostle' actually means, and consider the practical aspects of what it means for us today.

Ignorance is not Bliss: The word "apostle"

For 20 years as a practicing Christian believer, I never knew this simple fact: that the word 'apostle' in our Bibles is a transliteration and not a direct translation from the Greek. Since then, I have discovered that many who acknowledge this fact, say the best definition of the word apostle is 'sent out'. Unfortunately, this is somewhat inadequate. 'Sent out' easily fits into the thought that somehow no one is 'ready' for ministry unless a man, committee, or organization puts their stamp of approval on them and then 'sends them out'. Yet, there are many examples in scripture, both in Old Testament and New, and even in our modern day Christian history, that God Himself called someone and they simply answered and obeyed. This was without necessarily checking with their peers for approval, and oftentimes in spite of them.

The following is a quote by a modern Christian author who believes there are apostles for today, holds to the definition of 'sent out' for the actual word apostle, yet disagrees that it implies that an organization must send any one out for them to be an 'apostle':

"The word apostle means in Greek 'one sent forth'. A true apostle is a minister sent directly by God to accomplish a specific work. Note that an apostle is not sent by an organization, a church, or a group of people." (quoted from the book, "The Complete Wineskin" by Harold R. Eberle).

He points out, as many I hope would realize, that JESUS called forth the apostles, and the Holy Spirit directed their steps.

However, there is disagreement that the primary meaning of the word, APOSTOLOS, is really 'sent one' It is said that the more accurate and primary translation is instead ''Special messenger, a representative" (as opposed to merely 'sent one' as the only definition). This better supports the fact that an 'apostle' is a representative of Christ rather than a representative of a denomination or organization, or an administrator of such. It is also leaves room for an 'apostle' to also be a 'prophet' (messenger) like the Apostle John was---something many Protestants would deny since they often believe a pastor or administrator is capable of being an 'apostle', whereas a prophetically gifted person is incapable of 'apostleship' or leadership of any kind.

In any case, it is compelling to consider that artificial requirements upon someone before they are considered to have an 'apostolic'-type ministry, are simply that-- artificial. Experience shows that more often than not, utter dependence upon man's approval and corporate direction serves to cripple the dynamic role of the 'sent ones' or 'representatives' in our midst, rather than support them. The fact is, the Apostle Paul considered manufactured credentials and man's commendations more the wares, or sign, of the false apostle rather than the true (2 Corinth. 3:1-6).

One would hope that the ministry of any messenger/representative/sent one, or apostolos, is at the obedience to God and on the behalf of Christ Himself to the world and the Church, rather than at the obedience of man, or on the behalf of a man or corporate entity. As for abuses, those who teach that loyalty to a pastor/teacher/deacon/bishop/prophet/pope or 'apostle' should be on the same par as loyalty to God are not loyalty to Christ. A representative or 'ambassador' (2 Corinth 5:20) is not the same as the One represented, and a 'sent one' is not the same as the One sent! Jesus warned us against titles (Matt. 23: 8-10) and certain abuses of authority. He wanted the apostles to model themselves after the example of His own humble authority, and not after the example of the world (Mark 10:42-45).


'Equippers' For Today, Yesterday, and in the Future

The apostles of the early church carried out a vital ministry for the early church. One of the things they did, even though this function was mostly unplanned by themselves, was to leave the Church of today their letters (or epistles) and testimonies (such as the Gospels). Because of the dedication of many scholars, monks, and others who copied and re-copied the early texts, and also translated them, we still have their writings today. These were canonized into an official Bible. With the invention of the printing press, the availability of the original apostle's writings and testimony is certainly widespread now. But is it any more understood?

Scripture states that the equippers of Eph. 4:11-13 are given to the Church "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ." (vs. 13). This list of equippers includes the apostle, prophet, evangelist, and teacher/pastor. Some say that since the apostles and prophets are the "foundation" (Eph. 2:20), and since they believe the foundation is the Bible and the beginning of the Church, we have no need for the apostle or the prophet anymore. Yet nowhere in Eph. 2:20 does it state that the Bible is the "foundation." In fact, the Bible was not even known at the time of the writing. Furthermore, the apostle Paul -- the very same author of Ephesians-- indicates elsewhere that the only foundation is Jesus Christ (1 Corinth. 3:11). 

In addition, the Apostle Paul stated that the "equippers" (which include both the apostle and prophet) are given by God, "until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ." Certainly no one can say that we have achieved this ideal state yet. Many of us are still "little children," tossed to and fro by winds of doctrine (Eph. 4:14). The Biblical Canon was completed many centuries ago, and yet our many denominations and sects certainly prove we have not all attained "the unity of faith" because of it.

Since the Ephesians scripture is essentially a promise that God provides what is necessary for the ongoing evangelism and maturity of the Church, and since that task has not yet been completed, dividing up the scripture artificially is not going to solve the problem. Paul never indicated that it was okay to chop off some of his words from a sentence, and pretend that he never wrote them. It is not wise to read the scripture with black marker in hand, marking out certain words, like this: "And he gave some, XXXXX; and some, XXXXX; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ... (vs.11, KJV). It is unnecessary and prejudicial.  

What I am saying is that if we are going to mark out part of Eph. 4:11 as void for today, then by logical extension we must mark out the whole verse. So, if we say that there is no longer any need for the 'prophet' or 'apostle' because the Biblical Canon is enough, then by logical extention, we are also saying that there is no longer any need for the pastor, teacher, or evangelist either. The truth is that we cannot just drop Bibles from the airplane on the unsaved nations and peoples and be done with it. If we cannot say that we need no pastors, teachers, or evangelists, then we cannot say that we need no prophets or apostles. Whatever we end up calling them or however much we deny them honor, we need all the 'sent ones' or 'special messengers' or 'representatives' that we can get. And thankfully, the Lord says He is pleased to provide whatever is needed.

So, on one end of the scale there are those believers who hold to the 'apostles' or 'prophets' as belonging to the distant past, and on the other end of the scale there are those who not only embrace the ministry of the apostle, but also put them on a pedastal. look forward to 'apostles' rising up again for the sake of today's Church. They often recognize the Church is not in an ideal state, and respond to this by saying that new 'apostles' need to come again, or be raised up again, be 'established' or be 'restored' again, so that the Church can attain the ideal state before Christ's return. These folks define 'apostles' as being very close to being just like the original Twelve, or maybe even better. They teach His People to look expectantly forward to this day in the future when the 'apostles' will arrive. Or worse-- that these 'super apostles' have already come and that they themselves.

I would urge you to take care my friends that you are not be deceived by theories that are really are not justified by the Word of God. If we take Eph. 4:11-14 at face value, we need no promises of any far off or up and coming apostles. We need not be told that God was a miser all along, holding back certain leadership skills or gifts until the Last and Final Days. Paul gave no such picture of God's intent. He wrote the promise for his day and all the days in the future, until the end of days. 

If we think we are concerned for the lost and hurting, God is even more concerned! It is simply not within His character or good purposes to leave prior generation(s) destitute of His special equippers. Therefore, we need not exalt ourselves or anyone else as the Special Ones for this Special End Time-- people who are priviledged enough to finally arrive at being the best and the brightest and the most gifted of all generations before. Jesus warned that there would be false Christs, so let us not be easily carried away from humility or realism by any Great Promises of the (Special) Apostles for our (Special) Generation.

In truth, every generation is a Special Generation to the Lord, because every generation has unbelievers to be evangelized, fellowships to be labored over, and believers to lead toward maturity in Christ. So, no matter how you want to define the workers (equippers), or who you want to depend upon or exalt, the work of the Lord still stays the same.

Ask yourself, if there were no money or power or prestige in it, or if they suffered bonafide persecution for the Gospel, how many of today's exalted leaders would stick around? If the answer is, "Probably not many" then you have just ripped off the mask of the super apostle and found their lack. 

Lofty boasts, promises, or presumptions are a poor substitute for the Spirit of Christ. The thought that anyone has more spiritual power or knowledge than those before them simply make up for a healthy beginning of a fellowship or ministry. A foundation of fleshly ambitions or needy insecurities is simply not the foundation of Christ. Starting something in the Spirit and then continueing the work in the flesh (Gal. 3:3) is no good either, since it becomes an invalid work too.

If you want to play it safe and demote these workers to non-existence, the work of Today must still be done. That work of course does not include completing the Biblical Canon, yet that is not all the 'apostles' did! They suffered and prayed, evangelized new or neglected populations, taught and demonstrated the power of the Gospel, warned, admonished, encouraged, healed, and blessed--among many other activities. Therefore, even if you are so wary of definitions that you just assume never hear about it again, I hope you will acknowledge that the work of Today, in this generation, must be done, by someone. Maybe even you.

What kind of work of today do you think God might send someone for? Would a 'sent one' provide drinking water to an underpriviledged community while representing Christ to them? Might it be disaster relief? What about the brave souls who rescue women and children from slavery? Would an 'apostle' of today stand up for the oppressed, at the risk of his own life or reputation? Does he get his hands dirty, and eat with the sinners? Does he work at making tents, so as not to burden the Church? Does he preach the gospel to the poor, or sit behind a desk and collect money? 

How far have men fallen from the actual work?

Unlike many today who claim for themselves various positions in the Church, the Twelve Apostles spent no time promoting themselves and all their time simply doing the work. Yes, the Apostle Paul occasionally said he was a 'sent one' (apostle) in the introductions of their letters, (2 Cor. 1:1) but he also said he was called to be an apostle, or a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1). He also said he was the least of the apostles (1 Corinth 15:9) and had once been the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). All of these things were said after he had done the work of an apostle! Was he confused? Doubtful. It is more likely that he knew all of these things to be true. 

Many people focus on the "signs and wonders" that the Apostle Paul had in his ministry (2 Corinth 12:12), yet they forget Paul's humility, bravery, and passion. They forget his other types of ministry, his earlier ministry, and the many facets of Jesus' ministry too (Luke 14:18). The ministry of Jesus certainly did not favor the rich or priviledged above the poor. He took unpopular stands and rebuked the religious. Similarly, Paul, in his earlier ministry, challenged an established Apostle (Acts 15:1-12 and Galatians 2: 1-14) He also taught against and challenged false apostles. He was not the only one to do these sorts of things. The Apostle John named a false minister and was determined to expose his false works (3 John 1:9-10). The Apostle Peter railed against "brute beasts" who "followed the way of Balaam" (2 Peter chapter 2) Although these incidences were NOT the entire ministry of Jesus or the Apostles by any means, my question is this: Where are these brave, offended, sarcastic, passionate, sacrificial people today?

Brothers and sisters, where are the 'fathers' in the Lord, the true apostles? Who is willing to be judged, despised by all (even Christians), and made "last" and "a spectacle unto the world" (1 Corinth. 4:9-15)? If men have not answered His call, then whom does God have to 'send out' with a message that no one else is willing to deliver? Perhaps someone who people consider an unlikely vessel. For instance, many say that a women cannot be a preacher, and will not give them any position at all in their churches, yet these same people will cheerfully send women into foreign lands as missionaries. They'll gladly take the volunteers and yet deny the volunteer their due support! Many will also watch God call upon a woman to speak in passion against evil or error, and not even wonder whether He must do so because many men before her were silent!

I believe God is mindful enough of gender, but He looks at the heart too. He wants the willing, and not those who will shirk away. Too many conduct their ministries in a bubble of safety, careful not to offend co-ministers, afraid of the anger or disapproval of men or women, yet not afraid of the disapproval of God. Too many desire the approval of their religious peers or the religious members of the flock they serve! Too many will not live near the poor and work beside them in virtual obscurity. They are not willing to be as despised as Paul was.

Do not follow their examples my friends, or you will never be trusted by the Lord for greater works than these.

Brothers and sisters, are we too often focused on power (even spiritual power) or prestige. Too often, we depend upon worldly wisdom and worldly methods. Too often, we do not trust Christ to make us adequate for the calling He places upon us. In contrast, the apostles of the New Testament trusted our Lord Jesus completely. They did not consider themselves on par with Christ or the Holy Spirit, and they did not demand unconditional loyalty. They did not manipulate their followers, because they did not even WANT followers of themselves: They wanted followers of Christ. They knew, as we all should know, that Jesus is the only man who can be counted on for all things. He is the only One Who could be considered without sin or error, and He is the only One to follow.

Whatever we choose to call them, may the Lord Jesus send more workers into the field!

"For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away. When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. " (the Apostle Paul in 1 Corinth 13: 9-12 KJV)

Teri Lee Earl


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by Teri Lee Earl, Copyright © 2000, 2005 HarvestNETwork (

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