2, No. 1
Apostolic in Doctrine
William W. Menzies, Ph.D., Chancellor, Asia Pacific
Adjunct Professor, Assemblies
of God Theological Seminary
Truth does not change, but the questions earnest Christians
ask do change through the years. Periodically, accepted
traditional understandings are called into question and
require a fresh assessment. Essentially this is what
transpired at the beginning of the twentieth century
with the arrival of the Pentecostal awakening. The early
Pentecostals challenged the commonly accepted “cessationist” theology
that dominated evangelical Christianity. They resisted
the attempt of fundamentalist Protestantism to confine
the supernatural work of God to the Apostolic Age. They
insisted that, in an important sense, the work of the
Holy Spirit described in the Book of Acts was intended
to be the model by which the vitality of the church should
be measured in today’s world.
The early Pentecostals’ strong stance has led
to the recognition by much of the contemporary church
world, howbeit reluctantly, that the church must make
a greater place for the supernatural dimension of Christianity,
including charismatic gifts and ministries.1 The rapidly
changing demographics of the church disclose that charismatically
oriented Christian groups are among the fastest-growing
segments of the church today. As a result, older, traditional
churches must acknowledge that the churches of the future
will be inclined to be apostolic in character.2
The first battle seems to be largely over. Much of the
church has capitulated to the principle of the importance
of charismatic ministry. Perhaps pragmatic considerations
have forced the traditional church world into making
grudging allowance for such practices and ministry. However,
the very success of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement
has occasioned fresh questions that require thoughtful
At the beginning of the modern Pentecostal revival,
the term “apostolic” was frequently employed,
both in the titles of emerging denominations and in the
titles of periodicals. This term was intended to support
the concept that the Holy Spirit was being poured out
on modern-day people, empowering them in much the same
fashion as the writers of the New Testament described
in the life of the Early Church. The term “apostolic” was
an announcement that, indeed, the age of miracles was
not past. All believers were candidates for the baptism
in the Holy Spirit. Gifts of the Spirit were to be expected
among all of God’s people. The early shape of the
debate was “either-or.” You accepted the
principle of the availability of New Testament experiences
of the Spirit or you did not. The questions centered
on personal spiritual experience. The structure of the
church was not in serious debate, as long as the existing
structures made an adequate place for manifestations
of the Spirit and the recognition of gifted ministries.
Existing church structures were readily borrowed, usually
from the Methodist or Baptistic traditions.
The current debate has now moved toward a reexamination
of church structures as the context in which apostolic
ministry is to be developed. In the last decade, Pentecostals
and charismatics have been confronted with issues that
did not require examination in the earlier years of the
revival. However, traditional Pentecostals are now contemplating
the emergence of a “restorationist” movement
that claims to revive the offices of apostle and prophet.
Earlier Pentecostals had largely dismissed this concept,
preferring to describe gifted ministries as “functions” rather
than conferring titles, or “offices” on significant
leaders. The “New Order of the Latter Rain” of
the 1940s, which essentially called into being such offices,
was summarily dealt with by Pentecostal bodies, such
as the Assemblies of God,3 and this movement quickly
disappeared from the radar screen. Today, the issue is
no longer limited to the eddies and backwaters, but is
now making a strong appearance within the ranks of Pentecostals.
For example, the Australian Assemblies of God, as a national
movement, has restructured itself in a dramatically new
way, assigning to the denominational leadership the kind
of authority and responsibility associated with the first-century
apostles.4 How are we to address this issue from a biblical
I propose that we consider first the context in which
apostolic ministry took place. This calls for an examination
of church structure as presented in the New Testament
writings. Subsequently, I propose that we examine the
biblical principles related specifically to the role
of the apostle. Not all relevant issues can be addressed
in a single paper. Therefore, I am narrowing my focus
to a study of apostles and their place in the Early Church.
From this inquiry, I trust that some useful guidelines
for contemporary ministry may be elicited.
The Context of Apostolic Ministry: Early Church Structure
The Church was instituted by Christ (Mt.16:18). Many
consider the birth of the Church to be dated from the
Day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out
upon the waiting disciples gathered in the Jerusalem
Upper Room (Acts 2). At once, the original gathering
of Christian believers began to take on a distinctive
character. It became a visible, tangible expression of
God’s presence in the world, centering in the risen
Christ. Some of the characteristics of the Jerusalem
church, based primarily on an examination of Acts 2:42-47,
may be summarized:
Teaching based on the apostolic norm. The Jerusalem
church measured its life, belief and practice by the
teaching of the original apostles (Acts 2:42).
The manifest presence of God. The Jerusalem church
was deeply conscious of God’s supernatural presence
among them (see Acts 2:43: “they were filled with
awe”). In the earlier years of the modern Pentecostal
revival, the term often employed to capture this sense
of God’s mighty presence was “reality.” A
sense of wonderment, of the mysterium tremendum,
has been a hallmark of the earliest apostolic community
and of Pentecostal fellowships in recent history. Believers
came to Pentecostal gatherings because they expected
that God would intervene in fresh ways. Minimal programming
Supernatural miracles. “Signs and wonders” were
done through the ministry of the apostles (Acts 2:43).
At the outset, the flow of supernatural interventions
that marked the life of the Jerusalem church was mediated
through the ministry of the recognized leaders, the original
apostles. It should be noted, however, that later in
the Book of Acts, supernatural events transpired through
others besides the apostles. Note the story of Stephen,
a lay person in the Jerusalem church, chosen to fill
a role reminiscent of the deacons Paul identified in
1 Timothy 3:8-10. Stephen, clearly not an apostle, nonetheless
is described as being used by God to perform signs and
wonders (Acts 6:8). Ultimately, of course, Paul declared
that the full range of charismatic ministries is available
to all in the congregation, without regard to office
or position (1 Cor.12:7-11). The only qualifier is that
it is the sovereign Lord who distributes manifestations
as he chooses!
Fellowship and compassion. The believers gathered
regularly and, evidently, frequently. It appears they
readily adopted the structure and some of the functions
of the synagogue. An eldership emerged. Leadership from
within the congregation was identified and recognized.
Paul acknowledges this clearly in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. Both
the term “elder” (presbuteros) and “overseer” (episkopos),
which by the second century had evolved into separate
levels of ecclesiastical authority, were interchangeable
as late as the decade of the 60s, when Acts likely was
written (see Acts 20:17, 28). Titus 1:5-7 uses these
terms interchangeably, as well.5 This suggests that God
employed a variety of instruments for spiritual leadership,
clearly far beyond a limited apostolic circle. A key
word for the early Jerusalem church is “community.”
Emerging Patterns of Church Structure
Two passages in Acts offer helpful insights into the
changing form of the earliest Palestinian church communities.
In Acts 13:1-3, it is apparent that the leadership of
the Antioch church was comprised of two types of ministry;
what one might call the “didactic” and the “charismatic.” The
terms “prophets and teachers” (proph?tai
kai didaskaloi) distinguish between the objective
and the subjective, between the ministry of explaining
the received teaching of the church body, which requires
study and preparation, and the spontaneous exercise of
the “unstudied,” of “immediacy,” of
charismatic gifts.6 It appears, then, that in the decade
of the 40s, an attempt was made, at least in Antioch,
to maintain a balance between formal structure and spontaneous
charismatic ministry. It is noteworthy that this brief
glimpse into church life at Antioch provides us with
a profile of the functions of that church body as well.
This profile seems to capture the purposes for which
the local church existed.
Acts 13:1 supplies an important suggestion for the reason
these folks gathered to have “church.” The
object of the ministry of the prophets and teachers clearly
was intended to edify the gathered believers. It was
a ministryto the body. The function of
prophets and teachers is to edify the body of believers.
Acts 13:2 pictures the Antioch believers worshipping
together. The Antioch church was not only about edification
of believers, it was about ministry to the Lord.
It was about deepening the relationship between believers
and their risen Lord. The Antioch church was more than
Acts 13:3 carries the purpose of the gathered body one
step further. Into this Spirit-energized atmosphere,
God gave directions for service, for their place in a
larger setting than their own fellowship. This was to
be ministry to the world. The Antioch church,
agreeing that the prophetic utterance given in their
midst was valid, commissioned Barnabas and Saul to be
their ambassadors to the world beyond. It is important
to recognize that from the beginning the Apostolic Church
was a missionary community. Note that when the church
had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them
and “sent them off” (apelusan). In
effect, Barnabas and Saul were commissioned to be the “apostles,” the “sent
ones” from the church at Antioch. We will return
to this point later.
Another passage in Acts that helps us to capture the
self-understanding of the Early Church regarding its
form is the story of the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15).
The Antioch missionaries, Paul (as he is now called)
and Barnabas, had been appointed, along with other believers,
to go to Jerusalem to see the “apostles and elders” (apostolous
kai presbuterous). Throughout the narrative that
follows, it is evident that the leadership of the council
was comprised of both apostles and elders. It is important
to notice that the moderator of the meeting appears to
be James, not Peter. Further, when the council had acted,
it was the apostles and elders, with the whole church,
who decided how to communicate the results of the council
(Acts 15:22). It seems clear that the acknowledged leaders
of the Jerusalem church did not act apart from the consensus
of the local body. This speaks to the principle of accountability.
Paul’s pastoral epistles offer further insights
into the structure of first-century churches. If one
compares the list of qualifications for elders in Titus
1:5-9 with the list Paul provides in 1 Timothy 3:1-7,
the observer will note that the list in Titus is briefer
and more general. One is tempted to conjecture that the
reason for this is that Titus’s assignment to “straighten
out what was left unfinished” (Titus 1:5) addressed
a difficult pioneer situation on Crete. Titus, the missionary
Paul assigned to complete the establishment of the church
there, was given explicit instructions to first “appoint
elders in every town.” Evidently, in the earliest
stages of planting a new church, it was necessary for
an outsider—one with apostolic credentials, a missionary—to
The situation in Ephesus was quite different. Paul,
writing to his younger colleague Timothy, admonished
him in his role as Paul’s representative to the
church at Ephesus. The church at Ephesus was not new.
It evidently had fallen into disorder and required outside
missionary direction to recover its spiritual center.
One of the assignments given to Timothy was to teach
the people how to select proper leadership. In 1 Timothy
3:1, the wording indicates that the people were involved
in some way in the selection of their leaders: “If
anyone sets his heart on being an overseer, he desires
a noble task.” It is not likely that Timothy made
such appointments. The people, probably with Timothy’s
approval, were authorized to select leaders from among
themselves. Further, the list of qualifications for elders
Paul supplied Timothy is more detailed and demanding
than the list found in Titus.
Some assumptions may be made from this data. First,
overt outside control is required in a pioneer church-planting
setting. In such cases, the missionary selects the local
leadership, seeking the best people he can identify,
even if they do not have all the desirable qualifications
that may come later. In a more developed church, such
as that in Ephesus, the church seems to be given more
input into selecting their leadership. The more elaborate
listing of qualifications suggests that, at some point,
a church can expect higher standards for leadership.
What can one say to this? It appears that there is a
marked latitude admissible in local church management
processes. However, the direction of local church governance
appears to move from an episcopal form toward a congregational
form, as the church develops.
It is important to note that all the local churches,
whether pioneering ventures or more established centers,
functioned under apostolic authority. We will examine
what this means in due course.
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians provides
another important dimension of spiritual leadership.
His teaching on the local church gathered for worship
(1 Cor. 11-14) emphasizes the importance of each individual
member. In a Pentecostal church, all are invited
to participate! To each the sovereign Spirit may distribute
manifestations of various kinds for the edification of
the Body. The laity are an important part of the
ministry equation. God may call upon any receptive instrument
for edifying the body on a given occasion. Although there
is a ranking of ministries, including apostles and prophets
at the top of the list (1 Cor. 12:27-31), the ministry
of prophecy does not appear to be limited to a recognized
class of people called prophets. Paul exhorts, “Two
or three prophets should speak, and the others should
weigh carefully what is said” (1 Cor. 14:29) and
then, “You can all prophesy in turn…” (1
Cor. 14:31). It looks very much like the people of God
are invited to judge the worth of such prophetic utterances.
I would suggest that this “judging” was
predicated on two criteria. First, any prophetic utterance
was expected to conform to the revealed apostolic message.
Note Paul’s strong challenge to the Galatian Christians
on this very point (Gal. 1: 6-9). Second, since the “spirits
of the prophets are subject to the prophets,” one
could disrupt a meeting with a poorly timed utterance
or an utterance that might appear to the rest to be contrary
in tone or content to the “flow” of the meeting.
(Early Pentecostals frequently spoke of the “tenor” of
a meeting to capture this.)
Ephesians 4:11 is the centerpiece of discussion for
the issue of “restorationism.” The “fivefold
ministry” is found here. Christ gave gifts to the
Church: some apostles, some prophets, some evangelists,
and some pastors and teachers. These are leadership gifts—people
called by the Lord to serve the body of Christ in particular
ways. The two verses that follow are important for putting
these leadership gifts into proper perspective. Ephesians
4:12 tells us that these giftings of leadership have
a specific purpose: “to equip” (pros tonkatartismon)
the people of God for “works of service” (eis
ergon diakonias). The role of such leadership is
best seen as empowering the people of God to do ministry.
Leadership has a supportive, not a coercive or controlling,
role. It is clear that the objective of effective ministry
in the church is for the building up of the body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:13 provides indices by which one can measure
whether edification is transpiring. The first category
identified is in the cognitive domain: aiding
believers to come to unity in “the faith,” that
objective body of Christian teaching presented by the
apostles. The way this is expressed indicates that this
is a journey, not necessarily a destination. The church
is at its best when it works hard at developing theology
from the deposit of apostolic truth, recognizing that
we, indeed, see through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12).
The second category is experiential. Believers
are to grow “in the knowledge of the Son of God.” The
biblical concept of gn?sis is far more profound
than the mere assembling of items of information. It
is “knowing by experience.” Paul speaks to
this pointedly in his prayer in Ephesians 1:15-23. In
that famous prayer list, first on his agenda is that
the Ephesian believers might experience “the Spirit
of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” A
profound and growing spiritual relationship with the
Lord is a central objective of New Testament teaching.
The third category Paul alludes to in Ephesians 4:13
is the behavioral. He cites the cultivation of
an appropriate pattern of living as an important objective
of ministry in the church: “That we …become
mature (eis andra teleion), attaining to the whole
measure of the fullness of Christ.” The root word
for maturity is telos, meaning “end,” or “destiny.” The
New Testament concept of sanctification lies right here.
Paul calls the church to engage in a kind of ministry
that will enable people to become what they are declared
to be, to grow into Christlikeness. Sanctification is
a process, not necessarily a crisis. It
is a direction as much as an achievement.7 Leadership
is effective when the body of believers it serves is
marked by people who are moving toward their destined
quality of being, their telos.
To summarize Paul’s teaching from Ephesians 4,
we may say that Christ has given gifts of leadership
to the Church. The purpose of that leadership is to equip
God’s people for ministry. The objectives of that
ministry are that the people of God may grow in their
understanding of God’s revelation, in a deeper
experience with the living Lord, and in a quality of
behavior that authentically reflects the inner Christian
experience. It is important to note that this passage
is a searching insight into the development of the interior life
of the believer. To this must be appended the insights
about the functions of the Apostolic Church from such
passages as Acts 13:1-3, in which the objective of ministry
moves beyond the cultivation of the interior life
of the believer to the calling to penetrate the larger
world with Christian witness. Melvin Hodges, building
on insights popularized by Roland Allen, had it right
when he recognized that the biblical model for a New
Testament kind of church certainly included the capacity
to grow, to expand its numbers and to be “self-perpetuating.” 8
We may summarize some fundamental principles for church
structure that emerge from considering various New Testament
The Principle of Apostolicity. The teaching of
church leaders is tightly connected to the teaching of
those commissioned by the Lord himself. All ministry
is thus to be measured.
The Principle of Adaptability. Considering the
emergence of unforeseen circumstances, such as one finds
the Jerusalem church facing in Acts 6, considerable latitude
is allowable in developing church structures. This frees
the church to adopt culturally relevant church structure
patterns, as long as such patterns do not inhibit the
work of God.
The Principle of Accountability. Throughout the
description of the various churches provided in the New
Testament, there appears to be a commitment to the responsibility
for self-government within local churches, with minimal
direction from outside, except for the input from the
apostles. With the passing of the original apostles,
their teaching continues in the canon of the New Testament.
It is to this that all churches and all church leadership
are to be accountable. It appears that the people of
God have an important role in determining how this accountability
shall take place, chiefly through their own selection
of elders and deacons from their midst.9
The Principle of Accessibility. Apart from the
leadership of the authorized apostles, there appears
to be minimal suggestion of any hierarchy beyond the
local churches. Certainly, in metropolitan centers, where
there were likely several house churches, the churches
in that community were on occasion referred to as forming
a single “church.” For example, Paul wrote
to the collective fellowships in the city of Thessalonica
as if they formed one single entity: “the church
of the Thessalonians” (1 Thess. 1:1). There is
little evidence of any kind of hierarchy in such settings.
Let us now consider precisely what the New Testament
writers had in mind for the role of apostles, the first
of Christ’s gifts to the Church.
Kinds of Apostles in the New Testament
The Unique Apostleship. A clear distinction must
be made between the earliest “college of apostles” and
all other Christian leaders, regardless of title or function.
Ephesians 2:20 reports that the church is “built
on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with
Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.” One
must begin by recognizing that Jesus is the principal
apostle (Heb. 3:1), that is, he is the “Sent One” who
divested himself of his rightful glory to minister salvation
to this world. All apostolic ministry flows out of this
The Inner Circle. Jesus selected the original
twelve apostles (Mt. 10:1,2; Mk. 6:30). To the initial
cluster of disciples, the original Twelve, Jesus also
assigned the term “apostles” (Lk. 6:13). “The
Twelve” is a term found twenty-one times in the
four Gospels, indicating that this original group was
widely recognized as the core of Jesus’ following.
In Acts 1, the 120 disciples, including the eleven original
disciples minus Judas, gathered in the Upper Room. They
selected Matthias to replace Judas (Acts 1:26), feeling
compelled to fill the vacancy occasioned by Judas’ fall.
In this story, we learn what qualifications were understood
to be necessary for this special group of apostles.
First, all in this group were specially called by the
Lord. The Acts passage supplies further credentials.
Second, a candidate had to have been with the original
called-out group throughout the time of the public ministry
of Jesus (Acts 1:21).
Third, such a person must have been an eyewitness to
the risen Lord following His resurrection (v.22). These
special persons had lived with Jesus. They were authentic
eyewitnesses to his life and teaching. Hence, the Early
Church looked to them for a standard by which to guide
and govern the emerging churches.
Paul is a special case. He recognized himself to be,
and his colleagues acknowledged him to be, a genuine
apostle. How are we to understand Paul as one of this
very special company? This is an important issue, for
Paul wrote more of the New Testament than any of the
original Twelve. First, note that Paul began most of
his epistles with a firm assertion that he wrote, not
on his own merits but—being called by God—with
the apostolic authority received directly from God. This
self-understanding is stated in its clearest form in
Galatians 1. Paul said, “I want you to know, brothers,
that the gospel I preached is not something that man
made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I
taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus
Christ” (Gal. 1:11,12). In the passage that follows,
Paul set out his case very clearly. The other apostles,
located in Jerusalem, recognized him as being on a plane
of equal authority with them (Gal. 2:6-10). Paul understood
himself to have seen Jesus, a basic qualification for
being included in the apostolic list (1 Cor. 9:1). To
Paul, the Damascus Road experience was intensely real;
it was not just a vision. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul
spoke of himself, with respect to his relationship with
Jesus, “as one untimely born.”10
From the data, we might then conclude that Paul, although
not one of the earliest group of disciples Jesus called
to himself during his public ministry, nonetheless was
widely recognized as having special credentials that
entitled him to speak authoritatively, along with the
The Extended Apostolic College. To this core
of twelve (or thirteen) apostles, we must recognize that
the college of apostles includes some others as well.
All of the ancient documents circulating among the churches
in the fourth century were scrutinized by both the Latin
Church at the Council of Carthage and by the Greek Church
through the decision of Athanasius in Alexandria. Independently,
both wings of the Ancient Church agreed on the twenty-seven
books in our present New Testament as the authentic writings
of the first-century apostles. In each case, the first
criterion to which these documents were subjected was “apostolicity.” Was
the document in question written by a first-century apostle,
or one closely associated with him?
This “college of apostles” goes beyond the
Twelve. It clearly includes Paul, but also includes Mark,
the associate of Peter, and Luke, a close associate of
Paul. To this list, we must add the writer of Hebrews
who, if not Paul, clearly was one of his companions.
Two in this college of apostles that were qualified because
of their intimate association with Jesus are James and
Jude, the half brothers of our Lord.11 The teaching of
these selected few was recognized in the first-century
church as the ultimate authority for all things pertaining
to faith and life. The Greek and Latin Churches of the
fourth century validated this understanding as the canon
of the New Testament came to be universally accepted.
J. Rodman Williams distinguishes between two kinds of
apostles, “The Twelve plus Paul” and “Others
Called Apostles.”12 He designates the Twelve plus
Paul as having “apostleship,” citing a term
employed in both Acts 1:24,25 and Galatians 2:8 to identify
those given special authority (eis apostol?n).
Paul uses this term in 1 Corinthians 9:2, identifying
himself as one given the ministry of apostleship (mou
tes apostol?s). By this, Williams wishes to set apart
that group of eyewitnesses who were authorized to speak
authoritatively about the life and teachings of Jesus.
For Williams, this is limited to the Twelve and Paul.
Perhaps, without doing injustice to the intent of Williams,
we should broaden the designation to include those associates
of Paul and the Twelve who were recognized as authoritative
by the Early Church. Thus, the writings of Mark, Luke,
James, Jude and perhaps one or two others may be added
to Williams’ more narrow classification.
Whether one follows the narrower limit set out by Williams
or includes the other recognized writing apostles, this
designation is critically important. This sets the boundary
of the canon of Scripture, the objective authority by
which the Church in all ages is to evaluate all belief,
experience and practice. These were uniquely placed in
the first century and stand absolutely apart from all
It is clear that the writers of the New Testament had
no intention of passing on this special apostleship to
others who might follow. This unique gifting was not
to be a matter of “apostolic succession,” nor
was it ever intended to be restored in a later age. The
revelation given to the first-century apostleship stands
by itself. If this is not safeguarded, all manner of
mischief inevitably follows.
This is precisely where charismatic movements through
the course of history have foundered. Consider, for example,
the Irvingite movement of nineteenth-century England,
and their misguided attempt at restoring the offices
of authoritative apostles. When the last of these apostles
died about the beginning of the twentieth century, this
movement virtually ceased to exist.
Apostles: Special Assignment Callings. It is
important to note that the term “apostle” is
employed in the New Testament in ways beyond the narrower
circle of “apostleship.” Acts 14:14 speaks
of “the apostles Barnabas and Paul.” In this
case, Barnabas appears to be listed as an apostle in
the sense that he has been sent out as a missionary from
the church at Antioch. In Galatians 1:18,19, Paul listed
James, the brother of the Lord, as one of the apostles.
In Acts 15, James is not identified as an apostle. A
curious note found in Romans 16 cites Andronicus and
Junias—one of whom may have been a woman—as
outstanding apostles. In writing to the Thessalonians,
Paul seems to include Silas and Timothy along with himself
as apostles (1 Thess. 1:1). In 2 Corinthians 8:18,22,
unidentified representatives are sent as messengers.
The term employed here is a cognate form of the verb “I
send,” or apostell?. What are we to make
of this? It can be seen that in a much broader sense,
those sent, or commissioned, for any special church assignment
could be said to be “apostles,” or “sent
ones.” Paul speaks of Epaphroditus, the elder from
the church at Philippi who had been sent to him in Rome,
as an (apostolos), one sent on an assignment from
a local church.
This general, non-technical, use of the term is important
for two reasons: (1) It is an acknowledgement that the
church must make a place for special gifts of leadership
and ministry, or for those commissioned by the church
for special assignments. (2) It is this more narrowly
defined use of the term that has application for the
church today. It is a serious mistake to blur the distinction
between the authoritative apostleship and other “special
assignment” apostles described in the New Testament.
In the broader sense identified above, the ministry
of the first-century apostles may be summarized in the
The “general” apostles are pictured as being
commissioned for special assignments, usually sent from
a specific local church. Certainly, this was the case
in the story of Epaphroditus, who was sent from the church
at Philippi to minister to Paul on their behalf while
Paul was in custody in Rome (Phil. 2:25-30).
The assignments to which these special envoys are dispatched
appear to be primarily in pioneer settings (note the
mission of Titus on Crete, for example.)
The apostles were involved in proclamation and witness,
sometimes even being included in the writing of what
were recognized later to be canonical documents. In a
general sense, we can picture these individuals as filling
a role not unlike that of modern-day missionaries.
In the process of ministry, such frontiersmen were expected
to be empowered with charismatic ministries, exhibiting “signs
and wonders” that were important instruments for
verification of the gospel message (see Heb. 2:3,4).
Notice that the miraculous was intended to be supportive
of the proclaimed message, not an end in itself. Paul
reported to the Thessalonians that he came to them with
a proclamation (“with words”), but he came
with more than mere words. He came to them “in
power” (en dunamei) (1 Thess.1:5).
Clearly, Paul was led by the Holy Spirit. This theme
is developed throughout the Book of Acts. Paul’s
ministry was Spirit-enabled and, further, it was guided
by the Holy Spirit. He ministered “by the Spirit” (en
pneumati hagi?) (1 Thess. 1:5). He moved about “in
the Spirit.” From time to time, this included special
revelations from God to the apostles. It is interesting
to note that Paul received the warnings given by Agabus
and others as being valid prophetic utterances, but he
did not base his decision about the impending journey
to Jerusalem on such utterances (see Acts 20:22-24).
He accepted the dire warnings as useful for preparing
him for coming hardship. Acts 16:10 is a useful clue
as to how Paul made major decisions. Evidently, he stepped
out “in faith,” doing what was logical and
rational, using his best judgment, depending on confirmation of
such decisions by the Holy Spirit. Rarely did Paul receive
such remarkable revelations as the “Macedonian
Some, if not all of the “general apostles,” served
under the direct supervision and oversight of the Unique
Apostles. Luke, Silas, Timothy and Titus were associates
of Paul; Mark was Peter’s intimate colleague. We
could say, by extension, that insofar as missionaries
and other church leaders in our day are governed by the
teaching of the Unique Apostles (that is to say, the
canonical Scriptures), they too fall within this pattern.
This brief summary could be developed in more detail
but, for our purposes, it will suffice to identify the
broad parameters forming the shape of apostolic ministry.
Let us now turn our attention to the question of “restorationism.”
The Restoration of Apostles Examined
Within the last two decades, a teaching has gained a
significant hearing that calls for serious evaluation.
It circulates about the theme of the restoration of the “Fivefold
Offices” of New Testament ministry. First in that
list is the office of apostle. The clear implication
is that if the church of today is to fulfill the New
Testament pattern and mandate, the offices cited in Ephesians
4:11 must be restored. Let us examine some of the issues
raised by key exponents of restorationist theology.
Peter Wagner’s Theology
Peter Wagner, one of the major spokesmen for this movement,
sees present-day apostles having “unusual authority.” Wagner
says: “Until recently the central focus of authority
in our churches existed in groups, not in individuals.
Trust has been placed in sessions, consistories, nominating
committees, deacon boards, trustees, congregations, presbyteries,
associations, general councils, cabinets, conventions,
synods and the like. Rarely has trust for ultimate decision
making been given to individuals such as pastors or apostles.
This, however, is changing decisively in the New Apostolic
Wagner identifies several characteristics of apostles,
basing his claims on a biblical assessment of the Unique
Apostles we have identified above. The items he lists
deserve serious consideration for present-day leaders,
but I question his assumption that the apostolic authority
of the Unique Apostles extends to leaders beyond the
first century in the way Wagner urges. Wagner says, “Paul’s
authority as an apostle came from the same sources that
provide today’s apostles with their extraordinary
authority.”14 He lists the following:
1. Apostles have a spiritual gift (charisma).
He cites the catalog of giftings found in 1 Corinthians
12, referring especially to v. 28. “Are all apostles?” Certainly
not, Wagner affirms, but by implication, some in the
church are apostles!15 My question is, to what kind of
apostles was Paul referring? Was he speaking of the Unique
Apostolate, or of specially gifted and called ambassadors
sent out as missionaries on frontier assignments, the
2. Apostles have an assignment, or call. Citing 1 Corinthians
12:4-6, Wagner recognizes that those endowed with charismatic
leadership do not all have the same ministry or sphere
of activity.16 I have no quarrel with Wagner on this
point, except to question whether Paul was speaking here
of general apostles, the missionaries of the Early Church,
rather than the Unique Apostles who have special credentials.
3. Apostles have extraordinary character. Wagner appeals
here for holding leadership in the church to a high standard.17 Who would question the desire to have church leaders
whose lives are above reproach? Nevertheless, Wagner
does not support this high-minded desire for apostolic
credentials with Scriptures that specifically single
out apostles. This clearly is a matter of general concern
for church leadership in any capacity.
4. Apostles have followers. Wagner’s point here
is quite pragmatic: leaders have followers. You can recognize
apostles by the fact that they have a following.18 This
statement, of course, applies quite broadly to all leadership,
even beyond the church world. I think what Wagner is
reaching for is that current-day apostles are recognized
by others as having this gifting.
5. Apostles have vision. Wagner sees true apostles as
leaders who have the ability to cast vision for others.
He sees modern-day apostles receiving “special
revelations” from God, either through direct communication
from God or through prophets in the church.19 Pentecostals
and charismatics of today certainly should be open to
receiving prophetic insights, either directly or through
others in the church who may have a “word from
the Lord.” However, it is not at all clear from
the New Testament that this is to be limited to “apostles.” Perhaps
what Wagner is wishing to communicate is that true apostles
regularly exhibit such special insights from God.
6. Apostles have determined spheres.20 To this I heartily
ascribe. However, the calling of apostles (“sent
ones”) to differing fields and kinds of leadership
service fit nicely into the picture provided in the New
Testament of general apostles, or missionaries.21
The fundamental question I have for Wagner centers in
his apparent blurring of the boundaries between the carefully
limited authority of the Unique Apostles and all other
apostles, “sent ones” or frontier missionaries.
Because of this, it appears that Wagner has opened the
door to serious abuses of power and authority.
The Theology of David Cartledge
David Cartledge, esteemed colleague from Australia,
has called for an “Apostolic Revolution.” Crucial
to his methodology is his call for a “Pentecostal
hermeneutic.” Cartledge brushes aside not only
liberal methods of biblical interpretation, but castigates
modern Pentecostals for submitting to the “rationalism” inherent
in orthodox evangelical hermeneutics. He casts aspersion
on the idea of limiting our hearing from God to the words
of the Bible. Cartledge says, “A third and quite
confusing hermeneutical method is that employed by many
evangelicals. They insist that God only speaks to people
through the Bible. At face value, this appears to be
highly commendable. However, further examination reveals
that this is closer to rationalism than faith. It is
actually a defence (sic) mechanism that enables them
to deny anything supernatural.”22
Cartledge fails to distinguish the unique apostolic
authority of the Bible from all other admissible revelations,
such as prophetic utterances, that are available to the
church. By dismissing evangelical commitment to the authority
of the written Word of God, Cartledge opens the door
to a disturbing level of subjectivism. In addition, flowing
out of this understanding of “continuing revelation,” he
hands contemporary church leaders, to whom he assigns
the office of apostle, a kind of authority that rises
above human criticism. Cartledge places these modern-day
apostles within local churches.23 One is inclined to
suspect that any successful pastor of a large, thriving
church may be included within an identifiable circle
of fellow apostles, leaders whose judgments are to be
followed uncritically by their respective congregations.
After all, who is going to dispute with an apostle? One
wonders to whom these leaders are accountable. What checks
are there for the possibility of abuse of such great
power? For a thoughtful look at this issue, I suggest
James Cobble’s book, The Church and the Powers:
A Theology of Church Structure.24
Cartledge points out that, in deference to the democratically
oriented citizenry of his nation, the apostles in the
Australian Assemblies of God are not given the title
of apostle. Cartledge makes clear that the function,
not the title, of apostle is critical.25
A central thesis of Cartledge, based on the recent history
of the Assemblies of God in Australia, is that their
fresh look at the biblical model of church leadership
has released the churches to fresh vision, vitality and
growth. Their story is certainly dramatic and invites
examination for possible lessons that may be learned.
However, a preliminary opinion of the author is that
creating a situation in which individual church leaders
are supplied with virtually unlimited power opens the
door to serious abuse. Moreover, there remains the critical
issue of just how biblical is this new “restoration” model,
It appears that the question of whether New Testament-like
apostles should be restored to the modern church must
begin with the issue of religious authority. Clearly,
the Early Church operated under the Christ-given authority
of the Unique Apostles. A case can be made for a distinction
between the Unique Apostles and the ministry of others
in the New Testament era—those who were called “apostles” in
a more general sense—as emissaries of local churches.
Although such “sent ones” carried considerable
authority, it is quite clear that such authority did
not reach the level of the Unique Apostles. Consequently,
it is questionable if giving the title of “apostle” to
any present-day individuals is in order. The reason for
this caution is clear. To many, the title “apostle” bears
the connotation of authority on a level with the Scriptures.
It is helpful to learn that the Australian Assemblies
of God has not felt it necessary to title their significant
charismatic leaders “apostles.” They have
sought to make central the concept of apostolic functions,
rather than supplying titles that may occasion unexpected
In all this discussion, there clearly are lessons to
be learned. A case may be made that in the New Testament,
those sent out from the various churches on special pioneer
assignments were expected to go in the power of the Holy
Spirit. Charismatic ministry was considered crucial for
the development and expansion of the Early Church. There
is no indication that this urgency has changed. Certainly,
the church of the twenty-first century needs leaders,
called by God, to minister in apostolic power! The Pentecostal
and charismatic churches of our day need the anointing
of the Holy Spirit and need to recognize and make room
for those whom God has set apart for special apostolic
service. This has been true from the beginning of the
modern Pentecostal movement and continues to be true
in our time, as well. God continues to call people to
pioneer service in many fields. He is equipping humble
vessels with supernatural abilities and authority, with
no need for any special kind of title. It is the function,
not the name that is crucial. May we become more available
to the empowering Spirit for the task at hand!
1. Jon Ruthven, On the Cessation of the Charismata.
(Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997),
2. Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom.
(New York: Oxford University Press, 2002). This is a
major theme throughout the book.
3. General Council minutes, 1949, 26, 27.
4. David Cartledge, The Apostolic Revolution:
The Restoration of Apostles and Prophets in the Assemblies
of God in Australia. (Chester Hill, NSW, Australia:
Paraclete Institute, 2000). This book traces the evolution
of church structure in the Australian Assemblies of
God and provides a rationale for these developments.
5. French Arrington, Maintaining the Foundations:
A Study of 1 Timothy. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book
House, 1982), 74.
6. Stanley M. Horton, The Book of Acts.
(Springfield, Mo.: Gospel Publishing House, 1981), 155.
7. Robert P. Menzies and William W. Menzies, Spirit
and Power: Foundations of Pentecostal Experience.
(Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000), 201-208.
8. Melvin Hodges, The Indigenous Church.
(Springfield, Mo: Gospel Publishing House, 1953), 35-47.
9. George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New
Testament. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing
Co., rev. ed.,1993), 389.
10. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians,
NICNT. (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,
11. William W. Klein, Craig L. Blomberg, and Robert
L. Hubbard, Introduction to Biblical Interpretation.
(Dallas: Word Publishing, 1993), 64, 65.
12. J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, Vol.
III. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 1996),
13. C. Peter Wagner, Apostles and Prophets. (Ventura,
Calif.: Regal Books, 2000), 25.
14. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets, 26.
15. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets, 27.
16. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets 28.
17. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets, 28, 29.
18. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets, 32-33.
19. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets, 33-37.
20. Wagner, Apostles and Prophets, 38, 39.
21. J. Rodman Williams, Renewal Theology, 169.
22. Cartledge, Apostolic Revolution, 169.
23. Cartledge, Apostolic Revolution, 267.
24. James Cobble, The Church and the Powers. (Peabody,
Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1988), 91,92.
25. Cartledge, Apostolic Revolution, 397
Friday, June 16, 2006 10:22 AM