2, No. 1
Dean and Professor of Divinity, Regent University
School of Divinity
Nothing has stirred more interest in Pentecostal-charismatic
circles in recent years than the restoration of the “fivefold
ministries” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: “It
was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets,
some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,
to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that
the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity
in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become
mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of
Although most Pentecostals refer to these as “fivefold,” others
see them as “fourfold,” combining the ministries
of pastor and teacher into one. These “ascension gifts,” as
they are called in traditional churches, were given to the
Church after Jesus ascended to the Father to extend, guide
and mature the Church.
We can assume that, at the time Paul wrote, the New Testament
church had a clear understanding of what these offices required,
how they operated and who filled them. However, with the
passing of time, the role and operation of these ministries
in the everyday life of the church became less clear.
Thus, for centuries, the offices of pastor and teacher have
been familiar ministries in all churches. However, only since
the middle of the nineteenth century, with the success of
Charles Finney and other “professional” evangelists
of that day, has the office of evangelist gained a popular
understanding and acceptance.
The offices of apostle and prophet have been more elusive
for modern Christians. Many have accepted a belief developed
throughout the centuries that the age of the apostles and
prophets ended around 96 AD, about the time John, the last
apostle, died. Another belief, first stated by St. Augustine
(and later retracted), has been widely accepted along with
this. It holds that, with the completion of the canon of
Scripture, the Lord withdrew miraculous gifts of the Spirit
such as tongues, prophecy and healing.
Over time, as the bishops consolidated their power in the
church, the office of apostle was almost forgotten. By the
second century, apostles and prophets were seen as nothing
more than traveling medicine men with little or no influence
or authority. In the Didache (11:3) the following rules were
laid down for itinerant “apostles and prophets”: “Now,
as regards apostles and prophets, act strictly according
to the precept of the Gospel. Upon his arrival every apostle
must be welcomed as the Lord; but he must not stay except
one day. In case of necessity, however, he may stay the next
day also; but if he stays three days, he is a false prophet.
At his departure the apostle must receive nothing except
food to last till the next night’s lodging; but if
he asks for money, he is a false prophet.”
In spite of cessationist views and the low esteem showed
to those who claimed to be apostles, the idea of a continuing
apostleship continued to surface sporadically throughout
church history. For example, Mani of Persia (216-274), founder
of the Manichee sect in the third century, called himself
the “Apostle of Light”—the last apostle
of Jesus Christ, he said, who would ever appear. Like Mani,
whose dualistic religion the church rejected as heretical,
most people in church history who have claimed to be new
apostles have been branded as heretics and excommunicated
from the church. (Mohammed also claimed to be the last apostle
and prophet for all time.) Other so-called end-time apostles,
such as Joseph Smith, have appeared over the centuries and
have been rejected. Nevertheless, the question of whether
there are contemporary apostles has refused to die. In fact,
the modern debate is as lively as ever.
Since 1901, despite long-standing cessation theories, Pentecostals
and charismatics have loudly proclaimed that the charismata,
or gifts of the Spirit, are a present-day reality in the
church. Millions of modern-day Christians speak in tongues,
prophesy, cast out demons and pray for the sick with an expectation
of divine healing. These gifts of the Spirit are regarded
as part of the modern Christian experience in a large percentage
of the churches of Christendom.
The question many sincere Christians are now asking is this:
If the charismata have been restored, why have not
the prophets and apostles—those offices that the Lord
himself set in the church—been restored also? As with
the gifts of the Spirit, the dispensational limit on the
exercise of these offices seems to be more man-made than
Prophecy has been an integral feature of most Pentecostal
and charismatic movements through the years. Until recently,
however, there has been an extreme reluctance to recognize
the office of prophet, although some were ordained to the
prophetic office in the Latter Rain movement of the late
1940s and ‘50s. In the words of the Anglican charismatic
leader Colin Urquhart, “There have been many prophecies
but few prophets.” In the past two decades, however,
particularly among independent Pentecostals and charismatics,
men such as Bill Hamon, Rick Joyner, Mike Bickle and Paul
Cain have led a sweeping prophetic movement.
So, what about the office of apostle? When considering the
fivefold ministries, the average believer can understand
that pastors care for their flock, evangelists preach to
the unconverted, teachers instruct their students and prophets
prophesy the Word of God. But what do apostles do to show
they are apostles? If there are apostles today, who are they?
What the Bible Says
The biblical definition of the Greek word apostolos is “one
sent forth,” encompassing such ideas as messenger,
ambassador and missionary. Perhaps the clearest definition
would be “one sent on a special mission.” In
the New Testament, the “special mission” was
to preach the good news of the gospel. An apostle was sent
forth by the Lord Jesus Christ as an ambassador of the good
news, one carrying the all-important message of salvation.
In the New Testament, a variety of ministers bore the title
- The Unique Apostle—Jesus. Hebrews 3:1 speaks of
Jesus as “the apostle and high priest of our profession.” He,
indeed, was one sent on a special mission to save the
world. Of course, there will be no other apostle like
the Son of God. He is unique and stands alone!
- The twelve apostles. The Bible seems to place “the
Twelve” in a unique category as well. This special
group of messengers is without parallel in church history;
their unique ministry will never be repeated. Some call
these the “apostles of Christ” or the “apostles
of the Lamb” because they saw Jesus with their
own eyes and were witnesses of His resurrection (Acts
1:21,22). To these twelve men, Jesus promised a special
place in the Kingdom: “You who have followed me
will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes
of Israel” (Matt.
- Eight other apostles. Some of these are called the “apostles
of the Churches” (2 Cor. 8:23). After Judas betrayed
Jesus and hanged himself, Matthias was chosen to take
his place. Later, Paul, who saw the Lord “as one
born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8), was also called
an apostle. These two men were not the end of the list.
Paul called James, the brother of Jesus, an “apostle” (Gal.
1:19). Others were Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1
Cor. 4:6-9), Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Epaphroditus
(Phil. 2:25). Some early church fathers even called Mary
Magdalene “the first apostle” because she
was the first to see the risen Lord. Ann Graham Block
and other scholars claim that Junia was almost certainly
a woman because of the feminine form of the name.
Thus, the identification of at least eight other leaders
who were “apostles” clearly puts in question
the argument that the apostolic office was limited
to the original Twelve (although their unique place
in the biblical record is undisputed). Implicitly
or explicitly, the Bible gives no fewer than twenty
people the apostolic title.
- The “false” apostles. In addition to the
twenty people with recognized apostolic ministries, the
Scriptures define a category of “false apostles,” whose
positions were not appointed by God but usurped by carnal
men for their own glory. Paul called these men “deceitful
workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor.
11:13-15). He likened them to Satan, who “transformed
himself into an angel of light” in order to
deceive the elect.
To distinguish between the genuine apostles and the false,
the Bible suggests the following criteria:
- True apostles saw Jesus in the flesh and witnessed the
Resurrection (see 1 Cor. 9:1).
- True apostles are accompanied
by “signs, wonders and
miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12).
- True apostles equip the saints
for the work of the ministry, bring unity to the body,
speak the truth in love and join and knit the whole body
together (see Eph. 4:7-16). They are the authoritative
teachers of the truths in the Gospels.
- True apostles are
ecumenical, with a universal interest in and authority
in the whole body of Christ (see Gal. 2:8).
- True apostles are chosen by God, not necessarily elected
(see Eph. 1:1).
Several Church Traditions
Throughout Christian history, there have been differing
views concerning the apostolic office. The Roman Catholic
view, developed in subapostolic times, is that Christ commissioned
the original Twelve as a unique, unrepeatable body led by
Peter and Paul. The “Petrine theory” holds that
Simon Peter was given a place of primacy among the Twelve;
his successors have been the popes. All other bishops are “successors
to the apostles” and exercise a magisterial, pastoral
and teaching authority that has been handed down from generation
Thus, in Catholic theology, all ecclesiastical power is
derived from prior generations through apostolic succession.
There are no “apostles” as such in succeeding
generations, though all authority in the Church stems from
apostolic succession. With the exception of the claim to
papal authority, this also represents the general belief
of the Orthodox churches.
Nevertheless, this view has not kept the Catholic Church
from recognizing apostolic-like ministries over the centuries.
For instance, missionaries who were the first to bring the
gospel to a new people group have been called “apostles” to
that group. Thus, St. Augustine of Canterbury is called the “apostle
to England,” and St. Patrick is called the “apostle
to Ireland.” This tradition is as old as Paul, who
called himself “an apostle to the Gentiles.” Over
the centuries, there have been thousands of these “apostles
to (whatever locale).” Even today, some conduct apostolic
ministry among remote tribes and peoples.
The Protestant Reformers rejected the Catholic view of apostolic
succession and busied themselves with the new movement they
founded. Most believed that the office of apostle had ended
with the Early Church, with no “successors” as
in the Catholic tradition. Some Reformers, such as John Calvin,
thought that apostles might reappear under certain circumstances.
In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin
wrote the Lord “now and again revives them [apostles,
prophets and evangelists] as the need of the times demands.” These
offices, however, have no place in “duly constituted
churches,” he added. In a similar vein, Luther believed “the
apostolic message rather than the office” would remain
in the church.
A little-known instance of Protestants sending out “apostles” as
missionaries occurred among the Baptists in Colonial America.
For a time, Baptists in New England ordained “apostles” as
missionaries to such southern colonies as Virginia, Carolina
and Georgia. After some time, however, the term “apostle” was
dropped for the more traditional term “missionary.”
In general, Protestants have been prone to refer to founders
of movements and doctrinal systems as “apostles of” certain
movements or theological views. Thus, Luther is often called
the “apostle of the Reformation,” or the “apostle
of justification by faith.” Similarly, Calvin has been
called the “apostle of reformed Christianity,” while
Wesley is known as the “apostle of Methodism.” Every
denomination seems to have an “apostle” who served
as the founder of the ecclesial body, usually based on a
new and unique teaching from Scripture.
In the nineteenth century, a restorationist movement began
in Britain with the avowed purpose of restoring all aspects
of New Testament Christianity to the modern church. Lewis
Way, John Nelson Darby, Edward Irving and others pioneered
a restoration of the charismata (such as glossolalia and
prophecy). The movement culminated in the creation of the
Catholic Apostolic Church in 1832. In addition to the manifestation
of the gifts of the Spirit, the church attempted to restore
the fivefold ministries, including the office of apostle.
In due time, the church ordained twelve “apostles” who
were to be the end-times equivalent of the Twelve chosen
by Christ. According to their prophecies, this group would
be the last apostles to exist before the rapture of the church.
Eventually, however, these apostles died. When the last one
died in 1901, the British church collapsed and practically
disappeared. Only in Germany were new apostles ordained to
succeed those who had passed away. This church took the name “New
Apostolic Church” and is today the third largest body
of Christians in Germany (after the Catholic and Lutheran
Another sad case of a modern “apostle” who went
over the hill was Alexander Dowie, who claimed the titles
of “apostle” and “Elijah the restorer” just
before sinking into dementia.
The earliest name chosen by the Pentecostal movement in
America was “Apostolic Faith,” a designation
given by Charles Parham to his church in Topeka, Kansas.
It was here, in 1901, that modern Pentecostalism, with its
emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by
speaking in other tongues, began. Parham’s student,
William J. Seymour, chose the same name for his Azusa Street
Mission in Los Angeles in 1906.
In this context, “Apostolic Faith” did not signal
a move to restore the office of apostle to the church. Parham,
in fact, was extremely critical of any kind of church government,
especially a highly centralized system with apostolic authority.
Yet, there are those who refer to him as the “apostle
In the years that followed the glory days at Azusa Street,
Pentecostal missionaries traveled around the world preaching
the “latter rain” message of a mighty “Holy
Ghost outpouring” that would occur before the second
coming of Christ. A new generation of Pentecostal “apostles” appeared.
They included G.B. Cashwell, the “apostle to the south”;
T.B. Barratt, the “apostle to Europe”; W.C. Hoover,
the “apostle to Chile”; Ivan Voronaev, the “apostle
to the Slavs” and Luigi Francescon, the “apostle
Other early Pentecostal groups claimed to restore the office
of apostle to the church. These included “apostolic
churches” in Wales, New Zealand, Australia, Canada
and the United States, in which “apostles” were
duly elected and ordained along with any other office in
the church. Some of these continue to this day, with colleges
of apostles (usually twelve) that govern their denominations.
The “New Order of the Latter Rain” movement of
the late 1940s also popularized the restoration of the “fivefold
ministries” in preparation for the revelation of the “manifested
sons company.” These perfected ones, it was claimed,
would rule and reign at the end of the Church Age. Prominent
among this elite group would be prophets and apostles. Overall,
however, Pentecostals have been far more interested in restoring
the charismata than in restoring any type of ecclesiastical
offices to the church. In the words of David du Plessis, “Pentecostals
are more interested in apostolic success rather than in apostolic
Independent Charismatic Views
Many independent charismatics have developed a thirst for
the restoration of apostolic authority in the body of Christ.
They have produced mountains of tapes and books that assert
the fivefold ministries must be restored in power to the
modern church. Indeed, many contemporary leaders freely claim
to be “apostles.” Some even have the title printed
on their stationery and business cards.
In general, charismatics have defined apostolic ministry
as applying to any one who has a trans-local ministry, usually
leaving the pastorate to itinerate in a teaching or church-planting
The New Apostolic Reformation. In the last decade,
Peter Wagner has led the “new apostolic reformation
movement,” which he claims is now sweeping the world
as the new way leaders are “doing church.” This
movement came out of the “National Symposium on the
Post-Denominational Church,” a conference Wagner led
at Fuller Theological Seminary in 1996. After years of studying
church growth in the “postmodern age,” Wagner
concluded that the day of the historic denomination was rapidly
coming to a close while a new generation of “post-denominational
churches was dawning. Before the conference could convene,
however, many critics of the idea, including Jack Hayford,
forced Wagner to choose a new name. He finally settled on
the term “New Apostolic Churches” to describe
what he called a “New Testament model of leadership,” or “new
wineskins for a new Church Age.”
These new churches, which many think are really “pre-denominational
movements,” would have the following “new” features:
- A new name (“New Apostolic Reformation”)
authority structures (the leaders are called “apostles”)
- New leadership training (no seminaries but volunteers, homegrown
staff, local Bible colleges)
- New ministry focus (“vision driven” [toward
the future] rather than “heritage driven” [toward
- New worship styles (keyboards, ministry teams, lifted hands,
loud praise, overhead projectors)
- New prayer forms (concert prayer, singing in the Spirit)
- New financing (“finances are abundant, giving is expected,
- New outreach (church planting, compassion for the poor)
- New power orientation (openness to the Holy Spirit and gifts
of the Spirit: healing, demonic deliverance and prophecy)
In his book, The New Apostolic Churches, Wagner listed
eighteen pastors (or “apostles”) who represented
the new movement. Of these, only Bill Hybels, Michael Fletcher
and David Kim do not appear to have Pentecostal or charismatic
backgrounds. Most, such as Billy Joe Daugherty, Roberts Liardon
and William Kumuyi, are openly Pentecostal or charismatic.
Others have been part of the Pentecostal/charismatic renewal
for years. Clearly most of the “New Apostolic Churches” have
their roots in classical Pentecostalism. Their distinctive
features were pioneered by Pentecostals who were successful
pastors long before the apostolic movement began.
In 1999, Wagner attempted to organize the movement into
an umbrella grouping under the name “International
Coalition of Apostles,” with Wagner listed as the “Presiding
Apostle.” New “apostles” could join and
pay $69 a month as membership dues. Wagner listed the many
types of “apostles” who could be members. They
“Vertical apostles,” which included “ecclesiastical,
functional, apostolic team members and congregational apostles”
“Horizontal apostles,” which included: “convening,
ambassadorial, mobilizing and territorial apostles”
“Marketplace apostles,” (undefined)
“Calling apostles,” which are those who call
Christians together in unity
By 2004, in his book, Aftershock! How the Second Apostolic
Age is Changing the Church, Wagner made grandiose claims
about this new movement, claiming that the charismatic
movement was “a vision unfulfilled” and that
the new “apostolic renewal” movement had taken
its place as the wave of the future.
Since almost all of them operate in the gifts of the Spirit,
it seems that most of these networks were planted and inspired
by the Pentecostal-charismatic movement in the first place.
David Barrett previously listed most of them as “denominational
Pentecostals” until his New World Christian Encyclopedia (2000)
began to designate them as “neo-charismatic.” Rather
than being part of a “New Apostolic Reformation,” most
of them are actually part of the “Pentecostal/charismatic
reformation.” It seems that Wagner has tried to impose
a new title for movements that were already dynamic churches
originally inspired by the Pentecostals and to create an
artificial apostolic structure with himself as “presiding
apostle.” Although they claim to be only “apostolic
networks,” they are rapidly organizing and developing
structures under their claim of apostolic authority. They
are in reality new denominations.
Because of my studies of church history, I view this movement
with the following reservations:
- It fails to appreciate and recognize the missionary accomplishments
of the Pentecostal “denominations” such as
the Assemblies of God. It also fails to distinguish between
the dynamic and growing Pentecostal denominations and the
mainline Protestant denominations, many of which are slowly
- Many of these post-denominational networks are simply
incipient denominations themselves.
- Having an unaccountable “apostle” intervening
between a church’s constituted authorities and a
minister can cause conflicts of authority that could lead
to confusion similar to the shepherding-discipleship controversy
of the 1980s.
- This could become an elitist movement that places all
power in the hands of self-appointed “apostles” at
the expense of accountability to the church as a whole.
- The ultimate end could be the removal of all lay influence
in the governance of the churches and the end of all democratic
or congregational government in favor of a hierarchical
system that rules from the top.
- The appointing of “territorial apostles” who
are unknown to most of the Christian community in a particular
area can be dangerous and divisive.
- In church history, most apostolic movements, such as
the Irvingite movement of the 1830s and the various twentieth-century
Pentecostal groups that ordained “apostles,” have
been notable for their lack of growth and missionary success.
- When individuals have claimed the title of “apostle” or “Elijah” it
sometimes has resulted from an exaggerated ego or, in several
cases, actual dementia.
- There have been recent reports of American or British
apostolic groups offering indigenous third-world Pentecostal
and charismatic churches large sums of money to come under
their “apostolic covering.”
In spite of these concerns, the apostolic movement might
inspire some persons to exercise the function of apostle
in bringing the gospel to unreached peoples. Although I respect
Peter Wagner for his tremendous contributions to the growth
of evangelicalism, and even to the Pentecostal movement,
I am disappointed that he has attempted to place himself
at the head (“presiding apostle”) of an organization
designed for all those who claim to have apostolic ministries.
As interest in the apostolic emphasis has spread, more books
and articles analyzing the movement have appeared in major
Christian journals. Ministries Today magazine devoted
an entire issue to the topic in November 2004. Although generally
favorable, these articles raised some serious concerns about
the movement. Dr. Doug Beacham, an official of the Pentecostal
Holiness Church, addressed Wagner’s apparent disdain
for denominations in an article named “The Leadershift.” Although
he sees a bright future for some denominations, he contends, “Twentieth-century
charismatic/Pentecostal wineskins must be adapted to hold
twenty-first century wine.”
In the same issue, David Moore, an adjunct professor at
Regent University, states positively, “We need present-day
apostles, and the New Apostolic Reformation is a genuine
expression of God’s renewing work in His church.” He
warns the new apostolic movement, however, of the excesses
of the discipleship-shepherding movement that divided the
charismatic movement in the 1970s. As a former devotee of
the shepherding movement, Moore experienced many of the problems
that caused massive confusion at that time. He sees “great
danger in ‘triumphalism’—viewing one’s
movement as the ‘cutting edge’ of what God is
doing today. This mind-set,” he explains, “especially
if coupled with success, tends to devalue those who don’t
see it their way, or worse, write off critics as old-fashioned
defenders of ‘tradition’ unwilling to embrace
God’s new move.”
This brings us back to the original question: Are there
genuine apostles in the earth today? The answer would seem
to be yes—and no. No, there are no living persons like
the original Twelve who witnessed the resurrection of Jesus
Christ. These “apostles of Christ” were and will
remain unique in salvation history. And, yes, there are apostles
abroad today who are carrying out the same mission as the
apostles in the New Testament. Who are they? The nearest
parallel to the New Testament and historic use of the term “apostle” are
those missionaries—often unnamed—who are bringing
the message of the gospel to unreached peoples and tribes.
They are busy translating the Scriptures and planting churches
where none existed. They have little time to consider their
It is axiomatic to say that anyone who claims to be an apostle
probably is not one. An apostle is not self-appointed or
elected by any ecclesiastical body but is chosen by the Lord
himself. As Lewi Pethrus, founder of the famous Filadelphia
Church in Stockholm, Sweden, has said anyone who claims apostleship
is suspect. The one most likely to be an apostle is he who,
like John the Baptist, claims only to be “a voice crying
in the wilderness.”
Who are the apostles today? Perhaps we are asking the wrong
question. Where do we find apostolic ministry and apostolic
results? The modern church needs these far more than it needs
names to carry as a title or warm bodies to fill an office.
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Friday, June 16, 2006 10:22 AM