Growing Together: Apostolic Churches & The Great Commission

Growing Together: Apostolic Churches & The Great Commission

The apostle Paul described his relationship with the Philippian church and its elders as a “partnership” (Phil 1:5,7), and it’s clear from the New Testament that this kind of partnership was integral to the “advancement of the gospel” (Phil 1:12), enabling the mission to flourish and the churches to grow daily in number, so that the world of that day was “turned upside down” (Ac 17:6)! Jesus had risen, ascended, poured-out His Spirit and sent-forth His church, and this Spirit-filled church – inspired and thrust forward by her apostles, guided and cared-for by her elders – began to impact and transform every society into which she was planted!…

Now, in a world in greater need than ever, and with a gospel as powerful as ever, it’s the great destiny of the church to once again turn the world upside down and make way for the return of Christ.  Led by her apostles and elders, and with every other precious part fully functioning, the church is the hope of the world!  And in a time of such abundant harvest, we must be so missional and so well-built that multitudes can be rapidly added, discipled and sent-out.   This paper seeks to lift our vision of the church, the apostles and the elders, and considers how their powerful partnership can best be outworked today…

Apostles & Prophets

Apostles & Prophets

After His ascension, Jesus began giving precious gifts to his church, as expressions of his grace – apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:7-11).  As we have written elsewhere, these ‘fivefold’ gifts equip the church for its ministry and are essential if the church is to be built-up and to reach unity, maturity and fulness (Ephesians 4:12-13).

But there is a unique and particular pairing between apostles and prophets: they are foundations upon which the church is built (Ephesians 2:20), being distinguished from the other gifts by their particular revelation (Ephesians 3:5), hence we refer to them as ‘revelatory gifts’.  The Chief Apostle and Prophet continues to manifest himself by giving apostles and prophets to his Body.  

This downloadable paper considers the role and function of these important foundational ministries and the context in which they might function most fruitfully. It includes a range of questions that eldership and leadership teams may find helpful in evaluating their own relationships with apostles and prophets.

Ministry Recognition: What should we be looking for?

Ministry Recognition: What should we be looking for?

Ephesians chapter 4 makes clear to us that the ‘fivefold’ ministries of Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors and Teachers are Gifts given by the ascended Lord Jesus Christ to His church, and that all of them are essential if the church is to be built-up and to come to unity and maturity; they are vital parts of the church “until” that time (Ephesians 4:11-13).  Jesus is still giving His Gifts to His church.  They are divinely-given,not humanly-appointed.  

If this is so, then it’s essential that the church knows how to recognise the Gifts Jesus is giving to us; we must know how to test and approve authentic ministry (Revelation 2:2).  This will mean listening carefully to the Spirit and the Word, which will never be in conflict – the Holy Spirit won’t ask us to recognise a person who does not fulfil the biblical criteria… 

So, what criteria do we find in the Word to help us test and approve these ministries?  Although more of the New Testament evidence concerns apostles (there is much less information about the other ministries) and most of that concerns Paul (the pre-eminent post-ascension apostle), the Spirit has – of course – given us all we need to make the necessary judgments about each of the gifts, in their various expressions.  The following brief points are by no means exhaustive (other posts explore some of these things in much more detail), but I hope they provide a helpful starting-point… 

The Gifts of Christ

  • These ministries are people: those gifted by Christ, and given to the church – men and women themselves, not just what they do (note that in 1Co 12:28-30 Paul asks “are all” apostles, prophets or teachers? But in relation to the other gifts listed: “do all” work miracles, have gifts of healing, speak in tongues or interpret?)  They are all expressions of God’s grace to His Church (Eph 4:7).
  • They’re given by the Chief Apostle (Heb 3:1), Prophet (Mt 13:57, 21:11, Lk 13:33), Evangelist (Lk 4:18-19, 19:10), Shepherd (Jn 10:11, Heb 13:20, 1Pe 5:4) and Teacher (Mt 23:10) and each is an aspect (portion) of Christ’s own nature and ministry.  Each is needed (in its many expressions) for the church to have as full a measure of Christ as possible (Eph 4:7).
  • All five are essential for the church to come to maturity and fullness (Eph 4:12f); their shared focus and task is “to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (4:12). They exercise their ministry in such a way that the whole church is empowered to exercise theirs.  An absence of any of them will mean a lack in the church.
  • This equipping will continue “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 Christ” (4:13) – when He returns. 
  • There are different types and measures of each Gift; all apostles are not all the same; neither prophets, evangelists, pastors or teachers.  Their differences are ordained by God (cf. 1Co 12:18).  Therefore we may not see all of the following characteristics in each of the ministries. We expect to see different “measures” of faith (Ro 12:3) and grace-gift (Ro 12:6, Eph 4:7, 1Co 15:10). .
  • Gifting may overlap within the same person: Paul and Barnabas were numbered amongst the prophets and teachers (Ac 13:1) before being recognised as apostles (Ac 14:4,14, cf 1Ti 2:7, 2Ti 1:11); Philip was one of the Seven (Ac 6:5) and an evangelist (Ac 21:8), etc.

Apostles

  • Apóstolos – one ‘sent-out’ with a commission and authorisation to represent the Sender.
  • Set apart by the Spirit for ‘the work’, which is wider than the local church (Ac 13:1-2, 14:26).
  • Commissioned, authorised and sent-out by Christ Himself (1Co 1:1, Gal 1:1,15).
  • A deep sense of servanthood (Ro 1:1, 1Co 3:5) and entrustment (1Co 4:1-2, Gal 2:7-8).
  • Devoting time to being with Jesus in prayer and Word (Mk 3:13, Ac 6:1-7).
  • Their commissions will vary – eg: “planting”, “watering” or “building” (1Co 3:5ff); or to a particular people (Gal 2:7-8) – and they may outwork their apostleship through another ‘underlying’ gift (pastor, teacher, etc) (Ac 13:1-2).
  • Grace and authority for founding and building-up churches (Ro 1:5, 1Co 3:10, 2Co 10:8, 13:10, Gal 1:15), which are the “seal” of their ministry (1Co 9:1-2).
  • Functionally “first” (1Co 12:28), the apostle is a ‘foundational’ ministry (Eph 2:20); laying a foundation of Christ-centred doctrine (1Co 3:10, Ac 2:46), based on his revelation (Eph 3:5).
  • Spiritual ‘architects’ (seeing the big picture) and master-builders (1Co 3:10).
  • Functioning as fathers toward churches and their leaders (1Co 4:15, 1Th 2:11).
  • Developing a sphere of ministry and churches under his care (2Co 10:13-17, 11:28).
  • Appoints elders to extend his fatherly care and government in each locality (Ac 14:23, Tit 1:5).
  • Concerned for the practical needs of the poor and needy (Gal 2:10).
  • Working in partnership with churches (Phil 1:5) and fellow-apostles (1Co 3:5ff); he may be a ‘hub’ for a team of ministries working together (Ac 13:13, Ro 16:3, Gal 1:2, 1Th 3:2, etc).
  • Enduring and persevering through hardships and trials (2Co 4:7ff, 6:4ff, 12:12).
  • Motivated by his vision of the Bride; Christ’s fulness in His church (Eph 4:13, Col 1:28f, 2Co 11:2).
  • Equipping the Body to be apostolic (‘sent-out’) (Eph 4:12).

Prophets

  • Prophḗtēs –‘one who proclaims’ or ‘one who predicts’; a ‘proclaimer of a divinely inspired message’.
  • Brings a revelation of what God wants to do or accomplish (Amos 3:7, Nu 12:6, 1Co 14:29-30).
  • Functionally “second” (1Co 12:28), the prophet works alongside the apostle in laying foundations in the churches and carrying foundational revelation (Eph 2:20, 3:5; 2Pe 3:2).
  • Bringing clarity and order; making things plain (1Co 14:25); never brings confusion or disorder (1Co 14:32-33).
  • Their spirits are pure and they will always exalt Christ (1Jn 4:1-2).
  • Strengthening, encouraging and comforting the churches (1Co 14:3, Ac 15:32).
  • Function in plurality, with others prophets in the local church (Ac 13:1, 1Co 14:29).
  • Equipping the Body to be prophetic (Eph 4:12).

Evangelists

  • Euaggelistés – ‘bearer of good tidings’.
  • Proclaims Christ and Kingdom; his message is never man-centred (Ac 8:5, 12).
  • Filled with the Spirit (Ac 6:3 cf. Ac 21:8) and led by the Spirit (Ac 8:26, 29, 39).
  • Seeking signs and wonders to authenticate his message (Ac 8:6, 13).
  • Willing to serve in order to release other ministries (Ac 6:4).
  • Works as part of a team; draws upon the apostle and others to ensure all the foundations are properly laid (Ac 8:12ff).
  • Asks probing questions and takes time to sit alongside unbelievers and explain the gospel to them (Ac 8:30ff).
  • Handles the Scriptures well and shares the gospel with ease (Ac 8:35).
  • Imparts faith to believe and call on the Lord (Ro 10:14-15).
  • Equipping the Body to be evangelistic (Eph 4:12).

Pastors

  • Poimén – shepherd
  • Expressing God’s heart of care and compassion for His people, so that none are like “sheep without shepherds” (Mt 9:36, Mk 6:34).
  • An integral aspect of Eldership (Ac 20:28, 1Pe 5:1-2).
  • Gatekeepers in the church, watching over the flock (Jn 10:2, 1Pe 5:2).
  • Works towards a flock established by the Spirit (Ac 20:28).
  • Having a voice that is heard and recognised by the flock (Jn 10:14).
  • Laying down his life for the sheep (Jn 10:11).
  • Equipping the Body to be pastoral (Eph 4:12).

Teachers

  • Didáskalos – ‘an instructor acknowledged for their mastery in their field; one who teaches concerning the things of God, and the duties of man’.
  • Functionally “third”  (1Co 12:28), the teacher unfolds the apostolic doctrine, with authority (Tit 2:1, 15) and a deep sense of awe and responsibility (Jas 3:1).
  • Reliable, suitably-qualified and entrusted with the apostolic revelation and doctrines (2Ti 2:2).
  • Devoted to sound teaching and refuting error (1Ti 4:13, Tit 2:1).
  • Teaching God’s Word, not secondary sources (2Ti 3:16).
  • Teaching by the Spirit (1Jn 2:27, 5:6).
  • They will never teach for personal gain (cf. 2Pe 2:3).
  • Equipping the Body to handle the Word and teach one another (Eph 4:12).

How blessed we are that Jesus is still giving these Gifts to His church! May we be diligent in our evaluation of ministries and in giving proper recognition as they function and bear fruit amongst us…

Authentic Apostolic Ministry

Authentic Apostolic Ministry

One of the most distinct and significant Pentecostal-Charismatic developments of the last forty years has been the emergence of various groups insisting upon the validity of present-day apostolic ministry. Such claims are not without historic precedence, but the present movement has gained considerable momentum and an increasingly widespread acceptance. With it comes the danger of dilution; a watering-down of vital biblical truths, principles and patterns.

This article links to a thesis (written for my Masters Degree in 2012) concerned with the authenticity of apostolic ministry, in which the investigation is carried out from three perspectives.

1. Firstly, there is a thorough examination of the biblical evidence concerning the nature, functions and hallmarks of apostolic ministry as found in the Gospels, Acts and Epistles. Lukan and Pauline concepts of apostleship are compared, Paul’s self-understanding is probed, and a clear picture of authentic apostolic character, tasks and fruit emerges.

2. Secondly, there is a consideration of several ecclesiological matters, including the extent to which notions of ministry in general, and apostleship in particular, are shaped by views of the nature and mission of the church. This is followed by an overview of the historic development of modern concepts of apostolic ecclesiology.

3. The third perspective is a practical one, and here we consider how those convinced of a continuing apostolic ministry are outworking their beliefs. The focus is on some of those associated with the Restoration Movement, together with others representing the wider so-called ‘New Apostolic Reformation’. This part of the thesis considers the grounds and process of apostolic recognition, the exercise of apostolic authority, the development of apostolic spheres or ‘networks’, the apostolic approach to the major tasks of the church, and the response of the new models to the pressing issues of apostolic ‘succession’.

The overall concern of the thesis is to investigate the nature of biblically authentic apostleship: What is an apostle? What does he do? Are the biblical patterns relevant for today? Are contemporary expressions authentic If apostolic ministry is essential in enabling the Church to come to unity and maturity before the return of Christ (Ephesians 4:11-13), then it’s vital that we arrive at a truly biblical view of these things…

The THESIS is available to download using the link below. SUMMARY sections can be found at pages 48-50, 75-76 and 107-108, with overall CONCLUSIONS at pages 110-112.

Be Strong!

Be Strong!

One of the shortest, simplest and most striking biblical encouragements is to “BE STRONG!” Recall how Joshua is repeatedly urged to “be strong and courageous” as he leads God’s people into the promised land (Joshua 1:6-9); and how Solomon was to “be strong and courageous” as he succeeded his father David (1 Kings 2:2) and built the Temple (1 Chronicles 28:10). Or think of Paul’s encouragement to Timothy (2 Timothy 2:1), or John’s reminder to the young men (1 John 2:14)… And think how much time the apostles spent “strengthening the churches”. It seems the Lord really wants us to be strong, and He urges, encourages, and at times commands us to be so! Why? Because it’s all too easy to become fearful and discouraged! And because when we’re strong we can strengthen others. And right now, that’s what so many people need…

When we dig a bit deeper into these simple words – “BE STRONG” – we find a wonderfully rich sense of what it means to be strong and strengthened.  Let’s take a brief look at five words used in the New Testament and see how God wants us to be strong:

First, there’s a strength that EMPOWERS us.  The word is endunamoó meaning ‘to fill with power, make strong, enable, impart ability.’  It’s the word used by Paul when he says he’s “able to do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13) and when he tells Timothy that “Christ Jesus…has strengthened me” (1 Timothy 1:12) and “stood with me and strengthened me” (2 Timothy 4:17).  This is strength God imparts when we stand close to Him.  And it far eclipses our own strength!  Paul uses this word when he urges the Ephesians in their battle against spiritual powers to “be strengthened by the Lord and by His vast strength” (Ephesians 6:10, also Colossians 1:11).  God wants to impart strength to us, so let’s draw close to Him!…

Second, there’s a strength that PREVAILS and enables us to come out on top – whatever’s pressing us down.  The word is krataioó meaning ‘to grow or become strong; to prevail by God’s dominating strength; to attain mastery, the upper-hand’.  This is the word used to describe how John and Jesus “grew strong” as young men (Luke 1:80, 2:40).  It’s the word Paul uses when he prays for the church to “be strengthened with power in the inner man through His Spirit” (Ephesians 3:16).  God wants us to know an ‘inner strength’ that enables us to prevail and gain the upper-hand whatever we face.  This kind of strength develops over time as we prevail in the many little (and often private) challenges that come our way…

Then, thirdly, there’s a type of strength that OVERCOMES because we know God’s promises.  This word is ischuros meaning ‘mighty, valiant, powerful, sure; strong in body or in mind’.  It’s the word used in Hebrews 11:34 to describe those Old Testament heroes who – by holding on to God’s promises – “gained strength after being weak, became mighty in battle, and put foreign armies to flight.”  The same word is used by the apostle John when he urges the young men: “you are strong, God’s word remains in you, and you have had victory over the evil one” (1 John 2:14).  Great strength comes from letting God’s Word “dwell in us richly” (Colossians 3:16).  Like all of us, I’ve found that if there’s no Word inside me then there’s no edge to my sword.  It’s up to me: if I want to be strong I must get God’s Word inside me!…

Then there’s a strength that SOLIDIFIES – making us more solid, robust and secure.  The word is stereoó, meaning ‘to make firm, solid, strong; to confirm, settle’ and it’s the word from which we get ‘stereo’ (combining to enhance output).  It’s the word we find in Acts where Peter stands alongside the lame man and lifts him up so that “at once his feet and ankles became strong” (Acts 3:7).  Also in Acts we read that “the churches were strengthened in the faith and increased in number daily.” (Acts 16:5).  What does this tell us?  That when we’re alongside others – individually or as churches – there’s a powerful, solidifying impact that brings growth!  If we want to be strong we must get joined-up with others who are strong!…

Lastly, there’s a strength that PREPARES us to carry more This word is epistérizó and it means ‘to make stronger, prop-up, uphold, support; to establish’.  It’s a compound of stérizó (‘fix firmly, buttress, strengthen’) and epi (‘apt or fitting’) and has the sense of strengthening what’s already there to most suitably support what will follow…   It’s the word used many times in Acts when the apostles and prophets devoted themselves to “strengthening the churches” or “strengthening the disciples” (eg Acts 14:21-22, 15:32, 15:40-41,18:22-23). And from its uses elsewhere we see that this type of strength comes from giving and receiving spiritual gifts (Romans 1:11-12) and encouragement (1 Thessalonians  3:2). God wants us to be strengthened – firmly buttressed – because He has so much more planned for us!

It seems that BEING STRONG – for ourselves and others – is a vital, timely activity in these times; something we should prioritise.  We can invest now, to get strong, stay strong, and get stronger – so that we’re  ready for all that will yet be. How do we do it?  By drawing close to God, prevailing in our private battles, getting His Word inside us, joining-up with others, and by embracing anything that will give added strength and help us take more weight in the future. Like Joshua, Solomon, Timothy and countless others, you and I are urged to BE STRONG! 

Total Salvation

Total Salvation

Matthew 16 describes a pivotal conversation between Jesus and His disciples, during which Simon-Peter confesses the truth that Jesus is the Messiah and Jesus responds by declaring that Peter is ‘a rock’ and that on ‘the bedrock’ of this revelation and truth He will build His church! (Matthew 16:13-18, catch up here). 

A year or so later, after His crucifixion, resurrection and ascension, Jesus poured out His Spirit on the Day of Pentecost, just as He’d promised (see Acts 1:1-8) and a huge crowd gathered to hear and see what was happening amongst the believers (Acts 2:1-6).  Now Peter begins to fulfil the prophetic declaration Jesus has made about him; sure and steady as a rock, he explains the outpouring and draws his sermon to a climax by once again declaring this same great revelatory truth – that “this Jesus is both Lord and Messiah” (Acts 2:36).  The crowd are “cut to the heart” – confronted by the truth and convicted by their sin – and ask “what must we do?” (Acts 2:37).  Without hesitation, Peter sets forth three ‘first steps’ they must take: “repent, be baptised and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).  These three things are as vital and relevant now as they were then!  So, how are they to be understood?  There’s so much to explore here, but to get us started:

First, repentance is a ‘change of mind’ (metanoeó) leading to a change of direction.  It involves a recognition of our sin, a genuine remorse and a redirection of our lives, in which we turn away from sin and turn towards God, by putting our faith in Christ alone and producing “the fruit of repentance” (Matthew 3:8).  Repentance is from “dead works” (Hebrews 6:1) and is therefore always life-giving; it acknowledges that Jesus is King and Lord over our lives, and is the way we are born again and enter His Kingdom (John 3:3-5).

Then, baptism is a means of grace with real power to enable new believers to make a clean-break from their past (Acts 22:16), burying the old life and beginning to live in resurrection power (Romans 6:1-14).  It’s always by full immersion (since the word baptizo means ‘plunge’, ‘immerse’ or ‘submerge’) and the New Testament never suggests any other type or practice.  The book of Acts also makes clear that repentance and faith are preconditions of baptism (it’s a ‘believers baptism’), but otherwise there is no biblical warrant for delaying it.  Rather, it is the expected, commanded and immediate next step of all who’ve repented; in other words, repentance and baptism always go together (see, for example, Acts 8:36-39: 10:47-48, 16:33, 22:16). 

Receiving the Spirit is the “baptism in the Holy Spirit” that John anticipated (Matthew 3:11, Mark 1:8, Luke 3:16, John 1:33) and Jesus affirmed (Luke 24:49, Acts 1:4-8), for the context of Acts 2 makes it impossible Peter could have been referring to anything else!  The biblical evidence is that this “baptism” or “empowering” (these and other phrases are used synonymously) is a distinct experience (not the ‘equivalent’ of repentance or water baptism).  By His own baptism in water and the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22) Jesus set the example for us to follow.  It is God’s wonderful promise and provision for all believers (Acts 2:17-18, 39), enabling us to live the Christian life the way He always intended.

It’s notable that as part of their ‘foundation-laying’ role (1 Corinthians 3:10, Ephesians 2:20), the New Testament apostles consistently ensured all three of these essential events had occurred in the lives of believers.  Thus: Peter and John laid hands on believers in Samaria who’d only been baptised in water, so they’d also receive the Spirit (Acts 8:14ff); Peter commanded Cornelius’s household to be baptised in water as soon as they’d received the baptism in the Spirit (Acts 10:47-48); having made enquiries of the disciples in Ephesus, Paul baptised them in water and laid hands on them so that they might receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 19:5-6)…  The apostles knew that to leave any ‘gaps’ in the foundations was to leave believers diminished and unsteady.

Those who accepted Peter’s message were “that day…added to them” (Acts 2:41), a final step which effectively completed their ‘total salvation’.  Now, like them, we can be totally saved – saved from eternal death by repentance and faith; saved from the power of the past through the waters of baptism; saved from powerlessness in the future by receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit; and saved from going it alone by being added to His Church.  What a wonderful salvation!…