From very small beginnings, the church in Ephesus grew in such size and significance that within just three years its impact was felt not only in that city but across the entire region of Asia (modern-day Turkey)!… Fortunately, the New Testament provides us with more detail about this church than any other, so that we can learn from their success and take heed of the dangers they faced. The story of this church – told in a series of short dramatic episodes – is ‘a tale for our times’, and as we read it afresh, dig deeper and look behind the scenes we discover the heart of God for our churches, our cities and our regions…
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…
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.
The Unstoppable Mission
As we’ve seen in Part 1 and Part 2 of this mini-series, Jesus is totally unchangeable – the same yesterday, today and forever – and has a Kingdom that, unlike every earthly kingdom, is totally unshakeable. Now we will see that He has empowered His Church to spread the Good News of His Kingdom everywhere. This is our mission, and nothing can stop it!…
Let’s start by briefly making 4 vital statements (expanded elsewhere) that will put things in context and explain why the mission is unstoppable:
- Our mission is the outworking of God’s eternal purpose. The original commission to Adam was to be fruitful and multiply (Genesis 1:28) and God’s desire to see his people fill the earth is seen repeatedly thereafter. Our great commission to “make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19-20) is a re-statement of this great purpose.
- Our mission is continuing what Jesus started. The Gospels record “all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1) and Acts shows the early church continuing all He’d started, as they proclaimed and proved He is King and has defeated every enemy.
- Our mission is the very reason Jesus sent His Spirit. Acts 1:4-8 makes clear that the whole purpose of the baptism with the Holy Spirit is to empower His disciples to be His witnesses in spreading the gospel.
- Our mission is the key to Christ’s return. Jesus declared He will come again and “the end will come” only when the good news of Kingdom has been preached in every nation (Matthew 24:14).
Since the purpose of God will always prevail, and Jesus will finish what He started, and His return is never in doubt…we can be assured that our mission cannot be thwarted – it is unstoppable!
Now, if you’re anything like me, it will also help to know: What does this look like in practice? How will it happen? How do we move from theory to reality? And how can we play our part?…
The story of the healing at the Beautiful Gate (Acts 3:1-12) provides some answers to these important questions. This story is positioned: immediately after 3,000 people are initially added to the church (Acts 2:41) and then more are added “every day” (Acts 2:47); and immediately before a further 2,000 are added (Acts 4:4) – and in fact it’s this event that triggers the second wave of growth. And this story is here in the middle of these things by design, to tell us about “one day” that illustrates “every day”, about one man who was saved and added as an example of thousands of others, and to describe one supernatural act that was typical of the “many signs and wonders” prevalent in the church (Acts 2:43). And, as such, it contains keys that help us become part of unstoppable mission and growth in our communities and churches. Let’s look at 5 things we see here:
Firstly, the story shows that our mission is not our meetings! This miracle took place as Peter and John were on their way to pray (verse 1). God moved in power outside the meeting, because that’s where the need was! Our mission doesn’t depend on our buildings or our meetings; we can play our part at any time in any place! We are never ‘more spiritual’ or ‘more usable’ when we are worshipping, praying or fellowshipping with others; in fact, as far as mission goes, we’re probably much more useful when we’re not in a meeting! Meetings aren’t a substitute for mission; good doctrine isn’t an alternative to good deeds; and our great community must not distract us from our Great Commission! If we want to turn our world upside-down we must let Him turn our church inside-out!
Secondly, we must not miss the moments. Peter and John arrive at the Gate at just same time as the lame man (verse 2); God creates ‘a moment’ when they find themselves sharing the same small patch of planet earth! None has planned it, but Peter and John know how to make most of every opportunity; and are alert to this ‘moment’ and available for God to use them at any time in any place. Jesus had told them to “Go and make disciples….” And promised “You will receive power…. you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem…” And now here they are: in Jerusalem and ready to be used! Participating in the mission means being ready for the many ‘moments’ God will bring our way.
Then, thirdly, we must look and listen. Peter and John listened to the man’s request and then “looked at him intently” (verse 4). If we’re going to recognise these God-given opportunities we must attune our senses to what’s happening around us: there’s always something to see and hear; every situation and conversation alerts us to a heart-cry if we look and listen carefully. Peter and John were ‘present in the moment’, and gave this man their time and attention. Playing our part means taking time to notice and care about the need that’s all around us.
Fourthly, we must be ready to give what we’ve got. In response to what they saw and heard, Peter simply gave the man what he had (verse 6). He gave him Jesus, and a miraculous healing in His Name. Simply sharing what we have, passing-on what we’ve discovered and allowing our lives to overflow is the very heart of our mission! And note that Peter and John gave away what they enjoyed “every day” (Acts 2:42-47) to a man who’d spent his life begging “every day” (Acts 3:2) – and from then on no day was ever the same again! It’s a great picture of a thriving church sharing the goodness of God with a barely-surviving world. When we keep it simple and give what we’ve got…the mission is unstoppable!
And then lastly, we must help people up and let them hold on. Peter reached out and helped the man up (verse 7) and let him hold on as they took him into the gathered church (verse 11). It takes great courage to lift up a lame man! But also to share your story, offer to help, sit and listen, ask if you can pray…. But note that it was as he lifted him up that healing exploded in the man’s body! God moves when we step-out. This man expected nothing more than a hand-out, but Peter offered an outstretched-hand. He was present in the moment. It’s a reminder that Jesus embraced people, sat with them, fed them, wept with them, calmed their storms, touched and healed them. And He’s just the same today!
Let’s be sure nothing stops us from opening-up our lives, reaching-out and helping others in… and so playing our part in this great co-mission! In this way we can outwork God’s purpose, continue what Jesus started, enjoy His empowering and hasten His return!
(An extended video version of this message is available here)
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!…
Who is He and Who are You?
One of the most important conversations of all time occurs in Matthew chapter sixteen! After about two years of His public ministry – during which He’d healed the sick, cast out demons, fed multitudes, raised the dead, taught with authority, calmed the storms and forgiven people their sins – Jesus asks His disciples who people think or say He is (Matthew 16:13), and they respond by summarising the most popular public opinions: that He’s a resurrected John the Baptist, Elijah or Jeremiah, or maybe another of the prophets (16:14)…
But then Jesus turns the question on the disciples themselves, those who’ve been closest to Him, who’ve travelled and shared meals with Him and witnessed these things first hand, and asks: “But what about you, who do you say I am?” (16:15). This was no longer about public opinion. Now the focus was on their personal conviction. And without hesitation, Simon-Peter steps forward and is the first to reply: “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!” (16:16).
Jesus’s joy at Simon-Peter’s response seems almost palpable! And His next words are about to change Simon-Peter’s life forever: “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven.” (16:17). Peter’s conviction that Jesus was the Messiah wasn’t just the result of seeing His miracles and hearing His teachings, and it certainly wasn’t a belief instilled in him by his family or his fellow-disciples. Flesh and blood alone could not convince him. It was a revelation from God! He knew Jesus was the Messiah because God had revealed it to Him.
The same is true for everyone who knows Jesus is the Messiah: we believe it because God has revealed it to us! Think about it: however you came to know Jesus; whatever the circumstances; whenever it happened; whoever was involved in sharing their testimony or faith with you – your conviction and belief actually came about because God the Father was at work revealing the truth to you. Be assured: He wanted you to know; you heard it from God!
Jesus continues: “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” (16:18). This is the ‘first mention’ of the church (ekklesia) in the Bible. And notice what happens here: Simon-Peter has confessed the truth about Jesus’s identity (“You are the Messiah”) and in response Jesus proclaims the truth about his identity (“you are Peter”). The word ‘Peter’ is petros meaning ‘a rock’, or a ‘specific piece of rock’ and in those few words Jesus declares something essential that Peter will need to remember as the story unfolds – Jesus thinks he’s a rock; Jesus believes in Him; and Jesus will use him in the foundations of His church! This was Peter’s true identity. In the same way, it’s only when we confess the truth about Jesus that we begin to see our own true identity, and begin to see how Jesus wants to use us in what He’s building.
In declaring that He will build His church “on this rock”, Jesus is referring not to Peter himself but to the revelation Peter has received and confessed. The ‘rock’ in this case is not petros but petra – meaning the ‘bedrock’. This is vital: the church is built not a man (Peter, or anyone else) but on the foundational bedrock of the revelation that Jesus Christ is the Messiah! It’s as we believe and confess this truth that we’re born again and become part of His church (see Romans 10:9). Jesus is the Rock, the Foundation and the Cornerstone of His church (see Ephesians 2:20, 1 Corinthians 3:10-11), and anything built on anything else is doomed to failure, as the story of the two builders dramatically illustrates (Matthew 7:24-27).
This conversation and this revelation lived with Peter for the rest of his life. It defined his identity and shaped his ministry. And in the next article we will look at what happened when he preached it to crowds of thousands on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2)…