Thursday, October 9, 2008
Those Pesky Apostles, Part 2
(A Google image search brought up this picture of "Apostle Randy Brown" and "Pastor Gayle Brown")
Earlier in my Christian life, I was told that "missionaries" are the equivalent of apostles today. I can see some reason to think this since "apostle" means "one who is sent out" and missionaries are sent out to other cultures or nations to preach, serve and plant churches. But I've met a number of missionaries since then that do not strike me as the least bit apostolic. There must be more to being an apostle than being a missionary.
I am beginning to think there is a two-pronged solution to this apostolic mystery. That's because one must recognize the unique role of the apostles (including Paul) who were hand-selected by Jesus and who exercised leadership in the First Century church. By the way, the roll call of N. T. apostles includes some uncommon names such as Matthias (Acts 1:26), Joses (Barnabas - Acts 4:36), Andronicus and Junia (feminine name? Romans 16: 7). I have come to refer to these as "capital A" Apostles. They are the foundational Apostles (Eph. 2:20) who are responsible for "the Apostles Doctrine" (Acts 2: 42), who wrote Scripture and who hold a non-repeating role of influence in the Body of Christ.
On the other hand, one must recognize that not all the Apostles wrote Scripture, not all are well known to us today and, very likely, some of those considered Apostles in New Testament times had much less influence and exercised less far-reaching authority than others (don't worry -- I'm not going Papal here).
I think that such Apostles were more likely to have planted networks of churches and exercised influential leadership within those networks. It seems possible that such "small a" apostles were not necessarily hand-selected by Christ the way Peter, Paul and John were, but were recognized as apostolic by those who were (Andronicus and Junia hold an interesting place in that sense).
This leads me to believe that "small a" apostles may have continued throughout church history to the present time -- recognized and unrecognized as such. I certainly think that some of the "Uncles" I met or heard about in present day China are apostolic. They are not pastors of megachurches or media stars (not possible in the underground Chinese environment), but they influence tens of thousands of believers who meet in small groups, house churches and other network modalities. I don't know whether any call themselves apostles or are given that label by others, but they strike me as entirely apostolic in a way directly reminiscent of N.T. apostles.
At this point, I am still uncomfortable with people introducing themselves as "Apostle Smith" as is sometimes done in certain church circles. On the other hand, it seems to me that the time has come to find some way to recognize contemporary apostolic authority and function in a way that actually means something. In fact, all five of the five-fold people gifts described by Paul in Ephesians 4 need some contemporary re-definition and recognition. We have, as I mentioned in my earlier post, asked far too much of the title "Pastor" in our time. In future posts, I will try to develop this futher.