Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Those Pesky Apostles

What to do with apostles in our day? For most of my life, I've been content to consign the biblical office of "apostle" to the First Century and be done with it. Some of the qualifications Paul cites for his apostleship ("have I not seen Christ Jesus our Lord..." I Cor. 9: 1) would apparently exclude the idea of legitmate apostles existing beyond Paul's time. Apostles (I was taught from my youth) write Scripture, exercise high authority in church discipline and were selected by Jesus either in the flesh (like Peter) or by a post-ressurection visitation (like Paul). In addition, Paul says that "the apostles and prophets" are at the foundation level of the Church with Jesus being the Chief Cornerstone of that foundation (Ephesians 2: 20). Again, the foundation was laid in the First Century. For a lot of people, that's "Case Closed".

Of course, for some contemporary believers, the case is far from closed. Like Robert Duvall in his film The Apostle, they claim the title for themselves and let the chips fall where they will. There is even a formal association of apostles (the ICA or International Coalition of Apostles) who are "recognized by a significant segment of the church, including peer-level apostles, to have the gift and office of and office of apostle and who have been ministering through this gift for a period of time" (http://www.globalharvest.org/index.asp?action=icafaq). Raise your hand if, like me, you find this to be a tremendously vague, suspicious and unsatisfying set of qualifications.

What is also unsatisfying, however, is the way our refusal to recognize apostolic authority in the present day has left us with a trans-local spiritual leadership vacuum that we have filled by inflating the term "Pastor" to unbelievable proportions. Even in an American context, "Pastor" Rick Warren or Jack Hayford or John Wimber or Chuck Smith or Greg Laurie (just to stay on the West Coast) are "pastor" to tens of thousands or even millions of people.
Since the definition of the word "pastor" goes directly to the role of the shepherd, it's hard to imagine anyone except The Good Shepherd Himself having enough intimate knowledge of a "flock" of that size so that they could be said to "shepherd" more than a few hundred (or less) of them in any meaningful way. But, since we've locked the apostolic office in a First Century cage, we can't go around calling these kinds of men "apostles", though -- as a compromise -- I have sometimes heard such people refer to them as "apostolic" or having "apostolic" gifts without going so far as to formally designate them "apostles". And, indeed -- none of these men have claimed the title Apostle for themselves. So, we now have MegaPastors (you might say) to go with our MegaChurches (and I, for one, am all "mega-ed" out).

In my next post, I'll continue this discussion including my current thoughts about present day apostolic ministry.

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