In our day there is a proliferation of men “who call themselves apostles, and they are not…” (Rev 2:2)
I constantly get friend requests and new Twitter followers on a more regular basis than I used to, presumably as more and more people have discovered this blog or podcast or any of my Kindle books.
I no longer accept every friend request, but encourage following my fan page instead. On Twitter, I feel no guilt in not reciprocating a follow. However, every so often I look at profiles to see who these people are so as to determine if I might like their tweets and give following them a shot.
Self-Appointed or God-Appointed?
Recently on Twitter I was followed by someone with the word “Apostle” in their name. I clicked on the photo, and it was an African-American gentleman in a three piece suit. When I went directly to his Twitter feed so as to see his header photo, it was a picture of him sitting in what was obviously the inside of a private jet.
I admit I don’t know if the jet was his or maybe he was flying in a friend’s or a borrowed or chartered flight, or whatever. But there was no mistake about what the photo was intended to convey: importance. Whether the so-called apostle himself intended on it or not, it is exactly what is communicated.
I immediately showed a friend on Skype and asked him what he thought when he saw this social media profile. His response was simple and to the point: “self-appointed apostle”. Whether self-appointed or God-appointed, photos like that and the overall culture that modern-day apostles are worthy of private jets and lavish lifestyles is something I’ve never understood or related to.
But then I again, I live in a developing nation and live among people who don’t have that much, so I might be thinking this through an overly-biased lens. I’ll admit that.
The reason this bugs me is because of my understanding of what a Biblical apostle truly is. In fact, I’m all for any of the nick-named “five-fold ministry” gifts as referred to in passing in Ephesians 4 of apostles, prophets, evangelists and pastors and/or teachers (there’s ambiguity about whether pastors and teachers were intended as the same role in the original Greek). I just question how often those who call themselves some of these titles truly are one. In fact, if you need to throw your title around, could it be because people don’t easily see the fruit of it in your life and ministry?If you need to throw your title around, could it be because people don't easily see the fruit of it in your life and ministry?Click To Tweet
Just asking a question. I don’t mean to throw the baby out with the bathwater, as there truly are modern day apostles around.
What the Heck is an Armor Bearer, Anyway?
I remember the late Walter Best, the founder of my home fellowship back in Canada once telling me about how back in the 70s when the shepherding/discipleship movement was at its peak, he had traveled somewhere as a guest preacher and there was a man who was assigned to him to meet any needs or desires he had. That’s to say, if he wanted ice cream at 4 a.m., it was this man’s job to go get it. Wally made it sound like this was his own personal secret service agent.
I don’t remember the details of whether he told this man he could go home and that if he wanted ice cream in the middle of the night, he was happy to go get it himself. I do remember him sharing how embarrassed he was in retrospect at what had become a culture of honoring the five-fold gifts to an extreme sense.
I remember reading this in an article from J. Lee Grady several years ago on Reclaiming Genuine Apostolic Anointing,
During the 1990s there was a renewed interest in the ministry of the apostle. Many books were written on the topic, explaining that the Greek word apostolos refers to God’s special ambassadors, or “sent ones,” who are commissioned to contend for pure doctrine, preserve unity among the saints, equip leaders, model Christian character and help the church advance into new territory.
But a strange thing happened on the way to recovering genuine apostolic anointing. In true American fashion we began to merchandise it.
No sooner had the first book on apostles been written that some men began to claim the title and print it on their business cards. Apostleship became a fad. Before too long, some men were creating networks of independent churches answerable to a governing apostle who took ownership of their buildings and controlled their congregations.
Some charismatic apostles became mini-popes who carved out their fiefdoms. Suddenly the independent charismatic movement had more invasive authoritarianism than the denominations these pastors abandoned 10 years earlier.
In some circles apostles demanded total allegiance from the leaders who were “under” them. Some required a policy of “tithing up,” creating a monstrous organizational structure similar to a spiritual Amway. So-called apostles with huge “downlines” made exorbitant amounts of money. One leader even offered pastors the opportunity to become “spiritual sons” by contributing $1,000 a month to his ministry.
Apostolic covering could now be bought. And apostolic grace was reduced to the level of a motivational coach. May God forgive us for reducing the value of such a precious gift.
God help me not vomit all over my laptop screen.
An Apostle In Bible Times
In the first century when Rome basically occupied much of the known-world, the government would take servants, the ‘scum of the earth’ and the lowest of society and give them the task of being a type of ambassador who would go into the newly-conquered and recently-occupied territories that were now under Rome’s control, and it was this servant’s job to teach those populations the ways of Rome.
The name for this person was an ‘apostolos‘ or apostle.
This person was responsible to make sure subjects knew how to behave themselves when Roman guards marched through their towns. It was their job to make sure the citizens knew the proper protocols of their new masters.
I realize I’m giving an oversimplified version of this, but you can read other works about this for more detail. I highly recommend Dr Stephen Crosby‘s book, Authority, Accountability and The Apostolic Movement as one of the best on this theme.
Suffice it to say, it was not the élite upper class of Rome who became the apostles to the other territories.
It was the slaves.
The nobodies, in a very literal sense of the word.
When Jesus took his original 12 disciples, a.k.a. apostles, he was sending them out into the earth just like Rome did with theirs into the nations so as to prepare the world for the coming of the kingdom of heaven. They represented a Kingdom and it was their passion to spread the news of its in-breaking into this realm and prepare people by proclaiming to them the good news of redemption. And to make disciples of all the nations (Matthew 28:19).
When Jesus appointed his disciples/apostles, He was using language the people in His day understood from what Rome was doing in a practical sense.
What Did Paul Say?
I quickly ran to my trusty resource, Google, to double-check if the Bible passage I was thinking of actually said what I remembered as saying when I came across an article that erroneously stated,
And Paul in Corinthians reinforces this meaning and undoubtedly elevated its understanding to the early church. Moreover, his words, which follow, leave little doubt that he considered the apostolic office the church’s highest after the Ascension of its Founder and Head.1
Unfortunately the author of the post then went on to quote 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 in a way that suggests Paul was listing things in order of importance,
“And God has set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?”
As I’ve shared in another blog post on why speaking in tongues is NOT the least of the spiritual gifts just because it’s listed last here (see verse 31), likewise out of consistency the function of an apostle is NOT the most important because it was listed in this list first. Suffice it to say, Paul was probably referring to apostles and prophets in a chronological manner, not in a way of hierarchical importance.
In the second epistle to the Corinthians, Paul had this to say:
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[b] in cold and exposure.28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches.29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?
30 If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. 31 The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed forever, knows that I am not lying. 32 At Damascus, the governor under King Aretas was guarding the city of Damascus in order to seize me, 33 but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands.
Can modern day self-appointed apostles say the same?
This whole mindset that apostles or prophets are more important than others is quite ridiculous if one goes to the Scriptures and finds that Paul said they were the scum of the earth.
Can you imagine the apostle Paul taking a selfie from aboard an expensive private jet for his Twitter account? Can you imagine the Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s foal doing the same? When did Jesus or Paul charge $1000 to be a spiritual son?
Please! Don’t make me puke on my laptop screen.
Are You Sure You Want to Call Yourself an Apostle?
So then, how did this idea of apostolicity get flipped on its head in certain segments of the modern charismatic church? Why is it that in the modern church we have a tendency to elevate “servanthood roles” that instead resemble CEOs managing a corporate structure?
When we look at the life the Apostle Paul had lived, and his credentials for being an apostle, I’d like to ask the modern-day self-appointed ones: are you so sure you really want to call yourselves one?When we look at the life the Apostle Paul lived, and his credentials for being an apostle, I'd like to ask the modern-day self-appointed ones: are you so sure you really want to call yourselves one, too?Click To Tweet
Next Post Follow Up:
Lest you think because I focused on false apostles, other ministry gifts are not off the hook. There are people who have the title of pastor but aren’t pastors. Click the image below to be taken to the post.
- Paul’s Definition of Apostle by Jon Kennedy, http://www.netplaces.com/jesus/the-church-the-body-of-christ/pauls-definition-of-apostle.htm [↩]