For the Title of Apostle

Holy Sepulchre

I remember recently a pastor making a frustrated post somewhat along the lines of “If you are going to claim you are an apostle then you must have at least planted one church”. With people claiming right to the title ‘Apostle’: the question on my mind is what does this mean in 2015?

When Jesus died it was simple to understand what the apostles were. They were an elected body of 12 disciples, possibly representing the unification of the 12 tribes of Israel. When Judas was replaced the apostle’s literally drew lots to pick who should be the new apostle  (Acts 1:26). The introduction of Paul suddenly changed this definition, Paul was chosen and sent by Jesus to deliver the message of the gospel to the gentiles. Paul refers to his apostleship as a calling from Jesus (Romans 1:1), but to someone who hasn’t been directly informed, this is a self designation 1originating from a Christian calling. When we look at the word Apostle:

“An apostle is one who is “sent” by Jesus Christ”1

It is no secret that many Christians today have a calling and many feel guided and sent to certain places and ministries. Using this broad definition of the word they would have every right to claim their calling is apostolic just by the reasoning that it is given to them by Christ. This however would of course lead them into a position where they could find themselves in conflict with people who look at the definition of apostle differently, as an elected body like the disciples. Those who would claim a right to the title of apostle on the basis of leadership, even global leadership within the Church would have reasonable grounds to do so also.

There are people around me that view the calling on global church leaders lives as apostolic, for instance:

  • Brian & Bobbie Houston at Hillsong lead a global church with a strong focus on worship music and a message of Jesus that is highly relevant in the post modern age in confronting the growing pop idol culture in western societies.
  • Terry Virgo is the founder of the New Frontiers network of churches which I have experienced as carrying a highly spiritual charismatic message from Jesus which is relevant for the post modern age in confronting new age beliefs and the desires of many for a spiritual encounter.
  • Bill and Beni Johnson are senior pastors at Bethel Church who influence a multitude of churches across the world with a charismatic message of healing and deliverance.

The above are mentions of 3 movements of Christ for the post modern age; however of course there are the more traditional movements that have huge attendance such as the Catholic Church, Church of England, Baptist Churches…

With two distinct groups of people holding different reasons for entitlement to the title of apostle, the scope for collision is imminent. What is the solution though? Do we ban people from using the title apostle? Jesus has an answer for this:

“”Master,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we tried to stop him, because he is not one of us. “Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “for whoever is not against you is for you.” (Luke 9:49-50 NIV)

The problem we are encountering is one of people looking to be the greatest amongst people and looking at it the wrong way. If we start getting into an argument over titles then we have lost already and fallen into an early  trap that the apostles fell into:

“An argument started among the disciples as to which of them would be the greatest. Jesus, knowing their thoughts, took a little child and had him stand beside him. Then he said to them, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. For it is the one who is least among you all who is the greatest.”” (Luke 9:46-48 NIV)

This is the problem of hierarchy, we need it to administer; yet when we start looking from a position of being the greatest, having the greatest title and reaching that position of authority then we have missed the message of Jesus:

“Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant” (Matthew 20:26 NIV)

Looking to become great is not discouraged; but it is spelled out that it is not what people think it is, it is a position of service. Once leaders and non leaders start to see their position as service, as meeting practical and spiritual needs of people then we can start to have unity in the presence of hierarchy, without both sides coming to that realisation then we find ourselves in a war of titles and authority.

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1Manser, Martin H. Dictionary of Bible Themes: The Accessible and Comprehensive Tool for Topical Studies. London: Martin Manser, 2009.

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