Friday, January 28, 2005

Re: The Continuing Acts of the Apostles?

Note: Please open the original post (in a new tab, if you've got 'em)0 here. I promise you it's worth the read, and, as this post started out as just a comment on that blog, I'm assuming you've read that post.

Thank you, Sazzly, for calling my attention to the article.

First of all, I’m not charismatic, but I also don’t think I’m a cessationists. I do believe that in Heb 6:5, “the powers of the age to come” refers to spectacular miraculous signs performed at the establishment of the Church in order to show that it was a work of God. I do not believe such signs have “ceased1,” though they occur more often on the frontiers of the gospel, where there is no pre-existing testimony of the Church. Those powers are not of this “age,” but are of one to come, i.e., Christ’s physical reign on the earth, where disease, hunger, poverty, [insert your favorite effect of sin here], etc. will be done away with. That said, the Christian walk is rife with daily miracles and works of the spirit.

Second, I will first (er--wait... Bah! Whatever...) address a couple of the other comments:

Anonymous #1: Peter’s The Kingdom's “keys” were not given to any of the other apostles (note the use of the singular “thee” in less-modern (but more precise) translations, even though the other disciples are present), and so this discussion is not of apostleship, but rather, authority that pertains to (as we see in the exercise of this authority in the book of Acts) opening the door of the gospel to new groups of people. The Reformation's rejection of popery2 was a rejection of the idea that this was transferable to a successor, and its motto “Sola Scriptura” would indicate that the Word of God, not the teachings of men, even though taught in His name, is the standard by which we measure everything else (“for thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name” –Ps 138:2).

Windblown3: I think your reduction of cessationism to simple deism is rather harsh, and not at all true. The purpose of the gifts is “for the perfecting of the saints; with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ; until we all arrive at the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, at the full-grown man, at the measure of the stature of the fulness of the Christ.” (Eph 4:12-13) Most Christians who you lump into the category of “cessationalists” simply object to the Spirit-on-demand, spectacular showyness, emotion-driven worship (rather than vice-versa), contra-scriptural revelations, etc. that seem to characterize charismatics.

Finally... *Ahem*

What is the purpose of this discussion? What I mean is, suppose we had a fool-proof Boolean test that could be applied to a person to answer the question, “is this person an apostle?” What then? Until we define ‘apostle,’ or more specifically, the roles of an apostle, I don’t believe we’ll get very far in terms of identifying who is and who isn’t, and whether or not they're still around.

“Apostle” just means “one who is sent” in Greek. To my knowledge it is not uniquely Christian, however, it seems to have special meaning(s) within the context of Christianity. The most obvious is that there is a special twelve-member group of apostles, which was already discussed in the original post, seems to be the same group mentioned in Rev 21:14, and Mat 19:28. Judas was replaced not because he died, but because he betrayed Jesus (Acts 1:16-20), so the notion that at any point in history there are or should be exactly twelve living apostles belonging to this group is false.

Beyond the twelve, there are also others who are called ‘apostles’ by Scripture and who are indeed sent by God. But is that it? Or is there another dimension to those (or perhaps some of those) who are called apostles in scripture?

As far as I can tell, the only reason we might ascribe such an especially high status to apostleship is that Paul was an apostle, and many of his letters to churches and individuals are in the canon of Scripture. But does this necessarily mean anything to our definition of an apostle, or is it something unique to the particular role Paul was called (as an apostle) to play? Were John Mark, Luke, James, and Jude necessarily apostles, since they all wrote Scripture? I think this group is better defined by the term ‘prophets,’ or better yet “holy men of God” (2 Pet 1:20). Must an apostle be one who has a special revelation from God? Could Paul’s assertion of apostleship (“Am I not an apostle?” -1 Cor 9:1) be merely taken as, “Was I not sent to you by God?” and stand parallel to his freedom as a Christian, his special commission from Jesus, his role in bringing the gospel to the Corinthians. Verse 2 could then be paraphrased, “Even if I wasn’t sent by God to anyone else, you can’t deny that it was He who sent me to you.” Therefore the Corinthians were to heed what Paul said, just as the Ninevites to Jonah, or Israel to their Messiah (Deut 18:15).

What special deference should we grant to one whom we recognize as an apostle?

Are apostles infallible? No, as was pointed out, Peter (Gal 2:11-13) was in the wrong, and led others astray by his wrongdoing.

Do they alleviate our need to be taught by the Spirit through Scripture? Certainly not! The Bereans were commended for confirming what was taught to them by comparing the Apostles’ teaching to the Scriptures. (See also: Ps 138:2)

So what is it exactly that an apostle does that differs from, say, an elder?

One difference I see is that an elder is appointed within the context of a local church, that is, if Mr. X is an elder at his home church, he is not an elder when he visits another church. This is not the case with spiritual gifts, which are given to the whole Church. Therefore an evangelist is an evangelist no matter what context he is in, as a pastor4 is to shepherd God's people everywhere he finds them, an apostle is in every situation an apostle, etc. (Eph 4:11-13). It is certainly possible—and indeed quite likely—that an elder also have spiritual gift(s) and exercise them as a compliment to his elder-role.

Another role I see as apostolic is in the establishment of leadership in a new church, i.e., the appointment of elders and deacons in new churches. That is, perhaps an apostle is one who looks after churches in a similar way that shepherds (“pastors”) look after individual Christians.

If this is true, then I tend to agree with what Diane said, that “Most missionaries are evangelists, a few are apostles” and I would add that apostleship seems to be most active in arenas with emerging churches (the “mission field”) where new churches full of new believers need guidance and accountability that cannot yet be found from within.

This post is merely the product of an evening of thought and I welcome and encourage any input and further ponderings on the subject.

0 Yay for Firefox!
1 As in "cessationists"
2 Sadly, in contrast, the Reformation's rejection of potpourri has fallen by the wayside to most of modern Christendom.
3 Good to know he can laugh at himself. (Eph 4:14)
4 In contemporary American culture, "pastor" often means one of the leaders of a church (or the *shudder* only */shudder* one). This can be confusing, because technically he should be called an elder (or in some cases a teacher).

1 comment:

  1. Tim,

    Thanks for your thoughts! I appreciate your stopping by Cerulean Sanctum and widening the discussion. I think this is a very important topic and you've added whatever bits I failed to. (Practically, I could have written another dozen pages on this issue, but who would scroll through a *BLOG* post that long--that's more like a doctoral thesis, right?)