Many people in reading their Bibles look through religious eyes, and this can sometimes taint the ability to see clearly. The Pharisees knew their Scriptures well but didn't recognise the Messiah when He came. Over the years, people have had such a religious image of who the new testament apostles were, that they might struggle to recognise an apostle when he comes or ministers today.
To gain a clearer perspective, consider what scripture says about the apostles then:
- They were committed followers of Christ, but they sometimes struggled to pray even in important times. (Garden of Gethsemane)
- They loved Jesus and gave their whole lives, but they also fled and ran away at Calvary to save their own lives.
- They fought and argued a lot between themselves, but they also learned how to love and taught others to love.
- They had great faith at times, but at other times Jesus rebuked them for little faith.
- Peter chopped off someone's ear with a sword, and denied Christ, but was also filled with the Holy Spirit and was prominent on the Day of Pentecost. He had great courage.
- They were forgiven much and forgave much.
They were human, but they had grace and a calling from God to be great in the Kingdom by serving. If you are looking for a spiritual super-man hero-apostle, you will probably not recognise him. If however you are looking for a down to earth person, called of God, carrying apostolic grace, devoted to service and obedience though at times making mistakes, but learning and following God wholeheartedly, then you may have found an apostle.
Apostles do work miracles and see prayers wonderfully answered, but often times they also just work hard, as best they know how with God's grace, to do what they believe God is saying to do.
Today there are many who think and say that they are apostles, and this is increasing as times goes on. Not all these are necessarily apostles and ultimately for those who are called, tests will come to see if they are approved.
Some people are genuinely great ministers for Christ, and because they have a large ministry, it has been assumed they are an apostle, and some have taken the title. Others have been given the title because of the denomination, or the organisational position they are in. Still others think that because they plant churches (like Paul the Apostle), or are in a position of influence over many churches, that they must therefore be an apostle, and so have used the title. And some people also just like titles and love to call themselves apostle.
Many of the people described above will be 'false apostles' in a 'non harmful' way. They do have a part to play in God's kingdom, but they are mistaken about their role and they are not apostles. One the other hand, Satan will also sow into the "field of God" false apostles who are in reality not the Lord's ministers at all. These are "false brothers" and must be recognised or they could do great damage. 2 Corinthians 11:13-15 describes this scenario.
Over and above this, there is a great work of Christ in raising genuine apostles. There may be more than we realise in every nation, and they are being prepared for what God has planned. True apostles are multiplying today and being brought to maturity.
There are a various initiatives seeking to gather apostles together for relationship and support. These groups are able to validate the ministries of those they know, without that of itself being the final proof that any individual is an apostle.