There was a point not all that long ago that pretty much nobody alive believed apostles existed. Like dinosaurs they were considered a mighty thing of the past. Now, it seems that there is an apostle on every corner, and adding ‘apostle’ to one’s business card is the latest way to gain credibility for what one is doing.
Are we forgetting what apostles are? What are real apostles, and where are they? Have we dumbed down apostles in our minds so that anyone could be an apostle. Or conversely, do we have such a glorified image of apostles that nobody alive could be one? The truth is somewhere in the middle.
Ephesians 4:7-13 makes it clear that apostles are: (1) Ministry gifts to God’s people. (2) Given during the ascension of Christ, not during the earthly ministry of Christ, which means it is a current activity of God. (3) Given “until” the body of Christ is mature to the level that it matches Christ’s maturity.
That passage shows us that there should be, needs to be, and God gives apostles today. While we look back at the early original apostles, the truth is that God still appoints ministers with apostolic purpose today. He puts in these people something of His authority so that His people might have something they otherwise would not have had. This isn’t the same as pastors, or teachers, which are also important ministry gifts needed for the maturing of God’s people, but something additional to them.
So we should be aware that there IS something special about apostles, something unique, something different and important that the Body of Christ needs. Not everyone is an apostle, and if they are truly supposed to be called of Christ, then its not up to individuals to choose this role for themselves.
On the other hand, apostles are also humans and at times faulty. Paul made mistakes, as did Peter and the other disciples. God works with clay vessels, all of us, apostles included. So while we don’t make the mistake of assuming apostles are everywhere, a dime-a-dozen, we also don’t make the mistake of assuming they are so important that nobody could ever measure up to being one. Being an apostle is a thing of grace, as is anything anyone is called to do.
Over the years I have been privileged to know several real apostles, and all of them were marked with something that made it obvious they were the real deal. The mark of their authenticity wasn’t signs and wonders – which by the way, is something any believer with the Holy Spirit can do. And it isn’t church planting, which even unbelievers have done. It isn’t casting out demons because as Jesus noted, some people would say “Lord Lord, didn’t we cast out demons in your name.” And, an apostle isn’t one because people say they are either.
A genuine apostle is appointed by Christ. They have an experience of God in which they know he has called them to a special apostolic purpose. In the end, like real versus counterfeit money, the real thing is authorised. A real apostle is authorised by God, and the rest are not, even though they may look very similar.
A real apostle will always have a heart for the whole body of Christ. They won’t be so focussed on building their own kingdom, or their own ministry that they don’t love the whole and work for it. That’s a really big clue. If they are not like this, then something is out of kilter. A real apostle will be willing to sacrifice his own interests for those of others. They are gentle, but truthful. They are willing to suffer. John Alley has had much to say about these pooints in his book The Apostolic Revelation and also online in other places. There is an entire training course devoted to understanding what an apostle is. This website also has an entire section devoted to essential apostolic concepts.
So where are the real apostles? They are here. God knows them, and we need to learn how to recognise them.