There are many and varied opinions around today as to what form modern apostolic government should take. In the past century some men have had deferred on them the title of apostle, among them are William Carey "apostle to India", and Smith Wigglesworth, "apostle of faith". Others have worked hard to implement apostolic leadership under various theories and models.
Wyn Lewis, director of Elim Church Home Mission in the UK
for example, believes that every local fellowship should have
an apostle, prophet, pastor, teacher and evangelist. Arthur Wallis
argued in 1972 for the restoration of 'covering apostolic leadership'
in geographic regions. Bryn Jones, John Noble and others
Over the intervening decades there has been little progress made toward a truly Biblical apostolic leadership structure. With the excesses of the shepherding movement in the early eighties, and the split of many new groups from their original settings and structures we saw fragmentation in leadership styles. The greatest difficulty seems to have been maintaining balance between new structures, including apostolic leadership, and the rich heritage of teaching we already have. As one church leader put it, "the challenge before us, is to hold onto the vital truths or the proven 'ancient paths' of our orthodox heritage, while simultaneously reaching out to embrace 'present truths' given by the Holy Spirit which will lead us down the road of God's purposes in our generation" (Mira).
More recently, prophetic groups around the globe have hailed
the coming day that God will restore to the church the office
of apostle to it's biblical glory days. Some have even hailed
1996 as the year God would release the apostle on the earth (indicating
a completion of the establishment period of the prophetic
THE WAY THINGS ARE
Traditionally, there have been three main models of church
government. Episcopal: with presiding bishop/ archbishop councils,
Presbyterial: with oversight and authority in the hands of the
elders, and Congregational: with the leadership in the democratic
voting hands of the church members. To these basic
One of the main reasons for the diversity in modern church government is the fact that the Bible does not offer a single, definitive structure or model for church government. Among the things it does cover are: the offices of apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher; the role of bishops and deacons; and the role of elders. It also offers a set of criteria by which we can measure leaders qualifications and character. We might also look to early church history for examples of church government, but these should not be taken as ideals.
HOW DOES ONE DEFINE AN APOSTLE?
One must be clear then, what is meant by the term 'apostle' when used outside the New Testament Canon. Clearly modern day apostles could not have the authority to write Scripture (Rev 22:18). The list of credentials to be apostles of Christ were: to have seen Jesus the Risen Lord (Acts 1:22), and to have been personally appointed by Him (Acts 9:5-6).
They were judges and rulers of God's people (Mt 19:28, Lk 22:29-30), layed the foundation of the heavenly city (Rev 21:14), wrote most of the New Testament Scripture. Yet not all of them wrote Scripture. We must think of Christ' s Apostles as the NT replacement for the OT prophet in terms of Scripture writing. Just as there were two kinds of OT prophet- ones who wrote Scripture (Micah, Haggai, Isaiah) and others who did not (Elijah, Elisah, their companies of prophets, Nathan and most of David's seers). Similarly there are two kinds of NT apostle, ones who wrote Scripture (Paul, James, John and others) and ones who did not (Timothy, Silas, Junias, Bartholemew and Judas Iscariot). Note also the presence of many non-Scripture writing prophets mentioned in the NT. There were prophets at Antioch. (Acts 13:1), a city to which prophets of Jerusalem came down, delivering a message of coming famine. (Acts 11:27) including Agabus.
So what of the NT apostle? Paul alludes to the continuance of the office after the Lord had risen saying, "He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe. It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers" (Eph 4:10,11).
Since the Canon is closed, and such people as Paul is refering
to can not write Scripture. So the office of apostle in the NT
must be more broadly defined. The grammar of the NT allows for
a broader category of apostles, who may have neither written
Scripture, nor even lived with Christ. Apostle (Gk: Apostolos)
MODERN APOSTOLIC JOB DESCRIPTION
The apostles of the NT, taught from place to place establishing
churches, played an important role among the elders, thereby
laying the local foundations (Acts 15:13,19/ Acts 8:14/ 2 Cor
11:28). Paul applied this term to mean those who lay the foundation
of churches with the prophets (Eph 2:20) and there is no other
This is the role of modern apostles. They lay the foundation of churches, in accordance with that already established in Scripture by Paul and the others (2 Thess 3:6). They labour as he did to found the right precepts in the church: "For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building. By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it." (1 Cor 3:10).
OTHER CHURCH LEADERS
At this point it might well be worth asking, what happens in an 'apostolic church' to the current leadership structure? What happens to pastors, deacons (or arch deacons), bishops (or arch bishops) and to elders?
But over the intervening years since Paul wrote this, the 'office' of pastor has gravitated toward the centre of power in the local church. The average pastor seems to have taken on a job description encompassing almost all aspects of ministry, growing well beyond the proportions of New Testament ministry focus. It would seem a more appropriate system for churches (steered by pastors and elders) to seek a relationship with some senior, competent, tested minister who can care for and pastor the local church leadership. These men and women would play apostolic roles in covering churches and leaders under thier care.
Being a deacon is described as a gift, to be exercised like generosity or prophecy as distinguished from leadership or government: "If it be serving (diakonea) let him serve; if it is teaching let him teach....if it is leadership, let him govern diligently" (Rom 12:7). We must conclude that whatever we see today, or indeed in early church history, there was no office of deacon in the New testament church- except that implied by serving, it was and should now be seen as a ministry, under the guidance and headship of local church leaders in the Body.
Some of the people in the NT labelled 'bishops' were elders
in the church (by reference of 1 Pet 5:2, Tit 1:5). Christ and
the apostles called themselves at times by these titles, though
to say you were a bishop or deacon could not be taken conversely
to mean you were an apostle. For example Peter calls himself
Elders and councils
MODERN CHURCH GOVERNMENT... WHAT MODEL?
We see in the New Testament church and early church historysome evidence for the five fold leadership among the church government. There is some indication that apostles were part of the local church in at least four cities, having oversight in the church:
From a historical perspective, the evidence for the office
of an apostle after the second century AD is fragmentary and
sketchy. Hermas referred to seventy two apostles (presumably
the same seventy two Christ sent out). Catholic church history
indicates that the apostles appointed bishops as their successors.
Eusebius comments that, "among the shining lights of this
period [ca 70-117AD] was Quadratus [bishop of Athens], who according
to written evidence was, like Phillip's daughters, eminent of
the prophetic gift. Apart from him, many others were well known
at that time, belonging to the first stage of apostolic succession...
very many of the disciples of the time, their hearts smitten
by the word of God carried out the work of evangelists, ambitious
to preach to those who had never heard our message of faith..."
He goes on to say,
As we look forward to God restoring apostolic government to
the church, we would do well to learn from the New Testament
and early church history, as well as some of the excesses of
recent decades. The structures prevalent in today's churches,
by and large, bear no resemblance to the NT pattern of church
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