The First Shall Be Last … Matthew 20:16
And God has appointed in the church, first apostles … I Corinthians 12:28
We are in the latter days of the restoration of the church to her New Testament pattern, purity and power. The Word of God promises a restoration of all things before heaven releases King Jesus (Acts 3:19-21). The church is to proclaim and demonstrate His glory and kingdom in the earth (Ephesians 3:10). Therefore, the church is being restored so that she may be God’s agent in the restoration of all things.
Creation cries out for the manifestation of the sons of God (Romans 8:19). Jesus is the firstborn of many sons whom God is bringing to glory (Romans 8:29-30; Hebrews 2:10). Not only mankind, but all of creation will enjoy the Creator’s beauty and purpose when released from the bondage of the fall of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. When the glory of God is seen in and upon the sons of God (male and female), their testimony of Jesus Christ will cause every knee to bow and every tongue to confess Him as Lord. This will bring freedom and the power of the Holy Spirit in fulness, and all of creation will rejoice. Even the mountains and hills will shout, and the trees will clap their hands (Isaiah 55:12).
When God initiated the New Testament church, He began with apostles (I Corinthians 12:28). Jesus began by discipling twelve men who would be the pioneers of the early church (Mark 3:13-19). These men experienced their first apostolic mission with specific instructions and perimeters from Jesus (Matthew 10). He carefully brought them along under His ministry for nearly three years. Then they suffered the despair and disillusionment of Calvary.
Following His resurrection, Jesus appeared to the remaining eleven young apostles (Judas, by this time, had committed suicide). He concluded His final instructions to them with the command to stay in the city until they were clothed with power from on high (Luke 24:49). The fulness of their apostolic authority, power and purpose began to unfold and the church was born at the Feast of Pentecost (Acts 2). The Holy Spirit empowered them, giving them words for the hour. It was a fruitful day (Acts 2:37-41). Through the faithful, anointed and obedient ministry of these twelve men (Matthias, by this time, had been chosen as the 12th apostle), the first representation of the New Testament church came into its own (Acts 2:42-47).
Biblical accounts of the early church reveal the apostles on the forefront of a movement that changed the face of the earth in a few years. The New Testament canon contains the revelation of Jesus Christ as given to apostles under the divine inspiration of the Spirit of God. Our guide for faith and practice as followers of Jesus Christ has been penned by simple men who were born of the Spirit of God and anointed to write the apostolic message out of apostolic hearts with apostolic purpose.
Yet, after only a relatively few years, the vibrant, Spirit-led apostolic ministry gradually slipped out of sight as Life gave way to tradition and form. And the church went nearly 2000 years without this fundamental and foundational ministry being generally acknowledged (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 2:20). A close examination of history will reveal men who were apostles. But, they were not acknowledged as apostles, probably didn’t understand themselves to be apostles, and certainly did not fulfill the criteria that is being called for in today’s apostles. For the most part, apostles were replaced by institutionally positioned and man-appointed bishops and administrators.
Praise God for restoration! From the days of Martin Luther to our present time, God has been restoring the church (Acts 3:21). The church has only recently begun to acknowledge the validity of apostles and apostolic ministry. A restoration of the revelation of holiness was prompted by the Wesleys in the 1800’s. In the early 1900’s, the pentecostal experience along with the gifts of the Holy Spirit were restored. The understanding that every believer is a priest and has a ministry was the fruit of the charismatic renewal movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
Up until that time, the pastors and evangelists were the generally acknowledged church leaders. Pastors were those who stayed home and cared for the churches, and evangelists traveled. In actuality, many who traveled were not evangelists. Some were prophets. Some were teachers. But, during that period of time they were generally called “evangelists.”
With the charismatic renewal came a significant hunger for the Word of God. Local pastors could not satisfy that hunger. People would travel for many miles – Bibles, notebooks and pens in hand – to hear the Word proclaimed by emerging teachers. This new emphasis upon the teaching gift and the ministry of the five-fold teacher (Ephesians 4:12) in the 1970’s was a significant step in the restoration process.
Hearing what the teachers were saying about the Word of God resulted in a new hunger. People wanted to hear from God for themselves. This void began to be filled in the 1980’s, as God began to restore the prophets. This fourfold ministry, the prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, equipped the saints. The present day ministry of the five-fold apostles had yet to come back on the scene or be accepted by the Church. The priesthood of believers (1 Peter 2:9), began to gain momentum in knowledge, insight and understanding into the Word of God.
Yet the infant church lacked the vision of God (Proverbs 29:18) and revelation of how the Church was to be built (Matthew 16:17-18) which would motivate people into the purposes of God. People were hungry, eating, but had not yet begun to see themselves being built together (Ephesians 4:16; I Peter 2:5). The church was like a body which is full of life but has no bones. There was no infrastructure. There was no order. There was no divine revelation of the government of God for the New Testament church. Left with man-made organizations, institutions and governmental forms, some rebelled only to form their own man-made structures. And, so God began to add back the ministry and governmental role of the apostle.