Apostolic Character

A new day is coming to the body of Christ, the Church that Jesus is building. It will be marked not only by an unprecedented release of God’s power and supernatural gifts, but also by a new level of reality. The Gospel message will be well received because the Gospel will be something we are living. Right now, in many places, there is a great difference between the message we preach and share and the way we live. You know, like someone who is 150 pounds overweight selling a new miracle diet pill that will help people lose 30 pounds in 30 days. There is a disconnect and thus no reality to the sales pitch. Many times it is the same today with the church.

A tremendous impact is released with there is a consistency between our walk and our talk, our behaviour and our beliefs. Neither God nor the world expects perfection from us – but they do expect integrity. Throughout the centuries , nothing has been more deadly to evangelism than hypocrisy. In recent decades this ‘hypocrisy bug’ has bitten many high-profile leaders in the Church. Though they may have had a compelling Gospel message, accompanied by impressive signs and wonders, their ministries were tarnished by scandals in their personal lives. They could have been noteworthy examples of apostolic leadership in the realm of evangelism, but their ministries were instead undercut by a lack of apostolic character.

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13 Essential Characteristics of an Apostle

Apostles have some basic characteristics that are essential to the fulfillment of the call upon their lives. These characteristics enable them to do what The Lord has called them to accomplish.

1> Visioning capacity – they need to be able to “see” what The Lord has called them to accomplish in the ministry they are currently undertaking. This ‘vision’ is part of a wider vision they will have of what the Church of Jesus Christ is going to look like in the future (the end product of the work they are undertaking for The Lord). So, they will have a vision of the local church they are working with or currently planting, a vision of the Church Jesus is building, as well as the bigger Kingdom picture.

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Paul’s Advice

I believe Paul would have a fair amount to say to the Church today. First he would comment lovingly that if we really are apostles or prophets, it is likely that someone will figure it out without reading it on our business card. We need more people functioning with apostolic and prophetic impact, and fewer people worrying about having the titles. Paul never called himself “apostle Paul” making his call from God and his role in the church into a ‘title.’ He recognized that it was a job description and so he would write “Paul, an apostle of The Lord Jesus Christ” or simply call himself a bond-slave of The Lord. (Romans 1:1)

Secondly, he would without doubt warn us about the false notion that apostolic ministry is characterized by prestige and honor. He would also point out that apostles are likely to be persecuted, slandered, and treated as the scum of the earth (1 Corinthians 4:9-13; 2 Corinthians 6:4-10)

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The Scriptural Role of Apostles

When we look at the role of the apostles in the early church we see that they served six main functions.

1> Taking the Gospel to the unreached areas. Paul wrote to the Romans, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else’s foundation.” (Romans 15:20) Although first-century apostolic ministry was not limited to unreached areas, a central apostolic passion was clearly to preach in places where Christ was not yet known.

2> Planting churches upon the foundation of Jesus Christ. Paul speaks of this in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11: “According the the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation and another builds upon it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it. For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid which is Jesus Christ.”

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The Missing Ingredients

Have you noticed how few people are being converted today in our “Spirit-filled” churches? It seems that we are heavy on the ‘theory’ and the ‘theology’ but light in the ‘fruit’ category. I believe that it is time for those of us from charismatic, prophetic, Pentecostal, renewal, and five-fold apostolic backgrounds to wake up to a painful reality: Non-Spirit-filled people often have more passion for evangelism than we have – and thus more fruit. But, you might protest, some of the largest churches in the world are charismatic or Spirit-filled. This is true – but, many of the big churches we see today are growing primarily from transfer growth – attracting converts already won by other churches and ministries.

The statistics, for example, of the church in the United States are shocking. Eighty percent of the churches have either plateaued or are declining in membership. Fifteen percent of the churches are growing but primarily through transfer growth as people leave churches they deem less spiritual. Less than five percent of the churches are growing because of conversion growth. This is, in reality, a terrible situation. Fewer than five percent of the churches in the United States are successfully reaching the lost!

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Biblical Apostolic Ministry Today

One of the key places to study the ministry of the apostle today is found in the Book of Acts, chapter 13. In the next few blogs in this series I want to look closely at Acts 13:1-5 and see what we can learn about apostolic ministry and apostles today from the work of the Church in the city of Antioch.

Many sincere Christians would vehemently contend that apostolic ministry is no longer needed in the Church today, yet they are strong advocates of missionaries being sent out to work in areas that have not heard the Gospel of the Kingdom. This is somewhat amusing, when we remember that the Greek word for “apostle” (apostolos) means exactly the smae thing as the Latin word from which we derive the term “missionary” (missionari). Both words mean “ones who are sent,” and the Latin word simply came into prominence when Latin became the standard language of the Roman Catholic Church.

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Signs and Wonders

Jesus, the apostle of our faith, used the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit to grab people’s attention. In the 4th chapter of John’s Gospel we see Jesus using a Word of Knowledge to witness to the woman at the well. As a result of this “sign and wonder” she goes back into the village and tells everyone about Him. He then has an opportunity to speak to the whole village about the Kingdom of God (John 4:5-42). The gifts of the Holy Spirit can still help open people’s hearts today.

In the New Testament it talks about the “signs of an apostle” and thus the signs that will follow apostolic people who obey the command to “go into all the world and make disciples” (Matthew 28:19). Although apostles were known as “miracles workers,” Paul made it clear that those involved in apostolic ministry should expect to see evidence of the power of God. “The signs of the true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance by signs and wonders and miracles.” (2 Corinthians 12:12 NASB). Supernatural manifestations (the gifts of the Holy Spirit – 1 Corinthians 12:4-11) are not the only signs of an apostle, but Paul clearly considered them to be very valuable. So should we today.

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The Priority of the Gospel

Priorities, priorities, priorities. Nothing shapes our lives more than our personal priorities. Many believers and many churches would tell you that sharing the Gospel is one of their top priorities, yet that is often not reflected in how they live their lives.

What about the apostles of the Early Church? Did they focus on dynamic meetings, church potlucks, and elaborate buildings? Was their priority to keep the Christians happy and make sure everyone kept tithing? Did they devote lots of their time to Christian conferences and the development of products they could sell to boost their income?

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Birthing Churches Through Prayer

One of my favorite church-planting stories is found in Acts 16, the account of Paul’s apostolic journey and outreach to Philippi. How did Paul get started on his quest to reach Philippi with the Gospel? Did he schedule a crusade? Did he try to evangelize the synagogues, as he did in other places? Did he develop a cell-church network? No, Paul had a strategy that might seem highly unusual to us today? He prayed.

How could such a strategy work? Why not get right into the work of preaching the Gospel to the lost? Paul realized that, as E.M. Bounds would later point out, “Talking to men for God is a great thing, but talking to God for men in even greater.” Paul knew that before organizing an outreach to people, he first needed to spend time agonizingbefore God. He understood, as J.C. Ryle has warned, “Never, never may we forget that if we would do good to the world, our first duty is to pray.” Judsom Cornwall expands on this: “God does not command to pray as a form of chastisement or disciple. Prayer is as necessary to spiritual life as scuba tanks are to the physical life of a deep-sea diver. Prayer is the atmosphere in which a human spirit can function comfortable. It is the breath of eternity so necessary to our eternal spirits that are confined in temporal bodies.”

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Apostolic Prayer

The story has been told about a young man in Bible school who offered to help David Wilkerson minister on the streets of New York City. Wilkerson asked him how much time he spent in prayer. The young student estimated about 20 minutes a day.

“Go back, young man,” Wilkerson quickly replied. “Go back for a month and pray two hours a day, every day for 30 days. When you’ve done that, come back. Come back, and I might consider turning you loose on the streets where there is murder, rape, violence, and danger. If I sent you out now on 20 minutes a day, I’d be sending a soldier into battle without any weapons, and you would probably be killed.”

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