The Bible is very clear about the office of apostle when it states:
“And He set some in the Church, first apostles…” 1 Corinthians 12:28
First in the sense that they were chosen by the Lord Jesus to be with Him (Mark 3:13-14) and then to be the leaders of the early church after it’s birth on the Day of Pentecost.
First in the sense that they were needed as eye witnesses to all that had happened in the Lord’s three years of ministry; His death, His resurrection, His appearances over a period of weeks, and then His ascension into Heaven. In fact, this was the criterion for picking the person who would replace Judas Iscariot as the new twelfth apostle (Acts 1:21-22).
And still first today in the church if we are to have a healthy and strong foundation of apostolic doctrine and the full five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11) functioning within a local church.
The ministry of the apostle is “first” in that they are to pour foundational truths in the local church so that the life of that fellowship is built upon a solid, lasting and secure foundation.
Ephesians 2:20 “…(the church) built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”
We see this, as well, in the book of Acts in the life of the early church
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.
The ministry of the apostle is also first because they are key to the healthy functioning of the five-fold ministry. The apostle being the leader of the five-fold ministry team and the one who must be able to bring the supernatural giftings of the other members of the team together to function in a holistic and healthy manner benefiting the local church.
Ephesians 4:11-16 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to b evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
Many today believe that the ministry of the apostle died out when the original apostles passed from the scene. This is certainly not true to Scripture as we have many other apostles (other than the original twelve) listed in the New Testament and others who are not called apostles but who were certainly ministering in the apostolic office. Some Christians believe that when the early church established the Canon of Scripture that the office of the apostle was no longer needed. This, as well, cannot be backed up by the Scriptures.
The ministry of the apostle is still very vital and important to the advancement of the Kingdom and to the health of the local church today. Without this ministry, the Church cannot fulfill its mission in the earth.
The word ‘apostle’ comes from the Greek word ‘apostolos’, which simply means ‘one who is sent forth’. Apostles are sent from the presence of God with a divine message – a revelation from the heart of God for the people they are being sent to. They are ambassadors of the Kingdom who speak the heart of God to His people and release life (Zoe – the very life and nature of God) as they do so.
There are as many ways to discharge this commission or calling as there are people who hold the office of apostle. There are local apostles who function just within their local assembly teaching, laying foundations, training and equipping – but seldom traveling to other churches. There are also trans-local apostles whose ministry takes them to numerous churches where they minister in their anointing, supernaturally touching lives. They might also oversee a network of churches and function apostolically in this way. Overseas planting of churches is also a major role for the apostolic ministry in this day and age.
Of course, not all apostles will discharge their duty in the same manner; neither will they have the same anointing. Apostolic ministries will vary in demonstration and execution just as they did in the early church. Paul states this in 1 Corinthians 12:4-6. Apostolic ministry manifests itself in various ways. However, there is some common ground among all apostolic ministers. No matter what their specific call is, there are ten basic functions of the apostolic office. These tasks are not exclusive to the apostolic office but apostles will differ from other five-fold ministers in the way they execute these functions.
- Apostles are to preach and teach the Word of God
1 Timothy 2:7 states: And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a teacher of the true faith to the Gentiles.
Paul preached to the Gentiles to bring them to a saving knowledge of the Lord. We see many occasions when he did this; one of the best being his time in Athens carrying on a discussion on Mars Hill (Acts 17) declaring the resurrection from the dead through Jesus Christ. He also taught in the synagogues of the Jews to show his own people that Jesus was truly the expected Messiah (Acts 18:4, 11).
Apostles are to make known the mysteries of God (1 Corinthians 4:1) through the teaching of the Word. As they teach by revelation, the Word releases life into the spirit of the hearer. People are saved and local churches are planted. Apostles will then stay and teach the new church and raise up leaders to shepherd the believers and care for their spiritual needs before leaving to begin preaching once again for conversions in another location.
So, apostles are to preach and teach the Word of God. As they do they are looking for people to come to a saving knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ – true conversions. They then continue to teach as they disciple young believers in the faith. As the local church grows and matures the apostolic team (including prophets) recognizes giftings and callings and begins to mentor those with leadership qualities; eventually releasing these new leaders so as to form a strong foundation for this newly established church. They then move on to establish another local church maintaining relational ties with the newly released church speaking into the life of that local church when it is needed.
- Apostles are to recognize and impart spiritual gifts
Apostles (and prophets) are able to ‘see’ spiritual gifts and callings resident within believers. These gifts and callings include the nine Gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:4-11); Motivational Gifts as found in Romans 12 (verses 3 to 8); and the calling and grace upon a person’s life for ministry within the Five-fold Ministry Team (Ephesians 4:11); as well as other giftings such as ‘administration’, helps and eldership (1 Corinthians 12:28).
As apostles (and prophets) recognize the grace upon a person’s life for a gift – in God’s timing, they can lay hands on the person and impart the gift. This is, at times, done during a presbytery but it is not necessary to always have a team of two or three apostles and prophets ministering together to accomplish this task within the Body of Christ. A single apostle (or prophet) can also minister the gifts through the laying on of hands.
Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. (1 Timothy 4:14)
The ministry gift and calling is imparted by and through the laying on of hands. This does not activate the gift within the person’s life and walk with the Lord. It simply deposits the gifting within the person. They now need to go through extensive training on the use of the gift(s) and they need someone to mentor them in the ministry and calling on their life such as Elisha did under the ministry of Elijah and Timothy did under the ministry of the apostle Paul.
Once the person is firmly planted within a local church, submitted and accountable to the leadership of that church, has learned to serve the Body of Christ in numerous and often non-spiritual ways, and then been found to be faithful, the leaders can begin to consider the person for a leadership role within the local assembly and the recognizing and releasing of their gifting.
During this training process the leadership (or mentor) would also be working with the leader-in-training on issues of their character as well as many basic life skills. For example, being of good reputation, having and keeping a job, paying bills, caring for wife and family, relational issues, and so on.
Once these three basics have been established – character, servanthood and character development – in God’s timing the apostle (or prophet) can lay hands on the person and release the gift to function within the local body or trans-locally as dictated by the Holy Spirit. At this point the gift and calling will have already been recognized and received by the local assembly and so this public releasing of this person will not come as a surprise to the Body of Christ.
So, an apostle has the gifting and calling to bring forth the gifts of God in believers – to reveal them and bring them to light. As well, they can impart gifts and callings into the believers through the laying on of hands; releasing them when directed by the Lord Jesus and when the candidate has matured in character and shown themselves to be true servants.