Written Word

Does the Church Have Apostles Today? – Part 1

The Bible makes clear that we do not have apostles today who fit the category of the twelve selected by the Lord Jesus Christ. The ministry of the twelve was unique and could not be passed on to successors. Through their ministry, the full will of God was revealed for all the people of God and we submit to their authoritative teaching. The word “apostle” is not used exclusively of the twelve; it is used on several occasions to describe messengers or servants of the church who carried no “apostolic” authority. We will discuss this point later.

Jesus came into the world to save the lost by his death and resurrection. The events of Good Friday and Easter Sunday declare the finished work of the Redeemer. Jesus then entrusted the proclamation of this gospel to his twelve apostles. But first he had to choose men for this work and teach them about himself and his mission.

Chosen By the Lord

What is unique about the twelve apostles is that they were all specifically chosen by the Lord Jesus Christ. No one volunteered for the job. None of them introduced themselves to the Lord and said they had a special calling for the office; rather they were chosen. They were his special messengers, entrusted with the gospel and empowered by the Holy Spirit for ministry.

Before appointing his apostles, Jesus spent the night in prayer. “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.” (Luke 6:13-14) Mark says that Jesus selected them so “that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach…” (Mark 3:14) Their ministry was unique, for they would one day “sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.” (Matthew 19:28)

Paul, Chosen By the Lord

Though Paul was not one of the original twelve, he was nevertheless an apostle of equal authority with the twelve. He repeatedly affirms his divine appointment as an apostle. The Lord assures Ananias that “This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the gentiles and their kinds and before the people of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) Paul recalls his encounter with the Lord on the road to Damascus: “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you… I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light…” (Acts 26:16-18) To the Romans Paul says he was “called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God.” (Romans 1:1) And to the Galatians he affirms that he is “an apostle – sent not from men nor by man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised him from the dead.” (Galatians 1:1) Furthermore, he states the divine source of his message: “I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11-12) Paul was not only an apostle he was “the” apostle to the Gentiles. (Romans 11:13) His apostolic ministry, like that of the twelve, has “unique” written all over it.

The Apostolic Mission: To Bear Witness

Unlike other ministries in the church that are still with us, the apostles had a unique ministry. Before his return to heaven Jesus said to the apostles, “You are witnesses of these things… you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Luke 24:48; Acts 1:8) And that is exactly what the apostles were. On Pentecost Peter declares, “God raised this Jesus to life, and we are witnesses of this fact.” (Acts 2:32) While preaching the gospel in Antioch Paul says, “But God raised him from the dead, and for many days he was seen by those who had travelled with him from Galilee to Jerusalem. They are now his witnesses to our people.” (Acts 13:31) To the troubled church in Corinth Paul says, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (1 Corinthians 9:1). In other words, he is a witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.