Written Word

Does the Church Have Apostles Today? – Part 3

Their Unique Position

The apostles hold a unique position in the church. Through them the Lord has made provision to ensure that the church, which he purchased with his blood, is sustained throughout its pilgrimage here on earth. Our spiritual well-being has been provided for in the following way: “And in the church,” Paul says, “God has appointed first of all apostles…” (1 Corinthians 12:28) Why? To teach and instruct us through the written word, which was inspired by the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, “[i]t was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles … so that the body of Christ may be built up…” (Ephesians 4:11-12) Spiritually mature Christians will be like the early church; it was said of them, “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching…” (Acts 2:42). So should we.

The following points about these apostles can now be made:

  1. They were personally chosen by the Lord.
  2. They were with him during his ministry.
  3. They were witnesses to the risen Christ.
  4. Through them the will of the Lord was revealed.
  5. Their ministry was accompanied by miracles, signs and wonders.
  6. Successors were never appointed to replace them.
  7. Their teaching is authoritative and is binding upon us today.
  8. We don’t have apostles like this today.

Apostles Today

We do not have apostles today in the sense of the twelve apostles. I should point out that the position of Judas was filled by one who had been with Jesus from the beginning and who was a witness of the resurrection. (Acts 1:21-22) By that qualification, there are no qualified candidates today who can succeed the apostles. However, the word “apostle” – meaning “one sent” – is also used on several occasions to describe people who served the church. Paul and Barnabas had been sent out by the church in Antioch to evangelise the surrounding region. (Acts 13:1-4) We know Paul was an apostle in the unique sense of that word, but Barnabas was not; yet he is also called an apostle. (Acts 14:4,14) This is a reference to his being sent out by the church. Epaphroditus is called a “messenger”, that is an apostle of the church in Philippi. (Philippians 2:25) Sending greetings to the saints in Rome Paul says, “Greet Andronicus and Junias, my relatives who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.” (Romans 16:7) These saints were outstanding apostles – servants, messengers of the church.

For example, no objection can be made today if a church sends out one of its members to provide extended assistance to a new church they have planted. That person is an apostle, a messenger sent on behalf of the church. However, it would be inappropriate if the person took to himself the title “apostle” and began referring to himself as “Apostle George”, as if he had the same authority as the original apostles who were witnesses of Jesus’ ministry and resurrection.