Just to summarise for this extremely in depth series, I’ve shared three articles thus far as to why people object to apostles existing today:
- Article 1: Apostles were NT Scripture writers and since we no longer are adding to Scripture, such a role is no longer needed. I addressed this here.
- Article 2: Jesus personally hand-picked the apostles and since he is seated at the Father’s right hand, he no longer choosing apostles in such a way (in the physical sense). I addressed this here.
- Article 3: To be an apostle, it is a requirement that Christ must have appeared to you post-resurrection. This no longer happens, Paul being the last one to receive such an appearance. I addressed this here.
With each of these arguments, I truly believe there has been a misunderstanding of particular Scripture passages used as proof-texts as to why apostles no longer exist. Misunderstanding particular Bible verses will lead to the formulation of wrong conclusions. I don’t say this arrogantly, but rather to challenge us to re-think the particular passages usually quoted with regards to the reasons that apostles no longer exist post-first century.
The fourth objection usually surrounds this issue: Apostles are foundation layers (as it states in Ephesians 2:20) and a foundation only needs to be laid once. Since the apostles laid this once-for-all-time foundation in the first century, and with that foundation being faithfully recorded in the New Testament Scriptures, we no longer need apostles.
So let’s consider this objection.
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we find the very important passage mentioned above:
19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:19-22)
With such a statement in vs20, we see that, along with prophets (which might be another important post in the future), apostles are an extremely important part of the new covenant church. These two ministries are given as the foundation layers in the gospel.
So, to repeat, those who say apostles no longer exist today will point out that a foundation can only be laid once. What building (that is built correctly) has its foundation laid over and over again? The building might have its brick-work, roofing, windows, or even its furniture on the inside replaced. But not the settled and finished foundation.
So, because those first apostles laid this all-important foundation once-for-all-time, we no longer need such gifted people to lay the foundation.
There are 3 specific points I want to raise to address this fourth objection:
- The dynamic nature of the church’s foundation.
- Understanding how Biblical imagery is used.
- Keeping in mind other important passages.
1) The Dynamic Nature of the Church’s Foundation
What someone like myself could be accused of (I’ve never heard this, but it could be out there) is that to claim that apostles (and prophets) still exist today is to somehow acknowledge that the foundation laid in the first century was unfinished and/or faulty.
Let me start off by saying that I am not walking down that path at all.
I believe that the foundation laid in the first century by the first apostles (and prophets) was solid and faithful to the cornerstone, Jesus. By no means was that foundation faulty or lacking. Matter of fact, we see that they had a special foundation-laying role when reading these other words of Paul to the Ephesians:
1 For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles – 2 assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, 3 how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. 4 When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. 6 This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. (Ephesians 3:1-6)
Though there were definite pointers in the Old Testament to the ‘mystery’ of vs6, the new foundation of the new covenant was to be laid by the apostles and prophets of this new covenant. One of the major foundation stones, if not the major foundation, revealed to them was this: the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel (vs6). This was very good news (gospel) for which Paul gave his life.
This is why we must recognise the special and significant role of the first apostles and prophets of the new covenant. They were the first to receive this revelation, as well as other revelations, in regards to the outworking of the gospel and the new covenant. And this testimony has been recorded in the God-breathed Scriptures of the New Testament, which stand as a measuring stick for God’s people in regards to our faith for all times.
Yet, the special role of these first apostles and prophets should not negate Christ’s heart to continue to gift people as apostles and prophets for equipping the saints and helping us reach that high calling of unity, maturity and stature in Christ, which I will remind us of later.
But how does this all fit together then? How is their a foundation laid so long ago by the first apostles and prophets and yet still needing these ministries to equip God’s people today?
The important thing to remember is that the activity of God is always dynamic and not static. What I mean is that we cannot view the gospel foundation laid in the first century as some static, non-living, irrelevant foundation for today (and the other 19 centuries between theirs and ours). This foundation is Spirit-breathed and must continue in the dynamic life of the Spirit.
Therefore, the role of apostles and prophets today is not that they lay a completely different gospel foundation from the first apostles and prophets. Such is absolutely out of bounds! Rather, while treasuring that initial foundation laid two thousand years ago, the call of apostles and prophets of subsequent generations is to help this foundation become a dynamic reality today.
It’s easy to recognise that the times and seasons of today are quite different from 2000 years ago. The truths of God are timeless, no doubt. But seeing those truths become a reality for the Bride of Christ today is paramount.
Apostles and prophets never lay aside that which was taught by the first group of such ministries. If we do, we will head down a dangerous road. Rather, we take that measuring stick and continue to see the foundation of the gospel become a reality in our world and culture.
We must never see this foundation as static and cemented into time. The living, breathing Spirit of God is interested in seeing the truth of God become a dynamic part of the church’s life in every century, every decade, every culture, every language. I believe if we do not allow for such, we will have missed something vital.
2) Understanding the Building Imagery
What we must also remember with regards to imagery being used in Scripture is that not every single implication of the imagery is to be taken to its full extent.
With Ephesians 2:19-22, the people of God are being compared to a building, or specifically a temple. But we are not to walk down the path of making everything completely applicable in the imagery. We don’t assign differing church groups to different rooms in the building/temple. We don’t assign certain groups to the court of the Gentiles. And the list could go on.
The imagery does not serve this purpose, taking every single possible aspect to its full extent.
Here is another example: the body of Christ imagery. We are not called to identify who are the hands (those with gifts of healings?), who are the eyes (those who are prophets?), who are the feet (those who are evangelists?), etc. It doesn’t work. The purpose is to teach us the overall understanding of a body working together. Of course there are other implications, as we might gleam from 1 Corinthians 12:12-31. But we must be careful of trying to make everything about a body fit into the imagery.
Another is the vine and the branches of John 15. From reading vs6, one might conclude they can ‘lose their salvation’. But I believe that is taking the imagery too far. The point is to talk about the benefits of abiding in Christ as branches. We are absolutely dependent upon him.
So, with the building/temple imagery of Ephesians 2, I would ask us to guard against importing all of our ideas about buildings into what Paul is trying to teach us. Read vs21 and ask this question: How does a [physical] temple grow? It doesn’t. What Paul is teaching is not to be fully compared with an actual temple.
Thus, I’m not sure we are intended to import the idea that foundations are laid once-for-all-time in a static sense. Why? Because of my first point: the foundation of the gospel is dynamic knowing that it was birthed out of a dynamic Person.
3) Remember Another Important Passage
Finally, as we all know with hermeneutics (the interpretation of Scripture), one of the first and greatest guidelines is allowing Scripture to help us understand and interpret Scripture. This is very, very helpful.
And so, I would ask us to keep Ephesians 2:20 in context with what Paul also says later on to the Ephesians, a passage that this whole series is based on:
11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 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. (Ephesians 4:11-13)
Paul teaches us that, when Christ ascended, He gave certain ministry gifts to people, one of those being the ministry of apostle. Even more, we read that all five of these ministry gifts are needed ‘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’ (vs13).
As I have stated in previous articles, no one would claim that the body of Christ has reached this unity, maturity and stature in Christ. We need to continue to move towards this goal.
Hence, the word ‘until’ denotes that something is currently taking place, but it has not yet been completed. We are still headed towards that goal, but we are longing to reach that finish line. Therefore, just as we need evangelists, shepherds and teachers to help us move towards this calling in Christ, so we need apostles and prophets to help reach the goal.
So I ask that we remember to keep Ephesians 2:20 related to other passages. And I believe some of Paul’s words just a little later on in Ephesians 4:11-13 provide some very important meat to chew on when considering the full ramifications of apostles and prophets.
It’s possible that some might accuse me of bringing in quite a slippery theology, meaning that, at all costs, I have avoided dealing with the issues at hand caused by Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:20. Of course, I would see otherwise when remembering 1) the dynamic nature of the gospel-new covenant foundation, 2) the implications of imagery used in Scripture are not to be fully imported into what the text is teaching, 3) consider Scripture in context with other Scripture.
Remember, I am very much an advocate of the foundation the apostles and prophets laid. It was the initial foundation and I am grateful for God’s providence in seeing this recorded in the New Testament Scripture. But I also believe Christ never intended such to be the final say-so for these ministries to continue. Christ, the great apostle, sent his Spirit to continue his apostolic work in his church so that the whole world might be able to know the whole Christ. And, thankfully Jesus continues to gift people as apostles to help the body of Christ fulfil their apostolic calling as a whole community.