A gracEmail subscriber writes concerning a man who claims to be an apostle, and whom a number of believers regard as such. Are there living apostles today? What makes a person an apostle?
* * *
The word “apostle” literally means “one sent.” “Emissary” or “delegate” are more contemporary synonyms. The greatest Apostle is Jesus of Nazareth, whom God sent into the world with authority to make atonement for sin and to give eternal life to those whom God had given him (Heb. 3:1; John 17:1-3). The New Testament assigns the 12 Apostles a unique role in the Church — with Matthias replacing Judas who betrayed Jesus then hanged himself (Mk. 3:13-19; Acts 1:21-26). Paul was an apostle of equal standing with the Twelve (Gal. 1; 2 Cor. 10-13) as apparently was James the Lord’s brother (Acts 15:7).
The New Testament also mentions a few other “apostles” in the sense of “missionaries” or “church planters.” Those include Barnabas (1 Cor. 9:1-6), as well as Andronicus and Junias (or Junia, a feminine name), a pair whom Paul described as “outstanding among the apostles” (Rom. 16:7 NASB). No doubt God still raises up that kind of apostles today. My maternal grandparents fit that description, having gone to Africa in the early 1920s to preach the gospel and having continued in that task for more than 60 years. We all know others who are “apostolic” in this missionary sense.
If your professing apostle today places himself alongside Andronicus, I should not find that particularly troublesome. If, however, he considers himself on a par with Peter, James and John, that would be something altogether different indeed. Twice the New Testament writers warn against false apostles (2 Cor. 11:13; Rev. 2:2), apparently pretenders who claimed spiritual authority equal to the Twelve. I would reject as false any such claim today, whether such apostleship was said to have been transmitted by a chain of succession, restored to the earth after centuries of absence, or bestowed by special charism.