Today the church of Jesus Christ is going through a great transformation. My wife, Maria, and I have the privilege of first-hand awareness of these transformations on three continents! Many around the world are hearing the same call. Pastor Sung Hee Lee, a prominent Christian figure in Korea, has listed some of these transformations that we will see in the 21st century church:
from Sunday church to everyday church
from a great congregation ministry into small group ministry
from a gathering church into a sending church
from clergy centered to laity centered
from authority of the pastor into leadership of the pastor
from discipleship training into apostolic training
What I want to make special note of in this article is the last transformation listed: from discipleship training into apostolic training. In my words, recovering apostles and prophets who lay the foundation of the church, above all, where there is no church!
For this we have unmistakable evidence and agreement in the NT, regardless of our present day position, of the role of apostles and prophets in building the church.
* “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” 1 Cor. 12:28
* “You are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the corner stone.” Eph 2:19-20
* “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…to the building up of the body of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-12
Stuart Murray writes similarly in Church Planting – Laying Foundations (1997):
“For church planting movements, the identification and deployment of apostles (and prophets) is arguably highly significant… Many churches [in Acts] were planted by unknown men and women, rather than by recognized apostles… But there are passages that seem to link apostles closely with church planting. Some have suggested that apostles and prophets are foundational ministries in a way neither pastors nor evangelists are. Although Jesus Himself is the “cornerstone”, churches are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2.20). A mark of Paul’s apostolic ministry was that he laid foundations (1 Cor. 3.10), and that he did not build on foundations laid by others (Rom. 15.20).”
Where Have You Gone, Apostles and Prophets?
I feel many struggle with the idea that we are limiting God if we become too sticky on this point! I often hear: “God is a God of infinite variety and diversity, not a ‘cookie cutter’ god!”. What matters to me most of all, however, is not the actual use of the word “apostle” but rather its role/function restored to pioneer church planting and God’s order re-established in the unreached corners of the globe!!
Once again from Murray: “The use of the term apostle is less important than the effective deployment of apostles, by whatever they are known. Apostles are trans-local rather than local leaders, and their focus is on mission rather than maintenance.”
If Jesus said “First, Second, Third…”, we don’t just have the freedom to say: “Second, Third, First”. Or worse (and more often the case): “Tenth, Sixth, Nineteenth…” !
Isn’t this somewhat like the error of David in bringing the ark back to Jerusalem, missing God’s order, "line-by-line", for the re-establishing His church. “We did not inquire of Him about how to do it in the prescribed way”. I Chron. 15:13 (NIV)
Dear brothers and sisters, there is a “prescribed way” Jesus will build His church. There is a pattern!
“When the tabernacle in the wilderness was built exactly ‘according to the pattern’ (Heb 8:5; Ex 25:9) given to Moses in the mountain, the glory of God’s presence came down and filled the Holy of holies…If we build according to the pattern God has given us in the NT, we can confidently expect a much greater manifestation of His power and glory in our day.” (Edwin Stube)
God didn’t bend the rules with David or Moses and he surely won’t with you and I.
Consider with me the “prescribed way “of church planting revealed in Acts:
- In Cyprus when the apostles Paul and Barnabas faced direct opposition to their work from Elymas the magician, they called on the name of God and brought His judgment upon him, which led directly to the salvation of Sergius Paulus (who had earlier asked for the apostles to come and share the word of God with him)! “Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord” Acts 13:12
Without that power encounter, I argue, they would have left that island “empty handed”, their time spent in discussions, talking, etc. and no fruit! If God would have started first with administrators, helpers, givers, encouragers, gifts of mercy… the church in most places would have never gotten planted!
- In Iconium a great multitude believed, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 14), but as in most other places where the apostles labored, “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren.” Therefore Paul and Barnabas spent extra time in that city speaking boldly to the people and “the Lord was bearing witness to the word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands." These evidences of divine approval had a powerful influence on those in Iconium, both believers and non-believers alike.
Again, without those power displays (which are the signs of a “true apostle” 2 Cor 12) they would have left with an infant church struggling terribly in the midst of an “embittered” people, if not altogether snuffed out shortly thereafter!
- In Lystra Paul discerns by the Holy Spirit that a man who had never walked had faith to be healed! “Stand upright on your feet!” Paul said with a loud voice and another church of the Master was born! Would the “pastor/teacher” have had the discerning spirit and the eyes of faith to bring “God’s goods” to that man? How you answer that question is critical.
In the most helpful book about church planting I know, “According to the Pattern” (1982), Edwin Stube writes about apostles as well:
“An apostle is sent by God to begin a work. The apostle Paul went from place to place, led by the Spirit, evangelising and establishing congregations in places where there were formerly no Christians. An apostle must be able to manifest all the gifts of the Spirit – prophesy, heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. – because in a new place there are no others to do these things. He does the works of Jesus and reveals Jesus’ power. The apostle does not speak with his own words, but with the words that are given by the Holy Spirit.”
Since Jesus is the Way, we must do it His Way!
Our passion: To see church-based apostolic individuals, who are sent out by twos and threes to the “unreached” ends of the earth, to lay the foundations and work themselves out of a job by building congregations which can quickly stand on their own two feet.
Of course, apostles are made not born!
Timothy was a young boy when Paul hand-picked him from his home and took him on-the-road, along with Silas. Their friendship /co-working lasted nearly 20 years! Timothy was directly mentored on the job, just like Jesus did with the 12. Certainly this is a process as well, witness young Mark who left the apostolic team once in fear and utter failure. Three years later the famous riff between Paul and Barnabas ensued over Mark and the two apostles painfully split up…Years later Paul writes from prison in Rome telling Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes for “he is helpful to me in my ministry”. Evidently, Mark measured up to his call, but it didn’t happen over night, wasn’t without hardship and difficulties, and wasn’t as “pain-free” as getting on a plane and heading to another country…
Yours for the least in the Kingdom,