|Some apostles - 1930s style!|
Authority always has a source. A judge gets his authority from the Crown and the law. His authority is not his own, but an authority which he holds on behalf of the Crown. Parents, on the other hand, have authority due to who they are: parents. Theirs is not a delegated authority, but belongs inherently to them. And they can even delegate a measure of that authority to the babysitter.
So what sort of authority does an apostle have? Is it a derived authority (like the judge) or an inherent authority (like the parents)? It has to be a derived authority; for the apostle is not Head of the Church, Christ is. As the only Head of the Church, Christ is the source of all authority in His Church. Christ is 'the Apostle' (Heb. 3:1) and it is He who expresses His apostleship through the men He has called. As Pastor W.A.C. Rowe put it, apostleship 'is the Apostle-Christ in action through human channels' (One Lord, One Faith, p.247). Each apostle shares in 'part' of the ministry of apostleship contained in full only in Christ Jesus (see Acts 1:17, 25). And that means that each apostle derives his authority only from Christ, the Apostle and Head of the Church. The authority does not come from the man himself, nor does it come from the title (nor is it delegated by the church), but comes from (and belongs to) Christ. But, that still leaves the question of how do apostles get this authority that comes from Christ?
A few weeks ago I was in Swansea and was chatting to Warren Jones, the former National Leader of the Apostolic Church in the UK, after the morning service. As usual, Warren had the knack for explaining simply, succinctly and memorably (which I shall now try to repeat, but will undoubtedly fail). Although it wasn't really what we were speaking about (or I might have thought to ask him a few more questions), Warren simply brought together the two themes of authority and revelation when it comes to the nature of apostleship: the apostle has authority that comes from revelation. And that revelation which gives authority to the apostleship isn't something vague: it's either the Written Word of God in the Scriptures or prophetic revelation (whether to the apostle directly or through the prophet). (I hope I'm being entirely fair to Warren in how I've put that across - his thoughts have been turning over in my mind now for quite a few weeks, so I can't remember exactly how he expressed it.)
The apostle gets His authority from Christ the Head, through the revelation of Christ. Put the other way (and better way) round, Christ reveals Himself and sends His apostles to authoritatively proclaim that revelation. Here it is in diagram:
The authority does not come from the man, the title, or the church, but from Christ.
And that authority comes through and stands on Christ's revelation. That too is an important issue: just what is this apostolic revelation? As Warren helpfully pointed out, it can be the Bible or it can be prophetic revelation. (This is not, of course, to equate Scripture and prophecy; the two are distinct and prophecy must fall under the authority of Scripture.) That means Apostolic revelation isn't some sort of mysterious type of revelation that no one understands (and of which the Scriptures tell us nothing), but rather it comes in the same way as all revelation from God. That's why the apostles are linked both with doctrine (Acts 2:42) and with prophets (Acts 15:22, 32) in Scripture. (That's not to say that the apostle always needs a prophet for prophetic revelation; God often gives prophetic revelation directly to the apostles - e.g. Acts 16:9-10). That's also why the main priorities of the apostles in Scripture are the Word and prayer (Acts 6:4).