Spotting Apostles

Andrew Wilson and David Devenish have been writing recently about apostles on the New Frontiers theology blog (which, by the way, has a tendency to be rather an interesting blog indeed and well worth reading). Yesterday Andrew Wilson wrote an excellent post on recognising apostles. While the earlier posts have highlighted for me some of the ways in which NewFrontiers and the Apostolic Church have moved in different directions in their thinking on apostleship (we're not really very far apart in our thought, although I'd say we'd, in the UK at least, be closer to Devenish than Wilson in our thinking), yesterday's instalment speaks right into our situation in the Apostolic Church.

Read Andrew Wilson's full post, but my quick summary here is that he points out that, unlike the other four ascension ministries, there isn't a function that corresponds to the apostle by which we can recognise them. (i.e. We can, at least in part recognise something of the call of the prophet in prophesying, the teacher in teaching, the evangelist in evangelism, and the pastor in pastoring, but there's no such function as apostling. Andrew puts it much better, so read his post.) Apostles aren't the subject of a verb, but the object. They're the ones who have been apostled (sent), so it's their sent-ness by which their identified. Andrew puts it like this:

if you’re appraising an apostle, you are not assessing what they are doing (are they any good at preaching the gospel, founding churches, cross-cultural mission, etc) as much as you are assessing whether or not they have been sent by the ascended Christ.
Now, the reason I think this is significant for us in the Apostolic Church is because this is a truth we used to grasp really well, but which we often seem not to emphasise as much nowadays. It strikes me that whereas in the early days of the Apostolic Church, we would have thought it a very strange idea indeed to identify a man as an apostle based on what he did, nowadays we seem to ask each other questions much more frequently about the function of an apostle.

Now, I can understand why we ask such questions more often (perhaps even, they weren't asked often enough in the past), but the danger lies in subtly shifting to thinking we can identify apostles simply through what they do, rather than by seeing the fact that they've been sent by the head of the church.

Maybe this way of thinking is what causes some misunderstandings about what a call to the apostleship is. Every ordination service I've been to of late (and not only those of apostles) has emphasised the fact that the new call isn't a promotion. And that is very true. But perhaps the fact that we keep needing to emphasise that so much is because quite a lot of people have got a wrong idea of what apostleship is. The focus in people's minds seems rather often to be on function rather than on Christ's sending.

In the past we used to talk very freely about the need for revelation in calls to the apostleship (or any of the other ministries for that matter). It's not that we've stopped talking about or believing it, but perhaps it's something we tend to speak about more behind the scenes nowadays. (And again, I can see some good reasons for that as well, as perhaps we overly emphasised the ministry gifts at some points in the past.) But if we don't talk about it much to our people, then it's easy for them to think of identifying ministries as ticking off functions on a check list.

Years ago, W.A.C. Rowe wrote:
We find no call or appointment in the New Testament except by Apostolic or Prophetic revelation or direction (Acts 13:1-4; 14:23; 20:28). Individuals may receive personal inward revelation previously as in the case of Saul of Tarsus. But even for the illustrious apostle there came the public and official call of God.
If the distinguishing feature of apostleship isn't a function, but rather being sent by Christ, then we need to rely on His revelation of whom He has sent.