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Apostolic Practice, by Vinson Synan

In spite of cessationist views and the low esteem showed to those who claimed to be apostles, the idea of a continuing apostleship continued to surface sporadically throughout church history. For example, Mani of Persia (216-274), founder of the Manichee sect in the third century, called himself the “Apostle of Light”—the last apostle of Jesus Christ, he said, who would ever appear. Like Mani, whose dualistic religion the church rejected as heretical, most people in church history who have claimed to be new apostles have been branded as heretics and excommunicated from the church. (Mohammed also claimed to be the last apostle and prophet for all time.) Other so-called end-time apostles, such as Joseph Smith, have appeared over the centuries and have been rejected. Nevertheless, the question of whether there are contemporary apostles has refused to die. In fact, the modern debate is as lively as ever.

Since 1901, despite long-standing cessation theories, Pentecostals and charismatics have loudly proclaimed that the charismata, or gifts of the Spirit, are a present-day reality in the church. Millions of modern-day Christians speak in tongues, prophesy, cast out demons and pray for the sick with an expectation of divine healing. These gifts of the Spirit are regarded as part of the modern Christian experience in a large percentage of the churches of Christendom.

The question many sincere Christians are now asking is this: If the charismata have been restored, why have not the prophets and apostles—those offices that the Lord himself set in the church—been restored also? As with the gifts of the Spirit, the dispensational limit on the exercise of these offices seems to be more man-made than biblical.

Prophecy has been an integral feature of most Pentecostal and charismatic movements through the years. Until recently, however, there has been an extreme reluctance to recognize the office of prophet, although some were ordained to the prophetic office in the Latter Rain movement of the late 1940s and ‘50s. In the words of the Anglican charismatic leader Colin Urquhart, “There have been many prophecies but few prophets.” In the past two decades, however, particularly among independent Pentecostals and charismatics, men such as Bill Hamon, Rick Joyner, Mike Bickle and Paul Cain have led a sweeping prophetic movement.

So, what about the office of apostle? When considering the fivefold ministries, the average believer can understand that pastors care for their flock, evangelists preach to the unconverted, teachers instruct their students and prophets prophesy the Word of God. But what do apostles do to show they are apostles? If there are apostles today, who are they?

What the Bible Says

The biblical definition of the Greek word apostolos is “one sent forth,” encompassing such ideas as messenger, ambassador and missionary. Perhaps the clearest definition would be “one sent on a special mission.” In the New Testament, the “special mission” was to preach the good news of the gospel. An apostle was sent forth by the Lord Jesus Christ as an ambassador of the good news, one carrying the all-important message of salvation.

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Category: Ministry

About the Author: Vinson Synan, Ph.D., is Visiting Professor of Church History and Dean Emeritus of Regent University’s School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, VA. Dr. Synan has over ten years of pastoral experience and is the author of several books including The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, The Century Of The Holy Spirit 100 Years Of Pentecostal And Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001, Global Renewal Christianity: Europe and North America Spirit Empowered Movements: Past, Present, and Future, and The Twentieth-Century Pentecostal Explosion: The Exciting Growth of Pentecostal Churches and Charismatic Renewal Movements. Dr. Synan has been a leader bringing Christians together in the gospel of Jesus Christ through such efforts as founding the Society for Pentecostal Studies and participating in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) Task Force. www.regent.edu/acad/schdiv/faculty_staff/synan.shtml

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