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Apostolic Practice, by Vinson Synan

In the New Testament, a variety of ministers bore the title of apostle:

  1. The Unique Apostle—Jesus. Hebrews 3:1 speaks of Jesus as “the apostle and high priest of our profession.” He, indeed, was one sent on a special mission to save the world. Of course, there will be no other apostle like the Son of God. He is unique and stands alone!
  2. The twelve apostles. The Bible seems to place “the Twelve” in a unique category as well. This special group of messengers is without parallel in church history; their unique ministry will never be repeated. Some call these the “apostles of Christ” or the “apostles of the Lamb” because they saw Jesus with their own eyes and were witnesses of His resurrection (Acts 1:21,22). To these twelve men, Jesus promised a special place in the Kingdom: “You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel” (Matt. 19:28).
  3. Eight other apostles. Some of these are called the “apostles of the Churches” (2 Cor. 8:23). After Judas betrayed Jesus and hanged himself, Matthias was chosen to take his place. Later, Paul, who saw the Lord “as one born out of due time” (1 Cor. 15:8), was also called an apostle. These two men were not the end of the list. Paul called James, the brother of Jesus, an “apostle” (Gal. 1:19). Others were Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Apollos (1 Cor. 4:6-9), Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7) and Epaphroditus (Phil. 2:25). Some early church fathers even called Mary Magdalene “the first apostle” because she was the first to see the risen Lord. Ann Graham Block and other scholars claim that Junia was almost certainly a woman because of the feminine form of the name.Thus, the identification of at least eight other leaders who were “apostles” clearly puts in question the argument that the apostolic office was limited to the original Twelve (although their unique place in the biblical record is undisputed). Implicitly or explicitly, the Bible gives no fewer than twenty people the apostolic title.
  4. The “false” apostles. In addition to the twenty people with recognized apostolic ministries, the Scriptures define a category of “false apostles,” whose positions were not appointed by God but usurped by carnal men for their own glory. Paul called these men “deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Cor. 11:13-15). He likened them to Satan, who “transformed himself into an angel of light” in order to deceive the elect.

To distinguish between the genuine apostles and the false, the Bible suggests the following criteria:

  • True apostles saw Jesus in the flesh and witnessed the Resurrection (see 1 Cor. 9:1).
  • True apostles are accompanied by “signs, wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12).
  • True apostles equip the saints for the work of the ministry, bring unity to the body, speak the truth in love and join and knit the whole body together (see Eph. 4:7-16). They are the authoritative teachers of the truths in the Gospels.
  • True apostles are ecumenical, with a universal interest in and authority in the whole body of Christ (see Gal. 2:8).
  • True apostles are chosen by God, not necessarily elected (see Eph. 1:1).
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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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