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Apostolic Practice, by Vinson Synan

In the nineteenth century, a restorationist movement began in Britain with the avowed purpose of restoring all aspects of New Testament Christianity to the modern church. Lewis Way, John Nelson Darby, Edward Irving and others pioneered a restoration of the charismata (such as glossolalia and prophecy). The movement culminated in the creation of the Catholic Apostolic Church in 1832. In addition to the manifestation of the gifts of the Spirit, the church attempted to restore the fivefold ministries, including the office of apostle.

In due time, the church ordained twelve “apostles” who were to be the end-times equivalent of the Twelve chosen by Christ. According to their prophecies, this group would be the last apostles to exist before the rapture of the church. Eventually, however, these apostles died. When the last one died in 1901, the British church collapsed and practically disappeared. Only in Germany were new apostles ordained to succeed those who had passed away. This church took the name “New Apostolic Church” and is today the third largest body of Christians in Germany (after the Catholic and Lutheran churches).

Another sad case of a modern “apostle” who went over the hill was Alexander Dowie, who claimed the titles of “apostle” and “Elijah the restorer” just before sinking into dementia.

The earliest name chosen by the Pentecostal movement in America was “Apostolic Faith,” a designation given by Charles Parham to his church in Topeka, Kansas. It was here, in 1901, that modern Pentecostalism, with its emphasis on the baptism in the Holy Spirit as evidenced by speaking in other tongues, began. Parham’s student, William J. Seymour, chose the same name for his Azusa Street Mission in Los Angeles in 1906.

In this context, “Apostolic Faith” did not signal a move to restore the office of apostle to the church. Parham, in fact, was extremely critical of any kind of church government, especially a highly centralized system with apostolic authority. Yet, there are those who refer to him as the “apostle of Pentecost

In the years that followed the glory days at Azusa Street, Pentecostal missionaries traveled around the world preaching the “latter rain” message of a mighty “Holy Ghost outpouring” that would occur before the second coming of Christ. A new generation of Pentecostal “apostles” appeared. They included G.B. Cashwell, the “apostle to the south”; T.B. Barratt, the “apostle to Europe”; W.C. Hoover, the “apostle to Chile”; Ivan Voronaev, the “apostle to the Slavs” and Luigi Francescon, the “apostle to Italy.”

Other early Pentecostal groups claimed to restore the office of apostle to the church. These included “apostolic churches” in Wales, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and the United States, in which “apostles” were duly elected and ordained along with any other office in the church. Some of these continue to this day, with colleges of apostles (usually twelve) that govern their denominations. The “New Order of the Latter Rain” movement of the late 1940s also popularized the restoration of the “fivefold ministries” in preparation for the revelation of the “manifested sons company.” These perfected ones, it was claimed, would rule and reign at the end of the Church Age. Prominent among this elite group would be prophets and apostles. Overall, however, Pentecostals have been far more interested in restoring the charismata than in restoring any type of ecclesiastical offices to the church. In the words of David du Plessis, “Pentecostals are more interested in apostolic success rather than in apostolic succession.”

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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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