The Bible tells us there are both true and false apostles. Let's learn to discern the difference.
For many years traditional denominations taught that the ministry of
the apostle passed away after the New Testament era. It was assumed
that the only people who served in apostolic roles were early followers
of Jesus who witnessed His resurrection. Cessationists (those who
believe that miracles stopped after the canon of Scripture was
completed) believe that healing, deliverance, prophecy and all other
supernatural phenomena ceased and that apostles are no longer necessary.
But as Christians in recent years began to experience the
supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit, church leaders and even some
theologians began to teach that the gift of apostle is vital if we hope
to advance the gospel in our generation. The logic makes sense: If we
still need pastors, teachers and evangelists (all part of Jesus'
five-fold ministry mentioned in Ephesians 4:11), we also need the
apostles and prophets who are listed in the same passage. The Bible
never says these functions were discontinued.
"If we view leadership in the way Jesus
taught it, we know that being first is not about being on top. Apostles
are at the bottom of the pecking order."
During the 1990s there was a renewed interest in the ministry of the
apostle. Many books were written on the topic, explaining that the
Greek word apostolos refers to God's special ambassadors, or
"sent ones," who are commissioned to contend for pure doctrine,
preserve unity among the saints, equip leaders, model Christian
character and help the church advance into new territory.
But a strange thing happened on the way to recovering genuine
apostolic anointing. In true American fashion we began to merchandise
No sooner had the first book on apostles been written that some men
began to claim the title and print it on their business cards.
Apostleship became a fad. Before too long, some men were creating
networks of independent churches answerable to a governing apostle who
took ownership of their buildings and controlled their congregations.
Some charismatic apostles became mini-popes who carved out their
fiefdoms. Suddenly the independent charismatic movement had more
invasive authoritarianism than the denominations these pastors
abandoned 10 years earlier.
In some circles apostles demanded total allegiance from the leaders
who were "under" them. Some required a policy of "tithing up," creating
a monstrous organizational structure similar to a spiritual Amway.
So-called apostles with huge "downlines" made exorbitant amounts of
money. One leader even offered pastors the opportunity to become
"spiritual sons" by contributing $1,000 a month to his ministry.
Apostolic covering could now be bought. And apostolic grace was
reduced to the level of a motivational coach. May God forgive us for
reducing the value of such a precious gift.
I still believe we need the apostolic anointing—and I know many
wonderful apostles who have planted churches in many parts of the
world. As I have watched them, and studied the life of the apostle
Paul, I've seen three key truths we must reclaim today:
1. True apostles are servants. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 12:28: "And God has appointed in the church, first apostles,
second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings,
helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues" (NASB, emphasis
added). When carnally minded people read this verse they assume God has
set up some kind of ecclesiastical hierarchy, with apostles sitting on
thrones at the top.
But if we view leadership in the way Jesus taught it, we know that
being first is not about being on top. Apostles are at the bottom of
the pecking order. They are the servants of all. And because they serve
a foundational role, their work will often remain hidden in obscurity.
They are not looking for fame or celebrity, nor are they grasping for a
title; their role is to empower everyone else.
2. True apostles are unselfish. I know one apostle
in India who goes by the name of Pastor Howell. He has planted 600
churches in the Punjab region, trained countless young church leaders
in a makeshift Bible school and led thousands of people to Christ. He
has also seen whole villages impacted by the gospel through one miracle
of healing. He has never ridden in a limousine and he lives in a modest
home with a straw roof that he shares with about 12 Bible college
The apostle Paul would have gagged if he could see how some modern
American apostles profit from their downlines or how they require
pampered treatment. Apostleship has nothing to do with privilege. In
fact Paul sometimes made tents for a living in order to avoid the
appearance of entitlement.
3. True apostles share Christ's suffering. True
apostles live on the edge. They push the boundaries of Christianity
forward, into hostile territory—and as a result they encounter more
than their fair share of persecution and spiritual warfare. They are
never content to live in a comfort zone. Yet even in foreign prisons
they find joy and fulfillment.
One of my new heroes is a Nigerian pastor named Tunde Bolanta, who
bases his ministry in the dangerous northern area of his country. I
spent time with him last month when I was visiting England. He lives in
a city where Muslims have killed pastors, maimed Christians with
machetes and drowned their children in wells.
For Tunde, apostleship is not about getting the best seat on a plane
or having the largest TV audience. It is about teaching his
congregation to remain faithful to Christ even when receiving death
threats. And it is about sending his church members into difficult
regions where they could face martyrdom.
As our nation faces a turbulent economic crisis, I pray that we will
allow the Holy Spirit to shake the greed, pride and self-centeredness
out of our movement. False apostles prefer the primrose path over the
Calvary road. May God grant us true apostolic anointing that is marked
by New Testament courage, unquestionable integrity and Christ-like
J. Lee Grady is editor of Charisma.