“ON EAGLES’ WINGS MINISTRIES”
“ARE APOSTLES MADE or BORN?” WHAT DOES THE BIBLE SAY? Feb. 2012.
As ministers of the gospel of Christ, individually, we are engaged in the task of fulfilling God’s call upon our lives. Each ministry becomes a stewardship over which one is required to be found faithful. However, from time to time, one cannot avoid seeing the antics and human wheeling and dealing that transpire within the ranks of Christendom. We are going to attempt to determine whether an apostle can be made by way of loyal service to the local church, or is that office—calling—given even before one’s birth.
We quickly remind ourselves of God’s word to an ancient prophet. “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; (experientially as one friend knows another) and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jeremiah 1: 5. This cardinal truth did not wane and disappeared in the New Testament era. Paul wrote that we were chosen and given grace in Christ before the world began. 2nd Timothy 1: 9. So far we have already seen from biblical chronology that the ministerial offices within the Christian Church are not offices one can acquire in stages and human efforts that are eventually rewarded by being ordained to any of the five ministerial gifts that we shall put under careful scrutiny later on.
When we turn the spotlight on the realm of Christendom, and configure our task against the guidelines established by the Author and Finisher of our faith, we are left with our mouths agape. In case we tend to forget, it is well established in scripture that Jesus called his disciples and later established his Church with specific guidelines as to how the Body should function. In establishing the rules of engagement for his disciples, Jesus went to great lengths to draw distinction between the world and the church; between true righteousness and that of the Pharisees. “For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5: 20.
Jesus was very careful to set up a line of demarcation between the secular world, and that in which his disciples should live and minister. Listen to him drawing distinctions! “And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.” Luke 22: 25-26. Matthew offers another version of the same lesson that so many seemingly have missed in their quest for greatness and high profile visibility before an endearing public. “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant.” Matthew 23: 10, 11.
We have even memorized these scriptures ever since as youths we sat in Sunday school; and after we became Christians our elders pounded these values into us, Sunday after Sunday. The concept of humility and obedience to the word of God was never left to chance. It was drilled into us so that it became like a second nature for us to take the back seat and shun the spotlight. Interestingly enough, the clergy as we know it today has taken a path that Christ did not enact, create, or would approve of. It is a well known fact that the clergy took the high road a couple centuries after the original apostles of Christ and their immediate successors had passed on to the nether world. The menial tasks of bishops and elders in the early church gave way to a sophisticated dynasty of clergymen. This was in concert with the gradual rise in prestige and influence by the bishops of the Church. As Gentiles from North Africa and other regions began to join the church family, it was deemed necessary to create a two-tier order. The one on a higher plateau became known as the clergy and the term laity was applied to those on the lower tier.
It is a well know fact that the ministry that was given to the early church offered very little in terms of financial compensation; but the ministers served willingly as unto the Lord. Paul noted that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble are called. He concluded that God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and the weak things to confound the things which are mighty; that no flesh should glory in his presence. 1st Corinthians 1: 26-29.
What are the amazing trends that we are now seeing? We need not look very far to see a minister, who some years ago, served as an elder in a local Assembly; gradually ascend in rank from elder to the rank of pastor, (given oversight of one congregation) or district elder having been given the oversight over a number of churches in a specific district or diocese.
In a few years
the elder or pastor is ordained in an annual convention to the rank of bishop.
This of course, is forgetting that in scripture an elder, a bishop, and an
overseer mean the same thing. In the mean time, the congregations, who aren’t
being told the biblical truths, embrace these newly ordained ministers as
though heaven has just sent them refined and well polished to be dignitaries,
and religious luminaries.
Some years ago,
a new trend broke over the horizon, and the clergy got caught in its wake,
hook, line, and sinker. That trend was to make members of the clergy ascend to
the rank of “doctor.” Many that got caught up into this new trend, quickly
dropped the title of bishop, pastor or elder, and embraced the title of
“doctor” thus placing three bars on both shoulders of their preaching robes. To
prove if there was any magic or special clout to being a doctor, I studied and
earned a Doctor of Divinity Degree. I concluded that it was not the degree that
really mattered; rather, it was the person that bore the degree.
But consider that the greatest apostle of all, was content to be called, “Our beloved brother Paul” by Peter his contemporary in the gospel.2nd Peter 3: 15. The vanity and worldly ego that is being displayed by sections of the clergy today offers a sad commentary upon the gospel of simplicity and humility that Jesus personally put in place, and that had the approval of the heavenly Father himself. The term “doctor” seemingly, has run its course, and is now being replaced by the term “apostle.” But let us not forget that as is practiced in Christendom today, one can advance from being an elder, to the higher rank of “pastor” and over time step up the ladder to the rank of bishop. For many years the bishop was the highest rank in the local church. He/she served as pastor, prophet, teacher, and even went on short trips as an evangelist; as it were, covering all bases.
His task was to run the conference and with some help set the agenda; but the office was meant to be a temporary; only until the end of a synod. The byproduct of the office was high visibility and prestige to such a degree, that after the conferences were over and disbanded the bishop still held on to the title of “Metropolitan Bishop.” The office brought in lots of money and with money came power; and power created competition. In the meantime, the Holy Spirit silently slipped out of the building as it were through the back door.
It is no wonder that John in the Revelation saw Jesus standing outside the door of the church knocking and seeking to enter in. It was not a call to the sinner; but rather, it was a call to the church out of which he was so rudely expelled. That high spirit of glamour and celebrity among the clergy has not faded away, and those who bask in its rays and glitter will never call for that worldly and ungodly feature to see its demise over the horizon in the western sky. The search for glamour and recognition has now worked its way to an even higher level. Today many “apostles” and “doctors” spend their time preaching about their immense wealth.
Let me quickly insert the opinion of Christ as he addressed this very thing. “Because thou sayest, I am rich (he is speaking to the church of the Laodiceans) and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knowest not that thou art wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked. I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in the fire, that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed, and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eyesalve, that thou mayest see.” Revelation 3: 17,18. Have you seen this picture being displayed before your very eyes these days?
The top rank being claimed by many is “Apostleship.” Business cards now carry the title “Apostle” so and so! But can one work his way up the chain of command to eventually earn the rank of apostle? Can an apostle be made? Can you serve as pastor for some years, then become a bishop; and as you continue to be faithful you move up to become an apostle? Is the process like serving an apprenticeship, then as an intern, and finally graduate with full honors? Can any bishop, male or female decide one day that it is worthwhile being called an apostle and simply adopt the title? Or can some other members of the clergy gather in a room and decide to anoint you as an apostle out of personal choice? Who has the power and authority to decide who becomes an apostle? Once again, “Are apostles made or born?
If you go to a uniform store and purchase a full outfit of a policeman’s uniform, and gets dressed in it, does it make you an authentic empowered policeman? Can you step into the street and begin to direct traffic simply because your uniform looks like that of a real policeman? The same holds true concerning the ministerial gifts that Christ himself imparted to the church. You do not buy a gift! You do not ask for a gift! You do not work for a gift; that would be a salary or a wage paid for the work performed.
GOD’S DIVINE ORDER FOR THE MINISTRY TO THE CHURCH!
Let us be mindful of this one thing! The true Church of Jesus Christ was not initiated and governed by man. Jesus said; “Upon this rock I will build my Church.” Based upon this cardinal truth, every aspect of the ministry to the church is only a stewardship given to men and women with the mandate to carry out God’s will, and not to build personal dominions or man-made kingdoms.
Christ in the Revelation called upon the Church of Ephesus to observe that they had left their first love. The cure was to repent and do the first works. As if creating a separation between the clergy and the laity was not bad enough, the division went through the full length of the clergy. At first, the terms, elders, overseers, and bishops were synonymous. As we shall soon see, these terms were used interchangeably in New Testament times; unlike what has become the bedrock of current ecclesiastical orders featured by just about all our local churches today.
In Acts 20 we see that elders were also called overseers, and now elders are being called bishops. Thus, in the local church back then there were no multi-level rankings among ministers in the body of Christ. When I served as a minister in a church in a South West suburb of London, England, we simply ordained ministers; giving them the authority to serve as a member of the clergy. However, it was up to the minister to determine what his calling was among the five ministerial gifts that we will highlight shortly.
GOD’S DIVINE ORDER FOR HIS CHURCH!
“WHAT IS THE PURPOSE OF THESE FIVE MINISTERIAL GIFTS?”
The scripture is very emphatic in outlining the purpose of these gifts within the redeemed Body of Christ. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, or, for the ministry to work effectively; for the edifying of the body of Christ.
FOR HOW LONG SHOULD THEY REMAIN IN THE CHURCH?
Till we all come into the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.” Ephesians 4:7,8, 11-14.
Thus, the divine order is laid before us in concise form, giving the reason for it; its effect upon the ministry to the body, and its duration in the on-growing growth of the church. It is correct and honest to say that the deficiencies that exist and are visible in the church today, is a direct result of the gifts being ignored all together, or they are being manipulated by cunning men to serve their ego and consolidate their hold on power over the body of Christ and are acting as hirelings rather than the true shepherds of Christ.
Jeremiah could not make himself a prophet; and there were no other prophets through whom God could speak; so we read, “Then the word of the Lord came unto me, saying.” Jeremiah 1: 4. He was ordained to be a prophet while he was still in his mother’s womb and that truth is not to be taken lightly. Saul was not suddenly made an apostle on the dusty Damascus road. He said of himself, including us all, that we were chosen by God in Christ before the worlds began; so if you were not ordained as an apostle before time began, your claim to be one now is up for more scrutiny.
Look at how Paul assessed his apostolic ministry! “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ through the will of God.” 1st Corinthians 1: 1. “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” 2nd Corinthians 1:1. Listen to how specific this one is! “Paul, an apostle, (not of men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead.)” Galatians 1: 1. Does this sound like a man who served as pastor, but thought it worthy to have the elders or bishops or ordination committee ordain him as an apostle in some sort of an “upgrade?”
Paul again emphasized the source of his apostleship! “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus.” Ephesians 1: 1. And again! “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” (Not based upon his ego or personal ambition, or a lust for power.) Listen to the power that comes with this declaration! Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the commandment of God our Savior, and Lord Jesus Christ, which is our hope.” 1st Timothy 1: 1. It was God and the Lord Jesus that commanded his apostleship!
Speaking of the priesthood of Christ and how it is achieved, we are told: And no man taketh this honor unto himself, but he that is called of God, as was Aaron.” Hebrews 5: 4. The same holds true down through time, and we can paraphrase the verse when referring to the ministry of an apostle; “but he that is called of God as was Paul.” Let us reiterate the fact that Paul’s entry into the ministry was not by a group of elders, or bishops, or ordination committee set up by man in the local church. Here is Paul’s personal account of that event: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry.” 1st Timothy 1: 12.
Yes it is true that after Paul’s conversion and a few years in Arabia, he finally went to Jerusalem where he met with the chief apostles, who gave him the right hand of fellowship into the body. But they certainly did not ordain him to the ministry. How was Timothy to know his place in the ministry and what role he was to play in God’s vineyard? In a broader context, how did you come to know what your specific ministerial gift is? How would the young Timothy know his rightful place in the body of Christ? Listen to Paul’s exhortation to Timothy who became his son in the gospel! This account leaves no room for pondering and speculating.
“Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine. Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery. Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.” 1st Timothy 4:13-15. From this we understand that Timothy did not get his ministry by the meeting of the elders of a local church; and Paul continued his admonition in his second letter to Timothy.
“Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands.” 2nd Timothy 1: 6. When it came time for Paul and Barnabas to be separated to the mission field it happened this way. “As they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Ghost said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. So they being sent forth by the Holy Ghost, departed unto Seleucia.” Acts 13: 2, 4a.
This kind of operation in the early church was void of man’s wisdom and man’s vain experiments. God did the calling; he did the drawing, and he did the sending. Man’s only responsibility was to answer in obedience to the will of the Holy Spirit. Seemingly in today’s religious landscape listening to the voice of the Spirit and doing His bidding is in words only, and amounts to nothing more than a sham.
It requires a direct word from God through one of the gifts of the Spirit to tell you which of the five ministerial gifts you are; and it is to be followed by the laying on of hands by the presbytery. Do you have one in your church? Does God speak to your congregation through one of the nine gifts of the Spirit, and put in place the right person for the right ministry?
HOW DID YOU BECOME AN APOSTLE? If it is not according to the order that Christ initiated, you need to cease using the title and throw out your business cards! No one can work their way into that calling—the call comes from the Lord according to his will and we simply answer the call.
In the body of Christ, the five ministerial gifts are like a hand with an open palm. Here is the order the way Christ instituted it. Your thumb represents the apostle; your index finger bespeaks of the prophet—the one that points the way forward, and minister comfort and correction. The middle finger being the tallest, speaks of outreach into uncharted areas as an evangelist.
The third finger is the wedding band finger, and is symbolic of the pastor being married to the flock. The little finger is the finger we mostly use to reach into our ears to scratch or clear the entrance of obstruction. It is befitting then, that the little finger represents the teacher; not merely as a teacher’s aide, but the “gift of teaching.”
As generally being practiced, the pastor may teach bible class on Sunday evening, Wednesday night, and Friday night. But simply because one is versatile, articulate, and proficient as a teacher, that does not mean by any stretch of the imagination that the person has been endowed with the “gift of teaching” as one of the five ministerial gifts. Simply because a person did a stint as an evangelist, even with much success, it does not mean the ministry of an evangelist was imparted to begin with.
In the well known story of Saul who went searching his father’s lost asses through many countries, he and his companions came into the land of Zuph, and in this city he met the prophet Samuel. To offer a condensed version of the story we will fast-forward to the following: “After that thou shalt come to the hill of God, where is the garrison of the Philistines: and it shall come to pass, when thou art come thither to the city, that thou shalt meet a company of prophets coming down from the high place with a psaltery, and a tabret, and a pipe, and a harp, before them; and they shall prophesy: And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon thee, and thou shalt prophesy with them, and shalt be turned into another man.
And when they came thither to the hill, behold, a company of the prophets met him; and the Spirit of the God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it came to pass, when all that knew him beforetime saw that, behold, he prophesied among the prophets, then the people said one to another, What is this that is come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets? 1st Samuel 10:5,6,10,11. Surely, after this brief encounter, it would have been unwise of Saul to set up an ongoing prophetic ministry, because having prophesied does not mean an impartation of the “gift of prophecy.”
It is true that we can do many things with two or more fingers without involving the thumb. Go ahead and try it for yourself. But the bottom line is that you can do better with any finger on the hand along with the thumb; it also brings balance to the whole hand. Paul outlined the order of the ministry to the church as a body of called out believers in Christ. “And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.” 1st Corinthians 12: 28. As we just alluded to, all the other fingers on the hand function more adequately when the thumb is also involved. That is the place and ministry of the apostle in the body of Christ.
Since these are biblical truths, seemingly, many have determined that in order to consolidate power, and not to leave an opening for any higher authority, the pastor or the bishop, who a while back acquired the title of “doctor” now decides to move the bar and include both the bishop and the doctor, and call the new package “apostle.”
But let us not forget that Paul consistently referred to his apostleship as being the will of God, and not after the desire of man; not even his personal desire. He did not see the ministry of the apostle as a position of power and prestige to be sought after and seized upon for self gratification. In fact he saw how humbling the ministry of an apostle really is, that he wrote:
”For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. Even unto this present hour we both hunger, and thirst, and are naked, and are buffeted, and have no certain dwelling place.”1st Corinthians 4: 9, 11.
The apostles did not see their ministry as a high ranking position in which people serve their every need, while they bask in the celebrity status that comes with it. Were you born to be an apostle in the body, or are you one that was made by the will of men and through a series of progression in which you worked your way to the top? Did God confirm your apostleship?
To be quite frank about the issue; when and how did you come to know that God has called you to be an apostle in his house? If you were called to be an apostle even before your birth, why was it necessary for you to serve as an elder for years, then moved up to the rank of pastor? Why is it that from being a pastor you had to be ordained a bishop in which capacity you served for many years.
But, as if being caught up in the latest trend among your contemporaries, you decided that it was time for you to take on the mantle of an apostle. It offers you top billing in high places, and it covers all bases in the local church, but why did it require so many years and so many stages of progression to finally arrive at what is usually imparted from birth? Many seemingly ascend to the rank of apostle so that all power and leadership stops at their doorsteps. It simply means that none can be higher and exercise more power than the apostle.
Even though Paul, as an apostle, did not rule over local churches, even those that he personally established, many today view the office and ministry of an apostle out of different lenses. By assuming the highest post among the saints, the apostle seeks to eliminate and offset all opposition and threat to his/her authority. Many local Assemblies have become a personal stage for a “one-man show” and perhaps if we listen closely enough, we can hear the voice of Christ softly saying, “They have their reward.”
As we have seen from the writings of Paul, the early apostles did not see themselves as persons of power and authority over God’s people. They served in pain, in hunger, and in humility, exalting the members of the body higher and more important than themselves.
I remember many times when I was introduced to be the main speaker, the congregation stood as a matter of practice. It was up to me to request that the next time I am introduced to be the speaker, please remain seated. Paul, as an apostle was most successful because he openly testified saying; “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world. From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Galatians 6: 14, 17.
Isn’t it plain to see why this apostle and others of his contemporaries could have made such an impact upon the world even to this day? What they sought was to project the kingdom of God and its virtues, and to exalt the Lord Jesus Christ, and have the world lift him up in praises.
They were content to suffer ridicule; to be mocked and flogged; to be shut up in prison; and to be stoned. Paul said, “None of these things move me, neither count I my life dear unto myself, so that I might finish my course with joy, and the ministry, which I have received of the Lord Jesus, to testify the gospel of the grace of God.” Acts 20: 24.
So my apostle friend! How does your mindset stack up against the mindset of Paul? What is your purpose and ultimate goal in claiming the title of an apostle? Do you think that the Lord actually placed you, an apostle, last in the church because it is appointed unto death? Or do you grasp and hold on to the title because of its impact and power, and hold over people who really don’t know the true dimensions of the calling itself?
Look into your own soul and determine if you are acting like the Gentiles of whom Christ spoke, who lord it over the people as rulers, rather than being the servants. Be servants, not as slaves, but as sons of God who willingly serve. If thou wilt be great in the kingdom of God, learn to be the servant of all. Lay aside your apostolic robes and bend your knees in humble service to Christ your King. Don’t continue along that path that will cause you to hear, “Depart from me; I never knew you!”
But Lord, I cast out devils; I healed the sick; and I evangelized the world, setting up scores of churches in the process. Yes, you did! But depart from me because the only ones to enter into the kingdom of God are those who did the will of my Father, and you were doing your own thing and have had your reward. We serve God, not on our terms, but on his term and according to the path he chose for us in Christ before the worlds were framed. Give him glory and serve with humility!
Royce O. Kennedy