5. The Church - Apostles

carvings on the front of Lichfield CathedralThe earliest leadership to appear in the New Testament church seems to be that of the apostles, indeed the first apostles were appointed by Jesus himself as recorded in Mark 3 v13-19.  Mark lists three responsibilities for apostles:

•   To spend time with Jesus
•   To be sent out to proclaim the message
•   To have authority over demons.

 “Apostle” is a Greek word that simply means “sent out”. Legitimate English translations would be “messenger” or “ambassador”. There were originally 12 apostles but Luke records (Luke 10) that Jesus later appointed another 70, or 72 (the manuscripts disagree). Even within the time of Jesus’ ministry it seems that at least some of the apostles had special responsibilities. Judas seems to have acted as treasurer and Matthias was appointed to take over Judas’ responsibilities after he committed suicide (see Acts 1 v 15 – 26).

Although the original 12 apostles continued to have a unique role in the early church, other people are also referred to as apostles in the rest of the New Testament. Paul is the most obvious. Apollos, Barnabas, Silas and Priscilla and Aquila seem to have carried out the role of apostles. In Romans 16 v 7 Paul mentions Andronicus and Junias (Junias is a woman’s name) and calls them “outstanding among the apostles.”

What apostles did

There is no precise definition in the Bible of what the apostolic role involved. The apostle we know most about is Paul. His work seems to have involved establishing new churches which he then encouraged and guided through visits and letters.  Going into new territory to proclaim the message of the kingdom and to establish new churches certainly seems to be a key aspect of the role. Throughout the New Testament apostles also seem to have been guardians of the tradition both of the events of Jesus life and the teaching that went with it. In Galatians Paul reports how he checked with the apostles in Jerusalem to make sure they were in agreement with his teaching and he is often careful to distinguish between times when he is giving his own opinion and times when he is carefully passing on the tradition.

In recent times there has been a movement in connection with the “New church” movement that grew out of the Charismatic renewal, to restore the function of apostle to the church. In these circles apostles are seen as church planters who take a wider strategic role, overseeing a number of churches and who having “input” into them to encourage and guide them. This is seen, importantly, in relational, rather than bureaucratic terms.

Photo: Lichfield Cathedral, Staffordshire, UK
Photo © copyright Mike Jobling