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Why are there so few APEs among the church?

Posted by on Jul 23, 2012 in blog links, spiritual gifts | 27 comments

Why are there so few APEs among the church?

Eric at “A Pilgrim’s Progress” has written a very good post called “Hoping for an Ephesians 4:11-12 Balance.” He is wondering why there are so few apostles, prophets, and evangelists (i.e., A.P.E. – thus, the title of this post) among the church today while there seems to be a plethora of pastor-teachers.

I think this is a very good question, and before I throw in a comment, I want to share one important things that Eric says (but, make sure you read his entire post):

I’m hoping for a return to a balance within the church. Specifically, I’d love to see more apostles, more prophets, and more evangelists. I’d also like to see more shepherds-teachers functioning within the biblical perspective (as opposed to what we generally see today)…

What can we do to help bring about more of a balance? First, we can pray that God will continue to liberally bestow these giftings on his children. Second, we can teach that these gifts are alive within the church and meant to be cultivated. Third, we can encourage young people in particular to ask God whether or not they are gifted as apostles, prophets, or evangelists. The subject of pastors-to-be is often raised in churches, but the others are rarely talked about.

I think Eric is asking a great question and is offering some great solutions. I want to take this a step further, beyond the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers listed in Ephesians 4:11.

One of the problems, is that many continue to interpret Ephesians 4:11 as special types of authority figures among the church. (Eric is not doing that, by the way. I’m speaking in general.) As long as we maintain that these people represent some type of authority, then we will miss what Paul is saying in the context of this passage.

Yes, the church and world today needs functioning apostles, prophets, and evangelists today, but not if they are simply going to occupy some office or authoritarian role among church organizations. Instead, we need people who are sent by God to travel from place to place, people who share God’s revelation in order to edify others, and people who proclaim the gospel wherever they are. And, we need these people to also equip others to do the same things.

Then, beyond the APEs and the pastor-teachers, we also need servants and helpers and contributors and administrators and encouragers and every other child of God serving in the way that God gifts them and provides them opportunities. As Paul concludes this context in Eph 4:17, the church builds itself up in love when the whole church – every part of the church – works together.

So, yes, let’s pray for and encourage and train and equip the apostles, prophets, and evangelists along with the pastors-teachers. Let’s show them how to serve others instead of taking roles of authority or decision-making. And, let’s also pray for and encourage and train and equip the servants, helpers, contributors, miracle workers, healers, tongues speakers, discerners, etc. We need each other in Jesus Christ to grow together in maturity in him.


27 Comments

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  1. 7-23-2012

    Alan, I posted the following comment on Eric’s blog. It is awaiting moderation:

    Eric,

    Cessationism has ruled the day for quite a long time. The belief that miracles and sign gifts as we see in the book of Acts were special and no longer apply today has been blanketed over these offices as well.

    In fact – and I’m giving you a homework assignment here – I believe this mindset has had such an affect on the church that the pattern for NT assembly as we see in 1 Corinthians 11-14 (you know, the one that you, me, Alan, Arthur, Lew, Jon, etc. talk about) has been negated. Here’s your homework assignment: look at all the gifts (even if they are singing) in 1 Cor 11-14 and see how many of them can be negated out due to “guilt by association” – i.e. these are listed in groups of gifts like tongues, etc., that many of us negate anyway.

    So our participatory, all inclusive assemblies are wiped away because we don’t believe the wild miracles are happening anymore. And if you care to take a blog comment as prophetic, I’m okay with that.

  2. 7-23-2012

    One reason is that apostles, prophets and evangelists, if they are following Christ, probably tend to buck the organizational, top-down culture of most churches. Pastors-teachers fit in just fine because seminaries and churches over emphasize book learning, often at the expense of obedience/application, missionality and engaging the culture.

  3. 7-23-2012

    Preach on Brother Dan…

  4. 7-23-2012

    Steve,

    I don’t think any gift can be negated. The Spirit can and does work through his children in any way he chooses today.

    Dan,

    I’ve seen those who refer to themselves as apostles, prophets, and evangelists within the organizational, top-down culture of churches. I’m not sure these “titles” are related to what we see called being apostles, prophets, or evangelists in the NT. But, then again, I don’t think using a title of “pastor-teacher” in a hierarchical organization is related to the what the NT means by the term shepherd (pastor) or teacher.

    -Alan

  5. 7-23-2012

    I guess I was just referring to the fact, or perception, that prophets biblically tend to work outside the well-ordered church/organization. They’re not very welcome. Apostles and evangelists also tend to focus on the outside/outgoing of a church. That draws resources away from what a lot of people see as the primary function of a church group — the care and feeding of the flock. Pastors and teachers by definition it seems tend the flock. Therefore they are more accepted.

  6. 7-23-2012

    Dan,

    Yes, I agree. They are more accepted in most circles, because the pastor-teacher function can be more easily modified to fit into the role of an organizational leader.

    -Alan

  7. 7-24-2012

    Thanks Alan!

  8. 7-24-2012

    It would seem that many of your responders are from relatively conservative church systems. My situation is just the reverse…lately I have been in settings where (so-called) ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’ were in abundant supply. Gifts, offices, or whatever, these folks seem to function as loose cannons that find new revelations or new interpretations of obscure Scripture passages and announce them to the body, with everyone running off to hear this new thing from God. It feels like a small dinghy which starts to tip one way so everyone moves to the other side, causing it to tip the other way!

    I’m firmly NOT a cessationist but my return question is, “In this day, what exactly IS an apostle or a prophet? What are their roles in a local church?” All I have to go on are the (it seems to me) abuses that are so public in certain fellowships.

  9. 7-24-2012

    Eric,

    Thank you for another great post!

    Tom,

    Yes, I’m familiar with those uses of the terms “apostle,” “prophet” and even “evangelist.” They remind me of the way the term “pastor” is used by many in the modern church as a title of authority.

    Do you have a suggestion for the definition and role of the apostle or prophet?

    -Alan

  10. 7-24-2012

    Actually wondering about apostles and prophets was not meant to be a rhetorical question…the more I look at them the less sure I am WHAT the two terms (dare I say offices?) mean in modern times. First APOSTLES:
    1 Corinthians 12:28-30(NET) And God has placed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, gifts of healing, helps, gifts of leadership, different kinds of tongues.
    Not all are apostles, are they? Not all are prophets, are they? Not all are teachers, are they? Not all perform miracles, do they? Not all have gifts of healing, do they? Not all speak in tongues, do they? Not all interpret, do they?
    The answer is yes, not all of us are any of those things. Could it be that apostles were only in that day…the surviving disciples…the ‘first’? Paul seems to claim he was the last apostle:
    Romans_1:1(NET) From Paul, a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.
    1 Corinthians 15:8-10(NET) Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them — yet not I, but the grace of God with me.
    NET study note: One born at the wrong time. The Greek word used here (ἔκτρωμα, ektrōma) refers to a premature birth, a miscarriage, or an aborted child. Paul uses it as a powerful figure of the unexpected, abnormal nature of his apostolic call.
    I’ve somehow taken apostleship to be something that ended with Paul…the last one to see Jesus (on the Damascus road). Is that cessationistic?

    As to PROPHETS, they clearly existed in the NT:
    Acts 21:10-14(NET) While we remained there for a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. He came to us, took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it, and said, “The Holy Spirit says this: ‘This is the way the Jews in Jerusalem will tie up the man whose belt this is, and will hand him over to the Gentiles.’ ” When we heard this, both we and the local people begged him not to go up to Jerusalem. Then Paul replied, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be tied up, but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” Because he could not be persuaded, we said no more except, “The Lord’s will be done.”
    But today’s prophets (at least the very public ones) seem to deliver less personal predictions along with special interpretations of Scripture passages that have nothing to do with the context.

    I WOULD LIKE SOMEONE TO DO A CAREFUL SCRIPTURE STUDY OF THE TWO TERMS AS THEY COULD APPLY TO TODAY!

  11. 7-24-2012

    Tom,

    II Cor 11:13, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into the apostles of Christ.”

    From this chapter we can glean a bit of a guide in discerning the false from the true apostle. These others—the boasters and braggards seeking their own glory—are false apostles, liars of the sort Paul warned about in Acts 20, “grievous wolves” and in Gal 1:7, 2:4, “perverting the gospel of Christ” for their own aggrandizement, and that John warned about in II Jn 7-11.

    This was something the church was still facing into the mid 90’s, as the last of scripture was laid down. It is something we face today.

    “I know thy works, and thy labour, and thy patience, and how thou canst not bear them which are evil: and thou hast tried them which say they are apostles, and are not, and hast found them liars:” -Re.2:2

    The ongoing trouble discerning false apostles would seem silly if there were no true apostles travelling about, too.

    As to the cessation of the apostle, prophet and evangelist, I don’t see that for the following additional reasons:

    1. The usual cessationist basis is the qualifications given for the replacement for Judas. But these were not the qualifications for an apostle (see next examples).

    2. Besides the twelve, besides Paul, we have several more named apostles: James (Gal 1:19; 2:9), Silvanus (Silas) (I Thess 1:1; 2:6; 2:2 cp Acts 16:22,25), Barnabas (Acts 13:2-4; 14:14; I Cor 9:6), and Apollos (I Cor 4:6,9; cp I Cor 3:1-8, 22).

    3. The stated purpose for both itinerants (apostles, prophets, and evangelists) as well as for pastor-teachers is: “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”

    The stated duration is: “Till we all come in 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 the fulness of Christ”

    I think it reasonable to hold that this is not yet our estate. Certainly these gifts are for a time, but it seems to me, that when these gifts are no longer needed (till “till” has arrived), then none of them are needed.

  12. 7-24-2012

    In reexamining everything since coming to liberty in Christ, I only have an idea why there are so few of these gifts operating in the body today. If church as we have known it for over 1,700 years, is not God’s idea, as I propose, then how would God’s voice be heard in those buildings? Perhaps Tyndale was a voice speaking into the church darkness. I suspect that as the Lord comes suddenly into his house/body/ekklesia there will be a renewal of all of the spiritual gifts.

  13. 7-24-2012

    Tom,

    I appreciate many of the questions and concerns that you raise. I don’t think that Paul was referring to himself as the “last apostle,” but that he was the last (chronologically) of those listed of witnessed the resurrected Jesus physically. Not everyone in this list was an apostle, so that doesn’t appear to be his focus.

    I have not done a complete study of the terms apostle, prophet, etc. But there are a few passages that can help us understand what the authors meant with those terms, primarily through comparison and contrast. For example, in 1 Corinthians 14, Paul contrasts prophecy with speaking in tongues. Obviously, that’s not a complete description/definition, but it’s helpful.

    One thing that I have noticed is that the authors of Scripture did not give us a definition or description of each spiritual gift or spiritually gifted person. I think there’s a very good reason for that.

    Art,

    I was wondering why you included prophets and evangelists as itinerants. I think they can be itinerants, but they don’t necessarily have to be itinerants.

    Marc,

    For various reasons – which have changed from time to time and from place to place – different types of service have been emphasized or de-emphasized by Christians (the body of Christ). As we all follow Jesus Christ together, we will find him using us in many different ways, and we will find his body being built up even more.

    -Alan

  14. 7-27-2012

    “So, yes, let’s pray for and encourage and train and equip the apostles, prophets, and evangelists along with the pastors-teachers.”

    do wonder if here comes an unintended invitation/proposal to make APEs? We know that Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists are given via grace gifts specific to each of these. APEs cannot be manufactured or grown via seeds or plans in “training”. The gifts of God, without repentance, express themselves quite well (do not depend upon a church building or system for opportunity).

  15. 7-27-2012

    Hi Marshall,

    “The gifts of God… express themselves quite well (do not depend upon a church building or system for opportunity).”

    If our maturity in Christ and conformance to His image is brought about by mutual ministry, and if the church sets aside some of the gifts as no longer relevant, expected or functional, and if the church sets aside the importance of the mutual ministry of every saint, in favor of, say, weekly lectures from an expert, will the gifts indeed “express themselves quite well?”

    We aren’t designed to be self-sufficient, but are interdependent on others in the Body.

  16. 7-27-2012

    Art, thank you for your reply.
    There is mutual ministry in ekklesia, though the graces & power of God do not depend upon mutual ministry, but rather welcoming it. Apostling, Prophecying, Evangelizing… do not depend upon maturity to function in those so gifted.
    However, the journey toward maturity is helped immensely through rightly discerning the Body of Christ; or, to be more direct, recognizing the members of Christ by the Spirit rather than by catechism, method, moral conduct, roster, activities or personal relationships. There are plenty of “Christian” folks ready with a program to make APEs (or anything else) of men viz-a-viz academic or religious-social training. But when a disciple is trained in the way of Christ, gifts are perfected and God is glorified. An organization or program (“church” or “parachurch”) is unable to directly achieve it.

  17. 7-27-2012

    Marshall,

    I do not think it is possible to train someone into being an apostle, prophet, evangelist, etc. Those are gifts from God. However, it is possible to train someone who is an apostle, prophet, evangelist, etc. and help them learn how to follow Jesus and serve others in the way that God has gifted them and provided them opportunities. This is the kind of training that I was talking about.

    Art,

    I’ve always found it interesting – and quite encouraging – to find that even Paul recognized his need for others. He knew that God would work through him to help other follow Jesus, but he also knew that God would work through others to help him follow Jesus. He never turned away from that help.

    -Alan

  18. 7-27-2012

    another viewport in the making of disciples, rather than APEs per se?

  19. 7-31-2012

    It seems to me the question is: “Are the prophets and apostles in the Old and New Testaments” unique? Hebrews 1:1 seems to put, at least prophets in a past sense:
    “Long ago at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.”

    Why is God not still speaking by the prophets. This passage seems to set a distinction in how God spoke “long ago” and now by his Son. Also don’ read in the NT church situation about “so and so prophet has come to speak a word from the Lord to us”. In the OT, prophets were regularly speaking. The Hebrew passage seems to keep this distinction as well.

    Those who are advocating for more prophets and apostles like in Bible days, where do you stand on the closing of the canon and how do the prophets and apostles’ uniqueness affect that?

    What about the uniqueness of Rev. 21:14 where “the wall of the city had twelve foundationss and on them were the twelve names of the twelve apostles.” This is particuarly directed to Art who says there were more than just twelve apostles. The context of Revelation 21 ties the twelve apostles with the twelve tribes of Israel in OT.

    I close with a quote from Dionysis of Corinth (AD 110) who was much nearer the NT church age than we “I do not command you as Peter and Paul did. THEY WERE APOSTLES, I am a convict.”

  20. 7-31-2012

    Short answer to Mike, and then I’ll step aside for Alan or other more knowledgeable people to answer.

    There’s a difference between Apostles (the 12) and being apostolic or apostle-like. Also a difference of being an Old Testament prophet and prophetic or prophet-like. There were obviously prophets in the NT. The Bible tells us so. There also were obviously apostles other than the 12. The Bible tells us. Paul says he was an apostle, for instance. The Ephesians APEST passage indicates that it’s expected or hoped for that every local congregation will have people with these various gifts operating among them.

    The whole cessationist argument seems an attempt by the Western church to try and explain why we don’t see these gifts operating in the West. They seem to be operating elsewhere in the world. Perhaps our lack of faith, mindset, our inclination to trust in our knowledge.

  21. 7-31-2012

    Mike,

    The New Testament lists more than 12 apostles. The original 12 (including Judas) were called apostles, as was Paul, Barnabas, Timothy, Silas, Andronicus, and Junia. The statement in Hebrews 1:1 does not say that God stopped using prophets. In fact, according to Luke, Paul, and others, there were still prophets among the church after Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection and after the Holy Spirit indwelled Jesus’ followers. The Scriptures are not the same as the apostles. In fact, several authors of Scripture were not apostles. So, I’m not sure why you would connect the writing of Scripture with the disappearance of apostles and prophets.

    -Alan

  22. 7-31-2012

    Acts 13:1 clearly states there were prophets still. I myself am a prophet. People, (with well-intent but no discernment), presume we are basically OT in nature, only speaking when something is wrong or to warn others. Not at all. And we are not fortune tellers or mystics, either.

    We deal in the prophetic, both present and future, but the days of prophesying over The Church as a whole are over. Nowadays it is more individualized and relevant to the situation of the believer. It is strongly aligned with knowledge and wisdom.

  23. 7-31-2012

    Hi Mike,

    Some people interpret I Cor 13:10 as saying that since the canon is complete, we don’t need prophets, tongues or knowledge. If the chapter ended at verse 10, the point would still be a stretch. But vss 11&12, with their now–>then parallels seem to explain what Paul meant by, “when that which is perfect is come.” We do not presently, even with the closed canon, see “face to face” and do not “know as we are known.”

    More importantly, I think Eph 4 gives us a more applicable timetable:

    vs 7, 11 He gave some (including pastors, but also all saints)
    vs 12 for a specific work
    vs 13 UNTIL

    The until is not the completion of the canon, but, “Till we all come in 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 the fulness of Christ:”

    I’ll agree we don’t need the gifts poured out on all saints (vs7) and the A,P,E,P-T guys, if someone will agree we are all “in full unity of the faith, knowledge of the Son of God, and of the stature of the fulness of Christ.”

    BUT, when that happens, let’s also let og gifts poured out on all saints, and pastor-teachers, too. How we can conclude the UNTIL only applies to APE folk, I’ve no clue!

    Speculative Alert on this next response…

    As to “the Twelve” relating to the twelve pillars in Revelations, it is conceivable that when Jesus said the twelve were sent only to Israel, He knew what He was talking about. It is conceivable that when they went only to Israel for the first 10-12 years, and only went to gentiles, so far as I know, when God forced Peter into it, and which Peter had to justify to the other Apostles, that they understood our Lord’s Matt 28 commission to “go into all the world and tell the Jews). Peter later confirms that the twelve would focus on Israel, and Paul would head up the work among Gentiles. It is conceivable that the Twelve’s ministry to Israel will be fulfilled as you see it in Rev 21. (that’s they way I read Rom 9-11 and other “future” stuff, but please don’t quote me and I won’t argue any future stuff points…). It is conceivable that “church” or “to the whole world, Jew and Gentile” apostles, prophets and evangelists are different from Jewish ones who walked with Jesus and ministered to the Jew.

    It’s also possible that’s just way too much conjecture, and I don’t see any need to climb out on such thin limbs…

    Hoe that helps answer what you asked, Mike.

  24. 7-31-2012

    BTW, the episodic way the gospel is rolled out to, and evidenced among, the Jews (Acts 2) half-Jews (Samaritans, Acts 8), Gentiles (Acts 10, 15), and to John’s disciples late in Acts (19), seems to me God’s extraordinary concern for the unity of the church, that there would not be a Jewish and a Gentile church, but that the church would be of One Body composed of both Jew and Gentile.

  25. 7-31-2012

    Art,

    As to your “speculative alert”… I’m not sure I’ve heard that conjecture before. It’s interesting, and I’ll definitely spend some time thinking about it.

    -Alan

  26. 2-8-2013

    I would be interested to know what conclusion you got to. Thanks. Zoli

  27. 2-8-2013

    Zoli,

    There are probably many different reasons why apostles, profits, evangelists, and many other spiritually gifted people are not as active among the church today. The question going forward is this: Are we willing to recognize that those gifted people are among us, to encourage them to serve as God has gifted them, and then to give them opportunities to serve?

    -Alan

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