For decades now we have been using the words "apostolic" and "apostle" so loosely. People just ascribe whatever meaning they like to the word. Sometimes I read the way people use the word and I wonder, "what are these people talking about?" It has been used so vaguely that it is difficult to determine the meaning. Some say apostle is anyone that plants church. That is very wrong, however we say this because that is what we see the apostles in the Bible do.
The apostles in the New Testament Bible did more than church planting. They did evangelism, they served as bishops (pastors), they were teachers, and they were sometimes called prophet, for they operated in the prophetic. So it is difficult to determine want an apostle is just by looking at what the apostles did in the New Testament Bible. Some say "the apostolic" is about doing and teaching what the apostles in the Bible did and taught. This too is a very vague and unclear definition. There is another definition that says apostolic is about doing and teaching high thing, or cutting edge things. This one is a bit closer to the truth but it does not exactly hit the target.
Well, the original Greek word is ἀπόστολος (apóstolos), and it literally means "one who is sent off". A "sent one" could mean anything. The prophet is sent off to delivery a word from God. The evangelist is sent off to win souls. The pastor is sent off to shepherd the sheep. And the teacher is sent off to teach. They are all sent off by God. We are all called with an assignment and sent by God to fulfill certain purpose. So defining apostle simply with the literal meaning, "sent one", is the very reason we have such a vague definition of apostle today. You can't understand what the "sent one" is until you understand the whole context behind it.
An apostle is one who is sent off. Now the question is, what are they sent off to? What is the context behind this sending off? What exactly is going on, what is this sending off all about? When we answer these questions then we can rightly deduce who an apostle is. Throughout the New Testament the body of Christ is often referred to as the house/temple of God. God is building a house, and when one is building a house and has given the work to a contractor, it is normal for that person to sent off people who would go and check out how the work is going. He would send people to go supervise and come back with a report, or to go deliver a message to those working on the building
Jesus painted this same picture in the parable of the evil farmers (Matt 21:33-46). The vineyard owner planted the vineyard, and place farmers to work on it, then he traveled far away. And when it was time he "sent off" his servant to the vineyard, but the farmers would attack these sent ones (apostles). Those servant that were sent connote the very idea of an apostle. The same way the vineyard had a work far away, God also has a work on earth, for he is building his house. He "sent off" Jesus as the first apostle (Heb 3:1) to initiate the building project—in the scripture we saw that Jesus came and gathered a lot of followers. The idea was that, as this project continues, He (God) would often send apostles to supervise the project, or deliver certain message from God.
If it happens that the house is not being constructed the way God wants, He would send apostles to deliver message of his dissatisfaction, and his description of how to properly build the house according to his taste. This is God’s house, it is all about what God wants. It is not about doing religion and satisfying human religious needs. It must be built according to the way God wants it. When Jesus picked the twelve disciples they were to sit with the Lord to receive special messages so that they can be send off as apostles to the rest of Jesus' followers. Yes, that was what it was all about.
They spent time with Jesus, sat with him, and learn of him. Jesus taught them things that he would not share with the crowd. He did this so that at the right time (when he has left the earth) he would "send them off" to deliver these messages. So after Jesus the twelve were the next set of apostles sent off to the building project of God. Paul was the next sent after the twelve. He had an encounter with Jesus and the Lord send him off with a special message to the whole body of Christ.
"To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, and to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ;" (Eph 3:8-10).
The apostles taught Christianity was only for the Jews. It was difficult for them to conceive the idea of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles. Even when God showed Peter the vision 3 time, he rejected it as unclean. "How can you preach the gospel to the uncircumcised Gentiles", it was just difficult for them to accept it. But the Gentiles was included in God’s plan and someone needed to go lay the foundation for that. So God picked Paul and send him with a message that the Gentiles were included in his plan.
Through his teachings Paul explained this truth with such boldness, eloquence and wisdom that even Peter declared, "His letters contain some things that are hard to understand" (2Pet 3:16). It was hard for the Jews to understand, but somehow the rest of the apostles knew the message was from God. They had a witness from the Spirit that it was from God. Therefore, apostles are people sent off from God with a special message to reveal more and more about God's original plan.
Paul didn't just come to say the Gentiles are included in God’s plan. He demonstrated how the Gentiles will be included. He answered questions such as whether or not the Gentiles need to follow all the rules and regulations of the Jews as required by the Law. He established a foundation where the Gentiles would be attached and built together with the Jews as one body.
"For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us. He did this by ending the system of law with its commandments and regulations. He made peace between Jews and Gentiles by creating in himself one new people from the two groups. Together as one body," (Eph 2:14-15).
The twelve apostles only had a portion of the plan, and they went ahead to deliver it. Then Paul came with another portion of the plan, adding it with the one that the twelve had. Now, the picture is getting clearer. God would continue like this through out the history of the Church, revealing a little here and a little there. Giving more emphasis and more details to areas that was once obscure until the full plan is completely unambiguous and perfectly practiced on earth.
The truth is that we simply cannot comprehend it if it was unveiled to us all at once. Look at us today, almost two thousand years since Paul came with the revelation that the Law has been done away with, yet we are still struggling with this truth. Many of us are still adding bit and pieces of the Law in the Christianity we participate. Almost 2,000 years, and we still don't get it. Now imagine God dumping everything on us all at once. Anyway, there will always be some who would refuse to build on the foundation of the apostles, until God decides to wipe them out with their buildings. Now, talking about the foundation of the apostles:
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone;" (Eph 2:20).
This verse gives us the picture of the Church as a building. Not, a physical building, but the people are the building. The apostles and prophets are the foundation. The twelve is one part of the foundation, and structures were being built up it. Then Paul came as an extension, of the present foundation. But in God's eyes, he was another part of the original blueprint. Yes, just picture a blueprint cut into different pieces. We receive one part and begin to build on it. We thought it was a small house that God wanted. Then God sent Paul as another apostle with another part of the blueprint. And we saw that this thing is bigger than what we actually thought.
So we lay that extra foundation and expended the work to include the Gentiles. With each piece being revealed, new foundation is added and we continue to build on it. So each apostle is coming with a piece of the blueprint, to lay a foundation adding to the previous ones. Once this foundation is laid others would continue to build upon it. Hence, apostles are foundation setters. Anybody who adds any other foundation apart from the ones constructed by the apostles are only distorting the Holy house of God.
"And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets," (Eph 2:20).
It says the apostles and prophets is the foundation. But this verse is not referring to those in the office of the apostle and those in the office of the prophet. Yes, it is not referring to the two offices but one. In the Old Testament the prophets are the apostles, they are the sent ones. In the parable of Jesus where "sent ones" is mentioned, it is often referring to the prophets of the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, the prophets where the sent ones. As such, the early Christians believe an apostle is a prophet. So it is normal to see them refer to an apostle as, "apostle and prophet". A better way to put it is, "prophetic apostle". The two words are referring to one person, one office. An apostle is a kind of prophet.
He is a prophet who have gone up the mountain of the Lord, received a message and a piece of the blueprint, and was sent off to implement this plan of the Lord and incorporate this new piece into the present work on earth. I am stating all this so that you can understand that an apostle is prophetic. God would take the apostle through prophetic experience in order to give him the message and blueprint. The apostle receives his message directly from the Lord. No, not from any man, not even from angels, not from Bible deduction or exegensis, and not from human reasoning and logic. He does not read the Bible one day and say, "Hmmm, I think this is what the Lord wants for his Church". No, he does not think, he knows by a divine revelation. He received the message directly from God through supernatural means, through ways that are beyond human (for God is beyond human). As such he is so confident and he is ready to challenge any man or even angel.
"If one of us—even if an angel from heaven!—were to preach something other than what we preached originally, let him be cursed. I said it once; I’ll say it again: If anyone, regardless of reputation or credentials, preaches something other than what you received originally, let him be cursed. Do you think I speak this strongly in order to manipulate crowds? Or curry favor with God? Or get popular applause? If my goal was popularity, I wouldn’t bother being Christ’s slave. Know this—I am most emphatic here, friends—this great Message I delivered to you is not gotten from mere human reasoning. I didn’t receive it through the traditions, and I wasn’t taught by any man. I got it straight from God, received the Message directly from Jesus Christ." (Gal 1:8-12).
Apostles are prophets, they receive their message directly from God, and they must establish this message and set this foundation no matter the challenges or resistance. Through the illustration of a building project, I explained that apostles are people sent off from God to deliver a message and supervise God's work on earth. One thing about supervising and setting foundation is that sometimes it requires you taking over to do the work yourself, in order to teach and show the workers how it is meant to be done as required from the head above.
I remember long ago, before school, I went for a job. We were all newly recruited so the supervisor took us and began to show us how the work is done. She was doing the work so skillfully that one would assume it's her main job. But her main work is supervising, she only stepped in to do it that day in order to show us how to do the job. The apostle doesn't just come with a message, he must roll off his sleeve and get to work. Yes, he might take over for a while to show us how the work should be done, how God preferred it to be done.
This is why you can see an apostle working in the various offices or departments. An apostle can be sent to the department of evangelism to lay down a foundation and show them how work should be done there. Such an apostle would be seen doing evangelism and one would assume he is an evangelist. No, he is only there to lay foundation, so that others can follow. Also an apostle can be sent to go lay foundation in the Teacher department, or the Prophet, or the Pastoral department. He could visit any of the offices or even all of the offices to lay foundation, and others might be very confuse as to what office he belongs to. They might even say he is Jack of all trade and he doesn't know his calling. But no, he is doing exactly what he is called to do.
Another thing about laying foundation is that sometimes structures might be planted on that very place that God wants to lay a foundation. In fact, a wrong foundation might already be there, and all of this need to be pull down before the proper foundation can be laid. So in such situation God can send a specific kind of apostle who's work is to pull down and demolish. These ones are not given any piece of the blueprint, they only know that God wants to put something in that very place where that structure is. They may not know what God wants to put there, all they know is that, the wrong structure must be demolished.
While these ones are busy demolishing structures, God is secretly raising the apostles that will lay the proper foundation. These ones are being kept in the desert and taught the new piece of the blueprint and how to implement it. God would show them how he wants certain things to be done. And when he has prepared them, he would send them off. That is why when these people comes out nobody can challenge them or make them question what they are doing. They have been sitting at the feet of the Lord for years, learning directly from him. They are coming with a special message from God Himself, and they are coming with the authority of God.
They will not compromise, they must deliver their message, and lay the foundation so that others can continue to build from there. An apostle is not a church planter. Just because the early apostles plant ecclesia doesn't mean that an apostle is an ecclesia planter. The early apostles also evangelize, taught, pastored and prophesied. They did all that to lay foundations and show others how the work is to be done. A church/ecclesia planter is different from an apostle. An apostle lay the foundation and demonstrate how to plant ecclesia, and then the ecclesia planter follows and continues to use that same pattern.
An apostle does not collect his pattern from any man, he collects it directly from God, and then he demonstrates it and give it to the church planter to follow. Apostles are sent on special seasons, that's the whole ides of apostleship. You might not see apostles in every generation, they would only appear when God decides to send them. But as for the other offices, they are always present. There will always be the present of prophets, teachers, pastors and evangelist, but apostles comes at special seasons.