Apostles: Then and Now?

 Are there apostles today?  Can someone make a valid case that he is an apostle of Christ?  Speaking of the apostles, what is an apostolic church?  I appreciate Gerald Bray’s explanation of these questions in chapter two of his book The Church: A Theological and Historical Account.

Bray first notes that to be an apostle according to the NT, one had to be an eyewitness of the risen Christ and also have a divine calling to the apostleship.  What about Paul?  “Paul knew that he was exceptional because he had not been a disciple of Jesus and had even persecuted the church before his conversion, but he attributes his apostolic calling to a special act of God’s grace that he did not deserve and that had not been given to anyone else” (1 Cor. 15:8-11; 2 Cor. 11:1-33; Gal. 1:1-17) (p. 38).

“Following this logic the apostles and their ministry died out in the first generation, and there can be none today, although the papacy and some small Protestant groups have claimed to preserve the office in their different ways. The pope is regarded by his followers as the living successor of Peter, complete with the prerogatives of his apostolic ministry, and some Protestant pastors have claimed the title for themselves, but this way of thinking was alien to the early church.  Paul instructed Timothy and Titus about how they were to carry on his ministry once he was gone, but he did not suggest that they would become apostles in his place, and there is no sign of an apostolic succession anywhere else either.”

What about apostolic churches?

“The disappearance of the apostles and their active ministry does not mean that apostolicity has ceased to have a bearing on the life of the church, however.  It was the duty of the apostles to transmit the teaching of Jesus to other believers, not just because they had been witnesses to his earthly ministry but because after his resurrection he gave them a special charge to that effect.  As long as they were alive, local churches could appeal to them for guidance, as we know the Corinthians did when they wrote to Paul about various matters that were troubling the church.”

“After the apostles’ deaths, their writings, along with the writings of others who worked closely with them and in some sense under their supervision, were collected together in what became the New Testament.  Practically speaking, the authority of the apostles nowadays is the witness of the New Testament, which remains foundational for Christian doctrine.”

Gerald Bray, The Church (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2016), 38.

Shane Lems
Hammond, WI

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