The New Apostolic Movement was first established in 1824 when Edward Irving, a Presbyterian pastor, began teaching that “the five-fold ministry”? of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers had disappeared and were in need of restoration. The restoration of these ministries would usher in the Millennial Kingdom. The movement experienced several deaths and rebirths until its most recent form appeared in North Battleford, Saskatchewan in 1948 as the Latter Rain movement.
“Every religion that does not affirm that God is hidden is not true.” Blaise Pascal
I have argued that apostles and prophets never really disappeared, and that they have been among us somewhat hidden. This shouldn’t be too surprising since it was Jesus own way of being among us. There is cause for concern that NAR movement links the gifts of Jesus to a particular eschatology and to a global administrative structure. Jesus, the ultimate apostle, ran away from political agendas. Paul, the apostle who gave us most of the New Testament letters, declined to accept any office or stipend, and continued to support himself with the work of his hands. One wonders why a modern apostle would pursue any other agenda or why any central apostolic network is needed in the world?
Apostles are best unseen, quietly doing the work God has given them. We need to concern ourselves when someone identifies themselves as an apostle. We can legitimately inquire as to their agenda. The purpose of power and authority is to give it away.. to use it to empower and equip others.. to serve. Jesus was God, veiled in flesh, yet His ministry was mostly unspectacular. He avoided prominence, and when they tried to crown Him as king he snuck away. Apostolic ministry will often be like leaven in a lump… it’s effects will be slow but pervasive, and may only be measured effectively in hindsight. How appropriate when the goal is to glorify Someone else.
Unfortunately, titles like “apostle” will often be counterproductive, particularly in the west where we tend to worship heroes, because titles draw attention to the person, instead of to Christ and His kingdom. (See Quebedeaux, “By What Authority: The Rise of Personality Cults in American Christianity,” Harper and Row, 1981) Using such a title tends to glorify the person rather than Christ. Power centered in bureaucracies tends to become self-serving.. used to promote and preserve the bureaucracy itself. Eventually we end up serving a machine which labors on toward uncertain ends.
Where apostles and authority are self-ascribed, and where teaching is proclaimed to be new revelation of God’s purposes and not clearly founded in Scripture (“I have this teaching from the Lord”), we have a particular problem. How do we test someone else’s revelation, except by Scripture? No other sure test is possible. Neither the teaching on the restoration of the five-fold ministry, nor its eschatology, can be tested by Scripture. We have to then “trust” the new apostles that their teaching and authority are from Jesus. Indeed, some of these men and women are apostolic.. but that doesn’t guarantee they are free of error, nor does it imply that the organization they are building is approved by God.
Religious authority is a particularly dangerous authority. Christians are inclined to defer to persons because of their position or authority, and a title like “apostle” only encourages such deference. Rather we ought to encourage discernment, and to be training the body of Christ in discernment against the false teaching and false teachers who are inclined to be self-promoting. (See Paul’s pattern.. he defends his authority in 2 Cor. 6 noting how he has suffered for the Gospel. Mark Strom’s book on Paul (IVP) and the nature of apostolic ministry is outstanding.
We need to be training all believers to measure the teaching and behavior they see against the pattern of truth revealed in Scripture. The community itself has the mind of Christ. (See especially Paul’s letter to Timothy). In Jesus community no one is above another, since Jesus Himself formed a society of friends.
Next: the character of apostolic ministry