A careful study of the Bible would confirm that while there may be succession of apostolic doctrine and apostolic ministry, nevertheless, there is no succession of apostolic office for the Church. Lest some people accuse me of prejudice against the so-called New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), I quote from the excellent position paper given by The General Council of the Assemblies of God (USA), “Apostles and Prophets”:
It is also clear that while the apostles (with the elders) were established leaders in the Early Church, there was no provision for their replacement or continuation…It is instructive, however, that nowhere in the New Testament after the replacement of Judas is any attention given to a so-called apostolic succession…It seems strange that apostles of Jesus Christ, concerned about faithful preservation of their message (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2), would provide for the appointment of overseers/elders while ignoring their own succession if such were indeed to be maintained.
In fact, there are certain exegetical hints the apostles of Jesus Christ are not to have successors. In 1 Corinthians 15:8, Paul listed all the Resurrection and post-Resurrection appearances of Christ and noted “last of all he appeared to me.” While some disagree, the statement is most commonly understood to mean Paul looked upon himself as the last apostle to whom Christ appeared.11 If this is the correct understanding, only the Twelve whom Jesus personally called and those He commissioned in His post-Resurrection appearances made up His original apostles…It is difficult to escape the conclusion of Dietrich Müller: “One thing is certain. The N[ew] T[estament] never betrays any understanding of the apostolate as an institutionalized church office, capable of being passed on…
Since the New Testament does not provide guidance for the appointment of future apostles, such contemporary offices are not essential to the health and growth of the church, nor its apostolic nature
The AOG’s rejection of Apostolic succession is consistent with what the Church has maintained throughout its 2000 years’ history. Nevertheless, the NAR claims that Peter Wagner initiated the Second Apostolic Period and restored the lost offices of prophet and apostle after he anointed new ‘Apostles’ in 2001. Some of the prominent speakers associated with the new, influential global movement (NAR),’ include Chuck Pierce, Cindy Jacobs, Bill Hamon, John Kelly etc. You may be interested to follow the activities of these Apostles through the website of The International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders (ICAL) which charges its Apostolic members an annual membership fee of $450.
What is the status and function of these new ‘Apostles’? The International Coalition of Apostolic Leaders answers that an ‘Apostle’ is a: “Christian leader who is gifted, taught, and commissioned by God with the authority to establish the foundational government of the Church within an assigned sphere of ministry by hearing what the Spirit is saying to the churches and by setting things in order accordingly for the advancement of the Kingdom of God.” Furthermore, an Apostle is “the strategos, an authorized representative of the government sent to maintain order. That is what an apostle of God is: God’s appointed, anointed, authorized ambassador to maintain right government (shaphat) in his sphere of ministry.” Finally, “these are God’s generals who have spent time with their Commander-in-Chief and know His ways.”
Bill Johnson, Pastor of Bethel Church, Redding, California sums up in his article “Apostolic Teams -a Group of People Who Carry the Family Mission” why the new ‘Apostles’ should now be the basis for church unity.
While doctrine is vitally important it is not strong enough foundation to bear the weight of His [God’s] glory that is about to be revealed through true unity…There are major changes in the “wind” right now. For the last several years people have started to gather around fathers instead of doctrine…Apostles are first and foremost fathers by nature…In the same way that a father and mother are to bring stability to a home, so the apostles and prophets are the stability of the Church
Bill Johnson argues further that the Apostolic doctrine in the early church does not refer to a list of beliefs or important doctrines. Instead, it refers to what the Lord is emphasizing to his church for a particular season:
That is the apostle’s doctrine. The word coming from apostles is to bring clarification of the Father’s focus for the Church, and in turn strengthen our resolve to His purposes. Fresh revelation carries fresh fire, which helps us to maintain the much needed fire in our souls.
Apostles carry a blueprint in their hearts concerning the Church and God’s purposes on the earth. They are used to bring fresh revelation to the Church. Apostolic teams are sent to represent their spiritual father, and carry the word that has been entrusted to their “tribe.” They help bring an understanding and establish an order needed in the particular location they were sent to.
It would seem that these new ‘Apostles’ have arrogated divine authority to themselves since they are bearers of new divine revelation. To be sure, these modern ‘Apostles’ acknowledge the supreme authority of the Word of God inscribed in the Bible. However, critics argue that in practice, the proclamation of new revelation by these ‘Apostles’ effectively undermines the sufficiency and finality of the Bible.
It is clear that these new ‘Apostles’ want to be regarded not just as ‘apostles’ (spelled with a small ‘a’). We note that the New Testament does refer to a wider group of mission leaders, including those whom the Risen Christ appeared to in 1 Cor 15. However, these apostles (small ‘a) were never confused with the Twelve Apostles; nor were they ever regarded as comparable to the Twelve. In contrast, the authoritative tone of the new ‘Apostles’ of NAR is evident from how they describe their self-appointed task, that is, “to establish the foundational government of the church”. In effect, they regard themselves as ‘Apostles’ (with a big ‘A’).
You better watch out!
You better pray hard
You better sing loud
I’m telling you why
New Apostles are coming to town
*This post first appeared in draft form as a comment in the related post: Distinguishing “Revival” from “Revivalism”; Discerning True from False Prophets.