Not God's Way

The modern church has had difficulty finding a role for the apostles because no place has been found for the fivefold ministries at the local level. Every church is lead by a pastor, so there is no room for the other ministries. To find a role, prophets have had to become itinerant consultants. Evangelists have been forced into travelling ministries that operate independently. Apostles must function at a regional level, because there is no scope for their ministry at a local level.

Under this compromised model, apostles are said to have a regional focus. They become a governmental ministry that stays at the centre and directs the action from there. Some commentators liken apostles to generals, because they each command a chunk of God's army. When a modern apostle oversees all the pastors in a region or in a group of churches, this is referred to as apostolic government, but governmental apostles are inconsistent with New Testament teaching.

Modern Apostles

In the modern model, the next step for the person with the apostolic calling who has planted a church is to establish a training centre for church planters. They will use their experience to develop training materials and programmes. The graduates of the training school will no longer fit in the churches they came from, so the apostolic leader will have to organise church planting opportunities for them.

Sending out highly-trained, but inexperienced church planters in teams that have never worked together always leads to problems. The apostolic leader will be respected by the trainees, so they are the best person to sort out any problems. The person with an apostolic calling could soon have responsibility for a number of churches across a broad region. Governmental policies will be developed to manage and control these churches. In a few quick steps, a church planter has morphed into a governing apostle.

The governmental approach to apostleship will never be as effective as the local multiplicative approach described in Ministry of the Apostle. The best people are clustered at the centre, which can cause ego problems. Inexperienced people are pushed out to edge where the greatest problems emerge.

No matter how good the people at the centre; no matter how much money flows in; or how effective the training; or how effective the governmental management, governing apostles will be less effective

Church Government

Jesus is the head of the church. He has not delegated this authority to church leaders or apostles. The only authority he delegated to apostles was authority to heal the sick and to cast our demons. He delegated governing and guiding authority to the Holy Spirit. He gave also gave all those who repent and believe freedom to obey the voice of the Spirit. Christians have authority over their own lives. The can give authority to their leaders by submitting them. The authority of leaders comes from bottom to the top, not from the top down.

The Holy Spirit is everywhere and can speak to any believer, so he does not need to operate through a hierarchy. The leaders of human organisations are not omnipresent, so they have to work through hierarchy. The devil is confined to one place, so he has to work through an unruly hierarchy of principalities and powers. The Holy Spirit does not have this problem, so he does not need hierarchy. He can accomplish his plans by guiding Christians at a local level. The Holy Spirit guides the entire church by speaking to individual Christians.

Jesus worked locally and released lots of people into the apostolic ministry. He trained many apostles and gave them authority. He started with the twelve apostles and gave them some of his authority (Luke 6:12-16). Once the twelve were "on the case", he began work with another seventy-two. They were "apostled" out into the surrounding villages and towns with authority to act for Jesus (Luke 10:1-21). The seventy-two were really green, but Jesus gave them authority, because he trusted the Holy Spirit to guide and lead them.

By the time he died, Jesus had 120 people who were waiting for the Spirit and "raring to go" (Acts 1:15). They had a lot to learn, but Jesus gave them authority, sent his Spirit and left them to it.

Big Ministries

Whereas Jesus dispersed his authority widely, the apostles in Jerusalem soon slipped into a mode of gathering authority to themselves. An interesting feature of the Jerusalem church was that most of the miracles were worked by the apostles.

Many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles (Acts 2:43).

The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. And all the believers used to meet together in Solomon's Colonnade (Acts 5:12)

With the massive outpouring of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, many people should have been preaching the gospel and healing, but instead they seem to be gathering to watch the Apostles.

As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter's shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by (Acts 5:15).

These miracles were marvellous, but the entire movement in Jerusalem was becoming centred around the key apostles. Their ministries were built up, not multiplied. The rapid growth of the Church in Jerusalem depended on a few big apostles drawing lots of people into the church.

Because the number of apostles did not grow, the rate at which the church grew outside Jerusalem was slowed. It took serious persecution to get believers apostled out to places like Antioch for the real multiplication got underway.

Financial Control

The apostles quite quickly took financial control of the church. In the beginning those, those giving away their possessions distributed their money themselves.

Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need (Acts 2:45).

Within a short period of time, the giving was all going through the apostles.

Those who owned lands or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales and put it at the apostles' feet, and it was distributed to anyone as he had need (Acts 4:34-35).

This was a significant change that increased the power of the apostles.

Staying at the Centre

Jesus told his apostles to stay in Jerusalem until they received power from on high. Once they received the Holy Spirit, they were meant to go out into Judea and Samaria and the ends of the earth. By staying in Jerusalem after they had received the Holy Spirit, they gradually morphed in governmental apostles.

Jesus had told the apostles to go out into all the world. A true apostle should be sent out to wherever the Holy Spirit is advancing.

Repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things. I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high. (Luke 24:47-49).

Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:4,8).

Jesus told the apostles to wait in Jerusalem, but they were to wait "until". They were to wait until the Holy Spirit had come. Once the Spirit had come, the waiting should have ended. The apostles should have been sent out into Judea, Samaria and then the rest of the world.

Jesus had taught his apostles how to go out and stay in a village with a person of peace and preach the good news and heal the sick. Although they had practiced this method (Luke 9:1-6) and understood that it worked, the first apostles seemed to be reluctant to adopt it.

Peter and John just did not get it. God had to send persecution to get his disciples to move out in obedience to his commissions.

On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (Acts 8:1).

This is amazing. The disciples moved out, but the apostles stayed. They remained in Jerusalem, despite their calling and Jesus' clear commands.

The Holy Spirit had a dreadful job getting Peter to go to Caesarea to share the gospel with Cornelius and his household. Luke takes a whole chapter to describe the incident. Peter had a vision. The Holy Spirit spoke to him. The prediction of the Holy Spirit was fulfilled (Acts 10:19-21). Even after all that, Peter launched into his sermon by saying that it was against his law for a Jew to associate with a gentile. While Peter was preaching, the Holy Spirit interrupted and filled the people so they spoke in tongues.

Peter did not have a clue about what the Holy Spirit was doing in Caesarea and struggled against it. He just did not want to go there and he did not stay, when the Holy Spirit got going. Peter went back to Jerusalem and stayed at the centre, when he should have been out at the cutting edge.

Paul initially made the same mistake and went to Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit had to put him into a trance to get him to understand that he should be getting out of Jerusalem.

When I returned to Jerusalem and was praying at the temple, I fell into a trance and saw the Lord speaking. "Quick!" he said to me. "Leave Jerusalem immediately, because they will not accept your testimony about me"... Then the Lord said to me, "Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles" (Acts 22:17,18,21).

Paul left for Tarsus and then went on Antioch. The apostolic ministry he launched demonstrated that Jesus method is effective (Acts 28:1-10).

When apostles sit at the centre and give orders and direction, they quickly morph into modern day bishops, and the expansion of the church collapses.

Christian Overstayers

Although they should have taken the gospel back to their home towns and villages, people from all over the world stayed in Jerusalem. On the day of Pentecost, thousands of people were still in Jerusalem, after coming there to celebrate the Passover.

Now there were staying in Jerusalem God-fearing Jews from every nation under heaven.Parthians, Medes and Elamites; residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia,Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya near Cyrene; visitors from Rome; Cretans and Arabs (Acts 2:5,9-10).

Many of these people responded to the apostles preaching and received the gospel. Some of these people, like the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:39), immediately took the gospel back to their home as God intended.

This is the gospel that you heard and that has been proclaimed to every nation under heaven (Col 1:23).

However, many more of these foreign Christians remained in Jerusalem. I presume that they remained, because the Apostles remained, making Jerusalem the centre of the action. New Christians naturally wanted to be close to the action, so they stayed to see what would develop. This slowed the spread of the gospel. It also placed a huge financial burden on the church.

Holy Spirit Guidance beats Human Wisdom

The Book of Acts shows the Holy Spirit guiding the church. Things went best, when Christians followed his voice. The apostles often got things wrong, and had to be corrected by the Holy Spirit. Here are just a few examples.

  1. The Holy Spirit had a dreadful job getting Peter to go to Caesarea to share the gospel with Cornelius and his household. If he had been in control of this situation, the gospel would not have gone there. However, the Holy Spirit worked with hard to get Peter on track. Holy Spirit guidance triumphed over the mistakes of a key apostle.

  2. The apostles appointed Philip to be a deacon, but it soon became clear that the Holy Spirit has more important work in mind for him.

    Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there (Acts 8:4-5).

    Philip was actually called to be an evangelist.

  3. Paul made Timothy get circumcised in a bout of people pleasing.

    Paul wanted to take him along on the journey, so he circumcised him because of the Jews who lived in that area (Acts 16:3).

    The circumcision party soon became a thorn in Paul's flesh, so this incident of pleasing man, not God, was a serious mistake.

  4. Two apostles, Barnabas and Paul, disagreed over Mark. The Holy Spirit got his way and both Mark and Timothy became key evangelists.

  5. Paul wanted to go into Bithynia, but the Holy Spirit did not allow him. The Holy Spirit had to send a vision to get him into Macedonia (Acts 16:7-9).

  6. Paul planned to visit Spain. He intended to visit Rome on his way there.

    I plan to do so when I go to Spain. I hope to visit you while passing through and to have you assist me on my journey there (Rom 15:24)

    I will go to Spain and visit you on the way (Rom 15:28)

    The Holy Spirit had different plans. Paul ended up as a prisoner in Rome and never got to Rome. However, his desire to visit Spain cause him to write the letter to the Romans, which was what the Holy Spirit really wanted from him.

The Acts of the Apostles are really the Acts of the Holy Spirit. Things went well when people followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. Things did not go so well when the Apostles did their own thing. This shows the risks of apostolic government. The more power that is given to governing apostles, the more serious this risk will be.

When individual Christians ignore the Holy Spirit, they do not do much harm. When an apostle with governing authority misses the Holy Spirit's leading, terrible harm could be done. The good news of the gospel is that every believer can be taught and lead by the Holy Spirit. Holy Spirit guidance is far safer than Apostolic leadership.

Church Councils

During the first five centuries of Christian history, a number of ecumenical councils were held. Tradition says that these councils settled outstanding theological disputes.  For example, the Council of Nicea in AD 325 is said to have established the doctrine of the Trinity. This is not really true. The theology of the Trinity is settled in the nature and character of God, not by human councils. Those who listen to the Spirit of God will find the truth, whereas human councils will usually arrive at a convenient compromise.

Christian historians who back the council movement identify the Council of Jerusalem that is recorded in Acts 15 as the first ecumenical council. A careful reading of the text does not support this view. This meeting was not a council that set a pattern for the church; it was actually a shambles that made unwise decisions. For more on this issue see Council Shambles.

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