The Return of the Stolen Apostles
The bulk of the Bible was written by prophets and apostles. And yet, many ask, “What is an apostle?” “How do you recognize one?” “Do they actually still exist?”
The reason for this widespread uncertainty about apostles is simple. Apostles, real modern day apostles, play next to no practical role in the life of most Christians and churches in the cultural West. Some firmly believe them to be actually extinct! In the world of Christendom we know of pastors, evangelists and deacons; we find bible teachers or someone running an orphanage in Africa or a social project in India. We even find positions and titles that don’t appear in the New Testament: Chaplain, dean, treasurer, vicar, board member, curate, senior pastor, archbishop, cardinal, canon, metropolitan or pope. Many Christians are hard pressed, if they should explain what apostles are actually doing or what are their functions and roles in the Body of Christ.
This was not always the case. The entire history of the church did not start with pastors and evangelists – but with a group of young apostles, some of them still in their teenage years! Apostles play a vital and central role in the NT. In fact, it is not only impossible to imagine a New Testament without them – we would not even have a NT at all! The term apostle appears a total of 88 times in the NT. Pastor, in comparison, appears just once, and evangelist, three times. Let us not forget that Jesus himself was an apostle (Hebr 3:1). He called out of his many disciples 12 to be apostles (not pastors or canons!). It was the apostles to whom he confided the secrets of the Kingdom, nobody else (Mt 13:10). The story of the first years of the church is called the Acts of the apostles; not the Acts of the evangelists or deacons. Larger sums of money were always laid at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:35; 5:2; 1 Cor 16:2). The first followers of Christ exposed themselves to the teaching of the apostles (Acts 2:47). The entire household of God builds on the foundation of apostles and prophets (Eph 2:20). In the church, God has placed first apostles, then prophets… (1 Cor 12:28; Eph 4:11).
The Church became an apostle-free zone
During the course of church history the role and position of apostles has drastically changed. If you look at the structures of most churches and denominations today, apostles are not first; they are last,if they are to be found at all. What happened to the masterminds of God, his generals, architects and bankers? In today’s world, nobody would even think to build a house or a city without the strategic abilities of architects, master builders and city planners. But in the world of the churches, it has long ago become an institutionalized reality: to build without master builders; to erect constructions without an architect; to plan without strategists at the table; to do evangelistic projects without masterminds; to make financial plans without the bankers of the Kingdom; to lay foundations without those that God has called to do just that - laying foundations. The apostles, Paul calls them the master builders of God (1 Cor 3:10), are routinely ignored and sidelined in all those aspects. In pastors’ fellowships (does not the name say it all?), in alliances, conferences and the day-to-day business of churches apostles play next to no role. Why is that? At first glance, one of the main reasons for the glaring absence of apostles in CAWKI (Church-as-we-know-it) is that their vital message seems to be always too explosive and too radical, challenging the structures of a church that has long ago settled down. Apostles cannot but rattle cages and rock the boats; that is an integral part of the very purpose towards which they exist! Apostles are simply too dangerous for a church that has become too harmless! The easiest and most effective way to keep them away from the church is to make sure that the bouncers and bodyguards of the church do keep them out. That is how the church became an apostle-free zone! Wherever the apostolic contribution is missing, there will be no apostolic vision, substance or apostolic structure in the church. Statistically speaking, almost the entire Christendom has lost its apostolic foundation, its inner core, DNA and values. Things snapped out of God’s divine order and often turned on its own head. An apostolic church was rallying and mobilizing an apostolic people, whereas today’s churches have became more like drive-through franchises serving up products towards spiritual wellness (“Did you like the sermon?!”). The uncrucified, but paying ego of christian consumers have become the center of many church systems, not the apostle Jesus Christ that sends out lambs to the wolves. Instead of laying their money at the apostles’ feet to be used towards the apostolic purposes of the entire Body of Christ, apostles now routinely lie at the feet of money (people and institutions with more money than they need) and have to fight for their own survival at home, instead of leading the battle fronts. In other words, things have been turned upside down! Somebody has stolen the apostles from the church! None other than the master thief, the enemy of God, the diabolos (meaning the one that tumbles things upside down) has to sign for this; and a church that has chosen to listen to him rather than to God!
The church became a graveyard of callings
The result of this grand theft is alarming, and yes, I am ringing the bell! The role of the apostles (and prophets!) either has been erased or has been replaced and supplanted by other ministries. As well meaning as they all may be, pastors and treasurers are quickly overstrained and overextended when they want to take on apostolic roles and tasks. To make things worse, we have seen the emergence of a number of ever-new organizations offering to ordain anyone who is ready to pay for the title of an apostle! We are simply witnessing the modern day version of what Paul called the emergence of “super apostles” – self-elevated, self-ordained, self-centered pseudo apostles. Whenever “apostles” position themselves to be the licensing gurus of their “apostolic networks” and pyramidal structures, you smell a rat. You can be sure that you are looking at “super apostles” whenever you see the emergence of elite clubs of christian super leaders, or whenever you watch how any pioneering and entrepreneurial mind is quickly and painlessly “decreed” and as if by magic, (not by a painful and long process of obedience and character formation), turned into yet another “apostle”.
The problem remains: real apostles cannot be substituted by anything but real apostles. Where they are absent, the symptoms scream to high heaven. One of these symptoms is a market-based, not a Kingdom based structure. Such a structure is driven either by the competitive paranoia of growth-driven megapastors dreaming of their megachurch, or the picky demands of religious consumers. If you allow these two motives to run wild, they will create the trap that I call the golden cage, a tragic set-up tying together vulnerable sheep and self-serving shepherds in an exhausting merry-go-round that is wrongly called church. With apostles missing at the table, many well-meaning and hardworking pastors are burnt out, many even really close to give up. Many excellent co-workers are exhausted and tired. Many churches tread water and are running in circles. Without apostles, not only does the structure of church become self-defeating but also the bulk of God’s money will be forever ill invested, to say the least. The missionary vision becomes dim, hope burns low and everyone seems to become defensive and self-absorbed. The biggest vision around seems to be to build yet another bigger building!
However, the biggest victim of the apostles theft is the alarming condition and disposition of most Christians. Without an apostolic foundation, without being part of the grand apostolic story, without being sent, many quickly lose their goal in life. Studies say that about 95% of all Christians admit, on their deathbed, that they have not reached their lives’ goal. This is an extremely alarming number, because it means that many churches are, in fact, grave yards of callings.
This has to change. It is a true silver lining on the horizon what we see in many nations: the emergence of people who clearly wear the signs of real apostolic callings and roles. One of them, probably the most important one, is the brokenness and a complete lack of selfish ambition; people who can honestly pray, “Your Kingdom come, my kingdom go!” Their role in the Kingdom is masterminding, strategic thinking, and a way of working that is producing long-lasting, sustainable fruit and multiplies multiplication. They do not just plant churches, they plant church planting movements and Kingdom outposts into the world of business, politics, technology, education or the media that have the power to shake and re-invent entire nations. God gives them keys to initiate developments that you would previously think to be impossible! They cast authentic vision and hope; they plant a fresh perspective, they have a new message, the Gospel of the Kingdom, quite different from the same-old “come-to-Jesus-come-to-church-on-Sunday”. For many that encounter this apostolic resurgence for the first time, it can be actually quite shocking, because they have not been exposed to the reality of apostolic ministry for a very, very long time. Nevertheless, the fact is, the apostles are back and here to stay!
The time of the meridian gladiators
In his moving explanation of the nature of apostolic ministry (1 Cor 4:9-13) Paul describes apostles as “the final gladiators”. He is referring to a custom in Roman gladiator fights. After many hours of slaughter that began in the cooler mornings, at about lunch time, when the sun has reached the “meridian” (middle of the day), a special gag was intended to excite the tiring audience one last time. It was the appearance of the meridian gladiator, an involuntary clown figure. Often this was a dwarf or a cripple who was equipped with a ridiculous weapon, like a spoon, to fight against three giants, four lions and five elephants. The point was to count in just how many seconds would this harmless joke of a gladiator be ripped apart.
The history of the church has seen pretty much all there is to see. Revivals came and ceased; reformations and counter-reformations, methods, waves and gurus succeeded each other. But all those massive training and teaching efforts of CAWKI, its countless evangelistic projects, books, schools and millions of sermons and Bible studies should not obscure the fact that the Christendom of the West is declining, and declining sharply!
To use Pauls imagery, suddenly a little door in an overlooked part of the arena has creaked open and a number of dusty figures are staggering out into the light. They are hardly known to anyone, nameless figures, badly equipped and underfunded, unheard of (if not, outright unwanted) in the corridors of religious power. They are thrust onto the scene as if by an invisible hand. And the way they go about the challenge is so unorthodox, so very different, that the impossible begins to happen: the little Davids start to chase the Goliaths into flight. The audience is speechless: Can this really be true?
That is exactly what is happening today! God is calling out the forgotten apostles from the catacombs of the church. This is a real reason for joy - to hope and to celebrate. We invite anyone who understands the historic significance of this development to an apostolic conference with the theme: Apostolic Life Today.
It will happen in Lörrach (South Germany. Near Basel, Switzerland) on Thursday, October 15th, 2015. Come and invite others to come as well and spread this information. God has not written off Europe and the cultural West just yet. What he plans will happen very differently from what most have thought. Do not miss this and be part of it.