Missionaries and Apostles? (Part 2)


(See Part 1 first)  …    A church-based model for missionaries and missions appears to avoid a lot of confusion in other ways as well. If missionaries are those who leave the local church to work outside the local church, then they are simply “apostles”… and “apostle” is simply another term for missionary. This of course is not universally accepted. C. Peter Wagner (a church-growth and missions

Painting by Rembrandt of Paul, one of the most...

Painting by Rembrandt of Paul, one of the most notable of early Christian missionaries, who called himself the “Apostle to the Gentiles.” Paul, a Hellenistic Jew, was very influential on the shift of Christianity to Gentile dominated movement. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

specialist) believes that there are two different calls, an apostolic call and a missionary call. He suggests that all apostles have an apostolic call (no surprises there), but only some of them have a missionary call. Likewise, all missionaries have a missionary call, but only some have an apostolic call. There are two parts of this stance that appear to be highly questionable.

1.  An apostolic call that is not missional appears to be based more based on traditions within the modern apostolic movement than on Biblical scholarship. Wagner believes that accomplishing miracles and acting in ecclesiastical authority over the church are defining and necessary qualities of an apostle. This fits better with the theology of the modern “Apostolic Movement” than with the term as it was used in the 1st Century. This does not appear to be sound basis for saying that miraculous powers or special authority are the defining characteristics of apostles. While some did clearly utilize miraculous powers at times, there is no mention of others utilizing them, and some people who were not apostles displayed miraculous powers. Likewise, although the original apostles were told that they had authority, that authority appeared to be more spiritual than ecclesiastical in nature. They certainly did not appear to exercise authority over the church except to exhort others with God’s message. Paul exhorted but did not order. The other apostles did not exercise a high level of control over the church of Jerusalem. If anything, it is interesting to the extent that the Apostles in the New Testament did NOT exercise authority in the local churches. While the Twelve were part of the church of Jerusalem, James the half-brother Jesus served as the senior elder. Paul and John both used persuasion to get change within the local churches rather than exercising some form of “apostolic authority.”

2. The other aspect of Wagner’s view is interesting. Not only does he take the apostolic call as something different from the missionary call, but suggested that some apostles (such as Peter) did not have the missionary call. In light of the Great Commission, this, at first, appears to be ludicrous. However, it is at least understandable within the context of how some people define the term “missionary” today. It is consistent with a cross-cultural definition of missionary (described in Part 1 of this article). Since some apostles did not appear to work outside of their own culture, people who utilize a cross-cultural definition for missions are forced to separate “missionary” and “apostle” into separate categories. Unfortunately, by doing this, bad things result. Missionaries lack a good Biblical model for their role if apostles were not missionaries. (I have read blogs arguing against the role of missionary because it has no basis in the Bible… an idea that makes no sense unless one tries uses a revisionist understanding of the NT apostle.) And if apostles were not missionaries/churchplanters… what were they? This confusion has led to setting up hierarchies within the church to allow for a church leadership role for apostles.

I believe that the New Testament and the Didache show that apostles are missionaries. They plant churches but hand over power to others who will serve as pastors/presbyters and deacons within it. And if apostles and missionaries are two terms for the same position, then apostles provide a good model for the role of missionary.

(It should be noted that I am not suggesting that missionaries take on every role that every apostles does in the Bible. The original 12 had unique qualities being eyewitnesses of Christ. Their uniqueness does not result in having the designation “apostle” (others also had the same designation). Rather, one of the roles of the original 12 was apostle (going into all the world to preach the gospel). Additionally, I am not suggesting that missionaries today start using the title “apostle.” Unfortunately, the term has changed considerably over the centuries, starting in the 2nd century with it being used strictly for the original Twelve, and up into recent decades the so-called Apostolic movement. With language, it is hard to go back.)

Closing the loop, our understanding of the role of the missionary can be enhanced by understanding the role of apostles in the early church. And the role of apostles, having a role in the “universal” church and a connection with local church, while having a formal role outside of any one local church, hopefully can provide a balance for missionaries today.

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