Theology and Anti-Missions

William Carey, referred to by some as the Father of Protestant Missions, wrote his great booklet, “An Enquiry into the Obligation of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens.” Carey came from a religious group, the Particular Baptists. As “dissenters” of the state church, they could, potentially, have a greater desire to share the gospel beyond national boundaries. However, this potential was crushed by a form of Calvinistic theology that saw the work of salvation as God’s alone. If salvation was only a work of God, then it seemed quite logical that evangelism, both locally and cross-culturally, was irrelevant or even impertinent.

enquiry

Carey chose not to challenge the theology of his church. Rather, he chose to challenge its implications. Preachers of his time and denomination commonly deduced from their theology that the Great Commission, in its Matthew 28 form, was simply Jesus’ address to his eleven present disciples. As such it lacks relevance today. Carey made three arguments against this thinking:

  • If “Go ye into all the world and preach the Gospel” is not for us today, then neither is “baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” What is our justification for baptizing, as Baptists, if Jesus only commanded the original disciples to baptize, and not us?
  • If the commissioning in Matthew was only for the original 11, presumably then every preacher who has shared the Gospel to unreached peoples over close to two millenia, including those who shared their faith to ancestors of the majority of readers of Carey’s booklet, did so without God’s authority/blessing.
  • If the commissioning was only to the disciples who were present with Him, why did Jesus end the commissioning with “Lo, I am with you always, to the end of the world?” Such a statement would be appropriate if Jesus was talking to people throughout future history. If Jesus was only talking to the Eleven, He might be more likely to say something like, “Lo, I am with you always, as long as you live.”

With this, Protestant missions gradually grew from a trickle into a stream and then into a mighty river.

But there was still a problem. The theology of many of the Particular Baptists said, “God has determined salvation from the past, and His work is completely unaffected by our activity today, so there is no need or value in evangelizing.” Carey added an important, but dissonant, statement. “Jesus has commanded us to evangelize, so you should do so– regardless of whether you believe it is effective.”

People can often live their entire lives with opposing beliefs… but this conflict can spring to the forefront when such a conflict is articulated effectively. It could be argued that the Baptists in London were already struggling between the belief that salvation is the work of God alone, and the clear Biblical record of God working through people to carry out His mission. The words of William Carey in his Enquiry, led to a great change of direction. But eloquence in a different direction can result in a very different result.

In 1826, Daniel Parker published “Views on the Two Seeds.” The two seeds he was referring to were those mentioned in Genesis 3:15, “And I will put enmity between you,” the serpent, “and the woman, and between your seed and her Seed; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise His heel.”

Parker expressed the belief, in pages 4 and 5 of his work, that the seed of the woman was “Christ and the elect,” while the seed of the serpent is “the Non-elect.”

“Eve’s sin allowed Satan ‘to beget the wicked, sinful principle and nature in her,’ thus allowing both the seed of Satan and the seed of Christ to enter the human bloodstream. Satan’s seed is represented in the covenant of works, Christ’s in the covenant of grace. The elect seed can be redeemed, but the nonelect cannot.” (H. Leon McBeth. “The Baptist Heritage: Four Centuries of Baptist Witness,” 374.)

The theology of this work resonated with Baptists, especially in the Western (what we would now call Mid-Western) regions of the United States and their view of determinism regarding salvation. McBeth, on page 372, lists three line items from the “Apple Creek Association” from that period showing Anti-Missions sentiments:

“19 We as an association do not hesitate to declare an unfellowship with foreign and domestic missionary and bible societies, Sunday Schools and tract societies, and all other missionary institutions.

21. No missionary preacher is to have the privilege of preaching at our association.

22. We advise the churches to protest against masonic and missionary institutions, and not to contribute to any such beggarly institutions.”

Of course, the anti-Missions movement was driven by other factors than theological. There were regional disagreements or rivalries. Most Baptists in the Eastern United States were “Regular” or supporting Missions, while those in the West tended to be anti-Mission. Cost had a factor, and poor churches in the frontier regions were more likely to see mission organizations as parasitic on the church. (I get reminded again, of the 2nd century work, the Didache, that gave local churches strict guidance to identify true versus false apostles. The biggest criteria was on how much time and support they sought from local churches rather than getting about their business of mission work.) Additionally, there was a suspicion of theological education, and seminaries were often lumped together with mission organizations in their opposition.

However, another major theological view that greatly strengthened the Anti-missions movement was ‘Biblicism.’ This is the belief or theological stance that only institutions that are expressly noted in the Bible are legitimate. This was very strong in the early 1800s, but still exists today. I have heard people say things to the effect that “The church is the only God-ordained institution to carry out His work in the world.” The statement presumes Biblicism, and then deduces (doubtfully) that only one institution is established in the New Testament— the Church.

In 1827, the Kehuckee Association published “A Declaration Against the Modern Missionary Movement and Other Institutions of Men.” Those who agreed with such declarations, often called themselves “Old School Baptists” referring, presumably, to the pre-Carey Particular Baptist tradition, or even further, perhaps, based on the “Trail of Blood” belief that Baptist churches go back to Jesus and John the Baptist. The Campbellite Baptists, led by Alexander Campbell saw themselves as Reformers of the Baptist tradition, until they broke free from the Baptist fold to form the Campbellite, or Church of Christ, movement, opposed Missions as well. Both of these have an underlying premise of Biblicism. For the Kehuckee Assocition, the Modern Missionary Movement is an “Institution of Men” rather than of God. For Campbell, “Where the Bible speaks, we speak; where the Bible is silent, we are silent,” led to ‘where the Bible is not explicitly affirming, we oppose.” The Anti-Missions Baptists and the Campbellites saw themselves as seeking a “primitive” New Testament church and more recently, a “pre-Carey” Baptist church.

In the 20th century, other theological concerns

rethinking

have crept in. Perhaps most well-known as the Liberal-Fundamentalist controversies in the 1920s. In broader Protestant circles, this can be seen in the controversy generated by “Rethinking Missions: A Layman’s Enquiry after One Hundred Years,” published in 1932 largely through the work of W. E. Hocking.

“The report distinguishes between temporary and permanent elements in the function of a missionary. The task of the missionary today, it was maintained, is to see the best in other religions, to help the adherents to discover, or to rediscover, all that is best in their own traditions, to co-operate with the most active and vigorous elements in the other traditions in social reform and in the purification of religious expression. The aim should not be conversion – the drawing of members of one religious faith over into another – or an attempt to establish a Christian monopoly. Co-operation is to replace aggression. The ultimate aim, in so far as any can be descried, is the emergence of the various religions out of their isoloation into a fellowship in which each will find its appropriate place.” (Stephen Neill “A History of Christian Missions, (Penguin Publishing, 2nd edition), page 419).

This report and the larger belief system it espouses, was a huge problem theologically. Despite the obvious differences with the narrow interpretation of Calvinist theology of the previous century, there was one obvious similarity. Both theological views said that there was really nothing that the church can or should do to offer God’s salvation to unbelievers. For the “Old-School Baptists” God did all the work of salvation, so their was nothing we can do to aid that activity. For those who accepted Hocking’s report, the best the church has to offer is not God’s call to salvation, but help for other religions to be better religions.

William Carey was wise in not challenging directly the theology of his compatriots, only the implications. But theology doesn’t just go away. Missions needs a better theological backing than what we normally give it. Most commonly it is given in the form of a series of “proof-texts” in a lecture or part of a course called “Biblical Basis for Missions.” Essentially, the course does what William Carey did. It says, “We don’t really need to deal with the issue of theology. Rather, if we will show that we are doing that we call ‘Missions’ can be linked to Biblical verses that are relevant and supporting.”

An acquaintance of mine is what sometimes gets called a Neo-Calvinist. A seminary interviewing him questioned whether his theology would work against the importance of Missions and Evangelism (these being important to the seminary). His response was that he strongly supported missions and evangelism and felt that this was empowered by his theology much the way several other missionaries, pastors, or theologians found their Calvinistic theology empowering their call to outreach. I don’t really know about some of the people he referenced. However, he mentioned William Carey, but from his writings it seems to me more that Carey bracketed his theology. Or, perhaps more sympathetically, he allowed his theology to maintain a certain unresolved tension. This is not always the worst decision. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines.” (Ralph Waldo Emerson)

Some work in the vein of Carey’s Enquiry, answers more recent criticisms or interpretations of Matthew 28:18-20:

  • Arguing for the authenticity of the passage (that Jesus actually said it or it at least accurately describes what Jesus was seeking for the post-resurrection church).
  • Connect it with other Biblical passages to show that the passage is correctly understood and is consistent with other statements of Jesus, as well as other Biblical writers.

For a Christian Missions that is “built to last,” one needs a theological view, not a proof-text view, of Scripture. Regarding the latter activity, David Bosch states,

“I am not saying that these procedures are illegitimate. They undoubtedly have their value. But their contribution towards establishing the validity of the missionary mandate is minimal. This validity should not be deduced from isolated texts and detached incidents but only from the thrust of the central message of both Old and New Testaments.” (“Hermeneutical Principles,” pages 439-440)

A big problem is that Missions has been strangely quite absent from formal theological study over the years. As Christopher Wright notes,

“… there are many theological scholars and students whose understanding of theology is bounded by the horizon of the classical shape of the curriculum, in which mission in any form (biblical, historical, theological, practical) seems remarkably absent.” (Christopher J. H. Wright, ‘The Mission of God: Unlocking the Bible’s Grand Narrative,” p. 36)

In fact, one can even argue about where a Missions Theology would fit in. It could be a form of “Practical Theology”– attempting to bridge systematic theology (perhaps soteriology and ecclesiology) with real world practice. It could be its own sub-category of systematic theology, standing alongside Christology, Eschatology, Soteriology, Ecclesiology and the like). It could be a sub-set of Biblical Theology, going beyond “Biblical basis for Missions” to an attempt to draw the Testaments of God together to see the Missio Dei and the Missio Ecclesia.

For me, the most important is Missions Theology that establishes a sound foundation for Missions today. This would draw heavy on its Biblical Theology roots, but honestly and faithfully addresses systematization with historical and philophical sources as well. Wright goes on (on page 37) to quote Mark Spindler:

“If ‘mission’ is understood as the sum total of all actual missionary activities in the modern period or as everything undertaken under the banner of ‘missions,’ then an honest biblical scholar can only conclude that such a concept of mission does not occur in the Bible… It is therefore anachronistic and hence meaningless to attempt to base all modern ‘missionary’ activities on the Bible, that is, to seek biblical precedents or literal biblical mandates for all modern missionary activities. Mission today must, rather, be seen as arising from something fundamental, from the basic movement of God’s people toward the world… All ‘missionary’ activities that have grown up in history must be reassessed from this perspective. Once again, a biblical grounding of mission by no means seeks to legitimate missionary activities that are actually being carried out. Its goal is, rather, evaluation of those activities in the light of the Bible.”

We presently live in a “missionally sloppy” time. We live in an era where missions is often seen as converting people from one Christian denomination to another, or one theological ‘club’ within Christianity to another. For some it is about sending money to local workers, while others are convinced that missions can only happen when people are active cross-culturally. Some see evangelism as absolutely essential to missions, while others see social justice and ministry as key, while others identify a more holistic approach. Some feel that spiritual mapping and praying down ‘principalities and powers’ is essential, while others see it as useless fiction. Some see long-term workers as essential, while others see them as anachronistic and believe that more can be done with short-term teams. Some believe that we must do things “the way Paul did it,” others that we must be sent as the Father sent Jesus, while some see other forms of adaptation in missions. Many provide their ultimate theological justification for their Missions activities as “it seems to work” or “God appears to be blessing it” — (may as well use the line from the Debby Boone song, You Light Up My Life, “It can’t be wrong when it feels so right.”)

A good missions theology would not answer all of these concerns, but would at least provide a foundation for evaluating the various currents.

Is Prooftexting a Growing Trend Among Christian Leaders?

A religious leader makes a controversial dogmatic statement, and then attaches a Bible verse or passage as “proof” that the statement is true, or Biblical.

Have you seen this? I have, and I am pretty sure you have too. Some by people one might think should know better. I think it is on the rise. Consider a few that I have come across in 2016.

  • A friend of mine back in the US got a canned message48467483 on his phone from Jerry Falwell Jr. telling Evangelicals that they have an obligation to vote. This statement was footnoted by the statement of Jesus, “Render unto Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s.”  I hope it is pretty obvious that this verse has NOTHING to do with voting, and it doesn’t even seem possible to apply it contextually to voting. Go to the passage and try substituting voting and decide for yourself. But even if you thought it did, somehow, apply– in the United States, voting is a right and privilege, NOT an obligation. In other words, there is no governmental obligation to vote. In fact, choosing not to vote is equally exercising one’s right to vote.
  • In a similar vein, another religious leader in a completely different context argued that abstentions in voting were unacceptable based on the words of Jesus “Let your ‘Yeas’ be Yea, and your ‘Nays’ be Nay.” Again, I hope that it need not be said that a verse primarily about honesty and keeping promises, and secondarily about taking oaths, has nothing to do with valid voting options in a business meeting. (I am holding out some doubtful hope that this quote was meant to be humorous.)
  • I have had a number of people tell me (I do work in a counseling center, after all) that they don’t need to forgive those who are unrepentant. They bring up one verse, and it is always the same single verse. Why is that? Because everywhere else in the New Testament (though you are welcome to explore the Old Testament as well if you want) forgiveness is commanded without qualification. Considering how unhealthy unforgiveness is to the injured party, I struggle to see why anyone would seek a loophole anyway.
  • A letter was circulated around here by religious leaders that attacked a person’s reputation. The justification was James 4:17. “ So it is a sin for the person who knows to do what is good and doesn’t do it.” Ignoring that the verse really doesn’t appear to apply to this sort of case, it doesn’t even justify it by extension. What this letter is saying, essentially, is “We have determined that writing such a letter is a good thing, so based on James 4:17 we wrote it.” There is no basis here for arguing that the letter was right in the first place.

  • Okay, this one I have bumped up against for years and years. So many when talking about conflict or discipline just bring up Matthew 18:15-17. Some church bylaws even say for their Church Discipline “We follow Matthew 18 for church discipline.” Unlike most of the cases above, this one is properly utilized… up to a point. The problem is that the Bible has a WEALTH of information on how to deal with sin and conflict. Matthew 18 is relevant but hugely limited. I have seen it misused on both sides. On one side I have seen churches use it like a checklist. Private conversation check– Small group conversation check– Brought before the church check. Out they go. This ignores the fact that intention of the passage is how to reconcile rather than how to kick someone out. On the other hand, I have come across people who have tried to use it the other way. They do wrong and justify it (or at least justify not being disciplined for it) with the argument that “the church did not follow the process correctly.” Some even go further by pulling in the Bible’s call not to gossip. So, following their logic, only one person knows the sin, one should not use the Matthew 18 passage at all because to have two people come by means that one had to gossip. Therefore there should be no church discipline at all. Church discipline is admittedly hard, but it is not necessarily easier by embracing a sub-biblical position of ignoring most of Biblical wisdom on the topic.
  • I have heard the most despicable things justified under the umbrella of “Submission to those in Authority” over you, in Romans 13. You probably have as well. I hope it doesn’t need to be emphasized that submission to ANYTHING other than God is limited. As Melba Maggay said recently said (sorry I have to paraphrase here): “Don’t read Romans 13 without also reading Revelation 13” (Or, I might add, much of the writings of the prophets in the Old Testament.)
  • Relatedly, an acquaintance of mine put up a verse from Hebrews 13:17, Obey your spiritual leaders, and do what they say. Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit. He chose the specific parts to underline and emphasize. The emphasis suggests that leaders are accountable ONLY to God. That is also sub-Biblical (in my view). Secondly, this particular post was written to church youth in how they should relate to youth pastors/leaders. Again, as one involved in Christian counseling, I have come across so many church youth that have been abused sexually, spiritually, emotionally (and so forth) by youth leaders embracing the idea that they have no accountability to any person, and that youth are to obey without question. Truly horrible. I hope it doesn’t need to be emphasized (again) that submission in the Bible is typically mutual, and always (with the exception of to God) limited.

I will stop here. I won’t add examples such as FB posts that prooftext verse “strong national defense” or “immigration reform.” I hope you are already a bit suspicious of such self-serving uses of the Bible. My basic argument is that the Church (in general) is unethical. You can look at some heavier stuff in this regard in my post, “The Unethical Church.”

  1. A problem is identified
  2. The leadership of the church, or the church as a whole, does what it feels like doing.
  3. A verse footnote is added to suggest that they have embraced a theologically sound attempt to understand the heart and mind of God.

We really need to do better. If a church and its leadership lacks the Biblical breadth of understanding, and theological discernment to make wise decisions “on the fly” then at least work to come up with wise policies during times of calm discussion. And don’t throw around Bible verses lightly.

Christmas Musings 2016

It is Christmas Season here in the Philippines. Arguably, it has been since September 1st.

Every year I come across some Christians who are worried about whether it is okay to celebrate Christmas because of its “pagan roots.” This year is no exception. Additionally, some JWs came by our house today and they reject Christmas for this very reason (of course, it is their choice, and I certainly don’t ask those of other faiths to celebrate our own religious celebrations). But Christians rejecting Christmas because of its pagan roots makes no sense unless one believes that things that non-Christians do are forever unredeemable by God. Rejecting the obscene consumerism— well, I am a bit more sympathetic to that view. But I think subversion of consumerism in a system is best done from within than without.maligayang_pasko_god_jul_i_tagaloggf_rund_kudde-r3b6741f100284f578da60ed788644954_z6i0e_324

Some reject Christmas because it is… festive, and festive is problematic. It reminds me of a group of, truthfully very nice, people who felt that birthdays were wrong to celebrate because it is wrong to suggest that even one day a year is your own day rather than God’s. That is fine, but that does seem to presume that God rejects celebration, or that a day of personal celebration demeans or offends God. I don’t really see that.

Anyway here are some Christmas musings from the past:

Christmas– It’s Okay, Really! (2012)

Christmas Musings (2010)

St. Joseph at Christmas (2012)

Joining the Festivities (2015)

Additionally, here is my Family’s Christmas Letter/Card:      CLICK HERE

What is an Apostle?

I have come up on three very different views of what is an apostle. I guess I would call them:
-Traditional
-Ahistorical
-Primitive

A. Traditional. When I was young, I was told simply that the term “Apostle” was the term given to the 12 disciples. Essentially, I could take the 12 disciples’ song and replace it with the term Apostles:

“There were 12 (apostles), Jesus called to help Him,
Simon Peter, Andrew, James, his brother John.
Philip, Thomas, Matthew, James the son of Alphaeus.
Thaddeus, Simon, Judas, and Bartholemew.”

We soon had problems with this when we got to Matthias. Was he an Apostle to replace Judas? Or was Paul? Then we start coming across others in the New Testament who are called Apostles. I have listed them before in a previous blogpost, but here they are again:

  • Jesus Hebrews 3:112apostolos
  • The 12 disciples Luke 6:13
  • Matthias Acts 1:24-26
  • Paul I Corinthians 9:1
  • Barnabbas (and Paul) Acts 14:3-4
  • Andronicus Romans 16:7
  • Junias Romans 16:7
  • Epaphroditus Philippians 2 :25
  • Unnamed brethren II Corinthians 8 :23-24
  • Silas and Timothy (and Paul) II Thesalonians 2:6
  • Apollos (by implication in I Corinthians 4)

Additionally, Paul talks about the “office of apostle.” That seems hardly worth mentioning if it is really a unique occurrence, only tied to the initial twelve (or perhaps 13).

Limiting the term to the Twelve seems inaccurate Biblically.

B.  Ahistorical. I suppose using the term “ahistorical” is a bit loaded, but I struggle to see any other way of looking at it. This view is one promoted by the late C. Peter Wagner, and more generally in the various “apostolic movements” today. According to Wagner, an apostle is:

“An apostle is a Christian leader, gifted, taught, commissioned, and sent 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 growth and maturity of the church and for the extension of the kingdom of God.”  (quoted from his book “Apostles today: Biblical Governance for Biblical Power,” page 27)

At first blush this definition seems benign enough, unless one starts wondering what it means to be “commissioned and taught by God.” Effectively it removes these individuals from accountability to the church. Mutual accountability and submission appears to be a thoroughly Biblical concept, even for apostles. Additionally, however, as the title suggests, Wagner sees apostles as embedded in the governance of the church.

This is where the ahistorical aspect really creeps in. I remember in Christian college where my Bible professor dealt with the seemingly confusing point that James, the brother of Jesus appeared to be the head of the church of Jerusalem, rather than than the apostles themselves, and held prominence at the Jerusalem Council. Of course, getting into the Epistles even added to the question. None of the apostles exercised ecclesiastical or “apostolic” authority over the churches they wrote to. Paul sought to persuade through words, tended to encourage people to be “led by the Spirit” rather than be led by himself. In fact, the early chapters of I Corinthians appear to attack a formal apostolic authority. Rather, when we get to chapter 4, the humility of apostles (noting here particularly Paul and Apollos) is emphasized, and the call to heed the guidance of Paul is driven by his fatherly role (as churchplanter) with respect to the church of Corinth rather than some divinely ordained submission. Even in the book of Revelation, John does not claim an inherent right to be heard, but rather states that he is simply passing on the spirit’s message to the spirits of the associated churches. In fact, he describes himself as a fellow slave to those of the churches.

Of course, to say Wagner’s view is ahistorical does not mean that it was never expressed historically. Theodore of Mopsuestria in his commentary in I Timothy suggested a similar logic. The 12 apostles ordained a second generation of apostles who then, recognizing their own failings, chose to abolish the term “apostle” and then ordain bishops and presbyters. This theory certainly may be appealing to Theodore (living 350-428) (1) explaining the long disuse of the term apostle, (2) supporting the theory of apostolic succession, and (3) justifying a monarchical church structure as existing from the very beginning. Adoph Harnack however, points out that this nice theory lacks historical support and has considerable evidence against. Actually, from the very beginning, apostles took little interest in governance. See the following quote from Harnack (and feel free to review previous pages to that where he lays the case against Theodore’s theory.

“It is certain that an internal tension prevailed between two forms of organization during the first two generations of the Christian propaganda. These forms were (1) the church as a missionary church, created by a missionary or apostle, whose work it remained; and (2) the church as a local church, complete in itself, forming thus an image and expression of the church in heaven. As the creation of an apostolic missionary, the church was responsible to its founder, dependent upon him, and obliged to maintain the principles which he invariably laid down in the course of his activity as a founder of various churches. As a compact local church, again, it was responsible for itself, with no one over it save the Lord in heaven. Through the person of its earthly founder, it stood in a real relationship to the other churches which he had founded but as a local church it stood by itself, and any connection with other churches was quite a voluntary matter.

That the founders themselves desired the churches to be independent, is perfectly clear in the case of Paul, and we have no reason to believe that other founders of churches took another view (cp. the Roman church). No doubt they still continued to give pedagogic counsels to the churches, and in fact to act as guardians to them. But this was exceptional; it was not the rule. The Spirit moved them to such action, and their apostolic authority justified them in it, while the unfinished state of the communities seemed to demand it.811 And in the primitive decision upon the length of time that an apostle could remain in a community, as in similar cases, the communities secured, ipso facto, a means of self-protection within their own jurisdiction. Probably the perfected organization of the Jerusalem church became, mutatis mutandis, a pattern for all and sundry Christian communities were not “churches of Paul” or “of Peter” (ἐκκλησίαι Παύλου, Πέτρου); each was a “church of God” (ἐκκλησία τοῦ θεοῦ). ”  (Missions and the Expansion of Christianity in the First Three Centuries.  by Adolph Harnack. p. 466/7)

This is not to say that apostle as a role or office ceased to be with John. Eusebius said apostles existed into the 2nd century. Origen (185-254 AD) notes that the apostles still existed but went by a different name.  However, this seems to be the last gasp of for a couple of hundred years. There were probably a few reasons for this:

  • The early apostles (the “Twelve”) were placed in such high regard that the term “apostle” was seen as inappropriate to use for others. Even with the epistles of Ignatius of Antioch in the early 2nd century, the term “apostle” was not used for contemporaries.
  • Legend had it that the first apostles succeeded in the Acts 1:8 call to go to the ends of the earth. So there was question whether the role of apostle was really necessary.
  • As the church structures strengthened, those independent of these structures were potentially unreliable and mercenary. Even in the Didache, more concern seemed to be placed in how to make sure that apostles  and prophets were legitimate than in what they were supposed to do. This is quite a valid concern. Wagner said that apostles (as he defines them) are not chosen by self, not chosen by the church, but chosen by God. But since it takes people to identify God’s choosing, essentially that means that a person chooses himself or herself. And like in the movie “The Apostle,” starring Robert Duvall, such self-ordination may point to weaknesses of character as much as anything else.
  • Relatedly, churches tended to embrace the roles and titles. In the time of Cyprian, bishops were identified as the prophets, apostles, teachers, and high priests of the people.

C. Primitive. The Didache makes it clear that apostles (and prophets) should only visit churches for a short period of time. This was to ensure that they did not overstay and become a burden on the church. But this also evidences that the role of these offices were not centered in the church. Since the term “apostle” in Greek means ambassador or “sent out one,’ the obvious meaning is that they are sent out by God and church to share the good news to those who have not heard, and plant churches.

This seems to be well in line with the statement that the church was built on the foundation of the apostles with Jesus as the chief cornerstone. Wagner interprets this in terms of authority. But the metaphor makes even more sense if one sees it in terms of apostles being churchplanters, rather than leaders.

By the late first century and into the early 2nd century, established churches were led by pastors/bishops and deacons. Additionally, apostles planted/established new churches. They discipled members and established leaders. But then they left. After that, they may maintain a paternal relationship (like Paul with Corinth). However, the churches they founded were God’s churches, not churches of the apostles. They transitioned to being the established churches.

Conclusion. It seems to me that Peter Wagner supported a certain type of governance. That is fine. The problem is that he tried to justify it by grabbing a historical term and misapplying it. There are repercussions:

  • Wagner is forced to separate missionary calling and apostolic callings. There seems little to no justification for this. Of course, part of this may be also tied to his embracing the assumption that missionaries must be cross-cultural. There is little to no Biblical justification for either. But that does not automatically invalidate it (although it certainly casts doubt).
  • I have come across those that argue that the role of “missionary” is not Biblical, or that missionary organizations, as sodality structures, have no divine sanction. But if Wagner is wrong, and apostles are churchplanters, they are essentially missionaries, and missionary bands (like Paul and cohorts, or Barnabas and John Mark) are both sanctioned Biblically.

Wagner’s legacy as a church growth expert has merit. As far as his preference in church governance– he can prefer whatever he wants. But his attempt to support it through linking it to the Biblical term “apostle” is not only ahistorical, it creates problems in the basis of missions.

Note: I don’t recommend missionaries utilizing the term “apostle” any more than I recommend itinerant preachers using the term “prophet.” Too many centuries of use and abuse of these terms have led to too much baggage for the terms to be valuable.