And he (Christ) himself gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ…Ephesians 4:11-12
Some people say that there are no longer apostles today. And if by that they mean the 12 apostles (Matthew 10:2-4) who were the first 12 disciples, then they are correct. (Really Matthias should be swapped out for Judas Iscariot – see Acts 1:13 & 26) Typically this view understands the apostolic role mainly as those who wrote scripture, and in order to protect the authority and canonization of scripture, the claim is that apostles were exclusive to the first 12 or at least to the first century church.
But there are many problems with this view. The first glaring issues is that there were many people named as apostles in the New Testament (at least 20). Most of these people did not write works found in the scriptures.
Barnabas and Paul were considered apostles (Acts 14:14). Andronicus and Junia (a woman) were listed as outstanding among the apostles (Romans 16:7). Paul calls Silvanus (or Silas) and Timothy apostles along with himself (1 Thessalonians 1:1; 2:4-6). Paul also calls Apollos an apostle along with himself (1 Cor 4:6-9). Apparently, James the half-brother of Jesus was considered an apostle (Galatians 1:19). It’s also possible Epaphroditus was considered an apostle if the Greek word apostolon in Philippians 2:25 is translated as “apostle” instead of “messenger.”
So it is clear that the title and role of “apostle” extended well beyond the first 12 apostles. While we can acknowledge that the canon of scripture is closed and that the first 12 apostles had a unique role in church history, we must also acknowledge that “apostle” must have been a role that was open to many who fit the description.
This is why I believe the apostolic role was always meant to be a normal leadership role in the church today (similar to what the early church eventually called “bishop”). This lines up with what we read in Ephesians 4:11 as Paul lists the different leadership roles or leadership anointings that exist in the church.
Some ministers will carry an anointing for pastoring/shepherding and others for evangelism or teaching. Though we tend to call all church leaders “pastors,” we’ve all felt our pastors lean in one direction or another based on the gifting and anointing on their life. And the same is true for the prophetic and the apostolic. Some of our “pastors” actually have the anointing for the apostolic role. I have a few different pastor friends who aren’t just shepherds or teachers. They have been gifted with an apostolic anointing.
Based on what we see in the New Testament, throughout church history, and in the church today, the apostolic role brings with it certain characteristics. The apostolic leadership role typically means a person is over a grouping or network of churches or at least has influence of some kind over more than one church. The apostolic also seems to specialize in taking new territory in some way for the Kingdom of God (whether that means starting non-profits, planting churches, launching businesses, or advancing the Kingdom in a particular sector of society).
Finally, signs, wonders and miracles are often involved in apostolic ministry. People are healed, demons are cast out, and prophetic words seem to flow easily around the apostolic. After being around someone with an apostolic anointing, we will find that the fire of the Holy Spirit has usually been fanned into flame. Often, new gifts of the Spirit are released or existing gifts are set ablaze.
So, are there apostles today?
Well, it is true that the first 12 apostles had a unique role and purpose in church history. That will never again be repeated. However, if we’re talking about the apostolic role and apostolic anointing in general, and if we use the definition and descriptions that I’ve laid out above, then the answer is “Yes.”
There are many in the church today who function with an apostolic anointing and who could rightly be called “apostle” just as we call other ministers “evangelist” or “teacher” or “pastor.” The irony is that those most qualified to be called “apostle” generally don’t use that term to describe themselves. This is, in part, due to enduring humbling opposition similar to what Paul had to face in regard to defending his own apostleship (see 2 Corinthians 11 & Galatians 1 and 2).
One final note: it’s important to state here that there is no such thing as a legitimate “self-appointed” apostle, just as there shouldn’t be any “self-appointed” pastors, teachers, or evangelists. People in these roles should first be affirmed by a community of people who recognize the calling and anointing on someone’s life for this particular role in ministry. And there should be healthy accountability structures in place for anyone serving in any ministry role. The purpose of all of these leadership roles and leadership anointings is not for self-promotion but to build up the body of Christ and equip the saints for the work of ministry.