24 July 2010

Hey, look! I'm an apostle!

Recent movements within parts of the Church are attempting to recover parts of our heritage long lost and/or abandoned. Among these is the concept of the apostle.
While the Catholics, Orthodox and Anglicans all believe in some form of lineage back to the original apostles (albeit differently than the movement of which I am speaking), those bodies resulting from the Protestant Reformation have generally held that the days of the apostles are past, or simply ignored the issue of modern apostles altogether. The "independent" and "non-denominational" (I&ND) congregations mostly carried on in this vein with the primary exceptions occurring only in small, fringe groups, or groups generally considered cults outside of their membership.
Over the past couple of decades, the title of apostle experienced a resurrection (as it were) among the I&ND groups. The last few years, apostles seem to have popped up like Texas wildflowers in a wet spring. While not as prevalent as bank vice-presidents, they're getting close.
One might expect, with this many apostles running loose, to see a revival of New Testament proportions, a veritable flood of miracles, of salvations, of shadows healing people, of prisons opened and captives set free, of the dead raised, and perhaps of myriads of apostles being martyred as the power structure is threatened.
While there are isolated pockets of such things occurring, in the USA at least it's primarily business as usual with a new title ("Apostle") on business cards, web sites, glossy promotional materials, books and videos. I expect that soon we'll also see "Senior Apostle", "Executive Vice-Apostle" and perhaps "Senior Allied Commander, Apostles".
Oddly enough, the original apostles didn't seem to operate this way (based on what's recorded in the New Testament). Ignoring for the moment their lack of access to DVDs or even printing presses, how did they advertise their apostleship?
As far as I can tell, they didn't.
The apostles were recognized as such by having been with Jesus, and by the incredible power and authority they carried.
The major recorded exception was Paul, who seems to have mainly introduced himself as an Apostle to identify himself in his letters to the various churches. Even that came about only after the community of believers recognized him by the criteria above.

I've seen, met, been taught by, and been prayed for by a small group of people I believe may be apostles (or "carry an apostolic anointing", if you prefer). I have not heard any of them claim to be apostles. I have not seen them claim it in print. I do not notice them having (or allowing) those around them proclaim their apostleship. They simply carry an obvious power and authority, a presence of the Holy Spirit that says, "this person has been with Jesus"; signs, wonders, salvations, freedom and wisdom leap out from their life like bow waves off a huge, powerful ship, and follow like ships' wakes, visible for anyone to see.
I've been rereading Banning Liebscher's _Jesus Culture_ and a couple of things really struck me as I was thinking about this issue--which isn't one Banning addresses, per se. (As far as I know, Banning makes no claim to apostleship, but he carries an annointing of epic proportions.)
"The Lord is releasing an anointing to see entire cities and nations turn to God," (that sounds awfully apostolic to me) "but that anointing can only be secured in the secret place." (By secret place, Banning means the time you meet with God in private, which many people refer to as a 'prayer closet'.)
"...there are some things you cannot get in public; you must press in for them in private... All [revivalists] have (or had) a secret life with God that, for the most part, they don't even talk about."
That sounds a lot like Christ getting off alone with the Father, and a lot like the New Testament apostles after they met the risen Lord, whether devoting themselves to prayer in the upper room, or simply how they lived their lives after the Holy Spirit fell at Pentecost with fire and power (such as Peter's going onto the rooftop to pray in Acts 10).
I have no problem, per se, with someone calling herself (or someone else) an apostle. I have a problem with it if their apostleship isn't evident in that they have clearly been with Jesus and clearly have a level of power and authority far beyond that of the common Christian walk. And I don't mean authority just in terms of followers; in and of itself that means nothing. Any smooth talker can have followers.
Are there apostles walking among us today? Not that long ago, I was skeptical. Now I believe there are. If not, there are at least some who are, as we say in Texas, "close enough as makes no never mind".
I believe, however, that they will be self-evident to anyone who is truly paying attention and seeking God's presence. Like Jesus, Peter or Phillip, apostles will explain the Scriptures so as to reveal things we never understood clearly, to make our hearts burn with passion for God. They will heal the sick, the lame, the blind; they will do things we never expect that glorify God (such as Peter going to Cornelius); they will raise the dead.
But they don't need public relations firms paving the way. They aren't out to build themselves up or build an empire. They're out to glorify God, build up the body of Christ, and set people free; to introduce the hurt, broken, lonely and lost to their loving Father and see them made whole. They're founding churches, calling entire bodies out of sin, despair, or laziness to be beacons of light set on hills, burning with love for God and for his creation . If they show up doing these things, they may be apostles.
If they just come saying, "Hey, look! I'm an apostle!", I'll wait and see, thanks.