Irate Pirate Chris Rosebrough has written a paper on his view of apostles as he critiques the perspective of supposed NAR writers.
Interestingly, despite claiming that they have a number of doctrinal views, from continuist to cessationist, the chookwatchers post this essay which indicates that they are growing ever closer to the cessationist perspective, and, in fact, increasingly rejecting continuist teaching.
Rosebrough’s piece essentially presents the case against modern day apostles and prophets. He takes on the late C Peter Wagner who was adamant that there is a reformation of the apostle and prophet which has taken place since the turn of the 21st century.
Criteria for Apostles
I’ll add a disclaimer here, because I do not share his view on this at all. I do not believe that God’s original plan for New Testament apostles and prophets, along with the evangelist, pastor and teacher, has never actually gone away, therefore a reformation isn’t necessary, just a restoration. There is a difference.
Rosebrough, although he makes some good points in his argument, steers the reader away from continuance of the gifts, and instead makes a case for cessation. I’m interested in examining his doctrine rather than defending the doctrine of those he uses as examples of theology of continued apostles and prophets.
‘Another insurmountable problem for those who believe in modern day apostles is the fact that the Biblical requirements for one to hold the Office of Apostle as laid out in Acts 1:21-22; namely that the man must have been a part of the group of Jesus’ disciples from the time of His baptism, until His death and be an eye-witness of His resurrection and then be chosen and sent by Him (Acts 1:26) make it painfully clear that no one living today can meet these qualifications and therefore categorically rules out the existence of modern day Apostles altogether.’
Of course, this is not a good exegesis of the passage at all, which is not giving the sole criteria for apostleship. It is referring to Christ’s Apostles, those He personally chose when He walked the earth. Judas had betrayed Christ, disqualified himself, eventually committing suicide, and there was a Biblical necessity to replace him.
If you read the passage carefully, there is no mention of these being the only apostles, but, rather, of the need to replace the apostle who removed himself.
Acts 1:15-17 And in those days Peter stood up in the midst of the disciples (altogether the number of names was about a hundred and twenty), and said, “Men and brethren, this Scripture had to be fulfilled, which the Holy Spirit spoke before by the mouth of David concerning Judas, who became a guide to those who arrested Jesus; for he was numbered with us and obtained a part in this ministry.”
So Peter is referring to a prophetic scripture that predicted the need to replace a single person in a particular office, which, as we will see, is that of apostle in the place of Judas.
Acts 1:20-22 “For it is written in the Book of Psalms: ‘Let his dwelling place be desolate, And let no one live in it’; and, ‘Let another take his office.’ Therefore, of these men who have accompanied us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John to that day when He was taken up from us, one of these must become a witness with us of His resurrection.”
So they chose two candidates and asked for direction from the Lord in choosing a replacement.
Acts 1:24 And they prayed and said, “You, O Lord, who know the hearts of all, show which of these two You have chosen to take part in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place.”
Nowhere in this passage is there a specification that these were the only apostles ever to be called by God. In fact, Jesus called out these twelve as His Apostles whilst He yet walked the earth. They were separated to this office before His death and resurrection, hence the requirement that Judas’ replacement be a witness to the resurrection.
This is important, because we are told in scripture that the ministry offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers were given as gifts to the Church when Christ ascended, again, as prophesied in scripture.
Ephesians 4:7-10 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore He says: “When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men.” (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers…
Rosebrough even mentions them, quoting Wagner, as ‘ascension gifts’. Well, when was the ascension? It took place after the resurrection of Christ.
Acts 1:9 Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight.
Who watched? His disciples, including the chosen eleven, soon to be twelve, Apostles.
Now this is very important, because it means that ascension gift apostles and prophets were subsequent to and separate from the Twelve Apostles chosen personally by Christ prior to His resurrection.
More than twelve apostles in the NT
Secondly, and quite clearly, there were other apostles mentioned in scripture, the Apostle Paul being one of them.
Rosebrough, contradicting himself, even mentions Paul earlier in his post as one of the foundational apostles of scripture. Paul was not an eye-witness of Christ’s resurrection. He was not amongst the twelve. Paul, when a Pharisee, was persecuting the Church when Jesus apprehended him.
Other apostles mentioned include James, Jesus’ half-brother, Andronicus, Junia, Apollos, Timothy, Silvanus, and Barnabus. Of these, only James could be said to have probably witnessed the resurrected Christ.
These truths alone reject Rosebrough’s notion that only the Twelve count as apostles. They are certainly important, and foundational, but not the only apostles mentioned in scripture.
Apostolic succession error
Something else Rosebrough says amounts to another version of Catholic Apostolic Succession dogma, which states that the Church, when Bishops lay hands on confirmation candidates, or the priesthood, passes the anointing from generation to generation all the way from the original Apostles through the priesthood to the people.
This semi-truth sounds good and has a certain merit, but in fact confuses many people and throws the Church away from what scripture actually teaches. Besides, weren’t the Borgias a part of that particular succession?
Rosebrough has a slightly different slant on this false doctrine.
‘The Church is Apostolic (ecclesia apostolica) inasmuch as all its members to the Last Day come to faith in Christ through the Word of the Apostles.’
This, of course, whilst it has an element of validity when taken at face value, is, in context with what the writer is saying, again a bending of the truth. It is saying that because we have the Word of God that came to us through the Apostles and Prophets, we therefore have an apostolic Church that is build through their teaching. OK, but…
Subsequently, Rosebrough implies, we do not need literal apostles and prophets because we have the Word of the Apostles and Prophets, the Apostles being the Twelve, and the Prophets being the Old Testament Prophets leading to John the Forerunner and then Christ. Rosebrough takes this teaching further…
‘Ephesians 2:20 reveals that the church has never been without apostles. Instead, the church’s apostles have always been Matthew, Peter, James, John, Paul etc. This text also reveals that the church has always had prophets. They are Moses, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Micah, Hosea and the rest. Both the Apostles and the Prophets continue to teach us by virtue of the fact that their words have been written down and now comprise the living and active Word of God.’
Well, almost, but in the context being used here, this cannot be fitted into Rosebrough’s equation. Whilst it’s true that the Word of God comprises the sealed canon, there is nothing to be added or taken away, and it is the Truth by which we live, it doesn’t equate to negating the need for apostles to help develop and grow the Church. It doesn’t replace the ascension gifts. It actually teaches on them. It reveals them to us, and shows us how to work with them. But Rosebrough takes it even deeper into the mire…
‘For nearly two millennia the church has confessed the belief in “one holy, catholic and apostolic church.” In so doing, the church has confessed that Jesus’ apostles are still in the process of fulfilling their duty to “make disciples of all nations.”’
So here is Rosebrough’s version of the Apostolic Succession, which is found nowhere in scripture, and takes a serious amount of twisting before it can be put on the plate. However, the rest of scripture renders it unpalatable.
What Rosebrough is trying to say is that apostles and prophets ended when the canon was complete. But this is poor exegesis. It is rejected by the very scripture Rosebrough attempts to use to prove it.
As we have already seen, Christ chose the Twelve, and then He died, was buried, and resurrected. Following this He ascended and following the ascension He gave gifts to men, being the ascension gifts previously mentioned, including apostles and prophets. This is scripture. This is fact. This is current. This is truth.
Further, we have shown that there were other apostles, not just the Twelve. These do not have the teaching of their apostleship recorded and included in the canon. They continued in the Apostles’ Doctrine. This alone refutes Rosebrough’s notion that apostles had to be responsible for the canon. Besides, was gospel writer and Book of Acts author Luke an Apostle?
The basic meaning of apostolos is sent out one, so it’s very understanding reveals the intention. An apostle is sent out to pioneer and oversee churches and groups of churches. A modern term would be missionary.
So there is no Apostolic Succession, in the Catholic sense. We have Christ’s onging gifts to men of the apostle and prophet to continue the work of developing and building the Church under Christ generationally, even to the present day, when there are more people on earth than ever before, and, therefore, a greater need of pioneers and overseers than ever before.
The established Word of God is the tool by which the good news is ministered, along with the leading of the Holy Spirit, but God’s new wineskin structure is the Church, as begun in Christ the Cornerstone, foundationally built on by the Apostles and Prophets, and continued as it was in the Book of Acts and so through today.
And Christ still gives gifts to men of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to bring us to the fulness of Christ.
Which brings us to the reason apostles were left out of the equation for so long. Rosebrough claims that…
‘For nineteen centuries the church has existed without any living apostles who operated in the same power, authority and office as Peter, James, John, Paul and the others whom Jesus sent into the world to make disciples’.
Of course, this is subjective. The reality is that we do not know how many ministers were doing the work of the apostle when the early church was being developed.
The catholic Church redirected itself into a priesthood that reverted to pre-Christian oversight, and so became hierarchal, eventually morphing into the monolithic Roman Catholic Church which tore down the New Testament new wineskin oversight given by Christ at the ascension.
This is why writers and observers like Wagner spoke of a reformation. My belief is that it never went away. It was God’s plan from the beginning and He was merely long-suffering, as He is, and waiting patiently until the time of the restoration of these Biblical principles, operations and gifts. I believe we are yet in the process of recovering these ministries and offices.
But they never went away. God changes not. His Word is established in the heavens.
Clearly cessationist teaching veers away from scripture in a disturbing way at times. When critics like Rosebrough criticise error with error we are in danger of being caught between manifold misconceptions.
The Word is true, and it is best taken with an open heart and uncluttered, unbiased mind. God has placed that truth in the regenerated heart. That is why we need to be led by the Spirit when we read and study the Word.