Heavy construction equipment digging a foundation

No More Apostles and Prophets

When I hear someone call themselves or someone else an apostle or prophet, I’m skeptical. I think we all should be. I accept that apostles and prophets were once part of the church. However, I don’t think God calls people to those roles anymore. God may call people to other roles—pastors, evangelists, teachers, deacons, or bishops, to name a few—but there are no more apostles and prophets today. I think this is best illustrated by comparing two passages from Ephesians.

 Some Apostles, Some Prophets?

The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

(Eph 4:11)

Five church offices are listed here, prophets and apostles being among them. I remember a demonstration from one of my former pastors. He used the fingers of his left hand to demonstrate. The thumb is like the apostles. They can touch each of the other fingers. The index finger is like the prophets. They point where to go. The middle finger (please do not make any jokes) is like the evangelists. They reach out farther than any other finger. The ring finger is like pastors. They are married to the church. And the pinky is like the teachers. They get in your ear. (Imagine putting your pinky finger in your ear to clear it out).

This would have been a good demonstration for the church at Ephesus in the first century. The problem I have is I can’t find any credible references to apostles and prophets in the church after the first century. Earlier in the same letter, we have this.

So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.

(Eph 2:19-20)

There are plenty of references to evangelists, pastors, and teachers throughout church history. They have been with us all along and are still with us today. Not so with apostles and prophets. And yet, the author of Ephesians says they are the foundation of the Christian community. Why then are there no references to apostles and prophets after the first century? How could the church have continued without its foundation?

I think I’ve found an answer for it. It was not the answer I wanted, but it’s the only one that makes sense to me. In Ephesians 4:11, the author is clearly referring to apostles and prophets as officers of the church. But 2:20 says the Christian community is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets. Maybe in 2:20, apostles and prophets do not refer to offices in the church.

Think about it. If God is still calling apostles and prophets and speaking to them, that means the Bible is still being written. We need to add what they are saying on behalf of God to the Bible. So far, we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. If God is adding to the Bible, what testament would that be? The Post-New Testament? The Bible is finished. The Old Testament tells about the promise of a Messiah. The New Testament tells about its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. That is why he is the cornerstone that joins the two together. The Bible, with Christ Jesus as our Messiah, is the foundation of the Christian community.

Heavy construction equipment digging a foundation
A solid foundation ensures the building will endure.
Photo credit: timn.eu on Visualhunt.com

The Church’s One Foundation

Here is another possibility to consider. Who gave us the Old Testament? The prophets. Who gave us the New Testament? The apostles. Our foundation is the Old and New Testaments, and Christ Jesus is the cornerstone that joins them together. Of the offices listed, they were the only ones directly involved in writing the Bible. Once the Bible was written, the apostles and prophets had served their purpose.

In the same way, the temple once served the purpose of atoning for sins and giving access to God. But after Christ, the temple was no longer necessary. The office of priests in the temple was no longer necessary. I believe the same thing happened with the offices of apostle and prophet. They served their purpose in writing the Bible. They received the word of God directly from the Holy Spirit. We receive it now in what they wrote.

I admit that answer does not satisfy me completely. It sounds so complicated. I mean, why can’t apostles and prophets just mean apostles and prophets, as in the people God calls to serve in those offices? But again, I have never seen any credible references to apostles and prophets after the first century. If this theory is correct, we still have our foundation, even if God is not calling apostles and prophets anymore. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized this is the way it had to be, because the canon is closed.

Who Is Writing the Bible?

Think about it. If God is still calling apostles and prophets and speaking to them, that means the Bible is still being written. We need to add what they are saying on behalf of God to the Bible. So far, we have the Old Testament and the New Testament. If God is adding to the Bible, what testament would that be? The Post-New Testament? The Bible is finished. The Old Testament tells about the promise of a Messiah. The New Testament tells about its fulfillment in Christ Jesus. That is why he is the cornerstone that joins the two together. The Bible, with Christ Jesus as our Messiah, is the foundation of the Christian community.

Sometime around the end of the first century, God determined that the foundation was finished. After you finish a foundation, do you keep building it? No, you build your structure on top of the foundation. How many times do you lay a foundation? Once. When a foundation is finished, it is finished. Time to start building your structure. The author of Ephesians says the Christian community is that structure. Everything we have built since then has been on that foundation. If we remember Jesus’ commands to love one another, that foundation will be “Solid” as a rock.

Cessationism vs. Continuationism

This is a prime example of a debate between two philosophies, cessationism and continuationism. Cessationism is the belief that some things we read about in the Bible were for that time only. They have ceased, hence the term cessationism. Continuationism believes that everything in the Bible is or should have continued from the beginnings of the church on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) to the still-awaited return of Christ. This has mainly to do with supernatural gifts and activities mentioned in the Bible, e.g., miracles, healings, prophecies, speaking in tongues and such. The argument extends also to whether or not we should expect God to call people to be apostles and prophets anymore. You can probably guess I am on the cessationist side. However, that is a recent development.

The Word of Faith folks are among the continuationists. When I was in that movement, I was definitely a continuationist. Even after I left, I still expected to be able to perform at least some of the miracles I read about in the Bible. I expected God to speak to me directly, even if I wasn’t a prophet or apostle. I expected some people would flow in the gift of prophecy. I thought every believer was supposed to speak in tongues to give evidence that the Holy Spirit dwelt in them. After decades of disappointment, I finally had to admit that cessationism made a whole lot more sense.

Continuationists or Restorationists?

Even continuationists admit the church went without apostles and prophets after the first century. They claim those offices are being restored in this generation, because we are in the last days. If you ask them when the restoration began, they might point to the Azusa Street revivals of 1906, or maybe one the Great Awakenings in America. But that still begs the question, why is there such a big gap in our history with no apostles or prophets? I never heard them give a satisfactory answer to that.

So they actually admit the offices of apostle and prophet were discontinued. If they believe apostles and prophets are being restored now, that means they ceased at some point. Instead of continuationists, they should call themselves restorationists. But putting that inaccuracy aside, I suppose it is possible. If God wants to restore living apostles and prophets to the church, who am I to tell God, “You can’t do that”? But by the same token, if God has decided the apostles and prophets have fulfilled their purpose and are no longer needed, you can’t tell God to bring them back.

In the Bible, you will find when God called apostles and prophets, God did not expect people to believe them just because they said so. God gave signs to prove what they spoke really was the word of God. The prophets prophesied in the name of the Lord, and their prophecies came true. The apostles performed miracles and healings that only God could do. Do we see that from so-called apostles and prophets today? All I’ve seen are prophecies that don’t come true, false signs, lying wonders, healings that are nothing more than the placebo effect, and parlor tricks they claim are miracles, but even they have to know they are not. Has any one of them healed one case of Covid-19? Of course not. That should tell you everything you need to know.

Their whole shtick is getting back to the Bible. “Forget about your dead traditions. Forget about history. Just read the Bible and do it. You don’t have your proof, because you don’t believe the Bible.”

Well, the Bible says real prophets and apostles showed proof they were sent from God. The Bible says,

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world.

(1 Jn 4:1)

It does not tell us, “If they say, ‘Thus says the Lord,’ believe every word they say and don’t ask for any proof.” Test the spirits to see whether they are from God. Why do we need to test them? Because many false prophets have gone out into the world. Even when there were legitimate prophets, there were also many false prophets. How much more do we need to test them today? If they claim to speak for God, you are not being unfaithful by asking for proof. You are just doing what the Bible says.

J. C. and the 12 O.G.’s (Mk 3:13-19a; Mat 10:1-4; Lk 6:12-16)

In the 1980’s, I loved Carman. He had a sense of humor, and early in his career, he said he wrote some songs that weren’t accepted by mainline Christianity because they were, in his own words, “a little off the wall.” This post is going to be a little off the wall. I hope you can handle it.

As someone who believes Christianity was originally nonviolent, and should still be, you might be surprised if I make a comparison between gangs and early Christians. I might not have the “street cred” for this. I was never in a gang. My only experience with them is through TV, movies, and news reports. However, like today’s street and motorcycle gangs, Christianity was sometimes an illegal organization in its early days.

In previous posts, I have talked about my novel manuscript that has not yet been published. (Maybe it’s a little off the wall). A major theme in the story has to do with persecution. How did the church continue to not only survive but grow when just being a Christian could get you tortured and killed? I think I got a few insights from watching Gangland and Sons of Anarchy. Gangs create a culture that encourages extreme loyalty that will stand up to prison, torture, and death.

Image of Sons of Anarchy cast members Kim Coates, Charlie Hunnam, and Tommy Flanagan
Not exactly nonviolent.

The main rules you must accept to be part of any gang:

  1. Respect the O.G.’s
  2. Gang before everything, even family.
  3. Brotherhood: Intense love for each other.
  4. No snitching.
  5. Make some friends outside the gang.
  6. Never let a rival gang disrespect you.
  7. Recruit new members, but be careful.

The early church used these same tactics. I’m not saying they were a gang literally, but I think in some ways they had to have a gangster mentality. Let’s compare how this looks in gangs versus first century Christianity.

1. Respect the O.G.’s

O.G. stands for Original Gangster. Every gang has its founders, i.e. O.G.’s, and you must respect them. The Twelve O.G.’s of Christianity were the twelve apostles in the scripture references above.

2. Gang before everything, even your life and family.

Gangs make it clear up front you must give them your ultimate loyalty. The gang comes before your wife, your kids, your job, your mother, your father, your brother, your sister, your life, everything and everyone. The church wouldn’t expect you to put them above your own life and family, would they? Well, how do you explain verses like this?

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Mat 10:37).

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it (Mark 8:35).

Their loyalty to Christ had to be absolute. Their loyalty to each other had to be absolute. Your family might turn you in to authorities – whether the Sanhedrin or the Romans – but your brothers and sisters in Christ never will.

The authorities might threaten not only your life but your family’s lives as well. You had to remain strong. That was the only way to ensure the gang could continue after you were gone.

3. Brotherhood: Intense love for each other

In Sons of Anarchy, which is clearly modeled after the Hell’s Angels, they talk all the time about being a brotherhood. They will say to each other, “I love you, my brother.” There aren’t many places where men declare their love for each other without afterward saying, “But I’m not gay.” Being a part of a brotherhood like that is definitely part of the attraction of gangs for young men.

John’s Gospel and epistles give some of the most succinct expressions of brotherly love:

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another (John 13:34).

If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen (1Jn 4:20).

Their loyalty to Christ was directly tied to loyalty to one another. He died for us, so we have to be willing to die for each other. That formed the basis of their brotherhood. And yes, sisterhood too.

4. No snitching

Have you heard snitches get stitches? Gangs punish betrayal severely. In gangs, if you rat, you die.

Remember how I said earlier your brothers and sisters in Christ will never rat you out? The flip side of that coin is you’d better not rat them out. The worst name you could be called was Judas, the mother of all rats. To most gangs, it would be unthinkable to let a rat live. To the church, killing was forbidden. However, the church had another punishment that was even worse: “Leave it to the wrath of God… ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay,’ saith the LORD” (Rom 12:19).

How would God repay? Hell was certain, unless like Paul, you repented. Death comes to everyone, and after that, judgment. If you turn in your fellow Christians to the authorities, knowing they are going to be tortured and probably killed, do you want to face God on the judgment seat after that? I don’t think so.

Why such severe punishment? Think about the situation they’re in. The authorities can use severe punishment to coerce testimony against you and your gang. You hope your brotherly love will keep them loyal under any duress. But just in case, you need punishment even more severe to be sure they keep their mouths shut.

5. Make friends outside the gang

In Sons of Anarchy, they had people in their pocket who could help them in ways people inside the gang could not. If they were in a bind with the authorities, they had people they could call in favors from: A sheriff, a police chief, a few deputies, a few prison guards, a few businessmen, a city council member. Now think about that when you see a verse like this.

And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward (Mat 10:42).

What does that mean? Are you a Christian? Ok, then, I’ll give you this water. Why would anyone do that?

Is he talking about Christians giving to Christians? That’s the only case where giving to someone because he’s a Christian makes sense. Why would a non-Christian give to a Christian because he’s a Christian?

This verse did not make any sense to me until I thought about how gangs have friends on the outside. Maybe this is referring to friendships cultivated with outsiders. Maybe there were some people who saw their persecution and were sympathetic to them. During the Holocaust, there were some Gentiles who helped Jews because they were Jews. They hid them and did what they could to help them survive. I think Christians had friends like these when they were persecuted as well.

6. Never let a rival gang disrespect you.

The Sons of Anarchy were constantly in tension with, or outright war against, other gangs in the area. Someone in another gang disrespects them or kills one of their own, it’s war. Literally. At one point, I had to stop watching because there was too much blood and guts. I don’t mind realism, but it was getting excessive, and innocent people died too often just from doing their job or being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What does that have to do with the first century church? Early Christianity was not monolithic, as we tend to think. The orthodox, or “correct,” version had not yet been established. There were rival factions, and I think some sects were not above using the authorities to remove some they thought of as heretical. Consider this.

By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God (1Jn 4:2-3a).

I don’t think we should take this literally, because I have seen and met some people who believe all the right doctrines and are not from God. You can talk to just about any KKK member and ask,

Do you believe in God almighty, maker of heaven and earth?

Yes.

Do you believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son and our Lord?

Yes.

Do you believe Jesus Christ came to earth in the flesh?

Yes.

Do you believe white people have to keep uppity [N-word] in their place?

Yes.

That spirit is definitely not of God. Why would this or any one specific doctrine be some absolute standard of trustworthiness? Like one of my professors said, “Right beliefs, right confessions, and 50 cents will get you a cup of coffee in the coffee shop in Sheol.”

Maybe there’s something else going on in John’s community that’s not immediately obvious almost 2000 years later. We know from the New Testament and other literature of the time there were some Christian sects who did not believe Jesus was a flesh-and-blood human being. They believed he was a pure divine spirit who appeared in human form, sort of like Q in Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Image of Q (John De Lancie) in Inquisitor garb
Caption: It’s not like I’m an all-powerful space entity or anything, but — Oh, wait! I AM an all-powerful space entity!

To John, the community’s O.G., it was very important that Jesus was a real flesh-and-blood human being. I’d like to propose that John was talking about not just a theological dispute but also a way to identify a separate sect, i.e., a rival gang. Saying Jesus Christ did not come in the flesh would be like a red bandana to a Crip or a blue bandana to a Blood.

John’s message to his community is, “They may call themselves Christians and preach about Jesus, but if they don’t believe like we do, they don’t belong to us.” In an environment where Christians are part of something illegal, they need to know who they can trust. That gang over there, they may look and talk like us, but they are not us. You can’t trust them.

7. Recruit new members, but be careful

People die in gangs: From old age (if you’re lucky), but more likely from being killed by police or rival gangs. This outflow makes it necessary to recruit new members. But how do you recruit for something like that? You can’t run an ad saying, “Anyone want to join an outlaw motorcycle gang? Meet us on the corner of 5th and Oak Street.”

They can only take people they know will not betray them. They need people who will follow their rules. Most people only get in if a member recommends them, though occasionally someone might be able to approach them, especially if they have a useful skill.

But getting in doesn’t mean you are a member. First, you are granted “hangaround” status, which means what it implies. If a member is willing to sponsor you (absolutely necessary), you have the right to “hang around” the gang and show you know your place. After a while, you may be upgraded to Prospect. This is the time when you prove your loyalty by doing anything a gang member says, from guarding bikes while the gang members party and cleaning up afterwards to criminal activity, even murder. Only when the gang is satisfied you’ve proven your loyalty will they accept you as a full member, and the vote has to be unanimous.

The early church wouldn’t have people run drugs or murder anyone, but there were times they had to be careful about who they let in. They needed to know any new members would be loyal to them, no matter what. I don’t have texts to prove this, but I believe early Christian communities had an initiation period where people would have “hangaround” or “prospect” status before being accepted as members. They would be instructed in their most basic beliefs – as much as they could tell, and probably emphasizing that they accepted the authority of Rome in earthly matters, while Christ is Lord over spiritual matters (Just in case they were spies for the Roman government). They would be encouraged to “count the cost,” because Rome did not always accept their distinction between earthly and spiritual Lordship.

If they still wanted to join, and the members accepted them, then they would be baptized to recognize their full membership. Only those who were baptized could join in the Lord’s Supper. Only the those who partook of the Body and Blood of the Lord together would be trusted with their secrets.

Jesus himself modeled this. He would speak to the crowds in parables but only explain the meanings to the twelve disciples. This made it difficult for his enemies to pin any charges on him, while communicating his true message only to his inner circle of twelve friends. Those twelve went on to become the “Original Gangsters” of the first underground Christian communities.