Brothers, We Are Not Apostles
February 20, 2011
John Piper has written a book entitled Brothers, We are Not Professionals. I’ve never read it, but the title got me thinking that another book could be written, Brothers, We are Not Apostles. You see, I often find scriptural passages that describe the apostles applied today towards pastors. For instance, if you read the book of Acts and the appointing of servants to wait on tables, you will often hear that that means pastors should not neglect the word and prayer. But Acts said that the apostles, not pastors, did that. Or, if you read commentaries on 2 Cor 5 where Paul writes, “We are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were making his appeal through us . . . ” you will find that many, many commentators conclude the “we” refered only to Paul and the apostles. So in discussing that passage, commentators often find its application only for pastors and professional ministers.
So where do we get the notion that pastors fill the role of apostles? Tidball writes that apostles “are not shown to be congregational leaders except in the sense of leading first congregations in Jerusalem for a brief time. . . . The apostles often appear to be ‘after the event’ people rather than the sorts of proactive strategic leaders so prized today. Furthermore, they are not shown as holders of an office that has to be transmitted to succeeding generations” (Tidball, Ministry by the Book, 91). Similarly, Bartlett writes, “They represent the circle of unique, irreplaceable witnesses to the ministry and resurrection of Jesus. With their death, apostleship ceases in the church” (Bartlett, Ministry, 115).
Perhaps, then, we are wrong in assuming Apostolic functions are transferred to pastors and elders. What would happen if, when reading of the appointing of servants to wait on tables in Acts 6, we assumed that role was passed to pastor/elders. Bartlett writes, “It may also be that the responsibilities assigned to the seven in Acts 6 here have passed on to the elders as well” (Bartlett, Ministry, 133). And Tidball concludes, “There seems great wisdom in the growing consensus that rather than occupying an office, elders were simply those older men [hence the word "elder"] in the congregation who were respected and recognized for their experience and wisdom” (Tidball, 94).
So brothers, we are not apostles. Never have been, never will be.