Do we Need Apostles
and Teachers Today?
Q. How would you answer the criticism that we should not be taught the Gospel by human beings but only by God through the Holy Spirit and the Bible?
A. We could write a long discourse on this subject but the "Great Commission" by Jesus is surely enough. Speaking to the Twelve after His resurrection, He said: "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore, go and make people from all nations into talmidim (disciples), immersing (baptising) them into the reality of the Father, the Son and the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit), and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember! I will be with you (the apostles) always, yes, even until the end of the age." (Mt.28:19-20, JNT). Now obviously the original 12 apostles aren't alive today, so which apostles will be teaching until the end of the age/ dispensation? New apostles, of course! Jesus wasn't talking to all Christians but to "the eleven" remaining apostles (Mt.28:16 -- Judas was dead and hadn't been replaced by Matthew yet). In short, He is saying: "You apostles, go and make disciples internationally, baptise them, and teach them to obey all of Christ's commandments." This does not, of course, negate the work of the Comforter, or Holy Spirit, who likewise has a commission to teach the disciples (Jn.14:26); rather, we see a co-operative ministry between Jesus' witnessess/ emmissaries/ apostles and the Holy Spirit -- "..YOU will be My witnesses...when the Holy Spirit comes on YOU.." (Ac.1:8, NIV).
Therefore we see an apostolic commission, continuing until Jesus returns, to make disciples, baptise, and teach all the commandments. To say, as some might be tempted to (in order to fit the text into a pre-conceived doctrine), that the "you" suddenly stops being the apostles and becomes self-appointed missionaries (v.20b) or, even worse, just the "Holy Spirit" without the "foolishness of (human) preaching" (1 Cor.1:21, KJV) is to do violence to the text. Jesus is here talking of a continuation of apostolic ministry -- not an abrupt end to it into something just "spiritual" (as Jehovah's Witnesses have done in "explaining" why Jesus did not return in 1914 as they supposed He would). If that was His meaning, then He would have given parallels elsewhere. But His message is the same always: "As now, so when I return" (cp. the angels' instruction on how Jesus would return physically the same way He departed -- Ac.1:9-11). This "spiritualisation" of the Gospel -- removing its physical, human side, is a sign of New Age teaching. The apostles weren't for "just then" but for the rest of the dispensation. The fact that they died out and were not replaced does not mean God will not restore them.
What about the period between the last apostles and our own times? God may (or may not) have called human "Apostles" yet but He has surely blessed many men with the apostolic spirit over the centuries -- men who have traversed the world making disciples, baptising, and teaching. Their works are the testimony of the Spirit they have been blessed with. Is anyone so proud or stubborn, because of pre-conceived doctrine or deliberate rebellion against the truth, to deny that many, many men throughout the ages, and today, have been, and are, the messengers of salvation (even if it is only of the elementary principles -- Heb.5:12; 6:1) to millions? God forbid!
We confidently expect God to call apostles (if He has not already done so) before His return because He says in the Great Commission that they will be found at the end of the age. (We exclude those who call themselves "apostles" who do not teach true apostolic doctrine). And we know, because the Bible tells us so, that He has called teachers -- tens of thousands of them -- to bring His liberating Word to a starving world (1 Cor.12:28-29; Eph.4:11; Heb.5:12; Jas.3:1, etc.).
Therefore to say that only the Holy Spirit is a man's teacher is to fundamentally deny the witness of both Christ and the Apostles. If God revealed Himself in the flesh through Christ, and if the Holy Spirit manifests itself through human agents, as has been the case in all dispensations, giving them specific messages given to no-one else (only the prophets revealed the comings of Christ), then he will continue to do so today. The same Holy Spirit that revealed itself to judges, prophets and rabbis of old reveals the will of God to patriarchs, prophets and teachers in the New Covenant.
For a fuller treatment of this subject, see The Sermon on the Mount Part I and I will Establish a New Covenant with the House of Israel.
This page was created on 16 October 1997
Last updated on 17 December 2007
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