This discussion does not speak to the more crucial issues of apostles and apostleship but simply to the use of “apostle” as a title. I begin, not so much with a desire to clear up misconceptions or to promote a view, but from the position of one struggling with its very use. So in writing this paper (electronic or otherwise) I am prayerfully seeking to find “my position”.
I know that as soon as I use the title “apostle” in connection with the name Michael, I am open to criticism. Some will object to its use because their own position relegates apostles to the first century church. Others will object because to them I am not an apostle. Some will think I am trying to exalt myself while others prefer to use more “culturally relevant” terms like “CEO” or “Senior Minister”.
What is a title?
In the context of this discussion the Macquarie Concise Dictionary defines it as “a descriptive or distinctive appellation, especially one belonging to a person by right of rank, office, attainment, etc”. For example, the use of doctor for a medical practitioner is descriptive of a function the person performs in society as well as distinctive. In academia “Doctor” is a title of honour in recognition of academic achievement.
The title of apostle similarly can be used as a descriptive or distinctive appellation. Obviously the use of this title for me or others would be dependent upon the conclusions to a number of other questions:
1. What is an apostle?
2. Are there apostles today?
3. What are the qualities of an apostle?
4. Who entitles or recognises an apostle?
These questions, and more, are discussed by Apostle C. Peter Wagner in his book “Churchquake” and I would encourage you to get a copy.
In this discussion I am not trying to answer the question above. My general assumption is that apostles are to be recognised today in their foundational capacity and that the signs, authority and quality of an apostle can be answered affirmatively.
If we agree that apostles are a part of the modern church then using the title “apostle” is acceptable for apostles. Furthermore, if one functions as an apostle, has the qualities of an apostle, and consequently is recognised by others as an apostle, then the title is acceptable for that one to use. I would also add that it would be acceptable for them to be referred to by the title of apostle.
Because the term “apostle” is descriptive it is useful to apply to an apostolic ministry. Over the years the ascension gifts (APEPT or five-fold ministry) have been looked at in more detail and the church has become far more comfortable using specific ministry titles as they are both descriptive and distinctive. The title evangelist clearly identifies the gifting and also honours the ministry. The title pastor, which has been more of an honorific title that descriptive, has more recently come to describe the giftedness of pastor rather than the position of a senior minister.
Understanding the gifting and calling of a person helps release them into service and also helps the church in relating to them in that service (cf Rom 12:3-8). Each gifting differs and has a particular purpose in building up the body of Christ (1Cor 12:4-7, 27-30). Recognising and naming those differing gifts is essential to the well being of the church.
Honour or Self-exaltation
In Scripture titles always seem to be descriptive rather than exalting. Certainly the title of overseer calls for respect or honour (1Tim 5:17) but it indicates primarily one who is entrusted with a solemn duty, that is, to be a spiritual covering and guardian of the house of God. So, any title is firstly descriptive of a divine call or charge to service.
One of the primary obstacles to using the title of apostle seems to be associated with this issue of self-exaltation. The thought is that the one who calls himself an apostle is trying to exalt himself or promote his own ministry. They “think more highly of themselves than they ought” is the common thought. However, many who object to using the title of apostle have no hesitation using terms like CEO, to speak of their position or status. In the business world CEO is far more exalting than apostle.
Returning to Scripture, it is evident that the apostles were referred to by name when speaking of the person, (cf Peter in Acts 11) but apostle was included when dealing with their office or ministry. So we often read of Peter and the other apostles acting in service (acts 5:29) or the apostles Barnabas and Paul in action (Act 14:4). We also read in much of Paul’s writing that he did not hesitate to identify himself as an apostle of Jesus Christ.
The complaint that “using the title apostle is a form of self-promotion or glorification” is one that fits any title. I heard an AG minister in a conference use this argument to put down people who are referred to as apostles. His reasoning was that they are not because in using the term they disqualify themselves from the office for they were arrogant (?). He in turn called himself a pastor and an evangelist. So by his reasoning he is none of those things. This is hard to reconcile with Scripture or with sound reasoning.
The title “Executive Officer” is used by many of the conference speaker’s colleagues to describe their position and office in the church. Does not the term “Chief Executive Officer” sound far more honouring to the world than “servant of Jesus Christ”? Pastor has also been a title used by some for self promote in the church. Quite simply self-promotion is idolatry and flows out of original sin. It has nothing to do with a title and everything to do with the heart of man. So, using the title of apostle is no more self-exalting than CEO or pastor or evangelist. A true apostle, like all other ministries, has a heart that is surrendered to God.
As an aside, if our churches are run by “CEOs” then it is time for radical change. A CEO is one who runs a business. In Acts people who ran the ‘business” of the church were simply called deacons (Acts 6:1-7), men who handled administration. The leaders of the church were apostles who waited prayerfully upon God to build, not a business or corporation, but the Body of Christ as they proclaimed the message of Jesus Christ.
If a title is firstly descriptive then we should be using descriptive titles not “grandiose” titles. Amazingly, in Scripture “apostle” was not the title to denote an exalted ministry but, according to Paul, identified the “scum of the earth, the refuse of the world” those who were “at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena… a spectacle to the whole universe… angels as well as… men” (1Cor 4:9,13; cf 2Cor 6:3-10). Terms like reverend, senior minister, executive officer, and even pastor have far more honour attached to them yet are far less biblical than apostle. Shouldn’t we The Church of Jesus Christ, be more ready to use terms that are biblical or at least have the same meaning as biblical terms to describe a position or function?
So, to whom is an apostle an apostle to?
Do all need to acknowledge apostleship for it to be so? Paul makes this enlightening statement;
1 Cor 9:2 Even though I may not be an apostle to others, surely I am to you! For you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord. NIV
What of those who do not consider one to be an apostle? Well, the key here is “who does recognise the apostleship?” Some apostles have a far wider sphere of influence and authority than do others so they will be more widely recognised and accepted. Others will have less influence yet still have the gift and call of an apostle. It is not dependant upon ones sphere of influence but upon ones calling and giftedness. As the apostle Paul said, “…I may not be an apostle to others…”
Is a senior minister one whose church numbers 100 or 1000? Is the title CEO only for those whose churches number 2000 or 5000? Is a pastor only a pastor in a particular sized church? Is an evangelist who preaches to 20 people less worthy of the title than one who preaches to 1000? Is it more self-exalting to use the title Executive Officer when you only have 100 in your congregation that when you have 500?
Realistically, we speak of function rather than influence and this is no different with apostles. An electrician who works on family homes is as much an electrician as one who works on multi-national construction sites. When we relax about the work of apostles and recognise their essential role in the body and come to understand the various types and levels of apostolic ministry and authority we will relax also with the title. A pastor in one church is not THE pastor of people from another church but that does not stop us from identifying their ministry and acknowledging the title of the calling. So recognising an apostle as one called to be an apostle is not the same as accepting them as an apostle to you.
The Heart of the Matter
Finally, it is important to realise that an apostle is not self-appointed anyway. In Hebrews 5:4 we read that “no one takes this honor upon himself, he must be called by God”. Even Jesus received accusations of self-promotion yet it was God himself that appointed Jesus as His Christ. There will always be people who call themselves by a title for personal gain. Scripture speaks to this. Our caution should not be to refuse the title of apostle to apostles but rather to follow God-appointed apostles.
Is Michael also numbered amongst the apostles? Well, it has taken some time and discussion to reach this point but here I am. Yes, Michael is an apostle. Why? From before birth I was called through prophecy and that call was confirmed through following prophesies over the years. The call is also an inner call that is being spoken to me by the Spirit. I am called an apostle (even before I acknowledge it myself) by apostles and by ministers in USA, Tanzania, and Australia. (Though not every person who knows me thinks worthy of the office and or title of an apostle.)
As you will see from our web site, we are functioning in an apostolic role and so I (finally) use the title of apostle in the same sentence as Michael Fewson. After some three years of being asked by Les Dodds, who is to me an apostle, I finally accepted his nomination, applied for and received membership with The International Coalition of Apostles.
Does that mean I expect to be addressed as Apostle Michael? Well, let me discuss that in more general terms.
In Scripture the term seems to be more to designate the person’s ambassadorial calling. As mentioned earlier, we do not consistently read, Apostle Paul this, and Apostle Peter that, while Apostle James the other thing. Rather we read about Paul, Peter and James, but we are never left wondering about their apostolic calling. They are introduced as apostles in Scripture and in their own writings. So, a title of address is of less importance than recognition of ministry in the Body of Christ.
In the United States, people generally have a respect for leadership and authority figures. This respect is seen in the use of titles when addressing leaders etc. Such an attitude is biblical and to be encouraged amongst God’s people (Rom 13:7; 12:10; 1Tim 5:17; 1Pt 2:!7).
In Australia our convict heritage is one of rebellion to authority. This is seen in a society that demonstrates little respect for public figures, for civil authority or for successful leaders. This spirit is called in Australia “the tall poppy syndrome”. In the church, ministers shy away from titles and people generally want to relate to the minister as a mate. As a result church leaders receive little respect and find it difficult to fulfil Jesus’ mandate to “make disciples”. I think that the church in Australia needs to break this spiritual bondage and perhaps it should start by honouring those worthy of honour. Using honorific titles when addressing and referring to all authorities civil, family, social and church would be a good start. This is not for the sake or honour of the office holder but to instil a spirit of respect for God through his delegated authorities. John Bevere has written an excellent book that address the issue of authority called, “Undercover”, a book I strongly recommend.
In His service,
Michael Fewson, an apostle of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.