The truth about apostles, authority and the kingdom of God
Not long ago an international apostolic movement held its regional summit in an American city. The main speaker was one of this movement's leading figures and had chosen to speak on the topic of honor. Within minutes of beginning his address, he began boasting about his numerous cars, multimillion-dollar home and 40 ministries that tithed to him. He exhorted those assembled that if they were true apostolic fathers, they should receive similar honor from their sons and daughters. He then proceeded to talk to them about their clothes: Suits off the rack were fine for preaching in a normal meeting, but ministering at a leader's conference demanded tailor-made.
It's sad enough that anyone representing Jesus would be so foolish and misled. Yet even more troubling is that no one had enough integrity to stand up and confront him. Sadly, incidents like this have become so commonplace in recent years that it's exposed our current misunderstanding of true leadership in God's kingdom. Do we see apostles as the top of the leadership pyramid? More churches around the world are using phrases such as "coming into apostolic alignment" and "coming into divine order" while believing that such hierarchical order is the kingdom of God. But is it?
Of Kings, Priests and Prophets
"In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes." " —Judges 21:25
This verse is typically interpreted in the context of a problem to be solved. We lack order and therefore need some form of authority to keep us in alignment. In reality, these are just two statements. It was true that there was no king in Israel; it was also true that everyone was doing whatever he pleased.
Scripture makes it obvious that God didn't want to solve the problem by appointing a king. When Israel demanded a king, 1 Samuel 8:7 shows His response to Samuel: "They have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me, that I should not reign over them."
How did God rule over His people? He had the priests to teach them the law and the prophets to confront them when they did not keep it. God desired obedience through free conviction rather than any form of coercion. He was willing to accept the possibility of chaos rather than accept the "order" enforced by a king. God didn't want a mediator between Himself and His people.
Submission to a man, even a "man of God," does not place you in a theocracy. At best, it places you in a benevolent dictatorship.
God's desire was a theocracy for which priest and prophet were to provide the foundation. He never intended to make any man a king over His people!
That theocracy shipwrecked upon the reality of the old heart, which could not keep God's ways. That is why both Jeremiah (31:31-34) and Ezekiel (36:25-27) prophesied about the covenant of the new heart upon which God would write His law, in which God would place His Spirit and by which God would cause us to walk in His ways.
The good news encompassing the kingdom of God is that you can know the direct, personal rule of the King in both your individual life and in corporate life. It is the good news of grace that your heart can be forgiven and clean to desire the ways of God, hear the intimate direction of His voice and receive the power of the Spirit to walk with Him.
Removing Our Original Authority
" "But you, do not be called 'Rabbi'; for One is your Teacher, the Christ, and you are all brethren. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. And do not be called teachers; for One is your Teacher, the Christ. But he who is greatest among you shall be your servant." " —Matthew 23:8-11
Those words are in the context of Jesus pronouncing "Woe!" to the religious establishment regarding their lust for power, position and title. But the underlying point isn't so much the destruction caused by the lust for power as the reality that when we rule over others, we are taking a place that God has reserved solely for Himself.
Keep in mind, Jesus never gave any person authority over another person. He gave us authority over sickness and demons and asked us to rule ourselves by dying to ourselves. Those who do so will have functional leadership through example and by invitation, but they will always know themselves as servants.
Restoration movements frequently come and go in which the main emphasis is the authority of leaders over God's people and where the mark of "spirituality" becomes submission. Granted, some good things happen in those movements. But whether we call ourselves apostles, prophets, pastors and teachers or popes, cardinals, bishops and priests, it makes no difference. We're building a religious system based upon man, and we're taking away the authority of the King. The fruit of this is always a cult of leadership privilege and materialism sprinkled with moral failure.
Divine order, understood as the "right" arrangement of leaders in hierarchy, always produces death. This is simply the pride of man in action. Too often we believe that if we simply create the right order then we'll be able to yield the life of God. The truth is, it's the authentic church—not a chain of command—that produces the life of God. There's a big difference!
A Kingdom Built for Friends
Jesus' very life provides a perfect example of this fundamental difference. His "leadership model," if you will, as described in John 15:13-15, is crystal clear: "Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one's life for his friends. You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you."
The One who legitimately could claim all position and title did not do so. He looked into the eyes of men who would soon betray Him and called them His friends. He absolutely and for all time destroyed any possibility of any hierarchy ever representing His kingdom. Skyward-reaching pyramids are for dead people. Yet before the living throne of God is a sea of glass—a mass of flatness in which we all, as brothers and sisters, stand before the One who calls us friend.
You cannot be friends in a hierarchy. Those on the same level are always competitors. Relationships above or below always involve power and control.
Yet the New Testament was written to friends. That is why it has almost 60 "one another" verses that contain 30 "one another" commands, including one about "submitting to one another in the fear of God" (Eph. 5:21). It's why there are only six verses that ask for recognition of functional leadership—and each of those is in the context of the "one another" reality. First Peter 5:5 ("Be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility") is normative.
When we grasp the depths to which God desires to establish this kingdom based on friendship and" authentic" submission, then the words and example of Jesus as narrated in John 16:7 become even more startling: "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you."
The disciples could not imagine anything worse than Jesus going away. Jesus, the greatest leader who ever walked on earth, was telling them it was better for them if He went away! And we think " we" are important, indispensable even? Jesus knew it would be better for His disciples to have the inward leading of the Holy Spirit than even His flesh and blood leadership. He was willing to trust all upon the ability of the Holy Spirit to lead people into the truth. Given this, how can we who claim to be followers of Jesus, ever dare to build leadership cults?
As already shown in John 15, Jesus indicated that with friendship comes some basic responsibilities ... and that is where the problem arises for most believers. Often people want freedom, but not the responsibilities of freedom that come with it. We would rather have a king tell us what to do. (Simultaneously, there are always those among us who want to be king and refuse to call this codependent arrangement the kingdom of God.)
God's kingdom, however, is established among His people. And the authority of that kingdom is distributed through each member of the body as we accept the responsibilities of freedom and ...
1) Seek the King for ourselves. That means you become a self-feeder. You let His grace lead your life. As Dallas Willard says in "The Divine Conspiracy", "You either live by grace or addiction."
2) Fulfill the "one another" commands with a few. If you cannot be the church with your spouse and speak the truth with two or three, your public worship is a show.
3) Disciple our own children. If you cannot disciple your own kids, how can you disciple the nations? If you do not have relational integrity with your own children, with whom will you have it?
4) Multiply our relationship with the King through making disciples. The basic command of the King is to make disciples. This is not about events or programs. Disciples are made by a relational process based in the transparency and humility of doing the "one another" stuff together.
5) Speak the truth to one another so that we might grow up. Accountability in the kingdom is not hierarchical. It is primarily to God and then horizontally to one another.
"And He Gave Some to Be Apostles ..."
Up to this point, we've addressed the nature and "divine order" of God's kingdom. And although you may believe we've abandoned our starting point of questioning the pre-eminence given to apostles in today's churches, we haven't. In fact, everything we have covered factors into the role of a true apostle.
When Jesus established Himself as the victorious King of His kingdom, it redefined apostleship. Today those of us who desire to be citizens of His kingdom need to acquire a New Testament understanding of what an apostle is. The idea of a spiritual chief executive officer at the top of the religious food chain is simply wrong.
We know the word " apostle" means "sent one," but many may not realize that Paul's use of the term is in the Greco-Roman business context regarding slaves. In the day in which Paul wrote, there was a fixed hierarchy among slaves from business directors down to those who did manual chores. The most expendable slave, and thus the least honored, was the "sent one." Why? Travel was often dangerous, so those sent on errands near or far were those whose loss would "matter" the least. They were the most nonessential with the least status. (For further discussion of the cultural meaning behind the term "apostle", go to www.ministrytodaymag.com/apostles
Putting "apostle" on your business card then would be like putting "dishwasher" on your card now. Clearly, it carried a different connotation than what we've made the term into today. Yet in the opening verse of his letter to the Romans, Paul identifies himself first as a "bondservant" or "slave" of Jesus Christ, and then one who has been "called to be an apostle." (First Corinthians 4:8-10 and 2 Corinthians 2:4-10 read properly in this light.)
In John 13, Jesus modeled what the "lowest" household slave would do. He instructed His disciples that this was their paradigm. Christ was free to serve because He knew "that the father had given all things into His hands, and that He had come from God and was going to God" (v. 3). His disciples were to emulate this pattern, secure in their friendship with the One who sent Jesus. They were to display their lack for nothing by becoming the "least of these." On the contrary, our need for position and honor is a testimony to our inward poverty.
Our examples are not Saul, David and Solomon. Our examples are Jesus and Paul. Jesus set the standard and gave us the paradigm for His kingdom, in which we call Him King and friend. Paul followed this not by becoming the top religious administrator who went around collecting churches, holding conferences and taking offerings. His calling as apostle wasn't the glamorized ideal many of us carry in our minds.
Paul was simply the first to venture into new territory to found a group of disciples, take the promised persecution in their place and, after these disciples were established, leave them to the Holy Spirit. He didn't stay to play king. And he certainly left no record of teaching his sons about the importance of tailor-made suits.
STEPHEN W. HILL and his wife, Marilyn, began their journey as Jesus People, sitting on the floor talking with people about Jesus. After a 30-year journey through every expression of charismatic experience and ministry, they're back to sitting on the floor talking with people about Jesus. For more information, visit harvest-now.org.