I want to begin these remarks by expressing my sincere congratulations to Ministries Today for helping Christian leaders to understand one of the most cutting-edge issues facing the church today, namely the ministry of apostles and prophets alongside the ministry of evangelists, pastors and teachers.
The five consecutive 2004 issues on the roles of teachers, pastors, evangelists, prophets and now apostles set a standard for responsible religious journalism. I'm sure that I speak for virtually every reader, both those who agree and those who disagree that there are contemporary offices of prophet and apostle, when I say that we have been greatly enriched.
I have been asked to comment briefly on the articles by Doug Beacham and S. David Moore. I am delighted to do this for many reasons, not the least of which is the fact that both are my personal friends and through the years we have developed high respect for one another.
I have chosen five topics which Doug and David bring up for my brief comments. This was not easy, for both are excellent articles dealing with extremely important aspects of apostolic ministry today. I could have chosen 20.
History and Size. Doug Beacham traces the genealogy of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) to the Latter Rain movement of the 1940s. This is correct for the NAR in the United States. Globally, however, it goes back further than that. The deepest roots are found in the African Independent Church Movement, which began around 1900. Other significant connections are found in the Chinese House-Church movement beginning around 1976 and the Latin American grass-roots churches which became prominent around 1980.
Related to that, Doug also makes the comment that "apostolic networks are smaller groups and are less likely to accomplish what denominations can accomplish." This also would be true for the United States, at least up to the present time. However, it would not apply to other parts of the world such as Nigeria or China or Indonesia or Brazil to name a few examples.
On the subject of size, the NAR is both large and rapidly growing. David Barrett, in his three-volume World Christian Encyclopedia, divides global Christianity into six megablocks: Roman Catholic, Anglican, Orthodox, Marginal, Protestant (which would include the Pentecostal denominations) and Independent/Neo-Apostolic (which would include the NAR). The Neo-Apostolic is the largest of the non-Catholic megablocks and the only megablock of the six currently growing faster than Islam.
Accountability. Both David Moore and Doug Beacham address the issue of accountability. In fact, David says that a major reason behind the formation of the Shepherding movement was an observation on the part of their leaders concerning the extremely low level of personal accountability among charismatic leaders of their day.
Doug doesn't say it outright, but he implies that one advantage that denominations have over apostolic networks is their built-in accountability structure and that "the issue of accountability is still not settled among apostolic networks."
This is correct. The apostolic leaders who I know would agree with me that if we don't come out right on the accountability issue, the NAR will have a short shelf life. Having said this, the good news is that we are making progress. This is an ongoing topic in meetings of the International Coalition of Apostles (ICA).
Some apostolic networks do excel in this area. Others need improvement and will improve. Bob Mumford's statement that "relationships must be more than functional and superficial if there is to be any kind of real accountability" is a word in season.
Self-appointed Apostles. David Moore tells us that Charles Simpson "is concerned that titles are being passed around too easily today and many are self-designating themselves as apostles." I join Charles in being concerned about this. My hope is that as the movement matures, the responsible protocol for recognizing and commissioning apostles will be more widely accepted and practiced.
I might note that there is no such thing as a true apostle who is self-appointed. God is the one who decides to whom He wishes to give the spiritual gift of apostle. Those who have the gift have received it by grace. However, this is not true of the office of apostle. The office is attained by works, not by grace.
As those who have the gift of apostle demonstrate the fruit of that gift along with the accompanying apostolic character, they will be recognized by peer-level apostles who will commission them to the office in due time.
Revelation. Doug Beacham says, "The denominational concern is whether present and/or future 'apostles' will take the NAR concepts of 'revelation' and 'present truth' and formulate doctrines not supported by Scripture or adopt 'additional' scripture."
I would suspect that this legitimate concern arises from certain episodes in history where some who called themselves apostles actually did contend that their revelation superceded Scripture.
However, the apostles who I know, many of whom do receive revelation from God on a regular basis, would tremble at the thought that new truth that they receive would in any way violate the integrity and the authority of Scripture. But it is good to keep reminding ourselves of this danger, as Doug has done, in order that it may never happen.
Hope for Pentecostal Denominations. Doug Beacham's excellent book, Rediscovering the Role of Apostles and Prophets, was written to encourage Pentecostal leaders to carefully consider the phenomenon of the burgeoning Apostolic movement with the purpose of seeing how these insights might be incorporated into their ecclesiastical structures.
In his article he says, "The challenges of the future will require increasingly creative leaders who refuse to make structures sacred and exhibit the flexibility to pour the wind of ministry into the new wineskins God is making available to His servants."
Those familiar with my writings on the subject will know that my hopes for denominations to become apostolic new wineskins are very low. However, the Australian Assemblies of God are an example of how this can happen.
The story is told in David Cartledge's book The Apostolic Revolution. While my realistic expectation that this might become the rule rather than an exception may be low, I do at the same time have a sincere hope that history will prove me wrong!