Who are the Apostles? How do you identify an Apostle, and why is it important for the body of Christ to know?
In today’s world, the title of an Apostle is seldom heard. In fact, of the 45,000 different Christian denominations, if you ask about the apostolic, they will all tell you something different. It is so important for us as a body of Christ to understand who the Apostles are as they are the foundation of our faith. The Early Church Fathers actually teach that without them, there is no Church.
Read from one of the first ordained Apostles in the Early Church, Ignatius of Antioch, who was the spiritual son of the Apostle John.
“In like manner let everyone respect the deacons as they would respect Jesus Christ, and just as they respect the bishop as a type of the Father, and the presbyters as the council of God and college of the apostles. Without these it cannot be called a church, I am confident that you accept this, for I have received the exemplar of your love and have it with me in the person of your bishop. His very demeanor is a great lesson and his meekness is his strength. I believe that even the godless do respect him” 
From the resurrection of Jesus to 325 A.D, the Early Church taught through Apostolic succession. Meaning what was taught to John by Jesus Himself, was passed down to Ignatius and other Early Church Fathers like Polycarp and Mathetes. They all taught that without a true Bishop or Apostle, there could be no Church. Apostle Paul, who wrote the majority of the New Testament, knew this when he wrote to the Ephesians saying,
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors, and teachers” (Eph 4:11).
Again, he speaks the same in his letter to the Corithians when he says,
“Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ. Now I praise you, brethren, that you remember me in all things and keep the traditions just as I delivered them to you” (1 Co 11:1-2).
This means what Ignatius, and the other Early Church Fathers taught was nothing new. Just as Jesus passed on the teachings to His apostles, they were then given so that the next generation of Apostles could be birthed. Jesus ordained the Church to be ran a certain way, so there would be order in the body of Christ (ref Mat 16: 13-20). Without order, there is chaos and confusion; and with chaos and confusion, there can never be unity. The Apostle Paul says the five fold ministry is meant for equipping
“the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ,” and “until we all come into unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man” (Eph 4:11-16).
Wait. Did the apostle Paul say God established His Church this way so that we would become perfect? Jesus Himself tells us to become perfect, just as our Father in Heaven is perfect (ref Mat 5:48). When we look at this with a westernized interpretation we can think that perfection is unattainable, so then why did both Jesus and Paul say we could?
In Hebrew thought, perfection and maturity are the same word. Our standards of perfection, especially in the United States, are very different compared to Hebrew thought. In fact, perfection means to be complete, or lacking nothing; meaning this is not an outward appearance or idealism of perfection, but rather a perfect soul, through the knowledge of God (ref Col 3:10). The knowledge of God, which Scripture says is hidden in a mystery, is spoken to those who are mature, or as we have now learned, “perfect”.
“However we speak the wisdom among those who are mature[perfect], yet not the wisdom of this age, nor the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory, which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:6-8)
Again the fivefold ministry, equips the Church for the work of ministry and edifies the body, so that as a result, we would come into one agreement, having the same knowledge of the Son of God and become renewed into a perfected man (ref Eph 4: 11-16). Without Apostles this is unattainable, and the prophecy in the Book of Malachi would be left unfulfilled: that the hearts of the children would return to the fathers and the fathers to the children (ref Mal 4:6). Early Church Father Ignatius says, “respect the Bishop as a type of Father,” because the Apostles are the fathers of the faith, and without them, there is no example to follow (ref 1 Co 11:1).
If we are to be born again, as Scripture says, that means we are born as babies in the faith, feeding on the milk of the word (ref Heb 5:13; 1 Pe 2:2). God knew this, and it is why He established the fathers (Apostles) and mothers (Prophets) of the faith to raise them [the babies] to maturity through the Word of God (ref Jn 3:3; 1 Pe 1:22-23; Heb 5:13; 1 Pe 2:2; 1 Co 9:7). This is the reason for the rebuke the Apostle Paul gives to the Church of Corinth because, having been a father to them, they [the Church] chose to stay in the “elementary principles of Christ” and not move on to maturity (ref Heb 5:11-14; Heb 6:1).
Teachers, Preachers, and Evangelists cannot teach you the mysteries of Scripture, as Apostle Paul said,
“If indeed you have heard the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which when you read, you may understand my knowledge in Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the Spirit of the Sons of men, as it has now been revealed by His holy apostles and prophets.” (Ephesians 3:2-5)
Stay tuned for next month as we will continue to dive into the role of the Apostles: who they are, how we identify them, and why we need to know about them. The role of the Apostles will be key to our understanding of the Scripture and preparation for the coming of Christ [Messiah].
- Ignatius of Antioch Epistle to the Trallians Ch 2 [50-117]