While reading over at David Rogers's place recently, I followed a link and found myself at the Internet home of Strider, a blog entitled Tales from Middle Earth. This brother has authored a post "On Being Apostolic" (see here). Strider's post is not particularly unique, although it is a well written post. It merely highlights the presumption of many today that the office of apostle is still in operation—that missionaries are apostles. I disagree. Thesis: Only a physical eyewitness of the risen Christ is qualified to be an apostle. Many derive their sense of latter-day apostolicity from the meaning of the word. An apostle, they say, is one who has been "sent." I retort that being "sent" no more makes one an "apostle" than being "old" makes one an "elder" or raising sheep for a living makes one a "pastor." Consider Paul's words from 1 Corinthians 15:1-9.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. After that, He appeared to more than five hundred brethren at one time, most of whom remain until now, but some have fallen asleep; then He appeared to James, then to all the apostles; and last of all, as to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, and not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (emphasis mine)In defending his apostolic credentials, Paul carefully mentioned the fact that Christ had appeared to him. His circumstances were different from the other apostles—so much so that he regarded himself as "one untimely born." By that strange phrase, Paul referred to the fact that he did not physically witness Christ until after Christ's ascension, after the "deadline" beyond which one could not become an apostle apart from such a miraculous occurrence. See also the close connection Paul put between apostolicity and being an eyewitness of Christ in his words earlier in the same book, in 1 Corinthians 9:1-2.
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.Not everyone who was an eyewitness was an apostle. Paul mentions in this passage two criteria that make him an apostle. First is the fact that he was an eyewitness of the risen Christ. Second is the fact that Christ sent and commissioned Paul to spread the gospel to the Gentiles. Of this second qualification, the very existence of the Corinthian church is evidence, thus they are "the seal of [Paul's] apostleship in the Lord." Roger Williams spent the last years of his life waiting for Christ to make him a latter-day apostle. He had become convinced that only an apostle could reinstitute New Testament baptism. Personally, I do not believe that the consequences of not having any apostles around today rise to quite that level of inconvenience. Apostle or not, we are all under obligation to be obedient. For many of those who lob around the term "apostle" these days, their intent seems to be as benign as describing the New Testament missionary imperative. Good for them. But the uniqueness of the actual apostles is a doctrine that makes a difference. Ultimately, it affects even our view of the Bible. The ministry of the apostles continues not through latter-day apostles, but through the written testimony of Christ offered to us by the original, real apostles. So, I would encourage all to cease from using the term "apostle" to refer to anyone other than the folks mentioned as such in the New Testament. Yes, that applies even to references to this guy.