(This article is taken from Apostolic Government in the 21st Century, by Glenn Shaffer)
Apostolic Authority, Flaunted or Discerned
Anytime a truth is brought forth in the Church, the flesh of man is always present. We must always be reminded we have this treasure in earthen vessels. Excesses can happen in doctrine or practice. We have seen this over the centuries where an over emphasis in any area hinder people in seeing the real. That appears to be what is happening with excesses in men using titles to demonstrate their position.
There is a tendency for the pendulum of opinions to swing toward two opposite extremes in such matters. That is the case with accepting apostolic authority. Either you have those who flaunt the gift as a means to establish an acceptance, or there are those who walk in pseudo humility constantly playing down what is there. Since there really is spiritual authority given to true apostles, it must be discerned rather than displayed or flaunted.
In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul explains that apostles are seen as a spectacle to men and angels. He wrote “For it seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like men condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men” (1 Corinthians 4:9).
Why did Paul make such a statement? What does he mean when he says that they are a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to men? Jesus taught His disciples that in the kingdom of God, those who wished to be great must be the servant of all and whoever humbles himself will be exalted. He also taught them that, “If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last.” Jesus, Himself demonstrated this for us in that He took upon Himself the form of a servant and humbled Himself to come to earth. As a result, God has highly exalted Him far above all names and His authority is supreme. At the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and death, the world would have seen Him as a spectacle. Even the angels watched to see what redemption would bring and why God had to come in the flesh.
It seems that to the degree that one has received a commission is to the degree that he will suffer persecution. This persecution often brings humilty. And with the humilty will come spiritual influence or authority. An apostle often serves as a pioneer moving in areas that bring about change. This was true not only with Paul but also with the early church fathers as they suffered the brunt of many new ventures. It remained true in the life of the reformers, and even into our day.
With the apostolic ministry comes a testing of humility. As we have mentioned, Paul’s words that apostles are considered last, are not only true but seems to be a pattern. One reason for this is that we are in a spiritual battle. If apostles carry a measure of spiritual authority then it will be resisted by spiritual darkness causing confusion to arise. The aim of the enemy is to prevent the body of Christ from receiving the ministry of the apostle. We see this happening several times in the Scriptures. When Paul arrived in Thessalonica, he went to the synagogue, which was his custom, to preach Christ. When some Jews believed and turned from their bondage of sin, other Jews who did not believe were envious, gathered those of bad character, and stirred up a riot. These envious Jews saw the spiritual authority or influence that Paul had and arose to neutralize it with an uproar. This type of event seemed to follow Paul many places. And again, in Acts 19, it was said of him that he had led astray large numbers of people in Ephesus and practically the whole province of Asia. Those of the world saw Paul’s influence as a threat even to their economy. Since he preached that man-made gods were not gods at all, they feared his influence would hinder their idol making business.
I personally believe this type of opposition against his apostolic authority was Paul’s “thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment him.” In the context of 2 Corinthians 11 and 12, Paul speaks of those false apostles who followed him around saying that he was nothing and that they were the true apostles to the Corinthians and other cities into which he had been sent. It was within this context that Paul felt that he must go on boasting to prove that he was their apostle. He described Satan as a messenger or angel of light. It makes sense to me that those false apostles who followed him took advantage of his labor and enticed the new converts unto themselves and acted as messengers of Satan. They constantly worked to turn the church against Paul and it became a tremendous hindrance to his ministry. Look how much energy and time was given to just to prove his apostolic authority with the Corinthians. He sought the Lord three times for this to be removed, yet God’s grace that was given to him with his calling was sufficient to help him through it.
If apostles are going to walk in a measure of authority given to them by God, at times, they will be seen as a spectacle. When Paul used that term he meant, to be made a spectacle, is to be placed on public show. People questioned what God had sent to them through Paul. No doubt, they reasoned that if Paul was truly an apostle, he would look better, speak better, and be what they were looking for in a leader. If God was with him, they must have reasoned, why did he suffer such persecution and hardship and spend so much time in prison. That question came from carnal men, but they were only looking on the surface of things. They were more attracted to a show of authority than discerning it.
Some men of notoriety may, in fact, be apostles, but the danger comes in associating apostles with great abilities or notoriety. As one writer put it, “Men are often thought of as apostles whenever they are able to bring theological truths into concrete activity and mobilize others to follow them in their particular burden. However, God’s requirements of builders in the construction of His house are very specific. There is more involved than simply doing impressive works in the name of the Lord.”1
The kingdom principle is that in order to be first, one must be last. Paul list the apostles as being first in order of God’s placement in Christ’s body, so it stands to reason that with that measure of authority, there is also a measure of lowliness. I am convinced that this is the reason that many have not been able to discern apostles that have been sent to them. They have reasoned from a carnal mentality and thus looked for someone who stands in a celebrity status rather than one who came to serve. God’s authority must be discerned, not flaunted. If Paul had come to the Corinthians demanding offerings and displaying himself as being something of an important leader, the Corinthians no doubt would have been more accepting. Paul came not in the wisdom of men’s words, but in the demonstration of the Holy Spirit. It should be kept in mind that the Corinthians did not reject his authority, at first, for he was the one who brought them forth in the gospel. It was only after he had been gone for some time that many began to be enticed by those who displayed themselves as apostles, but in reality, as Paul described them, false.
When Paul was trying to communicate with the Corinthians on a fleshly level, so that they may see his credentials, his own conscience told him that it is unprofitable. He knew that when he was boasting of his accomplishments, it was not according to the Lord, but as foolishness in the flesh. He explained, “I repeat: Let no one take me for a fool. But if you do, then receive me just as you would a fool, so that I may do a little boasting. In this self-confident boasting, I am not talking as the Lord would but as a fool. Since many are boasting in the way the world does, I too will boast” (2 Corinthians 11:1618).
Paul saw the necessity of boasting only to save the Corinthians from false apostles. It became necessary because the Corinthians failed to discern his place among them. Paul declared, “Boasting is necessary, though it is not profitable; but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 12:1).
We must learn to discern spiritual authority. In the world, men need titles and positions to be seen of men. Jesus warned His disciples and the multitudes to not be caught up in the desire for recognition from others through titles. Certainly, we should give honor where honor is due, but guard against those who insist upon titles of honor. A title in of itself may not be wrong, but it is wrong to desire such. Jesus said, “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have only one Master and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called ‘teacher,’ for you have one Teacher, the Christ” (Matthew 23:810). Here Jesus speaks of the subject of authority in reference to “Moses’ seat,” referring to the government of the synagogue. These Pharisees and scribes wanted positions of authority according to their traditions. Jesus took this opportunity to teach His disciples and the multitudes a lesson on authority. Here, He warns them of desiring titles from men and forbids them from being called teacher or master. The word teacher is a derivative from two Greek words meaning, chief or ruler among.
Obviously, there are leaders who are chief among others, so Jesus was not ruling out proper respect and honor that should be given to those who serve, but he was dealing with the desire to be labeled with certain titles of honor. When we emphasize the titles rather than spiritual authority, it conveys to the people there is spiritual authority merely from the title or positon. Donald Rumble, in his book, Apostolic and Propehtic Foundations, Giving the Lord Back His Church, he quotes Snyder, “Howard Snyder said it well, ‘God provides for leadership in the Church through the exercise of the gifts of the Spirit. This is God’s ecclesiology.’”2 With each gift comes the grace to function. When one functions there should be fruit or evidence of such grace. That is why authority in the Body of Christ should be discerned not flaunted.
Paul, in reference to local elders, understood the need for the honor to be given and gave instructions to Timothy to assure the practice. He wrote, “Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine” (1 Timothy 5:17). It is certainly appropriate to honor servant/leaders and to acknowledge their place in the church. It is a true aspect of the kingdom to give honor where honor is due. It is only questionable when those of authority display it before others.
There has risen a popular practice among nondenominational churches and apostolic networks to appoint men as bishops who serve in apostolic roles. The word bishop has become synonymous with a position above other elders. This term is certainly not new and has been used by denominations to refer to denominational leaders; however, it has become a familiar practice now among apostolic networks as well. Others insist upon titles of apostle before their name, citing the need for the Church to accept the gift of the apostle. We see Paul referred to himself as, “Paul an apostle,” which described what he was, but never as “Apostle Paul,” using a title.
The Church, at large, is certainly behind in its understanding and receptivity of the apostolic gift and its practice, but the concern is that in our attempts to correct these shortfalls we may turn out to be creating non-biblical structures and an over emphasises on titles. Some apostolic networks have even taken on the Catholic order of dioceses, parishes, and the appointment of bishops and archbishops over regions. True apostolic authority comes out of relationships and labor and needs not to be showcased by titles. Paul encountered those who enticed the Corinthians by some form of false display. Frustrated with the Corinthian’s foolish actions to so easily receive them, Paul responds with a note of sarcasm calling them wise for putting up with fools. He declared that the false apostles had enslaved the church and took advantage of them. He wrote, “You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame, I admit that we were too weak for that” (2 Corinthians 11:19-21).
Paul encountered those who enticed the Corinthians by some form of false display. Frustrated with the Corinthian’s foolish actions to so easily receive them, Paul responds with a note of sarcasm calling them wise for putting up with fools. He declared that the false apostles had enslaved the church and took advantage of them. He wrote, “You gladly put up with fools since you are so wise! In fact, you even put up with anyone who enslaves you or exploits you or takes advantage of you or pushes himself forward or slaps you in the face. To my shame, I admit that we were too weak for that” (2 Corinthians 11:19-21).
These so-called apostles had, in fact, taken from the church for themselves. Apparently, Paul is referring to offerings and service received by these men, because he asked the question, “Was it sin for me to preach the gospel to you free of charge?” (2 Corinthians 11:7). Paul was not against churches supporting apostles, because he reminded them that he had “robbed other churches, taking wages from them” (Philippians 4:15-17), in order to be able to preach to the Corinthians. What he despised, was the acts of seduction and usurping of true apostolic authority and drawing people after themseleves. He saw they were not there for the Church but for the benefit of these false apostles.
We can only imagine what was taking place. It appears that these false apostles had set themselves up in some form of display to appear to be more than what Paul was to the Corinthians. We are not told, but there must have been some outward display of organization or means of which the Corinthians could feel they belonged to something greater than what Paul had to offer. These false apostles lifted themselves up, “masquerading as apostles of Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:13). We are not told that they used titles of honor, but something of this sort must have taken place to attract the foolish Corinthians. Why would the Corinthians forsake Paul, the true apostle and spiritual father for these outsiders? It is obvious they made themselves to be something they were not. They offered something that could easily be seen. It did not require discernment. The Corinthian’s carnality blocked them from discerning what God had given them in Paul. They turned to others that appeared to offer something special. Something flaunted. These false apostles must have had quite an attractive organizational display to move these carnal Christians away from the spiritual father.
People often feel more important if they have leadership that is well accepted by those who seem to be fashionable and popular. The Corinthians were even willing to put up with abuse in order to have those men who were accepted by others. Whatever was being offered, it was not spiritual authority. They were willing to discard the authority of the one who had brought them forth in the gospel and joined with others who displayed themselves as greater. The call to the Church is still the same. Discern spiritual authority don’t flaunt it. Look for servants over celebrities.
1 Donald Rumble, Apostolic and Prophetic Foundations, Giving the Lord Back His Church (Clinton Corners, NY: The Attic Studio Press, 1996) p. 30
2 Donald Rumble, p. 67