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Church Government Part 2: Prophets and Apostles

Barry is the founder and director of Expositors International Ministry and dean of Mindanao Grace Seminary , Philippines.

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Prophets

We saw in the first article (Part 1) that there is a distinction between offices and ministries in the Church. We also saw that the offices of the Church are Elders and Deacons. Elders are to care for the spiritual needs of the people and Deacons are to care for the physical needs of the local Church. But what about the role of Prophets and Apostles?

Prophets

Throughout the Old Testament, we can see God using prophets to bring His message. While there are differences in the individual prophets that share at least two common characteristics.

1) God speaks to them directly. We see this phrase repeated, “The Word of the Lord came to…” This phrase is used for Jeremiah, Jonah, Elijah, and Isaiah. Luke records this phrase in regards to John the Baptist:

“the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias in the wilderness…” (Luke 3:2).

2) The Prophets bring the message of repentance.

Since the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt until this day, I have sent you all My servants the prophets, daily rising early and sending them. Yet they did not listen to Me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck; they did more evil than their fathers. Jeremiah 7:25-26

Whether sent to unbelievers, as Jonah went to Nineveh or sent to the nation of Israel as were the majority of the prophets, the message is still the same. Repent or face the judgment of God. Even John the Baptist had the same message as the Old Testament prophets: repent.

Validation of a Prophet

We often overemphasize prophets making predictions. Some of them certainly do but not all of them made predictions. For those who made predictions, there was a test to validate if they were from God.

You may say in your heart, ‘How will we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?’ When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not come about or come true, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken. The prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him. Deuteronomy 18:21-22

“If a prophet or a dreamer of dreams arises among you and gives you a sign or a wonder, 2 and the sign or the wonder comes true, concerning which he spoke to you, saying, ‘Let us go after other gods (whom you have not known) and let us serve them,’ 3 you shall not listen to the words of that prophet or that dreamer of dreams; for the Lord, your God is testing you to find out if you love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul. 4 You shall follow the Lord your God and fear Him; and you shall keep His commandments, listen to His voice, serve Him, and cling to Him. Dt. 13:1-3

In this passage, we can see two things that determine a true prophet from a false prophet. If a prophet makes a prediction and it does not come true, then this prophet was not sent from God. Also, those who claim to be sent by God will lead people to worship the true God and will agree with the teachings of God. If a person claims to be a prophet but contradicts the words of God, then they are a false prophet (Jeremiah 27:9).

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Apostles

The word “apostle” is a generic term for “one who is sent.” It often is used to refer to one who sent with a message. In Scripture, we must distinguish between the general use of the term and the word when used to describe the office. The Apostles were the original disciples of Jesus. The Apostles were chosen by Jesus to spread the message of the Gospel (John 17:6-8) and to establish the Church (Eph. 2:20). The Apostles held a unique position. They had the authority to set the rules, practices, and doctrines for the Church (2 Thes.3:6; 1Cor.14:37). These are recorded for us in Scripture.

The Bible as a whole is profitable to the Christian (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Old Testament saints serve as examples for us (1 Corinthians 10:11). The Gospels record the facts of the life and work of Jesus. But the Epistles are where we find specific instruction for the New Testament Church. Just as the Prophets were sent to the nation of Israel, God sent the Apostles to give the guidelines for the Church (1 Thessalonians 4:2; 1 Corinthians 5:3-5; 1 Thessalonians 2:9: 1 Corinthians 10:8; etc.). If we want to see how the Church should operate, we must look at passages that are given to the Church. The test for Apostolic authority today is if a Church or minister is following the instructions and teachings given by the Apostles.

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Authority

It is easy to eliminate the office of Apostle today based upon the fact that there is no one alive who has seen the risen Christ. While prophets are mentioned in the New Testament, it is highly doubtful that they are serving in an office like those in the Old testament. For one thing, the New Testament makes no mention of such an office. Also, it is clear that during the formation of the Church, the Apostles had authority.

God, after He spoke long ago to the fathers in the prophets in many portions and in many ways, in these last days has spoken to us in His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. And He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature and upholds all things by the word of His power. When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much better than the angels, as He has inherited a more excellent name than they. Hebrews 1:1-4

“In these days” refers to the time in which the Book of Hebrews was written. We should note that they did not have a complete Bible. We find the words of the Son in the Gospels. And Jesus appointed Apostles to instruct to the Church.

So we have the prophetic word made more sure, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. But know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation, for no prophecy was ever made by an act of human will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God. 2 Peter 1:19-21

Peter points to the Scripture as the authority for Christians. The Holy Spirit led men to write the Scriptures. This is where our authority lies today. It is the Bible and the Bible alone that contains the very words of God and these words are the authority for the Church.

Church Government Part 3