by Samuel E. Waldron

You have seen those odd pictures where it looks like the outline of an old man smoking a pipe, but from another perspective it appears to be the profile of a beautiful woman. Look at the Cessationist position from a certain perspective, and it seems eccentric. Bloesch can say: “With the mainstream of catholic tradition I contend that all of the charisms belong to the wider ministry of the church in every generation.” 1 This makes Cessationism look ugly. Where do those Cessationists get off any way-denying the sovereignty of God in the world, refusing to take seriously the Bible they say they believe, and going against the mainstream and catholic tradition of the church?

THE PRESUMPTION OF THE ARGUMENT

But Bloesch goes on to make this revealing statement: “Some have fallen into eclipse, but not because the gifts have ceased with the passing of the apostolic church. “2 Note the phrase, “apostolic church.” Bloesch distinguishes the apostolic church from the church today. Sam Storms would allow a similar distinction (Eph. 2:20). From this perspective Cessationism looks more normal. Is there a distinction between the apostolic church and the contemporary church? What is it? Might it be that there are no Apostles of Christ today? Many Continuationists affirm this, and the Bible is very clear about it. This makes Cessationism look normal, mainstream, and catholic. Once you admit that there are no more Apostles of Christ-like John, Peter, and Paul-in the world today, then in some way and to some degree you are a Cessationist! You may not believe in the cessation of prophecy or tongues­ speaking, but you do believe in the cessation of the Apostles, and this makes you a Cessationist. Thus, Cessationism is not so crazy after all.

Not only have you admitted the cessation of one spiritual gift, but you have admitted the cessation of the first and greatest spiritual gift. Thus, you have removed all reason for presumption against Cessationism. Now the possibility of the cessation of other spiritual gifts looks reasonable, because everybody (except those who argue that Apostles  like the Twelve and Paul are in the world today) already admits that the greatest gift has ceased. The issue is not, then, Cessationism, but rather how far Cessationism should go.

Continuationists respond to this by saying “strictly speaking, to be an Apostle is an office, not a gift.” 3 Yet in the key passages on this subject, Paul does not  maintain the distinction upon which such a Continuationist insists. Ephesians 4: 11, for instance, identifies the gifts Christ gives to men as apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers. Similarly in 1 Corinthians 12:28- 29 apostles , prophets, and teachers occur in lists of what are evidently gifts.

 

THE OVERVIEW OF THE ARGUMENT

Before I come to focus on the linchpin of my argument, let me overview my argument against the continuation of the miraculous gifts.  The New Testament makes clear that Apostles of Christ are not given to the church today. They lived only in the first century A. D. We  know for sure, therefore, that one gift, the greatest gift, has ceased to be given. This clear New Testament teaching provides a vital premise for the argument against Continuationism.  Unless it wishes to contradict the plainest evidence,  Continuationism cannot claim that there is no difference in the gifts given today and the gifts given in the first century.

Prophets in the Old Testament were a clearly identified and regulated institution that contributed prominently to t he formation of the Old Testament canon. There is no reason to think New Testament prophecy is fundamentally different than Old Testament prophecy. There is, in fact, every reason to  think it is fundamentally the same. Since biblical prophets were foundational (Eph. 2:20), infallible and canonical, prophecy has ceased.

Tongues-speaking is substantially equivalent to prophecy according to the New Testament. According to 1 Corinthians 14:5 tongues plus interpretation equals prophecy. As such, tongues-speaking – like prophecy – has ceased.

Miracles-workers performed miraculous signs to vindicate the divine authority of their message. It is impossible, therefore, to think there are miracle- workers today without supposing they are either apostles or prophets bringing inspired messages. Since we have already  concluded  that  the   miraculous   gifts of apostles and prophets have ceased, we must also conclude that Christ no longer gives miracle-workers to the church. This assertion, however, does  not  require the  conclusion  that God Himself does no miracles today.

 

THE  LINCHPIN OF THE  ARGUMENT ARE THERE APOSTLES TODAY?

The Biblical Definition of Apostles

Fundamental to everything else is the meaning of apostle. An apostle is a sent one. Both Hebrew and Greek derive apostle from the verb that means to send. The Aramaic word, sjaliach, sent one, had attained a very specific meaning. “Recent research has shown that the formal structure of the apostolate is derived from the Jewish legal system in which a person may be given the legal power to represent another. The one who has such power of attorney  is called a Sjaliach (apostle). The uniqueness of this relationship is pregnantly expressed by the notion that the Sjaliach  (apostle) of  a  man, is as the man himself.”4

Apostle in the New Testament possesses a similar meaning. Jesus Christ was his Father’s Apostle (Heb. 3:1-2). What Jesus said, His Father said (John 14:6-10).  Similarly, the Twelve are His Apostles (John 20:21). To receive Christ’s Apostle is to receive Him (Matt. 10:40; John 13:20). Therefore, an apostle was one’s legal representative.

 

The  Necessary  Distinction  Regarding Apostles

If  an apostle is one’s legal representative, then the authority of the office depends on whose representative one is. The representative of the President of the United States possesses great authority. My representative possesses very little. Both representatives would  be apostles, but their apostolic authority would differ greatly because of whom they represent.

When people ask, “Are there apostles today?” the response must be, Apostles of whom?   We must distinguish in the New Testament between those who were Apostles of Christ and those who were simply apostles  of the churches (Phil. 2:25; 2 Cor. 8:23.) Apostles of churches do exist today.  A missionary or a representative sent to an associational meeting might both be apostles of  a church.

 

The  Indispensable  Characteristics  of Apostles

In the New Testament,  there are at least three indispensable characteristics of an Apostle of Christ.

  1.  An Eye-witness  of the Resurrected Christ. An Apostle of Christ had to be an eye-witness of the resurrected Christ (Acts 1:22; 10:39-41; 1 Cor.9:1). The eyes in question were physical eyes. Even Paul-the untimely born Apostle of Christ (1 Cor. 15:8)-could claim to have seen the resurrected Christ with his physical eyes. The Old Testament distinguished between Moses and the prophets. God, in Numbers 12:5-8, emphasizes the dignity of Moses as compared to even prophets by emphasizing the difference between the “visions” of the prophet and Moses who with physical eyes saw “the form of the Lord.” Visions and dreams do not qualify one to be an Apostle of Christ.
  1. Directly Appointed by Jesus An Apostle of Christ had to be directly appointed by Jesus Christ. Not even the other Apostles of Christ were competent to select an Apostle of Christ. Only Christ Himself can give someone His power of attorney- make someone His sjaliach. Explicit notice is taken in two of the gospels and twice in Acts that Christ Himself chose His Apostles. This is the reason for Paul’s insistence that he was chosen to be an Apostle by Christ Himself (Mark  3:14;  Luke 6:13; Acts 1:2; 10:41 Gal. 1:1). This necessity is the reason for the strange approach to replacing the fallen Judas Iscariot in Acts 1:24- 26. They cast lots to determine whom Christ had chosen.
  2. The Ability to  Confirm  His  Mission  by Miraculous Signs. An Apostle of Christ was given the ability to confirm his mission by miraculous signs.  The  record of their calling in the Gospel of Matthew associates miracle­ working with their office (Matt. 10:1; 2; Acts 1:5-8; 2:43; 4:33; 5:12; Acts 8:14).  This is why Paul can say, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you  with  all  perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles” (2 Cor. 12:12).

The first problem with many, self-proclaimed Apostles of Christ today is that they cannot produce the required qualifications.­

 

The Messianic Authority  of Apostles

The Apostles  of  Christ were as the man himself. It follows that what they said and did as apostles, Jesus said and did. Paul affirms in 1 Corinthians 14:37, 38: “If anyone thinks he is a prophet or spiritual, let him recognize that the things which I write to  you  are  the  Lord’s  commandment.   But if anyone does not recognize this, he is not recognized” (cf. also 2 Cor. 13:3 and 1 John 4:4-6). To reject His Apostle is to reject Christ (Matt. 10:40; John 13:20). If anyone today professes to be an Apostle, he must be ready to affirm possession of such authority that to reject him is to reject Christ.

 

The  Historical  Limitations  of  the Apostolate

There  are  five  reasons  why  there  cannot  be Apostles  of   Christ  today.   (1)  The  Apostles of   Christ  are  the  foundation  of  the church (Eph. 2:20;  Matt.  16:18;  Rev. 21:14).   (2) The Apostle Paul explicitly states that he was the last eyewitness of Christ’s  resurrection  and the last Apostle  of  Christ  to  be  appointed (1 Cor. 15:5-9). (3) The Apostle Paul clearly implies that the gift of being an Apostle of Christ is no longer to be sought by Christians (1 Cor.  12:31; 14:1).  (4) No modern apostle is capable of receiving the commendation of the original twelve apostles as Paul did for his apostolate (Gal. 2:7-9).  (5) The final witness to the closed character of the apostolate is the closed character of the canon. Apostolic authorship or endorsement  was  necessary to attain canonical authority. Since no book has been recognized as canonical since the Early Church, the plain implication is that the apostolic authority  necessary  has  not  been available.

Concluding Implication

There is one gift which we know cannot be possessed today – the gift of Apostle of Christ. When we remember that being an Apostle of Christ was  the first and most important gift, we can only conclude there is a significant difference between the church of the New Testament and the church today. We most also consider the possibility that the cessation of the apostolate means the cessation of the apostolate means the cessation of the other miraculous gifts.

Samuel E. Waldron is academic dean and resident professor of Systematic Theology at the Midwest Center for Theological Studies in Owensboro, Kentucky.

 

Notes

1 Donald Bloesch, The Holy Spirit: Works and Gifts (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000), 294.

2 Bloesch, The Holy Spirit, 294.

3  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine (Grand Rapids: Zondervan,  1994), 1020.

4 Herman Ridderbos, Redemptive History and the New Testament  Scriptures, 2nd rev. ed. (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1988)  14.