APOSTLES OR BISHOPS

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Biblical researcher in the Mystical Order Ministries

HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

Quite recently the debate started after one of my elders was allowed to use the title, Chief Apostle. Many others within the origin of the Spiritual Baptist faith have adopted the title ‘Apostle’ without any knowledge of the title or why it is being used today. I have many reasons for the use of Chief Apostle from history and The Sacred Writ. I shall give a comparison of the titles Apostle and bishop.

With the current restoration of apostles to the Church there is a corresponding restoration of New Testament terminology. As I study this current restoration, I am often asked the difference between apostles and bishops. There is some confusion concerning these two terms that need to be resolved. Many leaders are opting to use the term “bishop” in describing their ministry. Some are using the term “archbishop”. Some are opting for the term “apostle”.

Some will contend that any term is irrelevant. However, words and terms are very important in helping us understand the truth. The wrong terminology can actually hinder people from understanding important truths that the Holy Spirit is restoring to today’s church. What I will say here is that the word of God is of no private interpretation. This article I am writing has no exception but an expression of my views. I must, however, warn you that I am not an authority on this particular subject.

This is true with the historical use of the word missionary. The church for generations has used the term “missionary” to identify those sent out to foreign lands to plant and establish new churches. The Antioch model shows us the importance of releasing apostles for the planting and establishing of new churches. The events of Acts 13:1-4 have profound implications for the church today. So often we have sent the wrong people. At the heart of the church in Antioch was a team of prophets and teachers, but out of this group of five men, the Holy Spirit singled out Barnabas and Saul for the wider work of evangelism and church planting. That these men were foundational to the establishment of the church in Antioch is without question. Their intensive program of teaching was a vital key to the development of the church. The contrast with contemporary church life is this. Had they been involved in any one of our churches today, they would have quickly become indispensable! New titles would have to be discovered, like ‘senior pastor’, ‘cannon’, ‘cardinal’, or some other name or title to identify the importance of their role, and before long, their giftedness would become the cork in the bottle, preventing other gifts and ministries from developing. To cope with this dilemma, a name change has been inevitable. Apostles are now missionaries, the latter word coming from a Latin derivative, but essentially meaning the same thing. Some will feel that what I am saying here is simply semantics and of no particular importance. HOWEVER, WORDS ARE SYMBOLS OF IDEAS, AND A CHANGE OF NAME HAS SO OFTEN BROUGHT WITH IT A CHANGE IN UNDERSTANDING AND FUNCTION. A RETURN TO NEW TESTAMENT TERMINOLOGY COULD LEAD TO A REDISCOVERY OF APOSTOLIC PRIORITIES AND EFFECTIVENESS.

You may agree wholeheartedly with me. But think of the difference between what comes to your mind when you hear the word APOSTLE to hearing the word MISSIONARY. There is a marked difference. Although both words mean essentially the same thing (a sent one), the word apostle carries a higher degree of authority. We expect more from apostles than we do from missionaries. The church is built upon the foundation of apostles, not missionaries (Ephesians 2:20). Although many missionaries were and are apostolic, many were and are not. Since many in the church have historically taught that there were no more apostles after the apostolic age, we needed to replace their ministry with missionaries.

The word apostle is mentioned over seventy times in the New Testament. It is used more than any of the other ministry gifts. It is obvious that the Holy Spirit uses this word so often to emphasize the priority of the apostle’s ministry. It is the most important and primary gift in the church. This does not mean that we don’t need the other gifts. They are also important. The apostle, however, is set in the church FIRST by God (1 Corinthians 12:28).

The word PASTOR is mentioned only once in the King James New Testament (Ephesians 4:11). How is it that a ministry that is listed once gets more priority in most churches than a ministry listed over seventy times? Our tradition has kept us from emphasizing the ministry that the Holy Spirit has emphasized in the Word of God. Some believers and churches are afraid to use the term APOSTLE. But it is a New Testament word that describes the most important and up-front ministry in the church. We cannot be afraid to use the New Testament terminology.

Which things we also speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual (1 Corinthians 2:13)

The ASV says “combining things with spiritual words.” In other words, the Holy Spirit gives us spiritual words to help us understand spiritual things. The word APOSTLE is a spiritual word that helps us understand a SPIRITUAL ministry. No other word can adequately describe this ministry.

In order to understand what the Holy Spirit is doing today, we need to understand this word. We cannot be afraid of it. We cannot be blinded by tradition that limits this ministry to twelve. Unfortunately, there are many leaders today who don’t understand this word. They are afraid to use it or will substitute other words to replace it. But the fact remains that Jesus gave APOSTLES (Ephesians 4:11). If leaders don’t understand and have a revelation of the term APOSTLE, how can the Body of Christ as a whole understand this ministry? If the church does not understand this word and gift, how can believers place a demand on this anointing and receive fully from this gift?

The word BISHOP is found four times in the King James New Testament. Again the word apostle is found over seventy times. You do the math. Which ministry is emphasized more by the Holy Spirit? In addition to these numbers, the term ‘bishop’ has had a history of misuse. It has presently come to mean something that it never meant in the early church. Because of this, the church has suffered in its understanding of apostolic ministry. This is unfortunate because the apostle’s ministry is much needed today.

The Holman Bible dictionary gives an excellent definition of the term BISHOP:

The English word “bishop” is the normal translation of the Greek noun episcopas, which occurs five times in the New Testament:

Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood. Acts 20:28

Paul, a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and Timothy our brother, unto Philemon our dearly beloved, and fellow-labourer, Philemon 1:1 

A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach; 1 Timothy 3:2 

For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; Titus 1:7 

For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls. 1 Peter 2:25

Paul, addressing the Ephesian “elders,” reminded them that the Holy Spirit made them “overseers” (episcopous) “to feed (a verb which is cognate to the noun “pastor”) the church of the Lord.” From this many conclude that in Paul’s time “elder,” “bishop,” and “pastor” were terms used to describe three different functions of the same Christian leader, not three distinct ministerial offices. Moreover, according to Philippians 1:1, the church at Phillipi had more than one bishop. During the second century, A.D. churches came to have a single bishop, and then that bishop came to exercise oversight over nearby rural churches as well as the city church so that his ecclesiastical territory became known as a “diocese” or “see” (“eparchy” in the East). Bishops of churches that have been founded by apostles were said to be in succession to the apostles, and hence their teachings were held to be authentic and their authority collegial. By 400 A.D. in the West, the bishop of Rome began to assume extraordinary authority over other bishops. Today the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox churches, the Old Catholic Church, the Anglican Communion, and the (Lutheran) Church of Sweden teach the doctrine of apostolic (or Episcopal) succession.

Vines Dictionary defines a bishop as follows :

EPISCOPAL, lit., an overseer (epi, over, scope, to look or watch), whence Eng. “bishop,” which has precisely the same meaning, is found in Acts 20:28; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:2; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 2:25. Note: Presbuteros, an elder, is another term for the same person as bishop or overseer. Acts 20:17 with verse 28. The term “elder” indicates the mature spiritual experience and understanding of those so described; the term “bishop,” or “overseer,” indicates the character of his work undertaken. According to the Divine will and appointment, as in the New Testament, there were to be bishops in every local church, Acts 14:23; 20:17; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5; James 5:14.

Martin Luther, John Calvin, and others were raised up by God in the dark Ages of Europe to be a force in the Reformation. The Reformers correctly explained the relationship between these two terms. The terms presbyter (or elder) and bishop (or overseer) in the New Testament denote the same office – with this difference only, that the first term originated from the synagogue and the second from the Greek communities; and that one signifies the dignity of the office, while the other the actual practice of ministry. The equality and interchange of the terms elder and bishop continued until the close of the first century, as evidenced by the epistle of Clement of Rome written about A.D. 95. The Didache reveals that the equivalent meaning remained evident even near the end of the second century. However, with the beginning of the second century from Ignatius onward, the two terms began to be distinguished from each other. In other words, during the second century, the term episcopas began to lose its scriptural meaning and to be transformed into something else. During this time the term episcopas began to mean

  • “the head of a congregation surrounded by a group of presbyters.”
  • Decades later it came to mean a “head of a diocese and successor to the apostles.”

The episcopas grew out of the “presidency” of the presbytery. The Reformation churches, i.e. the Lutherans, the Presbyterians, and the pre-Reformation Anabaptists, rejected the erroneous idea of bishops leading the Church; however, they did not reestablish the correct order of apostolic ministry.”

It is a common fact that words can change in meaning over a period of time. It is unfortunate that the scriptural meaning of the word bishop has changed because it has often given men holding unscriptural authority and positions in the Church. It is not surprising that the King James translators did not translate the word episcopas as overseer. They kept the term bishop in place because the Church of England still had in place the Episcopal form of church government, and this is true even until this day.

John Tetsola states “the term episcopas (overseer), for example, developed a meaning that was quite different from the New Testament usage. It became one of the most significant ecclesiastical titles of the hierarchical church. We know that the term in English is “bishop,” meaning a church official who presides over many churches and the lower clergy. Thus, the original sense of the term episcopas, which was synonymous with elder, indicated a local church official…In the end, every local church is responsible to teach its people the meaning of the terms it uses to describe its spiritual leaders, whether it be elders, overseers, ministers, preachers or pastors. Biblically sensitive church leaders will insist that the terminology they use represents as accurately as possible the original biblical terms and concepts of a New Testament eldership. The vocabulary Christians use to describe their church officials has great problems. Much of our church vocabulary is unscriptural and terribly misleading. Words such as clergyman, layman, and reverend convey ideas contrary to what Jesus Christ and His apostles taught.”

The historical decline of apostolic ministry can be traced to the rise of bishops in the church. The doctrine of Apostolic Succession that teaches the bishops replaced apostles is a heresy. The Roman Catholic Church has taught that the bishop of Rome (pope) has inherited the authority of the apostle Peter. This is the teaching of Apostolic Succession at its worst. This teaching excludes any apostle who is not in direct line of the bishops from the time of Peter. The apostle Paul was raised up by God without any direct connection to Peter. Many other apostles have been raised up by God over the centuries without being in the line of bishops. This is a gift given by grace and has nothing to do with apostolic succession. No church has a monopoly on the gifts of God. They are given by the Holy Spirit irrespective of a denomination or certain group of churches.

The unfortunate truth is that many present-day Pentecostals and Charismatics are embracing terms and concepts that were challenged by the Reformers hundreds of years ago. Although the Reformers were limited in their understanding of spiritual gifts, we have no excuse today. We have more knowledge of spiritual gifts than ever before. The Reformers did not reestablish the order of apostolic ministry. Their biggest fight was to restore the doctrine of  Justification by faith. Present-day churches should reestablish the order of apostolic ministry. We should not return to concepts and religious systems that the Reformed changed hundreds of years ago. We should be progressing instead of regressing.

With the decline of apostolic ministry and the rise of unscriptural bishops, the church entered into a long period of decline. The leadership of the church became corrupt as men often used ungodly means to rise to positions of power in the church. Because the bishopric became an appointed position, favouritism and other things besides the anointing became the means of being appointed into these offices. Some bishops were corrupt and ungodly. Many were simply religious politicians who manoeuvred their way into the coveted positions.

With the decline of apostolic ministry came the decline of apostolic power. One of the major characteristics of an apostle’s ministry is power. This includes signs, wonders and miracles (2 Corinthians 12:12). With the restoration of the apostle’s ministry will come a corresponding restoration of apostolic power. There is also a restoration of apostolic terminology. Terminology that is religious and outdated will be replaced by terminology that is current and scriptural.

We are presently in a period of great restoration. Truth and ministries that have been neglected for generations are being rediscovered by the church. This includes, but is not limited to, the apostle’s ministry. God is breaking the spirit of ignorance. We are in a time of reformation. Things that have been imposed on the church are now being removed. The unscriptural role of bishops was imposed on the church for hundreds of years. This is being removed and replaced by the proper order of apostolic ministry.

BISHOPS DO NOT REPLACE APOSTLES

This false concept is based on the doctrine of Cessationism. This is the teaching that the apostle’s ministry ceased after the death of the twelve. The bishops, therefore, replaced the twelve as the leaders of the church.

First of all, there is no substitute for the apostle’s ministry. We need apostles in each generation just like we need evangelists, pastors, and teachers. When emerging apostles do not replace founding apostles, the church is in trouble. This cycle of deterioration has occurred in almost every movement and denomination. This is because of a lack of understanding concerning apostolic ministry.

After the death of the early apostles, the church began to teach that the bishops (those ordained and set by the apostles) replaced the apostles as the governmental leaders of the church. The doctrine of apostolic succession was espoused by Clement of Rome. He intervened on the behalf of the presbyters of Corinth who were dismissed from the church. He ordered their reinstatement by insisting that an orderly succession of bishops was established by the apostles. This is found in the letter of the Roman Church to the Corinthians (c.a.96).

During the second century, the church came under threat from false teachings, primarily the teachings of Gnosticism. These heresies posed such a threat to the church that Irenaeus proposed the concept that the true churches must be able to trace their leaders back to the apostles. He taught that an unbroken succession of bishops of dioceses founded by the apostles guarantees the truth that a church possesses. In this way, one could differentiate true churches from false ones lead by heretics. This is found in his writing Against the Heresies (c.a.185). Churches were therefore considered apostolic if they could trace their leadership back to the apostles.

The African orator Tertullian, in his treatise The Prescription of Heretics (c.a.200) proposed that a church need only have the teaching of the apostles in order to be apostolic. In other words, there was no need to have apostolic succession in order to be a legitimate church. Clement of Alexandria (c.a 150- c.a.215) similarly proposed that a succession of doctrine rather than a succession of bishops is the most important characteristic of a true apostolic church.

Cyprian, the bishop of Carthage (c.a. 205- c.a.258), is perhaps one of the strongest proponents of apostolic succession. He maintains that the apostolate (the apostles) and the episcopate (the bishops) are one. In his view, the bishops were the successors to the apostles and the apostles were the bishops of old. By the mid-third century, the difference between the apostles and bishops disappears with Cyprian.

The development of the doctrine of apostolic succession ( an unbroken line of bishops from the apostles to the present bishop of Rome) was a response to the rampant heresies being taught in the early church. This doctrine was developed to test whether a church was legitimate or not. If teachers (heretics) could not trace their leadership to the apostles, they were considered false. Only the apostles and the bishops that replaced them were considered valid teachers and carriers of apostolic tradition.

This teaching further states that only ordinations conducted by the bishops were valid. This teaching rests on the false doctrine of Cessationism. It rests on the false concept that bishops replaced apostles. Any teaching based on a lie is false because it rests on a false foundation. There have always been apostles in the church. Tradition has often hidden them from our eyes, but this gift was never withdrawn from the church. Each generation needs apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. I agree with Tertullian in stating that the doctrine of the apostles is currently available through the New Testament. Any teaching outside of it is blatantly unapostolic.

Paul was sent as an apostle without the laying on of the hands of the twelve. He was an apostle by the will of God, not by the will of man. Jesus sends apostles. Although they are usually released in the local church and confirmed by the prophetic ministry, their origin is from God, not man. No man has to trace his ministry directly to one of the original apostles through the laying on of hands. This would be a fruitless endeavour for the multitudes of apostles the Lord is sending today.

The apostle is a pioneer. They are set in the church first (Greek word Proton meaning first in time, order, or rank, 1 Cor.12:28). This pioneering anointing causes great breakthroughs and advancement. New Movements grow rapidly and have great momentum. This usually continues while the founding leader is alive. Movements usually try to maintain the leader’s legacy by replacing the leadership with bishops, superintendents, and administrators. The movement begins to lose momentum as it becomes more administrative than apostolic. This process is called institutionalization.

Ernest B. Gentile defines institutionalization as the process whereby the church of Jesus Christ becomes an established, recognized organization, a structured and highly formalized institution, often at the expense of certain spiritual factors originally thought to be important. Derek Tidball defines it as the process by which the activities, values, experiences and relationships of the (religious) group become formalized and stabilized so that relatively predictable behaviour and more rigid organizational structures emerge. It is the name for the way in which free spontaneous and living (Church) movements become structured and inflexible.

Inflexibility is the characteristic of an old wineskin. New wine must be poured into new wineskins. New wineskins can become old wineskins quickly after the death of the founding leaders. This has happened to almost every movement in the past. It will continue to happen unless a group can identify and raise up emerging apostles to replace the founding apostles. When the founding leaders are replaced by bishops and administrators (governments in 1  Corinthians12:28) the emphasis is on maintaining instead of advancing. The movement becomes less open to new ideas and revelation. It ceases to be a movement and becomes a monument.

And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:28).

The NIV translates the Greek word Kubernetes as “those with the gift of administration.” The Kings James version uses the term governments. The gift of administration is a very important gift to the success of any church. It is not however set in the church first by God. In other words, it is not intended to be the dominant anointing of the church. When the administrative gifts become the dominant gift the priorities of the organization become

administrative instead of pioneering and advancing. The administrative gift cannot replace the apostolic gifts at the helm of the church. David Cartledge states “Where apostolic ministries are not in the church or accessed by it, those without a ministry Gift will attempt to lead or govern the Church. The end result of this is a man-made bureaucracy. It becomes merely a democratic administration instead of a theocracy. The usual effect is the utilization of control mechanisms rather than modelled leadership…The attitudes of most denominations towards apostolic

leadership have tended to squeeze such gifted ministries out of their local churches. The resisted or rejected apostolic ministries have either formed independent churches or movements that functioned without democratic or denominational restraint.”

There are many bishops who are apostles. There are also many apostles who have administrative abilities. This book is not intended to oppose leaders with genuine gifts and callings. I personally have many friends who identify themselves as bishops and yet they know they are apostles. My only desire is to remove any confusion or tradition that would hinder the many apostles that are emerging around the world. Many of these emerging apostles are in denominations that are more administrative than apostolic. The lack of movement in many organizations has frustrated many emerging apostles. Many apostles end up leaving groups that they love in order to fulfil their ministries.

I believe that God always provides the gifts that we need in order to fulfil our destinies. It is not the will of God that movements start out with great power and momentum only to shrivel up and die after one generation. The apostolic gift is the key to continuous advancement and momentum. There is always another generation of apostles that should be in a position to replace the founding apostles. When an organization or church becomes administrative at the expense of being apostolic, apostolic gifts are often choked out. This is because apostolic gifts tend to be too progressive, pioneering, and advancing for many organizations. Some would identify this as rebellion, but usually, it is a desire to keep the group moving forward and walking in the present truth.

This is unfortunate because the very gifts that churches need to advance are usually lost due to the organizational constraints placed upon them. This happened in the early church when bishops replaced apostles. The church became more ceremonial and traditional. The apostolic power and grace of the church in the book of Acts were lost. The Reformation of the Sixteenth Century began to change this. The Reformers, however, failed to restore the proper role of the apostle. Many Reformation churches kept the Episcopal (bishops) form of government. We are now seeing the restoration of apostles to their proper role in the church.

APOSTLES ORDAIN BISHOPS

The third chapter of First Timothy gives the qualifications of bishops (overseers, elders). Paul is giving apostolic instruction to Timothy concerning the government of the local church. Timothy is functioning as an apostle

(1Thessalonians 1:1 & 2:6). Apostles are responsible for the oversight and set of leaders in local churches. The traditional concept of bishops being over groups of churches is really an apostolic function. The teaching that bishops replaced apostles removes the role of current apostles from the church.

Some have taught that the bishop is the highest office in the church. This is not true. God has set apostles first in the church. No amount of scriptural wrangling can remove them from this position in the church. Apostles ordain and set bishops (overseers, elders) in the church. Titus was sent by Paul to ordain elders (bishops, overseers) in the church at Crete (Titus 1:5). Paul and Barnabas appointed elders (bishops, overseers) in the churches they established (Acts14:23). Roger Sapp states “We must recover the scriptural understanding of the apostle and the overseer, and for the sake of the Church put away the unscriptural ministry and the title of bishop. It is evident from a simple look at these passages that all or at least the vast majority of those Christian leaders who have accepted the title of bishop did not receive it from apostolic ministry and have accepted a role that usurps the role of the apostle. For present-day bishops to acknowledge this error to the churches that respect them will be difficult, but necessary, to make room for apostolic ministry to come forth. Otherwise, the “old wineskin” will not be suitable to hold the “new wine” of the Spirit that will be poured out in the days preceding the coming of the Lord. In some cases, it will not be difficult for the man of God to dispense with this title and to instruct those who look to him for leadership about the apostolic ministry over a short time. It will be for him a question of humility and love for the truth. In other cases, due to long tradition, it may not be possible to do so without serious difficulties. In any case, the Lord will grant His servant grace to embrace the truth.

FIRST APOSTLES / LAST APOSTLES

 And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Corinthians12:28)

For I think that God hath set forth us the apostles last, as it were appointed to death: for we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men. (1 Corinthians 4:9)

The apostle’s ministry is the highest-ranking ministry in the church. This does not mean that an apostle has jurisdiction over every church. There are different apostles who have different spheres of influence.  Apostles have different geographical regions to which they are set and sent.

Although apostles are set in the church “first”, they are often treated as “last”. The rise of bishops to positions of prominence in the church coincided with the state’s recognition of the church. Bishops often became more powerful than natural rulers. This began when the Roman Emperor Constantine recognized Christianity as the religion of the Roman Empire. The bishop’s office eventually became a position of power and prominence.

Some leaders like the use of the term bishop because it is recognized by the world. Apostles have always been persecuted and hated by the world’s system. They know what it means to suffer and be treated as “last”. Many leaders are afraid to walk in true apostolic ministry because they fear rejection and persecution. Many desire honour from men rather than honour from God. Some religious leaders even receive titles such as “His Eminence”, or “His Holiness”. How disgusting this must be to God because it is a manifestation of pride and arrogance. We should not think of men above that which is written (1 Cor.4:6).

Many leaders don’t like the idea of being treated “last”. Many desire to be treated “first”. Being treated “last” is hard on the flesh. The flesh hates suffering, rejection, and persecution. The flesh loves flattering titles. Leaders must be aware of the subtle trap of religious pride. True believers and ministries cannot avoid suffering and persecution, especially apostolic ministries who minister in power and authority.

There are many leaders today who refer to themselves as bishops that are apostles. Many are aware of it, some are not aware. The word bishop means an overseer. The word apostle has a much broader definition and broader function. Apostles provide oversight to churches. They are also elders. The word apostle is a transliteration of the Greek word Apostolos meaning “one sent forth”. A sent one has a variety of functions and duties including overseeing, planting, watering, encouraging, correcting, judging, activating, imparting, demonstrating, establishing, pioneering, mobilizing, teaching, preaching and ordaining. Leaders who are apostles cannot limit themselves to managerial duties, but must fully express the grace that is upon the apostolic office. The same thing is true of many pastors. Pastors who are apostles need to recognize this gift and walk in it fully. Pastors cannot allow fear and tradition to hold them back. God has not

set in the church first pastors, but first apostles. This is an order of ministry for the local church.

Paul wrote to a local church when revealing God’s order of ministry.

Some will maintain that terms are not important. Terms and words are very important. Words have definitions. Words shape our way of thinking. Apostles cannot think like pastors. Apostles must think and act like apostles. Out lack of understanding of gifts and ministries can hinder us from walking in the fullness of God’s grace. We are not to be ignorant of spiritual gifts (1Cor.12:1).

 

Author: Godfrey Gregg

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