The Primary Distinction between Pastors and Apostles: A Summary of Thoughts from Last Night’s Broadcast
As you drive from my home into Cape Coast town, there are a number of interesting things you will likely see along the way. One of the most intriguing things you will notice is the unbelievable volume of banners and posters advertising various church crusades and revival meetings. These bright, glossy finished posters typically have a catchy title, usually having something to do with securing a year of material prosperity, and then the list and pictures of key note speakers and dignitaries. Men and women claiming to be apostles, pastors, bishops, prophets, seers, and prophetesses prompt us to contemplate a series of troubling questions. Do we still have apostles today? What about seers and prophets? Is there really any difference between the apostles of Christ, and modern day pastor? Are women Biblically qualified to hold these church offices? Allow us a few minutes to contemplate some important distinctions between apostles and pastors.
God used the apostles, a group of men who were hand picked eye witnesses of His ministry and resurrection, to establish the foundation of the Christian faith, in His physical absence. In their lifetime, Christ’s apostles penned the Scriptures which established these doctrines and practices, while pastors were commanded by these apostles to study, guard, and teach the foundation that they were laying and have since completed in their lifetime. Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:10-11. As a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, which is Jesus Christ…no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is already laid. He then says in Ephesians 2:20 that the church has been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone. I will have more to say about this in a few moments. But these prophets and apostles had the distinct role of giving us God’s word as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Another distinction is that while these apostles demonstrated authority in many churches, like the churches in Galatia, Ephesus, Philippi, and Asia Minor, pastors only had authority in one local assembly. There offices were clearly unique.
Sadly, Paul an apostle, warned Timothy, a pastor, that there would be many who would seek to establish new doctrines and practices that are both foreign and contrary to Scripture. 1 Timothy 6:3-4 says that if anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words. Not only did Paul warn Timothy that there would be many false teachers creeping into the church, but he also warned him that their message would become quite popular. In 2 Timothy 4:3 he said that the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. As Paul predicted, look around and see the modern explosion of cults and false doctrines perpetrated by popular televangelists and “Christian” personalities. Many today in every culture, as those who cannot endure sound doctrine, are looking for teachers who will present them something new and more palatable than the faith once delivered to the saints by the hands of the prophets and apostles of old
So again what is the foundation? Succinctly put it is Christ, and can be divided into four truths about Christ. First, Christ is a one of a kind Savior. Conceived in a virgin, both fully God and fully man, sinless, the express image of the Father, one in substance, co-equal and co-eternal with God. He is God very God, yet distinct in person and function from the Father and Spirit. John 1:1 says, in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. Those who teach a new Christ teach a false Christ, and Jesus said in John 5:24 that whoever hears my words, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Salvation is bound in our willingness to depend solely upon the revelation of Christ’s person as revealed by God through His prophets, apostles, and Son. Secondly, Christ came to do a work that in His sinless life provided the only righteousness acceptable to God, and in His sacrificial death on the cross, the only sacrifice acceptable to satisfy the wrath of God making forgiveness possible. Three days after Christ’s death on the cross, He demonstrated His power over the grave being the first-fruits of those raised from the dead, and the fact that His sacrifice was fully accepted by the Father. Because of the cross, God can be both just and the justifier of the sinner who places his faith solely in the person and work of Christ. Third, the instrument through which the benefits of this sacrifice are applied is faith alone in Christ and His work on the cross. Christ will not share His glory with another, and this is why we are justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Our salvation is not a reward but a gift so that we have no room to boast. Fourthly, as head of the church, it is Christ’s instruction alone through His apostles that should be the basis for our faith and practice. Why should the church function as Christ commands? Why should Christians govern their homes as Christ commands? Why should Christians do their daily labors as Christ commands? It is simple. Christ is the head, Lord, and Savior of the church, and therefore He demands our complete obedience, beginning with abandonment of all hope and dependence in the works of the flesh in order to depend solely upon the person and work of Christ for our justification. If Christ is the foundation and the apostles have completed their work, then there is no need for more apostles, nor is anyone living today qualified to call himself an apostle of Jesus Christ.
While it is clear that the foundation has been completely established, have there ever been imposters in the church as Paul predicted? The answer is of course. Look around. There are plenty of people claiming the authority of apostles today. Plenty of people have introduced doctrines and practices into the church that are foreign to the instruction of Christ and the apostles in the New Testament. Many today have as those in the churches of Galatia, substituted a saving gospel of grace for a false gospel of performance and adherence to the law. We still have functional Judiazers in the church today. Many today have placed their own opinions and practices above the authority of scripture acting as a functional Sanhedrin for the church. Others have substituted the One of a kind Christ of the Bible for an idol of the heart “Christ” who is powerless to save. This is no small matter, for the church today.
I think of Joseph Smith who claimed to be an apostle of Christ in North America. He wrote his own book of Mormon, created his own Christ, established his own practices in the Mormon Church, and preached his own gospel. There are others today to a lesser degree, following in his footsteps. These men do not preach the word, but rather present their doctrines as the doctrines of God. They do not present the Jesus of the Bible, but rather make him palatable to the modern man, they do not preach a pure gospel of grace apart from all human merit, but rather present the work of Christ as the means through which we get what we want. These doctrines are the doctrines of devils and these doctrines and teachers must be rejected. I urge you to consider the word of Paul to Timothy and Titus as he sent them to Crete and Ephesus to set in order what was lacking in the local churches in those cities. 2 Timothy 3:10 I commend you because you have carefully followed my doctrine. Titus 2:1 You must speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine. Titus 1:9 You must ordain pastors who will hold fast the faithful word as they has been taught, that they may be able, by sound doctrine, both to exhort and convict those who contradict these doctrines. 2 Timothy 2:15 You must rightly dividing the word of truth. And in 2 Timothy 3:16 All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be fully mature and thoroughly equipped for every good work. Paul’s message to them is the same to us today. The apostles completed their work, leaving us an inerrant book, breathed by God as the fully sufficient standard for the doctrines and practices of the church. Do not be deceived by imposters who desire to amend or add to the truth. Study this book, love this book, rightly understand this book, teach this book, and defend this book. It is sufficient to thoroughly equip the believer for every good work. This is perhaps the most important distinction between pastors and apostles. May God give us the grace to hold fast to the foundation once delivered to the saints by Christ’s prophets and apostles of old, so that we will become complete, fully mature in the faith.