June 5, 2008

The Restoration of the City or Locality Church and Apostolic Leadership

This is the seventh post in a chain blog on the restoration of the New Testament model of the city church. Alan Knox kicked off the chain blog with The Assembling of the Church: City Church - A Chain Blog.

I've had a vision for the restoration of city or locality churches and apostolic leadership since 1985. I caught the vision a few months after I was gloriously saved and attending an independent Pentecostal church which taught about the restoration of city churches and apostolic leadership. I heard various pastors and itinerant ministers describe New Testament church government in terms of five-fold ministry. Some of those teachings stuck with me for over twenty years through both encouraging and disillusioning church experiences.

I must admit that at one point I developed an arrogant attitude while I thought that churches which rejected five-fold ministry would quickly fall apart while fellowships that governed themselves according to five-fold ministry would take over the world-wide church. For example, I graduated an Assemblies of God (AG) Bible college in 1989 while I rejected a part-time AG ministry position and thought that God would never again start a revival in an AG church. Then, I spent a few years with a church governed by five-fold ministry while I had some encouragement and also experienced disillusionment. The kickers came in 1995 when the Brownsville Revival started in an AG church and in 1996 when my home town State College Assembly of God in Pennsylvania began to show signs of renewal. God strongly spoke to me about these events. I needed to repent of my view that God wouldn't pour out revival in churches with a less than perfect New Testament model of church government. And I went as far as getting ministry credentials with the AG for a few years.

Now I'll back up and explain what five-fold ministry means to readers who never or barely heard of five-fold ministry. It's based on various passages including Ephesians 4:11-13, "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ."

Many proponents of five-fold ministry say that the above passage teaches about five types of ministry: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. On the other hand, many interpretors say Ephesians 4:11-13 teaches about four types of ministry because "some pastors and teachers" refers to one type of ministry, a pastor-teacher. And three of the four types of ministries are listed in 1 Corinthians 12:28. I lean toward seeing four types of ministry in Ephesians 4:11-13 and call it four-fold ministry.

Ephesians 4:11-13 teaches that apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers prepare and bring unity to the body of Christ. There's little controversy about the roles of evangelists and pastor-teachers in most evangelical churches, but great controversy surrounds claims of modern day apostles and prophets.

Some evangelicals such as evangelical Methodists attend churches with an episcopal government while episcopal governments assume an unbroken apostolic succession going back to the New Testament church. In this model, episcopal bishops are supposed apostolic leaders.

On the other hand, most evangelicals reject the legitimacy of unbroken apostolic succession. I see this rejection broken down into two categories: one, apostolic government ceased with the New Testament apostles; two, apostolic succession miserably backslid while God is restoring genuine apostolic leadership in the church.

I never saw an argument which opposed the idea that the Early Church unanimously accepted apostolic succession. And the NT apostles included more than Paul and those who witnessed the ministry of Christ. For example, Acts 14:14 and 1 Corinthians 9:1-6 teach that Barnabas was an apostle. And 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:6 teaches that Silas and Timothy along with Paul had apostolic authority in Thessalonica. And Titus 1:5 describes Titus carrying out apostolic ministry in Crete. And Romans 16:7 implies that Andronicus and Junias were outstanding apostles or outstanding companions of apostles.

The Early Church eventually developed a three-tier government with bishops, presbyters/elders, and deacons. And the bishops were the supposed successors of the original apostles while the presbyters were the second level of church government. However, the New Testament teaches that elders/presbyters are also bishops/elders per Acts 20:25-28 and Titus 1:5-7. So the distinction between elders/presbyters and bishops/elders is a church tradition apart from the Bible.

Here I'll briefly describe my interpretation of NT church governmental tiers. The NT church described a four-tier government: 1) apostles, 2) elders/bishops, 3) deacons, 4) the congregation. For example, Acts 6:1-6 says that the apostles appointed deacons who were selected by the congregation. And Acts 15:22 says that the apostles and elders with the consent of the whole congregation made a church government decision. Likewise, Acts 6:1-6 teaches that apostles and deacons and the congregation are different levels of government while Acts 15:22 teaches that apostles and elders and the congregation are different levels of government. And this adds up to the four-tier church government listed above.

The four-tier government integrates with the four-fold ministry. For example, a prophet could be an elder or an apostle. In the case of Silas, Acts 15:32 says that Silas was a prophet while 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:6 implies that Silas also became an apostle. And I suppose that the four-fold ministries of evangelist and pastor-teacher could be at the level of elder or apostle.

I briefly outlined the NT teachings about four-fold ministry and four-tier government to set a foundation to see basic structures in the city church. And many Christians look forward to the restoration of the city or locality church before the Lord returns.

I see controversy in any attempt apply NT city church government to the contemporary church. For example, I reject unbroken apostolic succession while I understand that many of my brothers and sisters in the Lord believe in unbroken apostolic succession. On the other hand, while I reject that church tradition, I also acknowledge that a bishop selected according to the tradition of unbroken apostolic succession could also be a genuine apostle.

I heard many people say that the apostleship of Barnabas, Silas, Timothy, and Titus are merely examples of people called to missions. I don't see that interpretation flowing from the Bible. These apostles were Ephesians 4 apostles while Ephesians 4 apostles didn't cease after the death of Paul and those who witnessed the ministry of Jesus Christ.

Now, we'll answer the following question. Who is a contemporary apostle? First, apostles are called by God to be apostles (1 Corinthians 12:28 and many other verses). Second, apostles meet the Pauline requirements for elders/overseers (1 Timothy 3:1-7, Titus 1:5-9, 1 Peter 5:1, 2 John 1, 3 John 1). Third, apostles are leaders of elders (Titus 1:5, 1 Peter 5:1, and many other verses).

Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:12 also wrote that apostles are marked by miracles. And James 5:14-15 says that elders minister healing to the sick. And a modern day restoration of biblical miracles and healings should be part of the restoration of apostolic ministry and the city church.

Some ministerial fellowships recognize apostles (apart from the claim of unbroken apostolic succession) who oversees various pastors and ministry leaders. And this represents a small fraction of the church. But there are many other leaders of pastors and ministry leaders in various denominations using various structures of church government which do not use the title "apostle". Many of these leaders of pastors are apostles regardless of official title.

All of these modern day apostles need to reach across doctrinal and cultural lines while learning to work together in unity. For example, Ephesians 4:11-13 says that apostles and other four-fold ministers equip the saints and bring unity to the body of Christ. Likewise, unity in the body of Christ should be a primary goal of all modern day apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastors.

Both Paul and John the Revelator wrote to seven city churches. And modern day congregations in the same city or locality need to work together in unity. The apostles and elders in each locality need to look at the bigger goal of building up the church and reaching the lost in their locality instead only building their congregation with little concern for the growth of the locality church.

Does this mean that one day there will be only one senior apostle or senior elder per locality? God help us if locality churches focus on a senior apostle or elder (Mark 9:45-48, 10:35-45). Apostles in Acts typically ministered in teams. For example, an apostle such as Barnabas may switch back and forth from the roles of senior ministry leader and associate ministry leader. And little if any fanfare went to the ranking of the apostles. And Paul details qualifications for elders/overseers while he never describes the selection of a senior elder/overseer.

The restoration of locality churches will coincide with the rise of apostolic leaders working in unity. And this restoration of unity will prepare the body of Christ and help lead many more people to Christ (John 17:20-21, Ephesians 4:11-13).

I thank the late John Carr for his clear and passionate preaching and writing about the restoration of the city church and apostolic ministry.

Copyright © 2008 James Edward Goetz

New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

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1. Alan Knox, The Assembling of the Church: City Church - A Chain Blog
2. Charlie Wallace, City Church: Meeting
3. David Rogers, Roadblocks on the Path to City Church
4. Steve Sensenig, The Major Roadblock to a City Church
5. Paul Grabill, The Resurrection of the City Church: Who Will Move the Stone?
6. Jon Amos, A City Church Thought Experiment
7. James Goetz, The Restoration of the City or Locality Church and Apostolic Leadership
8. Alan Knox, The Assembling of the Church: Unity and the Church in a City