Fathers And Sons- The Biblical Model For Healthy Churches Part 3
In the previous articles, I have developed the theme of fathers and sons as the biblical model for accountable relationships. It is important to emphasise over and again that we are talking about loving, mutually edifying relationships as the heart of the way Jesus intended the church to be. Sadly, human structures have evolved which have placed hierarchies in the place of relationships.
The Ministry or Ascension Gifts of Ephesians 4:11-13
Over the last few decades there has been a resurgence in understanding of the Biblical teaching about spiritual gifts. While christians have differing interpretations of the meanings of the various lists of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, there is agreement that the church needs the gifts.
The list of gifts in Ephesians 4:11-13 is often described as the ministry gifts or ascension gifts:
It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
There are some important points that need to be briefly pointed out here:
It is the persons who are the gift to the church in this list (i.e. Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers). In other words these are people who are so identified by what they do that they have become in themselves a gift to the church.
The end-goal of the ministry gifts is that the people are built up to maturity and the church becomes united in Christ.
These ministry gifts are at the heart of the ministry of the church. They are set in place by God and not by human appointment. For centuries, the church has appointed ministers, priests, bishops, cardinals and so on, following human processes. But God has always raised His own men and women who, full of the Holy Spirit, work to raise all God's people to maturity.
Apostles: What are they?
I believe that at the heart of the true apostle is, more than anything else, a passion for the Bride of Christ. The grace of the apostle is to bring unity to the Body by:
a) fathering those who are in ministry; that is, they raise up new ministries and provide fathering grace to those who are in ministry. Because of their father- heart they do not work within the narrow bounds of the denominational structures, but offer love and encouragement to all who will relate to them. (1 Cor.4:14-16)
b) teaching apostolic faith; apostles have a unique ministry of breaking open the word of God- not to bring new doctrines but to allow the Spirit to illumine the ancient word of scripture. Acts 2:42-43
bringing God's authority to the church- authority over pastors and over church life, order and spirituality. This includes discipline as well as encouragement.Remember though that all authority is relational.
Apostolic Authority in the Church
The crisis that is happening in the church in the West these days is related to authority. Our culture is obsessed with personal freedom and is suspicious of authority. Every decision made by authority figures is subject to scrutiny, question or appeal, from the courts right through to parental decisions. Even in sports where traditionally the referee or umpire had the last word, there are now appeals to the video referee.
Some people have been badly hurt by authoritarian leaders in the church. So many are suspicious of the word apostle which sounds even more totalitarian!
We need to remember that the model for authority is Jesus who not only taught that the greatest must be the servant of all, but he lived that in such a clear, unmistakable way.
In the traditional authority structures of the church, bishops and the like are appointed or elected, and their authority is defined and backed up by the rules, laws and processes of the denomination. Often the appointment is for a limited period of time, and often they are seen as a reward for faithful service to the organisation rather than a genuine calling to ministry.
With apostolic authority, the process is different and flows from the father-son relationship.
In my case, I met my apostle John Alley at a conference which he and his team ran. The conference was about this whole issue of apostolic grace, and I knew immediately this was God's word for me. I took some tentative steps towards getting to know John better, including spending some time in his home. When I felt that I could be a son to this father, and that God was calling this relationship into being, I asked John if he would be my spiritual father. John said “Yes” and so I entered into a voluntary submission to his oversight.
When I was in my former denomination I was subject to the rules of the denomination. The denomination made appointments of Presidents, Moderators, Presbytery Chairperson, General Secretaries etc. At times I respected the people who filled these positions, at other times I did not. But I had no choice about whether to submit to their instructions or not.
In the apostolic model of church, the pastor is father to his congregation. It is a household or family of faith. The congregation is autonomous and makes its own decisions about how it orders its own life. The pastor is submitted to his father, the apostle. The congregation also honours the pastor's apostle and because it is submitted to its pastor as to a father, it is also submitted to the pastor's father.
We have no bishops, presbyteries or district superintendents or other offices.
The apostle may need to rebuke or correct a pastor. He may want to encourage and build him up. This is always done in gentleness, love and respect.
If the pastor has problems with his ministry, he can go to the apostle and seek advice. He is free to take that advice or not.
A congregation experiencing conflict with the pastor may also approach the apostle for help.
Unlike the denominational system, this is all founded on love, trust and respect. I don't have to obey my apostle, but I always honour him by listening carefully to what he has to say.
Under the denominational system that I was in, there was always an air of “us and them.” The denomination was, and still is, very liberal in its theology. There was a pretence that we weren't really that connected to the statements and authority of “them.” there was certainly very little respect and no love for those higher up in the system. Problems were dealt with by bureaucratic processes and people got badly damaged along the way, as the machine ground on.
I know my spiritual father. I respect his grace and calling. I love the man.
The Hallmarks of Apostolic Authority
There is often a thought of the apostle as being a person who imposes his will on others, coming through like the proverbial bull in a china shop. But this is not how it is meant to be at all.
John Alley, in his book “The Apostolic Revelation” makes the following points about authority:
“Firstly, no authority without relationship. Personal, committed and loving relationships are the heart of what the church is all about, and these are the true foundations for genuine authority in leadership.
“ True apostolic authority requires heart relationship. As Paul, who exercised great authority, described it, 'I became your father' (1 Corinthians 4:15) This is simple really. If you do not have relationship with the pastors, the churches,the elders, the cities etc., you do not have authority over them.
“Secondly, no authority without responsibility. No one should be making decisions or exercising authority affecting believers, and not also feel responsible for how it works out in the lives of the people.
“An apostle who relates to a local church and is in relationship with the leaders will feel a concern and responsibility for their well-being. He will care about them personally. When he makes a decision, he knows it will directly affect the people to whom he relates.
“In summary, it is the relationship and responsibility factors which will largely determine whether authority is genuine or spurious. The apostle will have relationship with Christ and responsibility to Christ. The apostle will likewise have relationship with and responsibility for the leaders and believers.”
(“The Apostolic Revelation” p. 103)
Apostles exercise authority with grace. Apostolic authority is about Christ's authority. That authority derived from the Father and was shown in the person, as well as the teaching of Jesus.
So any apostle, like a true pastor, will have the character of Jesus. The fruit of the Spirit should be evident in all the dealings of the apostle with his flock.
Apostles, like all other christians must themselves be submitted to apostolic fathering.
Just as pastors need apostles over them, so do apostles need their own apostles to provide encouragement, nurture and correction.
Does this mean there is a hierarchy of apostles like we have bishops, archbishops and popes?
No, certainly not! Just as God draws the hearts of pastors to their apostles, so too apostles themselves are drawn to their own spiritual fathers. This means that there is no “super-apostle” at the top of the tree. Rather, each apostle provides ministry to a mixture of people in the ministry giftings, which may include other apostles.
So apostles are submitted one to another. This brings an informal network marked by love, submission and edification, with nobody “lording it over” another.
But what about...
People reading this for the first time will be thinking about all the things that might go wrong. Perhaps the biggest fear is that someone with this kind of authority can easily misuse it. This is true. But on the other hand, the apostles themselves are under authority and are therefore responsible to another person who should be in a position to correct them.
The corrective factor in the process is that it is all relational. If an apostle becomes dictatorial or abusive, then those under him have a responsibility to love him into wholeness. If an apostle misuses his authority, he is not working in love and is therefore voiding the basis for his authority.
Submission is voluntary, not coerced as in the denominational system. I may continue to honour the apostle, but not necessarily obey every instruction, especially if he is working in a wrong spirit.
If an apostle and a pastor (for example) are truly united in their hearts by love, they will work through differences. If the apostle is going off track, the love and unity in the relationship will compel the pastor to be reconciled to his apostle, and to see the apostle brought back to the right track.
In the end, perhaps, a parting of the ways may have to occur. This will be done reluctantly, and with great sadness, not capriciously or easily.
The church is meant to consist of the redeemed people of God working together to share the gifts and responsibilities God has given them. There are various callings, but nobody is greater than anyone else. At the heart of the structure of the church we should be able to discern at every place the love of God binding hearts together.
We have replaced this beautiful organic unity for something that is a pale shadow.
But at this time God is restoring his apostles, and with them the church.