“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:29-30 NIV)
These words were spoken by the apostle Paul to the elders of the church in Ephesus. He had invested years into establishing and building up this church and it was now strong. Yet his parting words to them included a solemn warning. We dare not be complacent. Our people are vulnerable – like sheep. Ungodly people – likened to wolves – will prey on the sheep. They need to be protected – from people who would abuse them for personal gain and from people who would distort the truth to gain their own following.
Churches are still vulnerable to attack – from within and from without. When the attack is from outsiders, the elders can protect the flock. But when the attack is from within, sometimes the elders need to be protected! There are times when “the shepherds need to be shepherded” – because they too are sheep!
Apostolic writings from Paul, Peter, James, John and Jude addressed the problems of the day, including the emergence of false apostles and some heretical teachings. Churches and church leaders were encouraged and sometimes corrected. To this day, these letters help us to “protect the sheep” – we could call them an “apostolic legacy”.
But fresh problems present themselves. New wolves emerge and attack both sheep and shepherds. New heresies emerge and mislead both sheep and shepherds. The church needed apostles in the first century and they need them in the 21st century!
Apostles are gifts to the church. They are gifts from Jesus. More than guardians, they are also pioneers and builders. Paul described this in a letter that he wrote to the church in Ephesus:
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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.
“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
– Ephesians 4:11-16 NIV
Paul presents an on-going mission: to build up churches until they are completely mature:
“so that the body of Christ may be built up until 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.”
What a glorious goal! What a glorious gift!
So: do we need apostles today? Answering some other questions may help you with your conclusion:
Are we still sheep? Are there still wolves inside and outside the church? Are new heresies being taught? Do church leaders still need to be shepherded? Are our churches mature yet, having attained the whole measure of the fullness of Christ?
We still need apostles (and prophets. evangelists, pastors and teachers)! Let’s embrace these precious gifts from Jesus!