Lets pause to reflect on the wonder of the early church. Every honest reader will be astounded by the sheer surprise of the Spirit led church. They were not 5 step strategists. They planned, dreamt, set their course [as Paul did to get to Spain] yet they were always flexible enough to flow with the God surprises, interruptions. The divine intentionality was clear looking back. Yet I am sure than these early men and women were baffled at times at the way in which God let "His will be done".
The first generation apostles were clearly identified. Jesus called them, trained them, then entrusted the "discipling of nations" to them. It is the second and third generation apostles that now intrigue us. Bear in mind, that the early church did not:
- Start organizations or denominations. They are not necessarily evil, they just often get in the way of the God life so clearly evident in the text,
- Hand over leadership to another. There is no apostolic succession in the scripture. One can hand over administration or even positional leadership, but one cannot hand over this God appointed gifting,
- To be an apostolic movement is to be led by an apostle,
- The very fiber of this early church was missional - get this marvelous gospel of the kingdom to every ethnic group as soon as possible. It was a case of all hands on deck.
So how did the next generation of apostles emerge?
- "Paul, an apostle-not from men nor by man..." Gal 1:1 This is so important. Michael Eaton says that 'apostles fall from the sky'. They are not appointed by men. They are clearly God-anointed and appointed. No one can be taught to be an apostle. One can learn to be apostolic but the grace gift is simply from heaven.
- "On the contrary, they saw that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the Gentiles... my ministry as an apostle to the Gentiles" Gal 2:7+8, This gift to be an apostle is then clearly recognizable. There is a track record of matters we have described to be evidence of apostleship. Therein is our safety - the fruit is clearly evident.
- "Paul, Silas and Timothy... as apostles of Christ we..." 1 Thess 1:1; 2:6, This mandate is now including two of Paul's 'sons in the common faith'. So beyond the original 11 / 12, add in Paul and now a few more.
- "[Paul] came to ...Lystra, where a disciple named Timothy lived... Paul wanted to take him along on the journey... As they travelled from town to town, they delivered the decisions reached by the apostles and elders" Acts 16:1 - 5, Paul recognized this apo mantle on this young man. It was there in seed form but he now gets him to do this apo life with him. He travelled with Paul. He was sent on apo sojourns on behalf of Paul. He went to Ephesus to learn to lead a church and so forth.
- "I became your father through the gospel. Therefore I urge you to imitate me. For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus ..." 1 Cor 4:15 - 21, Timothy is sent to Corinth as part of Paul's apo story. He is not simply an ambassador or a help. He is being trained to fine-tune his emerging apo gift. Initially he is simply taking Paul's gospel. However in the 2 Timothy epistles, he is now encouraged to preach this message as his own.
- "But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all your duties of your ministry..." 2 Tim 4:5 This is the last known communication between Paul and Timothy. For me, I see Paul setting a son free to become an apo father in his own right. These are his coming of age texts, that are worthy being studied through those lenses.
There are several emerging apostles in my world. They are strategically positioned to lead key churches around the world. They do not all know that this mantle rests on them but they soon will. Our task is to journey with them, taking them with us as they get prepared for this future role. Some are a little too arrogant right now as they are running very successful churches. Others do not yet believe it. Like Timothy, they are paralyzed by their frailties. But they are emerging apostles-and we need thousands of them.