Peter Wagner: Apostles: Why The Title
WHY THE TITLE? Numerous individuals have said words to me like this: “I agree that we need apostolic ministry in our churches today, but why use the title? As long as apostles are functioning as apostles, the title doesn’t matter.” Curiously, those who pose this question would not ordinarily use the same reasoning with the title “Pastor.” Most local churches would not be content if their leader said something like, “I can function as your pastor, but please don’t call me Pastor.” No! The title “Pastor,” or sometimes “Reverend,” implies a certain recognized job description within the congregation and a certain role in the community outside the congregation. The same is true of a seminary professor. Only an oddball would say, “I will function as a teacher, but please don’t give me the title of Doctor.”
If we are comfortable with titles for pastor and teacher, why would we be uncomfortable with the title of apostle? Jesus wasn’t uncomfortable. He was the one who introduced the title “apostle” into New Testament life in the first place. We are told that on one occasion Jesus went apart to pray all night, and the next morning He called all His disciples to a meeting. In the meeting, He chose twelve of the disciples to be His top leaders, and He commissioned them with the title “apostles” (see Luke 6:12- 13). In the society of Jesus’ day, “apostle” had important military and political innuendos, and Jesus adapted the term to indicate a specific role in the extension of the kingdom of God. Its basic root meaning in Greek (apóstolos) is one sent with an assignment. However not all those whom Jesus sent were apostles, such as the seventy of Luke 10. The twelve apostles were more than just sent; they were also given apostolic leadership authority that Jesus’ other disciples did not have. The title “apostle” carries through the rest of the New Testament. It appears 74 times as contrasted with “teacher” (14 times), “prophet” (8 times), “evangelist” (3 times), and “pastor” (3 times). The authors of the New Testament epistles identify themselves as “apostle” 11 times as contrasted with “servant” (5 times), “elder” (2 times) and “prisoner” (1 time). I list these numbers in an attempt to show that the current inhibitions that some Christian leaders harbor, preventing them from using the title “apostle,” are undoubtedly rooted more in cultural conditioning than in scriptural exegesis.