Apostles Today Part 3

apostles-today-wagnerWhat are the proof texts for apostles today? It is our duty to examine the claims of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) in light of the Scriptures. On pages 10-12 of his book Apostles Today, three verses are given by Wagner as the Scriptural foundation for recognizing the ongoing office of apostle:

There are three Scripture verses that serve as the primary proof texts for recognizing the gift and office of apostle. Many other texts support this, but these three are core: Ephesians 4:11, Ephesians 2:20, and 1 Corinthians 12:28 (Peter Wagner, Apostles Today [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group: 2012], 10-12).

Let’s consider each one of Wagner’s proof-texts and then examine his interpretation.

Ephesians 2:19-20

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone” (Ephesians 2:19-20).

Commenting on Ephesians 2:20, Wagner writes,

The foundation of the Church through the ages is to be made up of apostles and prophets. . . . If a church has Jesus without apostles and prophets, it has no foundation from which to initiate solid building. The two go hand in hand; there cannot be one without the other.

The wording of this verse—’built on the foundation’— is another reason why I call apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers the ‘foundational’ offices. (Apostles Today, 11).

Here Wagner assumes that modern apostles and prophets are to govern the church through the ages. As noted above, it is based upon Ephesians 2:19-20 that C. Peter Wagner alleges that “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers the ‘foundational’ offices.” Contrary to Wagner’s interpretation, the “foundation” is actually a reference to the past period within the church’s history, not “foundational offices” which are ongoing through the ages.

The apostles are the foundation of the church. According to Ephesians 2:19-20, the apostles were the foundation upon whom the church is to be built. The apostles and prophets are identified as the church’s foundation in a sense secondary only to that of Christ Himself. By definition, the foundation is the lowest load-bearing part of a building which is first laid and built upon thereafter. But laying the foundation is not an ongoing process. A foundation is laid only once. The superstructure of the household of God already has its apostolic foundation and thus excludes the office of apostles today. Thus the foundational office of the apostles was unique and isolated to the first-century church. Their foundational role is based upon being personally chosen by Christ, having eyewitness authority of the risen Christ, and the power to perform miracles.

Jesus also said to the apostle Peter, “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). The church was built upon Peter, being one of the foundational apostles. Also similar to the imagery of the foundation of a building in Ephesians 2:19-20, the apostle John wrote at the end of the Apocalypse, “Now the wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the name of the twelve apostles of the Lamb” (Revelation 21:14). All the apostles were in this foundation of the church, but the figure excludes successors, who are of the superstructure, necessarily.

In addition to Ephesians 2:19-20, the New Testament apostles and prophets are uniquely grouped together elsewhere in the Scriptures. Speaking of the revelation of the gospel, Paul the apostle wrote, “which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:5). In other passages, Paul recognized the apostles as “first”and thereby further recognized their historically foundational role in Ephesians 2:19-20. In two of his epistles, Paul identified the office of apostle as the first gift that Jesus appointed to serve His churches, followed by prophets (Ephesians 4:11; 1 Corinthians 12:28).


Though Ephesians 2:19-20 refers to New Testament prophets, the New Testament also connects Old Testament prophets with the New Testament apostles. Speaking of the apostles and prophets, Jesus prophesied: “Therefore the wisdom of God also said, ‘I will send them prophets and apostles, and some of them they will kill and persecute,’” (Luke 11:49-51). It appears that Jesus was speaking of the Old Testament prophets who were persecuted by apostate Israel in times past and the New Testament apostles which He chose and sent to preach the Gospel. It is evident that the prophets refer to those of the Old Testament because Jesus said, “For you build the tombs of the prophets, and your fathers killed them” (Luke 11:46). Specifically the “blood of all the prophets” that will be “required of this generation” (Luke 11:50) is “the blood of Abel to the blood of Zechariah” (Luke 11:51), the accounts of Abel and Zechariah being the first and last martyrdoms recorded in the Jewish canon (Genesis 4:1-9; 2 Chronicles 24:20-22). The parable of the wicked vinedressers (Matthew 21:33-41) is also about God’s judgment upon Israel for having beaten, killed and stoned God’s servants, and “last of all he sent his son to them” (Matthew 21:37), thus indicating that the servants who were sent prior to the Son are the Old Testament prophets.

Peter the Apostle exhorted, “that you may be mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2). Once again, the “prophets” and the “apostles” have a unique foundational role in the church for all time. One example within the New Testament itself of how the church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets is the Jerusalem Council. The apostles convened to determine whether or not the Gentile believers should be circumcised and commanded to keep the Law of Moses. The apostle Peter was the first to speak at the Jerusalem Council and he testified of how Gentiles believed the Gospel and their hearts were purified by faith (Acts 15:7-11). Second to speak at the Jerusalem Council, Paul and Barnabas declared how God had worked many miracles and wonders through them among the Gentiles (Acts 15:12). Lastly, the words of James, the Lord’s brother, led the apostles to conclude the council with a declaration that Gentiles should not be commanded to be circumcised or keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:13-21). As the Church is built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:19,20), James quoted from both Peter (an apostle) and Amos (an Old Testament prophet) in order to lay this stone in the established doctrine of the early church.

Ephesians 4:7-8, 11-16

But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. . . And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. (Epehsians 4:7-8, 11-16)

As the verse indicates, the five foundational, governmental, equipping offices are apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher. . . . He subsequently gave gifted people to the Church on two levels: (1) the foundational or governmental level (see Eph. 4: 11), and (2) the ministry level through the saints (see Eph. 4: 12). . . .

Many people refer to them as “the fivefold ministry.” However, this may not be the best term, because “ministry” is not mentioned in verse 11 but in verse 12, as the role of all of the saints, while apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are those who equip the rest of the saints to do their ministry. This may seem like a minor point, but it is the reason I refer to the five ascension gifts as “foundational” or “governmental” or “equipping” offices. (Apostles Today, 10-11).

Wagner says this verse indicates the five “foundational” and “governmental offices.” These gifted men are “foundational” or fundamental to the body of Christ, but only the apostles and prophets are foundational in the sense of Ephesians 2:19-20. And there is actually no indication in the passage to suggest that apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are “governmental.” Neither would it be fair to say that Paul is talking about “offices” in the church here. Ephesians 4:8 says that Christ “gave gifts unto men,” not offices.

In the interpretation of Wagner, there is an underlying assumption that the apostolic and prophetic offices were ongoing, but this is a false premise. Paul was writing at a specific and unique time during the apostolic era when there were indeed apostles and prophets in the church. At that time, God did give some to be apostles and prophets in order to lay the foundation. The twelve apostles and the apostle Paul continue to govern the Church today through the Scriptures. Wagner continues:

A major stumbling block in the minds of many who first hear this news of the Second Apostolic Age has been the assumption that once the apostles and prophets completed their work of laying the foundation of the Church in the first couple of centuries, that ended the divine assignment of apostles on Earth— as if they were no longer needed. This deeply entrenched notion cannot be biblically sustained, however, given the statement of Ephesians 4: 11. After saying that Jesus gave to the Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers for the equipping of the saints for the work of the ministry, the length of time they would be needed is then stated: “Until we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Eph. 4: 13). Who in their right mind can claim that we have arrived at that point? The only reasonable conclusion is that we are still in need of all five offices (Apostles Today, 12-13).

hamon-apostles-prophetsIn his book Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God: God’s End-Time Plans for His Church and Planet Earth, Apostle/Prophet Bill Hamon argues for perpetual apostles and prophets.

Ephesians 4 declares that the fivefold representation, manifestation and personified ministry of Christ in mortal bodies will continue until every member in the Body of Christ is fully matured and equipped in their ministries so that the whole Body is edified, built up and matured (Eph. 4:11-13). Only as all five of the ascension gift ministers function fully and equally in the Church will she enter her predestined purpose of coming into the “unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: … [and by] speaking the truth in love, [she] may grow up into Him in all things, which is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:13,15) (Bill Hamon. Apostles, Prophets and the Coming Moves of God: God’s End-Time Plans for His Church and Planet Earth (Kindle Locations 791-795). Kindle Edition).

This NAR concept is known as Five-Fold Ministry, which is the belief that five governmental offices mentioned in Ephesians 4:11, namely those of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, continue in the contemporary Christian church.

According to Prophet Rick Joyner, the fivefold ministry is the Ephesians 4 Mandate. Joyner expresses the same type of argument as Wagner when he asks, “Do you know of any church on the planet that fulfills this? Any church on the planet which has yet attained to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ? … We need apostles. We need prophets. … And I believe we have many right here in this congregation.”

Likewise, Prophet Kris Valloton, Senior Associate Leader of Bethel Church in Redding, spoke on the role of the five-fold ministry in this way: “God wants to restore the five-fold ministry: the apostle and prophet because He said He gave them until we all attain the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to the measure of the stature that belongs to Christ.”

But today’s apostolic and prophetic movement neglects the fact that the first-century ministries of both the New Testament apostles and prophets did not cease with their death. The church continues to be ministered unto, continues to come to unity of the faith … and to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ by the writings of the apostles and prophets. Through the inspired New Testament, the apostles and prophets continue to perfect the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ. And it is this “perfecting of the saints” and “edifying of the body of Christ” that continues until “we all come in the unity of the faith.” But nothing in Ephesians 4 indicates that apostles and prophets will be present throughout the entire church age. This conclusion against the continuation of apostles and prophets is strengthened by the context of Ephesians, since Paul has already explained that apostle and prophets are “the foundation” (Ephesians 2:20).

1 Corinthians 12:27-28

Now ye are the body of Christ, and members in particular. And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (1 Corinthians 12:27-28)

C-Peter-WagnerWagner writes,

The numbers in the verse, proton (first), deúteron (second), and tríton (third), indicate that this not simply a random selection of gifts and offices. Proton in this instance should be interpreted to mean that apostles are first in order or sequence, not necessarily in importance or hierarchy. Hierarchy is an old-wineskin concept. To put it simply, a church without apostles will not function as well as a church with apostles. . . .

It is fascinating that even though we have had church government backward over the past two centuries according to 1 Corinthians 12: 28, we have evangelized so much of the world! Think of what will happen now that church government is getting in proper order. Administrators and teachers are essential for good church health and will function much better once the apostles and prophets are in place (Apostles Today, 12).

The reference of apostleship in 1 Corinthians 12 is within the context of spiritual gifts, not the governance of the church. From the opening verse: “concerning spiritual gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:1) to the closing verse, “But earnestly desire the best gifts” (1 Corinthians 12:31), Paul is discussing the gifts of the Spirit. In this way the spiritual gift of apostle is first because the apostles laid the foundation for the church throughout history. Second is the spiritual gift of prophecy and so forth. But Wagner falsely teaches “church government . . . according to 1 Corinthians 12:28.”

It is important to understand that Paul was talking about spiritual gifts and not church government. As I pointed out in Part 2 of this series, the spiritual gift of apostle was never encouraged to be desired. Paul said, “But covet earnestly the best gifts: and yet shew I unto you a more excellent way” (1 Corinthians 12:31). And he specifically encouraged them to desire the git of prophecy: “Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy” (1 Corinthians 14:1). In spite of the fact that Paul’s list of spiritual gifts includes apostles and sets them first (1 Corinthians 12:28-29), he never encourages the gift of apostle to be sought. Why didn’t he say, “desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may be apostles” if the spiritual gift of apostle was perpetuated in the Church? The clear implication of Scripture is that the spiritual gift of apostle was not available to anybody else except those men specifically chosen by the Lord.


After studying the proof texts used by the NAR for the office of foundational apostles today, it is evident that those passages actually teach the opposite. Wagner goes on to say, “To put it simply, a church without apostles will not function as well as a church with apostles.” Again, none of these passages are a prescription for ongoing church government. The governance of the church has always historically been bishops and deacons (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1; Philippians 1:1). The Christian faith is preserved in the Church by those bishops or teachers who proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ based upon the authoritative and apostolic authors of the Scriptures.

See Also:

Apostles Today Part 1

Apostles Today Part 2