Home > Uncategorized > First Apostles, Second Prophets…

First Apostles, Second Prophets…

Today the church of Jesus Christ is going through a great transformation. My wife, Maria, and I have the privilege of first-hand awareness of these transformations on three continents! Many around the world are hearing the same call. Pastor Sung Hee Lee, a prominent Christian figure in Korea, has listed some of these transformations that we will see in the 21st century church:

from Sunday church to everyday church
from a great congregation ministry into small group ministry
from a gathering church into a sending church
from clergy centered to laity centered
from authority of the pastor into leadership of the pastor
from discipleship training into apostolic training

What I want to make special note of in this article is the last transformation listed: from discipleship training into apostolic training. In my words, recovering apostles and prophets who lay the foundation of the church, above all, where there is no church!

For this we have unmistakable evidence and agreement in the NT, regardless of our present day position, of the role of apostles and prophets in building the church.

* “And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues.” 1 Cor. 12:28

* “You are of God’s household, having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Himself being the corner stone.” Eph 2:19-20

* “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers…to the building up of the body of Christ.” Eph. 4:11-12

Stuart Murray writes similarly in Church Planting – Laying Foundations (1997):

“For church planting movements, the identification and deployment of apostles (and prophets) is arguably highly significant… Many churches [in Acts] were planted by unknown men and women, rather than by recognized apostles… But there are passages that seem to link apostles closely with church planting. Some have suggested that apostles and prophets are foundational ministries in a way neither pastors nor evangelists are. Although Jesus Himself is the “cornerstone”, churches are built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Eph 2.20). A mark of Paul’s apostolic ministry was that he laid foundations (1 Cor. 3.10), and that he did not build on foundations laid by others (Rom. 15.20).”

Where Have You Gone, Apostles and Prophets?

I feel many struggle with the idea that we are limiting God if we become too sticky on this point! I often hear: “God is a God of infinite variety and diversity, not a ‘cookie cutter’ god!”. What matters to me most of all, however, is not the actual use of the word “apostle” but rather its role/function restored to pioneer church planting and God’s order re-established in the unreached corners of the globe!!

Once again from Murray:

“The use of the term apostle is less important than the effective deployment of apostles, by whatever they are known. Apostles are trans-local rather than local leaders, and their focus is on mission rather than maintenance.”

If Jesus said “First, Second, Third…”, we don’t just have the freedom to say: “Second, Third, First”. Or worse (and more often the case): “Tenth, Sixth, Nineteenth…” !

Isn’t this somewhat like the error of David in bringing the ark back to Jerusalem, missing God’s order, “line-by-line”, for the re-establishing His church. “We did not inquire of Him about how to do it in the prescribed way”. I Chron. 15:13 (NIV)

According to the Pattern

Dear brothers and sisters, there is a “prescribed way” Jesus will build His church. There is a pattern!

“When the tabernacle in the wilderness was built exactly ‘according to the pattern’ (Heb 8:5; Ex 25:9) given to Moses in the mountain, the glory of God’s presence came down and filled the Holy of holies…If we build according to the pattern God has given us in the NT, we can confidently expect a much greater manifestation of His power and glory in our day.” (Edwin Stube)

God didn’t bend the rules with David or Moses and he surely won’t with you and I.

Consider with me the “prescribed way “of church planting revealed in Acts:

* In Cyprus when the apostles Paul and Barnabas faced direct opposition to their work from Elymas the magician, they called on the name of God and brought His judgment upon him, which led directly to the salvation of Sergius Paulus (who had earlier asked for the apostles to come and share the word of God with him)! “Then the proconsul believed when he saw what had happened, being amazed at the teaching of the Lord” Acts 13:12

Without that power encounter, I argue, they would have left that island “empty handed”, their time spent in discussions, talking, etc. and no fruit! If God would have started first with administrators, helpers, givers, encouragers, gifts of mercy… the church in most places would have never gotten planted!

* In Iconium a great multitude believed, both Jews and Greeks (Acts 14), but as in most other places where the apostles labored, “the unbelieving Jews stirred up the Gentiles, and embittered them against the brethren.” Therefore Paul and Barnabas spent extra time in that city speaking boldly to the people and “the Lord was bearing witness to the word of His grace, and granted signs and wonders to be done by their hands.” These evidences of divine approval had a powerful influence on those in Iconium, both believers and non-believers alike.

Again, without those power displays (which are the signs of a “true apostle” 2 Cor 12) they would have left with an infant church struggling terribly in the midst of an “embittered” people, if not altogether snuffed out shortly thereafter!

* In Lystra Paul discerns by the Holy Spirit that a man who had never walked had faith to be healed! “Stand upright on your feet!” Paul said with a loud voice and another church of the Master was born! Would the “pastor/teacher” have had the discerning spirit and the eyes of faith to bring “God’s goods” to that man? How you answer that question is critical.

In the most helpful book about church planting I know, “According to the Pattern” (1982), Edwin Stube writes about apostles as well:

“An apostle is sent by God to begin a work. The apostle Paul went from place to place, led by the Spirit, evangelizing and establishing congregations in places where there were formerly no Christians. An apostle must be able to manifest all the gifts of the Spirit – prophesy, heal the sick, cast out demons, etc. – because in a new place there are no others to do these things. He does the works of Jesus and reveals Jesus’ power. The apostle does not speak with his own words, but with the words that are given by the Holy Spirit.”

Since Jesus is the Way, we must do it His Way!

Our passion: To see church-based apostolic individuals, who are sent out by twos and threes to the “unreached” ends of the earth, to lay the foundations and work themselves out of a job by building congregations which can quickly stand on their own two feet.

Of course, apostles are made not born!

Timothy was a young boy when Paul hand-picked him from his home and took him on-the-road, along with Silas. Their friendship /co-working lasted nearly 20 years! Timothy was directly mentored on the job, just like Jesus did with the 12. Certainly this is a process as well, witness young Mark who left the apostolic team once in fear and utter failure. Three years later the famous riff between Paul and Barnabas ensued over Mark and the two apostles painfully split up…Years later Paul writes from prison in Rome telling Timothy to bring Mark with him when he comes for “he is helpful to me in my ministry”. Evidently, Mark measured up to his call, but it didn’t happen over night, wasn’t without hardship and difficulties, and wasn’t as “pain-free” as getting on a plane and heading to another country…

Yours for the least in the Kingdom,

Jeff Gilbertson

Categories: Uncategorized
  1. May 12, 2008 at 1:09 AM

    I can’t think of a single time I have ever heard a message on the 1 Cor. 12 passage that you quote above. Isn’t it strange that those passages are so ignored by those preaching the Word of God?

    While I thought this another “Best of Jeff” post, what ideas do you have for practical ways of restoring apostlic and prophetic types to active duty in today’s church? It is one thing to say this is something that must be done, but our experience locally is that those with these callings/roles/functions have been marginalized now for quite some time. Those calling the shots are nearly exclusively the pastoral types.

  2. May 12, 2008 at 10:27 AM

    Great post. This one is definitely a thought provoker. In order to do this we would need to adjust our sending strategy. We currently send people based on their willingness and a job need. We don’t really focus too much on giftedness or abilities. We send people out that have “attended” church but never “planted” a church. Typically very little happens and they end up discouraged. If we focused on reclaiming the role of apostle then I think it could lead to more effective CP. I may once again use your article as a springboard for a post on my blog.

  3. May 15, 2008 at 1:23 AM

    Guy, We are quite sure that apostles and prophets are functioning around the world but are unknown and unseen by the majority. We think what is needed is more of a return to a biblical apostolic succession where Paul types find Timothy’s and get them started. Pls. note that Timothy was not from Paul’s native land but was from the field! If we could only follow through on this one point we would be in much better shape in reaching all nations…

    We do not need masses of house church church planters from the USA to suddenly “discover” the unreached people groups but rather a handful of apostles and prophets like Paul and Barbabas who raise up future workers from the field.

    Jeff G

  4. May 15, 2008 at 6:01 PM

    Question: how do you define “apostle”? I know that TBN has a lot of “Apostles” and “Prophets” and “Bishops” and all that, but I have yet to see someone who functioned remotely close to the role of an Apostle like the Twelve, James, Paul, or even Timothy and Titus (who both appear to be apostolic delegates).

    I’m personally not sure if the Scriptures actually indicate that the authoritative role of Apostles (with a capitol “A”) are indeed going to reappear.

    I am not opposed to people functioning in “apostolic” roles, nor am I certain that “Apostles” cannot function anymore. I’m just curious about you defining these a terms a bit more, if you can.

    Regarding the prophetic – I think it depends on what “stream” you flow in. We have a lot of prophetic ministry during our corporate worship gatherings. I’m told this is because I’m an advocate for prophetic ministry, so I’m not sure this is a good example. Yet I also know of many other congregations that flow in the prophetic as well as other ministries (e.g. IHOP in Kansas City, Morningstar, etc.).

    My only concern regarding the prophetic is that people develop prophetic character and maturity before being “released” to “do the stuff.” Prophets need to be pastored, IMO.


  5. Jeff G
    May 15, 2008 at 6:27 PM

    Luke, Off the top of my head I think I counted 28 named apostles in the NT. The 12 plus Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14,) Luke Timothy, Silas, etc.

    I see no need to imagine Ephesians 4:11, “And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastor(s) and teachers” to have died out with the apostles or when the Bible was completed.

    1 cor 12 says “Apostles first…” and that was already 25 years after the death of Jesus.

    I think the pureset form of an A(a)postle is someone who plants a church where there was none. And then stays around long enough to put in place sometype of eldership (i.e. not the TBN version but Titus 1 / 1 Tim 3)

    Notice that prophets and teachers were ministering and fasting before the Lord in Ac ts 13 and then the HS seperates Saul and Barnabas. In Acts 14:14 these same prophets and teachers are now called apostles: “The apostles Barnabas and Paul tore their garments when they heard this and rushed out into the crowd, shouting,
    “Men, why are you doing this?…”

    Thanks for chiming in!! I appreciate your heart and ministry.

    Jeff G

  6. May 16, 2008 at 12:57 AM


    Thanks for the response. Your point about needing more true apostles and prophets, rather than a bunch of Stateside church planters is so true. Identifying the apostles and prophets amongst us should be something we give higher priority to.

    On another note, on my latest blog post, “Some of my favorite bloggers”, I have nominated your blog as one of “Three blogs missionaries ought to be reading”. Keep up the good work.

  7. May 17, 2008 at 6:28 AM


    Thanks for the response. It’s somewhat clarifying.

    As you probably know, there are many Continuationists who believe in the present gifts of the Holy Spirit but do not believe that Apostles (capital “A”) exist (or ever will). This is based largely upon the exegesis of Eph. 2:20 and 3:5, along with an understanding of the two qualifications of apostleship (cf. Grudem’s Systematic Theology, p. 906). Grudem has done some excellent exegetical (and theological) work in this area, concerning both apostles and specifically prophets (his work is a standard text on NT prophesy and prophesy for today).

    At any rate, I’m not convinced either way, though I would probably lean more on the “conservative” side.

    One thing I would venture to express is that the need for apostolic Christianity is there. This goes across the board – from the bottom to the top. I’m sure you’d agree.

    Great thoughts. I love reading your blog. Blessings,

    luke g.

  8. Ralph Bosch
    July 20, 2008 at 5:14 AM

    Hi, Just read some of your responses.
    Thought I would ask you if you know of any apostles and prophets personally.
    As I understand, the “Church” is built on the foundation of Ap/pr which is built on the “Word” “Christ” who “Speaks”, thus hear his voice “revelation” “life” through the work of the Holy Ghost. Don’t see or hear much of the work of the Spirit in many organisations, Just a lot of mens tradition. Thought I may ask if they “A/P”
    are functioning outside the thing we call church. Ralph

  9. July 21, 2008 at 10:37 PM

    Ralph, I would say that there are indeed apostles and prophets as per Eph. 4. functioning in their gift, just as there are evangelists and teachers. Many are out there “doing the work” and not sitting next to you and me in the pew.

    It seems to me that an apostle is “one who is sent” to plant churches where there are none. Paul said “I planted, Apollos watered but God gave the growth.” This is still happeneing today all over the globe…

    jeff G

  1. June 20, 2008 at 7:04 AM

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