A RESPONSE TO JIM McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP THEORY
by John F. Toner
(Written in response to the Leadership Manual)
ONE CANNOT help but admire Jim McCotter, both for the work that he is doing, and for his living example of Christian faith. The author is quite impressed with the movement which Jim is leading and has spent the past seven years following Christ within that movement. Recently, some ideas for structuring authority and decision-making power within this movement have been proposed in a book, Leadership: Elders and Apostles  (hereinafter, "Manual"). Although they have a certain logical appeal and are somewhat inviting, Jim's ideas concerning apostleship are merely that—Jim's ideas. They are not, as the Manual asserts, scripturally mandated as the way to structure church relations for every church or group of churches.
The thesis of this paper is that Jim's apostleship theory does not have the clear scriptural support that he suggests it has, Nonetheless, his ideas appear to be acceptable on the whole, and they should be pursued whole-heartedly by all those who wish to do so. Christians, and entire churches, should feel full freedom in Christ to adopt or reject Jim's apostleship theory as they see fit. But, if adopted, it must not be considered as God's only way to structure church relations. Rather, if adopted, it must be done so only on the basis that it is a very godly man's idea on how to make churches more effective for Christ.
In the Manual Jim, perhaps unconsciously, subtly directs the reader to think a certain way, to view various scriptures in a particular light, and then to draw certain pre-determined conclusions from God's Word. It is the author's view that readers should look at the Scriptures with a fresh, questioning, open mind, and discover what God is telling them from His Word. Readers should be wary of accepting anyone's construction of Scripture, including the present author's. Christians are obliged to obey what God's Word says, not what someone else says it says. As a result, readers should feel free to agree, or disagree, with Jim's or anyone's construction of Scripture.
The reader is therefore invited to consider the ideas presented in this paper, along with those presented in Jim's Manual, with an active, inquisitive mind. This is not a call to unbelief or skepticism. Rather, it is merely encouragement to obey God's Word. (Isaiah 1:18, "Come now, let us reason together.")
I. McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP THEORY RESTATED: GENERAL PRINCIPLES
It appears that in the Manual Jim asserts the following general tenets for his theory:
1. The first century church (hereinafter, "early church") "reached the world" with the gospel. Manual, p. 47).
2. The early church was organized into a precise structure of authority, and such structure was critical to the success of the early church. This structure was founded upon a hierarchy, network, "webbing," or what-have-you of church authority or decision-making power, with apostles being at the pinnacle of that structure, or the center of that "web." Stated differently, apostles were "the most important ingredient for the church." (Manual, p. 74).
3. For any church to repeat the success of the early church, such church must organize its structure along the lines used by the first century church, which means, that such church must have apostles, and must give them the full authority and status which they were accorded by the early church.
The picture presented by the Manual is that of a church at war with the world. The
church is like an army, it suggests, with a Commander-in-Chief (Christ), lieutenants
(apostles), corporals (prophets and such), and infantry-men (the rest of us). Even
the cover of the Manual makes clear this analogy to an army's structure of authority,
as it is covered with various insignia of armed services awards and/or rank designations,
and makes reference to a raging spiritual war on the reverse cover. The book suggests
that modern churches must either return to this "scriptural" army-like form, or
be forever falling short of God's will (at least by 50%).
II. PROBLEMS WITH McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP THEORY: GENERAL PRINCIPLES
A. The First Century Church Never Reached the World
This is a small point, but worth noting. First, if the early church had reached the world with the gospel, then every person would have heard the good news, the great commission would have been fulfilled, and Jesus would have returned. This has not yet happened. Second, neither the Scriptures nor any history book known to the author records the early church as having reached any of the following populated areas: most of Africa; N. America; S. America; Australia; Pacific Islands; Malaysia; Asia (India, China, Mongolia, Russia); and much of northern Europe.
Regardless, however, of how far the early church went geographically, Christians must still obey what the Scripture says today.
B. Form Over Substance
Perhaps by emphasizing the structure of the early church, Jim is elevating form over substance in the Manual. He openly argues that for any church to repeat the successes of the early church, it must necessarily repeat the structural form of the early church.
Such reasoning, form leads to substance, has led to error in the past for some G.C.I. churches. Not too long ago it was taught, at least in some G.C.I. churches, that churches should "meet" in homes only, and not in "church buildings." Why? 'Because the early church did it that way. If anyone is to repeat the success of the early church,' it was reasoned, 'then surely they must first repeat the form.' This doctrine was so strong that, when the church in Ames first contemplated building a "church building" it was joked about as being "heresy."
"Home worship" at times came close to being a point of pride in the G.C.I. movement, a point of comparison to others where G.C.I. churches felt more superior, or more "scriptural" because of the form of their meetings. However, home worship has fallen into disuse. This practice of the early church is no longer seen as critical to achieving the substance of the early church, close fellowship. Could it be a similar mistake now to argue that we "must" have some other form of the early church to obtain the results which the early church had?
C. Form Misunderstood: Not an Army, A Body
Though form is not to be overly emphasized, it does have its place. Jesus praised the Pharisees for their thoroughness in observing the formality of tithing, yet He rebuked them for failing to comply with the substance of the law (Luke 11:42). What, then, does the Scripture say about the form of the church of God?
It says that we are a body, and not an army, or a corporation, or a franchise operation, or anything else. In an army or a franchise operation, there is a hierarchy of authority; heads, sub-heads, sub-sub-heads and so on. In a body there is only one head, but a variety of other members. Every member in a body responds directly to the head, never to a sub-head in the body. Just as the nervous system places every body member directly in contact with the head, so the Word of God and the Holy Spirit place each believer directly in contact with the Head of the body, Jesus Christ.
An authority structure based upon the structure of an army, or modern-day corporations, or franchise operations comes not from the Word but from the world. The Scriptures teach that we are all a priesthood of believers, each directly responding to God. The authority of Scripture itself, and every believer's obligation to understand it for himself, is how Christ exercises His headship. This was settled by the Reformation hundreds of years ago. Jesus doesn't want an army, or a corporation or a franchise business. Neither does He want us to work to "achieve" unity. Rather, He wants us to receive and walk in the one-ness which we already have in Him (John 17). He doesn't command us to develop unity, but rather to preserve it (Eph. 4:3).
III. McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP THEORY RESTATED: SPECIFIC ARGUMENTS
To more thoroughly analyze Jim's arguments, the specific tenets of his apostleship theory must be considered one at a time. With apologies for any errors in transcribing, the following appear to be the points upon which Jim's theory rests:
A. Apostles are the Key to the Success of the Church
1. Scripture commands us to seek the "greater" gifts (I Cor. 12:31a).
2. The "greater" gifts are the "speaking" gifts.
3. The greatest speaking gift is the gift of apostleship,
therefore it is the "greatest" gift of all spiritual gifts.
4. Therefore, God commands us to earnestly seek after the gift of apostleship.
B. Apostles are Still for Today1. Scripture commands everyone to seek the gift of apostleship (outlined above).
2. This command has never been revoked.
C. For Any Church to Receive the Full Benefit of Apostles, It Must Vest Its Apostles With All The Authority that the First Century Apostles Had
IV. PROBLEMS WITH THE SPECIFICS OF McCOTTER'S APOSTLESHIP THEORY
A. Where Are the Greater Gifts in I Corinthians Chapter 12?
Quite a bit of Jim's apostleship theory rests upon the “command" in I Corinthians 12:31a to "earnestly desire the greater gifts." But how can one know which gifts are greater, so that he may seek those gifts and not the lesser ones? The Manual draws some conclusions here, but are they extracted from the Scripture or superimposed upon it?
1. Easy as l - 2 - 3? "The greater gifts would be those that are mentioned first, second and third" (Manual, p, 56). Jim asks a question: what are the greater gifts? Then he answers it: 'It's clear as mud, the greater gifts are those with numbers, the unnumbered gifts obviously being the lesser ones.' This construction has the advantage of being a simple one, but it is by no means the only construction possible. One problem with this construction immediately presents itself. Jim's construction would mean that apostleship is the gift most to be desired, with prophecy second and teaching third. But I Corinthians 14:1 should make clear that if any gift may be considered the greatest, it is prophecy. (At one point Jim suggests that prophecy and apostleship are so closely related that to speak of one is to speak of the other. However, no scriptural support is ever cited for this proposition and without such support it doesn't make sense.) If Jim is wrong in determining which gift is the greatest, perhaps his determination of the group of gifts which are generally "greater" is equally flawed.
2. “Speaking" vs. "Serving“ Gifts. As noted in footnote 3, Jim makes a great deal about the "two categories" of spiritual gifts. He suggests that all spiritual gifts fit into either a "speaking" or "serving" category.
One problem with these two "categories" is that many gifts simply do not fit into either category. Into which category would one place the gift of giving, or leading, or mercy (Romans 12:8), or the gifts of wisdom, knowledge, faith, or distinguishing spirits (I Cor. l2)? Perhaps some of these gifts could be called "serving" gifts, but certainly not wisdom, knowledge, faith or distinguishing spirits. Yet neither are these gifts listed in Jim's category of speaking gifts (apostles, prophets and teachers). Into which category do they go? Additionally, tongues would certainly appear to be a "speaking" gift if any gift was. Yet Jim treats it not only as a lesser, "non-speaking" gift, but even as an extinct gift. These examples should cause anyone to look upon Jim's two "categories" with at least a little hesitation.
But if the "speaking gifts" don't exist as a category, and a simple numbered gifts versus unnumbered gifts approach isn't a clear enough answer, then how does one locate the "greater" gifts in I Corinthians Chapter 12?
3. Where are the gifts in I Corinthians Chapter 12? In order to find the "greater" gifts in I Corinthians 12, one must first locate the gifts generally. Perhaps not an easy task, because there appear to be two lists of gifts in this chapter. Verses 8-10 list gifts (wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, distinguishing of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues), while verse 28 also has a list (apostles, prophets, teachers, workers of miracles, those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in tongues). In which list are the "greater" gifts to be found?
Upon closer observation one discovers that the first list (vvs. 8-10) describes gifts, while the second list (vs. 28) describes persons. This is made more clear in the New International Version of the the Bible, and it is also the subject of a comment in M. R. Vincent's commentary on the Bible, Volume II, p. 793. If I Corinthians 12:31 commands us to seek the greater gifts, we must first look to the list of gifts, not persons, before we can determine which gifts are greater. Though it may be hard to decide which of these gifts are “greater," it is clear that apostleship is not one of them, because it isn't even on the list!
That these two lists are quite different is also made clear in a second way. The gifts (vvs. 8-10) were "given" by God, while the persons (vs. 28) were "appointed" or "set" by Him. When earnestly desiring a gift, would one seek for God to give him something or to appoint him as something? Once again this leads one to search for the greater gifts in verses 8-10, where "apostleship" is not to be found.
In fact, "apostleship" as a gift is not found anywhere in Scripture. Apostles are always spoken of as "apostles," that is, persons. Ephesians 4:11 speaks of God giving apostles to the church, but they are still referred to as persons, not spiritual gifts. Perhaps when Ephesians 4:11 speaks of God giving apostles to the church, it is in the same sense as His giving His Son to the whole world (John 3:16). We don't look at Jesus as a spiritual gift, but as a person, the cornerstone of the faith. Perhaps apostles should be viewed in a similar vein. Regardless, the "gift of apostleship," as such, appears nowhere in Scripture.
It should also be noted that God could explicitly describe "apostleship"' as a gift if He wanted to. The Scripture refers both to prophets, persons, and the gift of prophecy, a gift. God doesn't leave us any room to doubt about whether prophecy is a gift--He explicitly tells us so. Why would He not do the same for the "gift of apostleship," especially if it is the most important gift? Could it be that God was silent as to the "gift" of apostleship because such "gift" does not exist?
B. Are Christians Really Commanded to Seek the Greater Gifts in I Corinthians 12:31?
1. Alternate translation. Jim uses a Bible which translates I Corinthians
12:31a as saying, "But eagerly desire the greater gifts." This translation, or something
similar, is common to many editions of the Bible, including the New International
Version ("NIV"). However, the NIV also gives an alternate translation in the margin:
"But you are eagerly desiring the greater gifts." This seemingly
subtle difference can make a great change in meaning. Not, "eagerly desire," a command,
but "you are eagerly desiring," an observation. If this verse represents an observation,
and not a command, is the observation good or bad? Is Paul praising the Corinthians,
or scolding them, because they are "eagerly desiring" the greater gifts?
To determine this one should make reference to the verse surrounding I Cor. 12:31a. In I Cor. 12:1-27 Paul describes how all Christians are members of Christ's body. No one member is more important than another. No one gift is more necessary or vital to the body than another. Every member is equally necessary to the body, and if anything, the "lesser" members shall receive greater honor. Verses 28-30 describe how God has appointed different persons in the church, but even these are not to vie for superiority. Then, after all of the above discussion, Paul states in I Cor. 12:31b, "And now I will show you the most excellent way." Chapter 13 immediately follows, describing in detail how love is the most excellent way, and how a believer's focus should be on love and not gifts.
To summarize, Chapters 12 and 13 could be saying: (1) all members of Christ's body are equally important, and all gifts are equally needed (I Cor. 12:1-30) ; (2) "But you are earnestly desiring the greater gifts" (I Cor. 31a); and (3) love is what Christians need to focus upon, not gifts (I Cor. 12;31b and I Cor. 13). It would seem then, that if Paul is making an observation of the Corinthians‘ desire to get the "greater" gifts, he is not praising them for it. Rather, he is instructing them to seek love, not gifts that are "greater."
True, after chapters 12 and 13 are passed, Paul does encourage the Corinthians to eagerly desire spiritual gifts in I Cor. 14:1. (The NIV offers no alternate translation for "eagerly desire" here). However, in light of the prior passage, couldn't Paul mean something like the following? "Corinthians, I earlier scolded you because you placed an inappropriate focus on spiritual gifts, especially those gifts which you thought to be 'greater.' I then told you that love, not gifts, is the most excellent thing to seek. However, don't let my earlier scolding mislead you. Spiritual gifts, in their proper place, are good and you should seek to obtain them, and especially so the gift of prophecy. But don't place an over-emphasis on any gifts.
2. Emphasis of I Corinthians 12 & 13. Perhaps the above argument is not what the Scripture is saying at all. However, even if that be the case, the whole tenor of these chapters seems to emphasize the importance of love and unity, and not the need to acquire the gift of apostleship. Even if Paul is commanding readers to seek the greater gifts, he quickly follows by saying, "And now I will show you the most excellent way." Is this like the passage where Jesus says that no one can follow Him unless they hate their family members (in comparison to their love for Him [Luke 14;26])? If someone were to read this passage and come to the conclusion that Jesus' point was that Christians should hate their families, he would be missing the point. Jesus, rather, is just emphasizing how important it is that His followers be devoted to Him! In a like manner, the main import of I Cor. 12;31a ("eagerly desire") and 12:31b ("I show you the most excellent way") is not that Christians should desire gifts, but that they should pursue love. This is clear by Paul's use of a double, if not triple, superlative form to describe the way of love: THE, MOST, EXCELLENT. How in the world could Paul possibly give more emphasis to love in this verse? Where is the emphasis--on “greater“ (gifts) or "THE MOST EXCELLENT" (love)? Why bother with things merely “greater“ when one may pursue THE MOST EXCELLENT?
C. What Does Jim Mean by the Word "Apostle"?
One problem with Jim's argument for the current need for “apostles" in the church
today is that he does not give one consistent definition for the word, nor does
he use the term consistently. At various points he uses the word “apostle" to mean
any one of the following:
1. Anyone who is sent. Jim states that anyone who is sent on a mission of any kind is an apostle (Manual, p. 48). Thus, a boy sent to the store to get butter for his mother is an "apostle“ for his mother. It's hard to be concerned about the continuing validity of “apostles" if this is what the term means. But, if this is all that is meant, why write a book about it?
2. Gift. Jim also urges that being an apostle, as that term is used in Scripture, is a gift (Manual, pp. 54-60). However, the Scripture never refers to any "gift of apostleship“ as such (see Section IV(A)(3), above). But again, if it is a gift, who would argue against its current validity to today's church? God gives all spiritual gifts. If He decides to give someone this gift today, who is to say He can‘t?
3. Office. Jim never openly refers to "apostle" as an office in the church, but his usage of the term clearly implies no less. For one thing, Jim devotes a section of the Manual to the authority of apostles. Since when did gifts carry with them any authority? Gifts do not carry authority—offices do. By arguing for a position of authority in the body, Jim must very definitely be arguing for the existence of an office in the church.
The allusion to an office of apostle, as opposed to a similar gift, is also clear
from Jim's list of "qualifications“ for an apostle. Since when does Scripture give
qualifications for a gift? God gives gifts, and He gives them to whom He
desires (I Cor. 12:11). If He chooses to give someone a gift, what need is there
for a list of qualifications? If God has determined that someone should have the
gift of, say, prophecy, then He gives them the gift of prophecy. Period. He doesn't
give a list of qualifications for people who are fit to hold the gift of prophecy,
because He has already decided who is qualified. Qualifications are listed for offices,
because men are to "recognize" office-holders in the church. In order to be able
to know who to recognize, and who not to recognize, God helps men by giving them
a list of qualifications. However, men have absolutely nothing to do with
deciding who is entitled to hold a certain gift and who is not. If God chooses to
give some sister the gift of prophecy, who can stand against God and say that she
is not "qualified" to have that gift?
Therefore, there is no need at all for a list of qualifications for any of the gifts, and the use of a list of qualifications must mean that Jim is really referring to an office, and not a gift.
D. Problems with Jim's "Qualifications" for Apostles
In the Manual (pp. 79-85) Jim lists what he sees to be the qualifications for an apostle; However, Jim's "qualifications" raise many probelems [sic], as listed below.
1. Not in Scripture. The major problem with Jim's qualifications for apostles is simply that--they are Jim's qualifications. They are listed nowhere in the Bible.
2. Conspicuous by absence. The fact that these qualifications are not listed anywhere in the Bible is distressing enough by itself. But logic would dictate that, if there were to be an office of apostle with continuing valdity [sic], the Scripture would have a list of qualifications for such an office. The Scripture explicitly lists qualifications for deacons (I Tim. 3), and this office doesn't even carry with it any authority over the church. The Scripture explicitly lists qualifications for elders, not once, but twice (I Tim. 3 and Titus 1). If God went to such detail to explicitly list qualifications for elders and deacons, would He do less for apostles if He intended for this office to continue to the present day? If God intended for there to be an office of apostle established, would He list qualifications for deacons, an office without authority, and yet fail to list qualifications for apostles? Would He omit such apostolic qualifications if He intended to set up such an office, and intended it to be the "most important ingredient for the church in any age"? (Manual, p. 74).
3. Why must apostles be "recognized" by other leaders?
One of Jim's apostolic qualifications "is that they be recognized, appointed and sent as apostles by other leaders." The Scriptural citation for this point is Acts 13:2. This verse does not indicate that Paul and Barnabas were "recognized" by the elders in Antioch. Quite to the contrary, it indicates that the Holy Spirit called for these two men while a group of them were praying. It wasn't the elders in Antioch, but the Holy Spirit, who "recognized," or more appropriately "called," these two men. Again, if "apostleship" is a gift, not an office, why is there a need for recognition by leaders? If God gives a spiritual gift to someone, must leaders "recognize" such gift for it to be validly possessed and/or exercised by that person?
V. FURTHER OBSERVATIONS
The following observations do not necessarily directly refute
any particular argument presented by the Manual. Nonetheless, they are worth noting
when considering the message of the Manual taken as a whole.
A. Numerous Churches Were Founded by "Non-Apostles"
The book of Acts describes how numerous churches were established by various Christians who, while fleeing from the persecution in Jerusalem, preached the gospel wherever they went. (Acts 8:1-4; 11:19-22). Were these persons "apostles?" "A great persecution broke out...and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria" (Acts 8:1). Apparently they were not apostles, at least according to the literal Scriptures. Most notable of the churches founded by these "non-apostles" was the church at Antioch (Acts 11:19-21), although other churches were founded by them as well. Phillip, who is never referred to in Scripture as an apostle, founded a church in "a city in Samaria" (Acts 8:5-13).
Now Jim may say that these Christians were axiomatically apostles because: (1) they were "sent" (they fled or were "scattered" would be more accurate); and (2) they founded churches. ("Technically, churches would never be founded if there no apostles"--Manual, p. 75.) But, the Scripture makes it abundantly clear that they were not apostles, as “all except the apostles" fled Jerusalem, i.e., all apostles stayed home. So the Scripture makes a definite distinction between those who fled Jerusalem, and those which It refers to as "apostles." If these "scattered ones" were apostles, they must not have been on the same "level" of apostleship as the apostles who stayed in Jerusalem because the Scripture doesn't even call them apostles at all. They weren't Apostles with a capital "A," but nonetheless they were "technical" apostles, because the [sic] founded churches. Is such a distinction between "classes" of apostles supported by Scripture?
B. Scripture Distinguishes the Original Twelve from Later “Sent- Ones" (Is Apostle spelled with a large or small "a"?)
The primary way in which Scripture distinguishes the original twelve from any others whom one might wish to refer to as apostles is the manner in which such persons were commissioned. The Manual itself recognizes three categories of apostles, such categories being based upon Who commissioned such apostles (Manual, p. 49), The Father commissioned the Son; the Son commissioned the twelve; the Holy Spirit commissions all the rest.
Now obviously there are differences between the Apostle whom the Father commissioned (Jesus) and the twelve whom Christ commissioned. Jesus was God's only begotten Son, the twelve were merely sinful men who had been saved by grace. But beyond differences in who was commissioned, there seem to the author to be differences in what these two groups were commissioned to do. The Apostle sent by the Father was sent to redeem mankind from sin. The apostles sent by the Son were to build upon this foundation, Christ the cornerstone, and establish the foundation for the church (Eph. 2:20). So there are differences in function of the apostles, which correspond to differences in who commissioned them.
What, then, of the rest of the "apostles" who Jim claims are commissioned by the Holy Spirit? Are there likewise differences between these and those commissioned by the Son? As we have seen, the commission which the twelve received differed from the commission of the Son, and the job of the twelve was basically to build upon the foundation laid by the Son. It would be logical for the commission of the remainder of the apostles to equally differ from the commissions of Christ and the twelve. These "Holy-Spirit-commissioned apostles" would be commissioned to build upon the foundation laid by the Son, and that laid by the twelve.
Such a distinction seems to be exactly what Ephesians 2:20 is speaking of; "You are...members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone." First comes the work of Christ, the cornerstone of God's house. Next come the apostles, who lay the foundation upon this cornerstone. Finally comes "you," the remainder of Christians, which would include any "apostles" commissioned by the Holy Spirit, to build upon that which Christ and the Apostles have already established.
If there are modern-day apostles, commissioned by the Holy Spirit, logic would tell us that their commission, and authority to carry out the same, would differ from that of the original twelve apostles. Ephesians 2:20 would also seem to indicate this. But one may ask, what about Paul? He seemed to share equal authority and an equal commission to the original twelve apostles.
The reason for this is that Paul, like the twelve, was also personally commissioned by Christ Himself (Acts 26:14-18). Thus Paul somehow fits in with the original twelve like the 13th man of a baker's dozen. Mathias also differs from the twelve in that he was not personally commissioned by Christ. However, Old Testament prophecy, as interpreted by a Spirit-filled Peter, would indicate that his selection was unique and not a pattern for future selections.
So we see that the Scripture distinguishes the original twelve (minus Judas Iscariot, plus Paul and Mathias) from any later ones who might be called (or "sent") as apostles.
C. Differences Between First Century and Present Age Must Be Taken into Account
The Word of God is not relative, and must be fully obeyed no matter what the circumstances. The author does not suggest that God's will differs from age to age. However, let the reader consider for him or herself whether or not the following differences between the first century and the present age should make any difference in understanding the concepts urged in the Manual.
l. Written Word of God. Quite simply, the first century Christians didn't have it and we do. Many of them didn't even have the Old Testament in written form, though many also did. But certainly they did not have the full written New Testament that Christians today have access to. What difference should this make? Lots.
For example, take the situation in the fifteenth chapter of Acts. These early Christians in Antioch were trying to understand the rules of this new covenant brought about through Christ. While clinging dearly to the new covenant of faith in Christ, they wondered if they should also obey the ceremonial laws of Moses. For an answer they had to turn to the apostles, for they had nowhere else to go.
What if this same question were raised today in a modern church? Would the Christians in that church need to send off to the nearest apostles to get an authoritative answer to their question? No. They would simply turn to one of their numerous translations of the New Testament and look up Acts 15. Voilà, they have the answer, not from contacting their current apostles, but by building upon the foundation laid by the first century apostles (remember Eph, 2:20?).
2. Spiritual heritage. Many of the first century Christians had little or no spiritual heritage upon which to draw, and none of them had the great wealth of spiritual heritage which Christians can take advantage of today. Because of Paul's great spiritual heritage in his Old Testament upbringing, he was able to preach Jesus as the Christ with authority to the crowds immediately upon his conversion (Acts 9:20). On the other extreme, the spiritual heritage of those in Lystra was so poor that when they saw the first evidence of the gospel, they immediately wanted to sacrifice animals to Paul and Barnabas as Greek gods (Acts 14:8-13). Obviously, a convert like Paul would not require as much detailed instruction in the faith as would converts the likes of which Paul found in Lystra.
Likewise, our spiritual heritage must be taken into account. Although many current Christians were not raised in Christian homes, there is still a wealth of Christian literature and understanding upon which they can draw. In the first century they were trying simply to figure out what the gospel meant, and how it would work out practically in their lives. What to modern Christians would appear an easy question (must one be circumcised?) was to them a difficult issue. When they needed the thinking of mature, time-wisened, godly men, they had often had to send out of town for counsel. But today Christians can, with a short trip to a local bookstore, have the counsel of Martin Luther, Calvin, C, G. Finney, J. McCotter, Edwards, Moody, Gothard, B. Graham...need I go on? Modern churches can learn from the mistakes, and victories, of numerous other Christians from all ages, including other Christians in other "denominations" today. This difference does not automatically make Christians today any godlier than those two thousand years ago, but it makes it easier for them to be so. Certainly these differences account for something.
D. One Church, or One Denomination?
One last difference between the first century and now is so important as to warrant a separate heading. In the first century there was only one church and one denomination. All Christians seemed to relate to one another on the basis that they were all a part of the same body. Now, however, there are numerous denominations, sects, factions and so on. Oftentimes Christians are asked to "break down their denominational barriers" and be loyal to the world-wide church of God. Why? Because this is the example of the early church. At other times Christians are asked to focus their money, time and efforts within their own denomination, sect or what-have-you, so that they can work closely with those they know and thereby have a greater influence. Why? Because the early church did so.
There is a problem here. Although there is an inherent tension between both of these principles, they both seem to be supported by the example of the early church. The early church was loyal to the church world-wide and to its own denomination, because at that time there was only one denomination! But now Christians seemingly have to choose between the two. This question then presents itself. Which is more important to be loyal to: the church world-wide, or one's own denomination?
Perhaps reasonable minds could differ on this point. It seems, however, to this author that it is much more important to emphasize unity with Christians the world over, even at the expense of downplaying some of our denominational differences so as not to be sectarian. The basics of the faith can never be abandoned, and there are those who refer to themselves as Christians with whom we are certainly not to join. However, there are also millions and millions of Christians the world over with whom we need to be united, preserving the unity that Christ has already given us rather than blocking it with sectarian walls. When the Manual refers to certain "para-church" organizations as basing their ministries on plans made by the devil himself (Manual, p. 100), the author finds this counter-productive to the purposes of the gospel. Did Jesus say that the world would know we were His by our doctrinal purity in our denominationalism, or by our love for one another? Before the G.C.I. movement, or any other movement, goes too far in emphasizing a particular means of achieving the ends of the gospel, let it make sure that it does not deny the gospel itself in so doing.
As noted earlier, the author highly respects Jim McCotter, and appreciates many of the ideas he presents in the Manual. However, due to the above-noted Scriptural concerns, such ideas should not be promoted as being mandated by Scripture. Rather, they must be promoted only as one very godly man’s ideas on how to make churches more effective in reaching the world for Christ.
1. The ideas expressed by the author in this paper are by no means set in stone. They are intended merely to help provide a springboard for open discussion of the ideas presented in the book Leadership: Elders and Apostles. The purpose of this paper is to cause serious reflection upon such book's theories before anyone accepts or rejects them. The author, in turn, openly invites comments upon the ideas presented in this paper, and is ready to grow in knowledge and understanding through prayer, reading the Scriptures and reasoned discussion.
2. Leadership: Elders and Apostles, by Jim McCotter and Dennis Clark, 1984, published by Great Commission International. The reader will not completely understand this article unless reference is made to this book (hereinafter, "Manual"). as this article is but a reply to the ideas expressed in the Manual. This particular paper addresses only issues raised by the Manual's section on Apostles. It is acknowledged that the book has two authors, but for convenience only one author, Jim, will be referred to, and all ideas will be attributed to him.
3. For an example of how the Manual, through subtle suggestion, prompts the reader to reach pre-determined conclusions, consider Jim's treatment of the "two categories" of spiritual gifts.
"First, what are the two categories of gifts?" (Manual, p. 54).
Does this statement raise any questions in readers' minds? It should.
"All gifts mentioned in the New Testament...are condensed into two categories in I Peter 4:11, 'Whoever speaks...whoever serves.' There are 'speaking' gifts and 'serving' gifts." (Manual, p. 54).
Does the reader have any questions yet? One should hope so.
Finally, the Manual repeats these two "categories" over and over again, "speaking," "serving," "speaking," "serving," "speaking," et cetera, in a staccato of constant repetition that drives home Jim's point that Scripture clearly outlines these two categories of gifts. (Manual, pp. 54-55).
What is the net result of the above? The first quote above appears to be a question,
"What?" (are the two categories, etc.), but it is also a subtle but very strong
statement as well: 'Spiritual gifts may be divided into categories. Additionally,
there are only two such categories.' Immediately after making these subtle suggestions,
Jim hits the reader with a barrage of sentences that repeat over and over again
the two categories, "speaking," "serving," "speaking," et cetera. By the time the
reader takes time to look up the verses for himself, assuming that he does so, Jim
already has him presupposing that there are categories of gifts, that there are
two such categories, and that they are (memorized by now) “speaking" and "serving."
When the reader does look up the verses he may very likely "see" these two “categories" of gifts in the Scriptures. But is this due to the fact that these categories are clearly set forth in the verses cited, or because the reader's thoughts have been pre-formed before he ever looks at the Scripture?
The foregoing message is presented only to make the reader aware of the need to read everyone's construction of Scripture, even the present author's very warily. Christians are obliged to obey and believe only what the Scripture says, not what another person says it says.
It must also be noted that no suggestion whatsoever is being made that the authors of the Manual intentionally try to mislead anyone. Rather, it just appears that in their enthusiasm to convince readers of what they believe Scripture to say, they sometimes overstate their case rather than letting the Scripture speak for itself.
4. For what is meant by "apostle," see section IV(C), below.
5. A later section, IV(B) (1) , considers whether I Cor. l2:3la is a command or merely an observation by the apostle Paul.
6. The reader might review footnote 3 at this point.