Response to “To be continued?” #2

In an earlier post, I looked at the opening chapter of Sam Waldon’s To Be Continued?. Waldron is arguing for the cessation of the miraculous gifts with what he calls the ‘cascade argument’. He first seeks to demonstrate that the gift of apostleship has ceased, and then cascades that argument down to the the gift of prophecy, tongue-speaking, and finally miracle-working.

In my earlier post I argued that this line of reasoning was not valid for two key reasons. First, Waldon does not demonstrate that apostleship is a spiritual gift. Second, even if we accept that apostleship is a spiritual gift that has ceased, that would not of itself preclude other spiritual gifts continuing. After all, Waldron only believes that miraculous gifts have ceased, rather than all spiritual gifts. A continuationist could use just the same logic as Waldron to argue that all the foundational gifts have ceased, rather than all the miraculous ones.

So then, to the next chapters of Waldron’s book:

The apostles: who were they?

After all my criticisms of Waldron’s method, you may be surprised to discover that I think this is an excellent chapter. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that this is one of the best short treatments on the apostles that I have read for some time. Referring to Ridderbos’ excellent Redemptive History and the New Testament Scriptures, Waldron defines the Twelve as apostles of Christ, that is representatives personally sent by Jesus Christ. (As distinct from apostles – or representatives – of the church, who are seen elsewhere within the NT.)

Waldron then describes the qualifications for an apostle: eye-witness of the resurrection, appointed by Christ Himself, all confirmed by miraculous signs. All this is very clearly and succintly argued, with plenty of scriptural support.

There is one, minor weakenss to the chapter. He concludes by saying “to reject an apostle was to forfeit Christ and His salvation”, quoting Matthew 10:40 in support; “He who receives you receives me, and he who receives me receives the one who sent me.” Waldron follows that quotation by adding

“Those who profess to be apostles… must see themselves as clothed with the authority of Christ Himself so that if one rejects them one rejects Christ. Until they are ready to be this brave, bold, and brazen, they should cease calling themselves apostles. (pp 31-32)

Yet although that command was initally given to the apostles, a very similar one was later given to the seventy (two); “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me.” (Luke 10:16). The language of these two ‘sendings’ is sufficient for me to believe that the two warnings have the same meaning: if you reject Christ’s messenger, you reject Christ’s message, and you reject Christ Himself.

In New Covenant days, the instructions given to the twelve, and then to the seventy-two, are universally applicable, though that is not to say that it didn’t resonate particulary with the twelve. When we read the Great Commission in Matthew 28, we understand that there was both a particular relevance in Jesus’ words to the twelve, but also a universal application to all believers. The same is true of Matthew 10 and Luke 10. If I take the gospel to an unconverted friend, and the friend rejects me and rejects my message, then he has rejected Christ – whether I’m an apostle or not (and I’m not ;-)).

Are there apostles today?

Waldon then deals with the inevitable follow-up question: are there apostles today? He gives five reasons why he believes not. Again, I found Waldron’s arguments compelling. Firstly, he argues that apostles are foundational in the church. As he points out, the evidence for this basic point is very strong (Ephesians 2:20, Matthew 16:18, Revelation 21:14). Second he points out that Paul says he was the last apostle (1 Corinthians 15:5-9). Fourth, no modern apostle can be endorsed by the original apostles, and fifth the closed canon suggests a closed apostolate.

Waldron acknowledges that on their own, each argument wouldn’t necessarily be seen as conclusive. But taken together, he believes, it is indisputable.

Eagle-eyed readers may have noticed that I missed out a ‘thirdly’ in the paragaph above. Waldron’s third piece of evidence (that Paul implies the gift of apostleship should not longer be sought) is his weakest – largely because he does not convincingly make his case that apostleship is a spiritual gift. Nowhere in scripture is it described as such (I have dealt with Ephesians 4:11-13 and 1 Corinthians 12:28-29 in my earlier post).

An earlier reader asked why I made such a distinction between office and gift when the two seem as they belong together. Belong together they must, but an office-bearer is much more than a spiritually-gifted individual.

  • An office-bearer is recognised by the local church. Although spiritual gifts ought always to be exercised for the good of the church, 1 Corinthians reminds us that is not always the case. By submitting to the will of the church in confirming his calling, an office-bearer is purposefully putting his gifts for their benefit.
  • An office-bearer sometimes requires more than one spiritual gift. Apostles have multiple spiritual gifts. Elders require gifts of teaching and leadership, as do pastor-teachers.
  • Some office-bearers don’t require any spiritual gifts to be qualified! (See 1 Tim 3:8-13)
  • Whenever guidance is given concerning office-bearers, far more emphasis is placed on a man’s character than on his gifting.

All this means that we cannot assume because an office is mentioned in the New Testament, that there must be a corresponding and equal gift. The evidence simply isn’t there.

But that does not detract from Waldron’s overall argument that the office of apostle has come to an end. The evidence really is overwhelming, and there is more that Waldron does not mention (and I shall have to leave that for another day).

I’m afraid I don’t have much patience for those who believe that although there are no apostles like Paul, there are still apostles today. Clearly there are in the NT what Waldron calls ‘small-a’ apostles. But they are apostles of local churches – they are not leaders of denominations, or men with oversight over many churches. That responsibility belongs to ‘large-A’ apostles alone. I suppose I could stomach ‘small-a’ apostles more easily if they didn’t so often portray themselves as ‘large-A’ apostles in all but the writing of Scripture.

But back to Waldron’s argument. If apostleship is not a gift, then his cascade has not yet started. In order to find out whether the gifts have truly ceased, we will have to look afresh at the gift of prophecy another time.

Articles in this series:

  1. Response to “To be continued?” #1
  2. Response to “To be continued?” #2 <-- This article
  3. Response to “To be continued?” #3

Comments

  1. A few thoughts:
    First, I don’t see how 1 Corinthians 15:5-9 teaches that Paul was the last apostle. It simply says he witnessed the risen Christ later than the others.
    Second, if apostles have a “foundational” role, why should that imply they are no longer needed? Church planting is still going on, and existing churches need to be built up.
    Third, I am unclear as to who cessationists such as Waldron consider to be the “twelve apostles of the Lamb”? Is Paul one of them (Rev 21:14)? What about Matthias (Acts 1:26)?
    Fourth, I don’t see why the apostles are so strongly linked to the writing of Scripture by cessationists. Most of the 12 apostles did not write any Scripture, and there are at least 6 books of our New Testament written by non-apostles. Thus I don’t see a neccessary connection between the closed canon and the closed apstolate.

    For the record, I do agree that there were aspects of the ministry of the “12” that are unrepeatable. However, even in the New Testament, other people could be called apostle (Acts 14:4 – Barnabas) without threatening the uniqueness of the 12.

  2. Mark, thanks for your quick comments. Let me try and respond.

    1. 1 Corinthians 5:9 does tells us that Paul witnessed the risen Christ later than the others. But Paul uses the word ‘last’, which also confirms that He hadn’t appeared to anyone else since. Could Jesus Christ have appeared to others since Paul? If so, then those people could claim to be apostles – apostles were primarily witnesses of the resurrection, of course (Acts 1:22). If not, then there can be no apostles today – because there cannot be witnesses of the resurrection today.
    2. When we speak of foundational, we speak of foundational to the Church (large C), not to local churches (small c). New churches are still being established, but The Church has already been established. The three texts given all refer to The Church. Note the past tense of Ephesians 2:20 (built on the foundation), and note from Revelation 21:14 that there was no expectation to be more than 12 foundation stones.
    3. Were there only 12 apostles? Clearly the NT seems to suggested that. But remember the twelve tribes of Israel. There were twelve, weren’t there? Actually, no. Ephraim and Menasseh bring the total to 13 – unless Levi doesn’t count. The point is that the NT (and OT) are quite happy to speak of the twelve, even though we’re not always entirely sure exactly who the twelve are. But that’s very different from saying there could be 1200. (So personally I don’t think Matthias was one of the twelve, but I could be wrong.)
    4. I think I kind of agree with you here. I don’t see a neccessary connection between the closed canon and the closed apostolate either – because not just apostles wrote scripture. Yet I would say that the reason the canon is closed is the same as the reason the apostolate is closed – ie the foundation is now built. We do not need more revelation, we await the return of Christ.
    5. We’ve got to be a bit careful with Barnabas by the same logic as we include him in the apostles in Acts 14:4 we have to exclude him in Acts 4:36 and 9:27 (though Acts 14:14 is clearer). But as Waldron accepts, small-a apostles did have a ministry in Acts (and could today). In that we (and Waldron) agree. The question that you (and I) have to ask is the difference between modern small-a apostles and NT large-A apostles? The key difference is this – they had to use the word ‘apostle’ as ‘apostle’ was a normal word in the local language – meaning ‘sent one’ or ‘representative’. So for consistency and clarity, we should use normal words in our local language for those who have that commission today.

    Thanks for your comments. I look forward to receiving more in the future!