It was one of those weeks when I heard repeated stories of sin in the church- the usual stuff involving sex, money and power. Typically, this depressed me. My prayers led me to struggling with a major issue I believe is blocking true reformation and revival in the church today. I was feeling overwhelmed by the influence of some extraordinarily gifted “apostolic” church leaders in whom I was unable to discern holiness of life. (Paul takes the manifestation of the cross to be the inner test of true apostleship (1 Cor 2:1- 5; Galatians 6:14); the outer test is signs and wonders (Rom 15:19; 2 Cor 12:12).)
In praying into this question I felt the key I was given was that Jesus was “taken away” to the Father. Biblically, this is his ascension into heaven (Acts 1:2, 7, 9, 11). The ascension is the starting point in understanding genuine apostolic gifting for it is through returning to God that Jesus receives the Father’s gifts of leaders to give to the church (John 17:6; Eph 4:8). Apostles are the most strategic of these gifts.
The task of apostles is to equip “the saints” for works of ministry (Eph 4:12). As the rest of the passage reveals, the result of this is the unity and maturity of the body of Christ. If this unity and maturity is lacking, as in the contemporary Australian church scene, something is falling down in the apostle – “saints” connection. The insight I received on this was how many of our contemporary “apostles” are very different from the “holy apostles” spoken of in the New Testament (Eph 3:5).
“Saints” simply means “holy people”. Everywhere that ordinary believers are addressed in the New Testament they are given the status of “holy people” (Acts 9:13; Rom 1:7; 1 Cor 1:2; Eph 1:1; Heb 6:10; Jude 3; Rev 5:8 etc.). We are people set apart from the world to have intimate fellowship with a holy God (2 Cor 6:14-7:1; 1 Peter 1:15). The scandal of sin in the New Testament, the fact that it is treated as a shocking thing (e.g. 1 Cor 5:1- 13), derives from the deep contradiction between Christian status and practice. God is currently appalled at the general state of the church in our nation (Jeremiah 2:12). If we are not distressed it is because we have forgotten that we are holy, and if we have forgotten we are holy it is because we are lacking “holy apostles and prophets” to remind us of this (Eph 3:5).
The essential nature of the gift of the apostle is that they are given to us by the heavenly Jesus. Like Jesus, they are “in” the world but not “of” it (John 17:11, 14, 16). Their essential nature is to be heavenly “other – worldly” people. This does not mean a failure to connect with everyday needs, such as pain and poverty, or the profession of some false humility, but it does mean a holy lifestyle that is visibly free from immersion in the temporary concerns of life. This is how apostles image to the church that its identity is holy.
The great problem today is that many “apostles” are operating as though there was an essential connection between their gifting and the demands of our culture. They have become servants of the culture in the church rather than of Jesus. These people have much to say about money, status and security, often leading high flying lifestyles as a proof of their spiritual authority. In other words they image the very opposite of the true holiness of the church. (Little is said about the way of self emptiness and voluntary poverty that is the sacrificial power of the cross 2 Cor 8:9; Phil 2:5 -11).
When the world looks at the church it therefore sees a spiritualised veneer over a value system that is promoted as being able to facilitate a better life. This is a far cry from the prediction of Jesus that the world would hate his apostles (John 17:14). The consequences of this go much further than friendship between the world and the church (James 4:4).
If the most visible section of the church in Australia is living a consumerist lifestyle this cannot reflect to the world that its ultimate destiny is destruction (2 Peter 3:8 -13). Nor can the world see by the sacrificial life of believers that the important world is the world to come. Your average Aussie is being given very little evidence from the contemporary church that their true destiny is in the “heavenly places” (Eph 2:6) with Jesus. It looks very much like we can have the best of both worlds, despite the words of Jesus (Matt 6:24). God is a “Holy Father” (John 17:11) and he is deeply disturbed by our current state of affairs.
I doubt very much that the high profile contemporary apostles spoken of will turn away from the very successful (numbers wise) direction they have taken. If this is so, we must ask our Father to raise up another generation of holy leaders that can lead the church out of its present wilderness experience and into the fullness of life God has planned for it and the people of Australia.
Only such a generation of apostolic and prophetic teachers will be able to instruct the church to look past the realm of gifting (which can be corrupted) into the incorruptible heavenly sphere (Matt 6:19 -21) and so understand who we all are “in Christ”. Then none of us will be intimidated or overwhelmed by the present state of affairs. We will move past regarding any person from a human point of view and judge everything according to the new creation that has come in Jesus (2 Cor 5:16- 17). After all, there will be no apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers or evangelists in eternity. So why should we be controlled by their presence now?
I want to end this message on a positive note. The visit of Brother Yun, the so-called Chinese “Heavenly Man”, saw thousands of Perth Christians flock to his meetings. I believe that this represents a deep spiritual hunger for something that is not being provided by our safe, secure and affluent churches today. May God increase this thirst for the heavenly reality of Christ until his people in Perth are willing to “suffer the loss of all things” (Phil 3:8) for the sake of the cause of Jesus.