|FATHERS AND SONS
Dr. Stephen Crosby
I AM REVEALED
Sep 23 2012
shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a
curse. (Malachi 4:5-6)
I write not these things to shame you, but as my beloved sons I warn you. For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet
have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. (I Corinthians 4:14-15)
Over the last fifteen or twenty years much has been taught and written concerning spiritual fathers and spiritual sons.
Teaching within the apostolic renewal regularly refers to apostles as spiritual fathers (as well as other metaphors) and
those under their covering as sons. The father-son relationship is allegedly the model from which leaders conduct
effective ministry and the way to build local churches according to God’s prescribed order. Governmental alignment to
a covering apostolic father is presented as the prerequisite to divine blessing and unity under a singular (fathering)
head who provides ministry cohesion and direction. It is alleged by many that only a single executive head can provide
the necessary unity for corporate purpose and failure at this point is risky:
Don Rumble points out the spiritual weakness of this view:
“compromise” and “submission.” Such an approach to unity requires men to compromise in order to find the
middle ground that all can stand on, even if it means agreeing to things some consider wrong. It also demands
that people submit to the plans of the one(s) in the leading position(s) of the association. Unity then is seen as
the accomplishing of stated goals within a peaceful atmosphere.
Ephesians 4:16). Organizational methods will never achieve the miracle of “bodyness”
(many different people with distinct giftings moving as one under the headship of Christ). Real unity is miraculous
and requires the glory of God (John 17:21-23).
Surely, father-son language and imagery saturates the Scripture. God identified himself generationally as the God of
Abraham, Isaac and Jacob: fathers and sons. God sent a Son. The answer to humanity’s need is not a thing, or how
to, or a what, but a who – a Son. In Romans 7, Paul cried out for deliverance, not asking for an explanation or a
precept, but a deliverer – a Who. The creation longs and waits, not for an answer, but for whom: sons to be manifest.
One of the great glories of the New Covenant is the filial relationship the believer has not just with “God,” but with the
Father. In His ascension, glorification and Spirit outpouring, Jesus accomplished a cosmic relational change: His Father
became ours. Inheritance is an unavoidable theme of Scripture. However, if the devil cannot get us to overtly sin and
fail God, he will take God’s own beautiful precepts and twist them slightly or push them beyond divine limits, where a
God-concept becomes corrupted.
I am afraid this is the case with father-son teaching. The horse of apostolic fathering has been feeling its oats. It does
not belong in the blue factory but back in the corral, and bridled, so folks can enjoy the ride without getting thrown off.
Broken bodies currently litter the apostolic corral. A scripturally legitimate motif has exceeded divine limits, becoming
deceptive, abusive, and corrupt. It must be reigned in. Effective ministry and strong churches are not built by aligning
them to spiritual fathers in a new apostolic order of government but by teaching them to plumb the depths of the
Person, Christ Jesus: the Sure Foundation.
Call No Man Father
Within the apostolic circles it is common to hear language such as:
Those who make a practice of using this language and functioning in the relationships related to this language have not
given serious consideration to the implications of Matthew 23:8-12 (emphasis mine):
for one is your Father, which is in heaven. Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest
among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be
Protestants cavalierly dismiss this admonition as having no personal application. The Roman priesthood is too big a
target for Protestant arrows to miss. Unfortunately, the Roman speck obscures the Protestant log. The emphasis on
honoring leadership and using honor titles in apostolic circles does not take second fiddle to any Roman practice. In
spirit, it is not an iota different than any Roman custom, and in practice the level of veneration and honor ascribed to
“spiritual fathers” in the apostolic movement would make a cardinal turn redder than his cape with embarrassment. The
rational used for honor titles is “it teaches the people honor and respect.” Maybe, maybe not.
There is nothing wrong with giving honor to whom honor is due as long as it is in a community of mutuality, where the
least honorable are given the greater honor! We are to honor every one, not just the pastor of the church or the
apostle of the network. In thirty years of church experience in various local church environments and diverse
theological backgrounds. I received copious teaching on I Timothy 5:17 (giving double honor to leaders: e.g. pastors,
apostles, etc.). Yet, at the same time, I have never heard a single practical message preached on I Corinthians 12:23-
25 (honoring the least honorable), nor seen regular policies and protocols of honor implemented to emphasize those
verses with the same sense of conviction with which honor of leaders is preached.
I would like to put out a simple challenge to the church leader who might be irritated with me while reading this: Who
gets the best seating in your church? Who gets the best parking space? Who gets special days of appreciation in their
honor? Who has the finest office? Who has access to the VIP snack room after service? The dear saint who quietly
takes care of his/her invalid mother everyday without fanfare? Or the glow-in-the dark apostle/bishop who is in for a
weekend’s worth of meetings? Uh, Houston…we have a problem. When honor flows in one direction – upstream – to
hierarchy, position, ministry, office, and rank, we are on ungodly ground, even with I Timothy 5:17 hanging on our lips.
The Matthew 23:8-12 passage is clearly a divine ban. The King James Version ye in verse 8 is emphatic. In modern
street English, It could be rendered: “Listen up, I am talking to you…this means you!” The implication of these verses
goes beyond a generic ban on using inflated titles of honor, or false prestige, though these are undoubtedly included.
Jesus specifically mentions three distinct classes, or categories, in His ban: Rabbi, father, and master. Why would the
Lord mention these three? What would these titles or terms have in common, beyond being generally honorific, that the
Lord would so group them? We need to understand some cultural background.
A full examination of the role of the rabbis in first-century Judaism is beyond the scope of this writing. However, one
element has bearing on this topic. The rabbis believed that, as teachers of Torah to the people, they were the guides
into, or the brokers of, eternal life to Israel. They believed they had power, through their teaching of the Torah, to give
or withhold access to eternity. Christ refers to this in verse 13 when He describes the Pharisees and scribes “shutting
up heaven” to their followers. Abba (father) was also a term applied to and desired by the rabbis. In their culture,
leading or guiding someone made you metaphorically their master; hence, Jesus uses the term almost synonymously
Naturally speaking, a father is someone without whom you would not have literal, physical existence. A father is
responsible (with obvious partnering help!), not for bringing life to you, but in a sense, bringing you to life. He is the
agent, or broker, of your physical existence. Without him (parents), you could not experience physical life.
First-century Palestine was a patronage culture, not an individual merit culture. To advance in society, or at times to
even have access to the essentials of life, it was necessary to develop relationship with a rich patron who could assure
you of access to monetary resources, or favor. You could not categorically advance in their society through hard work
and self-effort. That is a thoroughly Western, primarily American, value (one of our better ones, though not without
weaknesses!). This notion simply did not exist in their culture. You got ahead in life by honor status at birth or by the
community granting you honor, not by your own personal merits. In exchange for a patron’s favor, the beneficiary was
responsible to extol the patron’s virtues in the community. The recipient of the patron’s favor would often walk behind
the patron in public, vocally expressing how wonderful the patron was. Without a sponsoring patron (who would in effect
be one’s master), the basics of life sustenance often were not accessible. The patron/master was literally responsible
for life or death.
What do these three categories have in common and how does it relate to our topic? The members of each group were
(literally, figuratively, or spiritually) brokers of life. Jesus forbids, not only the use of honorific titles, but at a deeper
level, He is saying there is only one life-broker: God/Christ. The modern English word “lord” derives from the old
English word “hlafweard” meaning, “he who guards the loaf.” For millennia, bread has been considered the staff of life.
The ancients understood that he who guarded the loaf, was responsible for your life, and was therefore, your hlafweard
In a kingdom context, there is only one life-brokering Lord, and it is not a covering apostle! We are all equal brethren
before the only true Life-broker and Grantor of favor. The only broker of life and blessing to the believer is Christ
Himself, not a covering spiritual father or apostle. We can all receive blessing from one another, through the diverse
giftings and ministries distributed in the body. However, limiting the power to bless to a vested individual in a certain
office, or viewing spiritual fathering in a covering and life-brokering capacity is error.
Sons of the Son
Some teach that the prototype model for the relationship between pastor and congregant or apostle and subordinate
ministry is the spiritual father-son paradigm. An individual’s status as a “spiritual son in the house,” or lack thereof,
often determines access to spiritual development, training, church membership, promotion or release into personal
I know of situations where ministry or departmental leadership opportunities were denied to individuals because in the
leader’s eyes they were not “spiritual sons,” supposedly not possessing the pastor’s heart as a son and therefore not
trustworthy. This was especially painful, as over years and decades the people had demonstrated their love and care
for the pastor by their loyalty, finances, and service. However, because of a subjectively perceived lack of a nebulous
quality of “spiritual sonship,” the individuals were marginalized and neutralized for kingdom expression.
This type of situation reverses the Ephesian 4 mandate. The pastor no longer equips the saints for the work of ministry
but disqualifies the saints because they do not facilitate the pastor’s ministry – the “vision of the house!” The believer’s
status in relationship to the pastor/apostle becomes the determinative factor as to whether or not he or she is equipped
and released into ministry. It was all done with a deeply-set conviction of conformity to God’s Word and “present truth,”
“new-order revelation and understanding.” It is sad and it is abuse.
Much sonship teaching requires spiritual sons to prove their loyalty before being released into their own ministry with
the father’s blessing and leadership sanction. The teaching allegedly models Luke 16:1-13 (serving another person’s
ministry/vision before God gives you your own) and is typically presented as a concern for the ultimate spiritual success
of the sons. In reality it is often an attempt by well-meaning but ignorant and insecure spiritual fathers to avoid being
hurt by betrayal.
If a spiritual father is solely surrounded by well-behaved and loyal spiritual sons, he will never experience betrayal or
hurt. He will also never experience the life transforming power of the Cross, nor the power of His death and
resurrection. Betrayal is as much a part of our faith as anything. Leaders who unconsciously set up
authority structures and father-son ministry paradigms as insulation from personal hurt, are actually working contrary to
Christ and His purposes in the earth. The sad part is, it can all look so good, sound so biblical, and so “cutting edge.” It
can also be completely unrecognized by the leader.
The self-preserving Adamic nature will use the biblical motif of sonship to protect itself in those who have unknowingly
drifted from a Calvary foundation of ministry through the preaching of topical themes instead of Christ and Him
crucified. In so doing, both the minister and the message of sonship are discredited. The reason you don’t see the fruit
we would expect and desire from the “sonship message” in spiritual sons (and daughters) is because the fathers have
not proven their love to such a degree that the sons are willing to lay down their own agendas. If we really believe
Malachi 4:5-6, and if fatherhood and maturity carries with it the responsibility of initiative and burden bearing, the issue
of the hour is not: “How can we birth spiritual sons and get them under our covering in submissive obedience, but
rather, how do fathers fully experience His death and resurrection and become as irresistible as Christ was?” The onus
is on the fathers, not the sons.
Simply because you have been around longer, have more knowledge, and more ministries “under your covering” than
others, does not make someone a spiritual father. Spiritual fatherhood is defined by the degree someone has
embraced His death and resurrection, not by ministerial “success.” Spiritual fathers and leaders who protect
themselves, their ministries, pulpits, legacies, inheritance, assets, reputations, churches, networks, salaries, egos,
image, platform, presence, and notoriety have no right to call themselves spiritual fathers simply because of kingdom
tenure. Their ethics and behavior prove they are not. Because they are not fathers, they also have no right to require
their sons to submit to them and abandon their agendas to first “serve another man’s vision.” The concept of sonship
may be biblically legitimate to some degree (see below), but our current methods are not. If the big dog never shuts
up, the little dog never learns to bark.
WWJD? Jesus volitionally chose a devil to be on his team and did not deny him any access to Himself or opportunity for
ministry because he “wasn’t a son” and “didn’t share his heart.” Judas bore the responsibility of his own behaviors and
Jesus bore the pain of it. That is what a spiritual father who is not afraid of death and resurrection does. The rest are
just insecure posers. Anxiety and fear-based submission and covering schemes will never close the profession-
expression gap. They will never produce the quality of sonship in the earth the Lord desires and the fathers long for.
This impasse, this broken methodology, this gap, will be closed only by all parties returning to and experiencing Christ
and His cross in death and resurrection power.
How legitimate is the concept of “spiritual sonship”? Does it have any limits or boundaries? The Scriptures refer to
believers in churches as “children” in several passages such as: II Corinthians 6:13, 12:14; I Thessalonians 2:7, 2:11;
Galatians 4:19; I Peter 1:14, and multiple times in John’s epistles. The Corinthian and Galatian passages use it as a
metaphor for their state of spiritual infancy and not as a compliment! The Thessalonian verses also use the term as a
metaphor describing Paul’s tenderness and affections among them. First Peter 1:14-15 uses it again as a metaphor for
the believer’s relationship to God, not their leaders or a covering apostle. In John’s epistles, it is again a metaphor
describing John’s affection/heart state toward them, especially in their spiritual infancy.
It is illegitimate to use verses describing affection with limited metaphors to establish an eternal order of relationship, a
doctrine of spiritual covering. While a metaphor by definition is an approximation of reality, the true reality is that these
verses say nothing about governmental order in the church. They merely describe an affective state, a heart condition,
not hierarchy or subordinancy of position or dependence on an apostle to provide spiritual covering. In the Pauline
examples in Galatia and Corinthians, the language is particularly linked to their spiritual infancy, immaturity, and inability
to be spiritually discerning in matters of core gospel doctrine and moral behavior! By definition, a transitory metaphor
we hope to outgrow!
It is appropriate to be dependent in spiritual infancy. It is inappropriate to press this language as justification for a
doctrine of eternal subordinancy or covering for the rest of one’s life! Even nature itself recoils at such a concept. The
little chick grows up, comes out from Momma’s covering, and flies, facing the uncertainties and risks of life. The
covering doctrine flatters leaders into thinking they are more important and necessary than they are. It is inherently ego
gratifying to think that for the rest of an individual’s mortal existence I am responsible for his/her spiritual well being.
Even though the individual may be fifty years old and a believer for thirty years, it is a requirement of “God’s order” that
they submit their major life decisions to “me,” their covering apostle.
The argument could be made that Paul uses the term son to describe his ministry and relationships; therefore, shouldn’t
we? Paul explicitly refers to only three people as his sons: Onesimus, Timothy, and Philemon. He refers to himself as a
father in I Corinthians 4. Peter refers to Mark as his son once in I Peter 5:13.
What of Apollos, Silas, Mark, Demas, Aristarchus, Luke, Stephanas, and others? Paul never refers to them as his
sons. Yet he was clearly in relationship with them, effectively working with them, referring to them as fellow prisoners,
helpers, and laborers in the gospel. Sometimes the relationship was as peers and sometimes not. Were they on the
disqualified B team because of lack of a “sonship” relationship to Paul? Were they under suspicion from leadership
because they were not part of the “house vision?” Of course not.
If we wanted to be “strictly biblical” in our thinking and methods, one has to question the legitimacy of the father-son
ministry paradigm for any relationship other than those of a convert and the one who leads him to conversion and
subsequent growth in the faith. The apostles reserved the term specifically to those relationships. Some believe the
metaphor does not relate to conversion but to being fathered into ministry. There is no indication that Scripture uses
the relational metaphor in any other way than conversion. To categorically adopt and adapt the imagery to
an American local church full of people with whom the pastor had no role in conversion but who transferred in from
another church is very dubious application of Scripture. It is even more dubious to apply it to a covering apostle who
has no relationship with an individual’s conversion or growth but who merely “joined the apostle’s network.” If fathering
is not one-on-one and relational, it does not exist. A spiritual father is not an office one holds due to tenure and rank. It
is a quality one possesses and manifests only in relationship.
Father-son terminology is a legitimate, but limited biblical metaphor describing a precious interpersonal relationship,
that is born of the Spirit. It is not an institution of ministerial protocol that must be adhered to at all costs that can be
shopped for alike buying a pair of shoes. It is a quality of relationship, not a limiting format for ministry. The problem
develops when we try to institutionalize, codify, and reproduce an essentially spiritual quality.
For example, if someone has a genuine, Spirit-birthed relationship with a “spiritual father/mother” and he or she should
pass away, is the son or daughter in that relationship now suddenly “out from under covering” and required to “shop for
a replacement” because he or she is out of divine order? This is of course an absurd idea that confuses that which is
precious and Spirit-wrought with that which is institutional and methodological. You cannot replace a metaphor. You
can (and should) establish new relationships of mutual trust and mutual care with others, as we all need someone to
care for us – pastor us. Over time a new relationship may deepen and take on new dimensions. However, you cannot
replace a bona fide spiritual father-son relationship. There are no stepchildren in the kingdom.
The notion that extending trust only to those whom the leader considers his spiritual sons and daughters is also outside
the boundary of a limited biblical metaphor of relationship. The use of the term in such a way classifies and
marginalizes people in ungodly categories. The mandate to the Ephesians 4 ministers is to equip the saints for the work
of ministry – period, not make sure they maintain “sonship” relationship to the equipper. The equipper’s effectiveness
with individuals will vary based on degree of heart access allowed by the one being equipped, but this does not
legitimize categorizing people.
The logical outcome of much sonship teaching (as commonly taught and practiced) is attractive because it cunningly
becomes a new gospel with the leader at the center. The emphasis becomes right relationship to the leader, not right
relationship to Christ. At its core, it is a usurping doctrine. It usurps the place, prominence, and uniqueness of Christ.
Any “gospel” message with a new center must be called for what it is; anti-Christ. My many friends (who may not be so
after they read this!) who are strong advocates of the sonship model will likely strongly disagree. But as Shakespeare
said: “The lady doth protest too much methinks.” Again, and again, I have seen the phenomenon of a subtle new
gospel materialize in circles where the sonship message is preached in preference, emphasis, and frequency
over Christ and Him crucified. It is inevitable and as blinding as it is inevitable. When a fish swims in the environment of
its waters, it unavoidably absorbs the unknown and unrecognized contaminants in the water. It cannot be helped. The
reality is defined by the nature of the environment.
Ephesians 4:11-13 Governmental Ministries?
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 fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no
more children, tossed to and fro, 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. (Ephesians 4:11-
just as a shepherd rules over his sheep, a father over his children, and a king over his citizens. (A quote from a
mid-western church’s bylaws)
The above quote while perhaps rare in its candor is not rare in sentiment. It is normative of how many in the apostolic
movement view the order of God’s government and how the pastor/congregation and apostle/network relationship
supposedly should look in terms of executive authority. The ethos has dominated my thirty-year experience in the
church under the strong set-man style of leadership (more on this in the next section). It contributes to the ungodly
clergy-laity gap and to reliance on a class of professional clergy that is at the root of Western church dysfunction. I
have personally heard this specific metaphor taught by multiple leaders in different theological leadership settings.
Some tone down the king-citizen metaphor to a version slightly more appealing to American egalitarian politics:
president-citizens. This still doesn’t paint the barn. It is however typical of how common it is to view the Ephesians 4
ministries from an authority paradigm of government and to make blessings contingent on government and order rather
than death and life.
Let’s look at the Ephesians 4 passage closely for a moment. Where does the emphasis on government and authority
come from? What is it based on? What is the purpose of these ascension gift ministries?
The Greek preposition (pros) indicates direction, as arriving at an “ultimate purpose.” The ultimate purpose of an
Ephesians 4:11 minister is not to be the vision caster or the vision setter. It is not about the set man “getting the vision”
and requiring the “sons and daughters” to embrace it. That is nothing but American management and success strategy
principles washing into the church. Rather, the ultimate purpose of an Ephesians 4 minister follows:
“mending, repair, setting a bone, refitting a ship, correcting all that is deficient.” The calling and vision of an
Ephesians 4 minister is to bring healing and wholeness to the Body through all the graces of Christ so the
individual believers in the body may be “outfitted” or rigged for effective kingdom function. Listening to some
apostles preach you would think the roles are reversed: that the role of the saints is to serve and fulfill the set
2. Saints and the work of ministry. The term saints simply means “separated ones, those who have been
separated by the Lord for His purposes” to do, literally, the “labor of service – ministry.”
3. Edified. This is the Greek oikodomē, literally meaning, “to build up.” It is an architectural term. It means “to
add form and structure,” and by inference, “to beautify.” By properly outfitting the saints and getting them
functioning, form and structure result. The Ephesians 4 minister is not responsible for controlling structure.
Functioning saints are the structure! Yes, Ephesians 4 ministers, particularly
prophets and apostles, are normally concerned about order and structure. But the essence of ministry is not
coming up with “my apostolic structure” and having people adorn it like ornaments on a Christmas tree, bringing
their lives and resources to support “the dream God has given me.” Rather, it is where I give my life for the
interior structure of Christ in the individual, so that the Body is seamlessly built by the increase of Christ, not the
increase of structure and government. The people are the dream. There is no other legitimate dream for the
Ephesians 4 minister. God cares about people, not dreams and destiny. Dreams and destiny are the vehicle to
serve people. When the vehicle becomes the purpose, we are on an ungodly track.
The Inmates are Running the Asylum!
Christ is Lord of a kingdom, not a democracy. Teachers frequently emphasize that because it is a kingdom His
delegated and anointed representatives have authority, the people do not. As I said in chapter 2, this is a false, two-
dimensional proposition. It is also fortuitously convenient for those teaching it. This is a thoroughly Old Covenant
model of understanding. There is a paranoid fear that any movement in governmental structures toward empowering
and serving people is a capitulation to democratic-, congregational- committee-operated churches! While not everyone
might be as frankly candid with their methods as the quote above (from the church bylaws), the spirit of it pervades
leadership circles in the church.
In leadership meetings I have attended, I have heard the people of God referred to in the most demeaning terms such
as carnal, broke, poverty mindset, blind, not anointed, spiritually ignorant, “dumb as sheep,” lacking discernment,
lacking intelligence, etc. (P.S. these are not exaggerations! I have witnessed them all – frequently, commonly, and to
my shame, agreed with them and said some myself.) I have sat in numerous executive meetings where the people are
viewed with the respect you would give a dog. No, that is too positive: at least you pet a dog. Old Covenant stories
such as Moses and the golden calf reinforce this leader-people gap: “shucks, without us, they will get in all kinds of
trouble!” We have shown earlier the inadequacy of these Old Covenant accounts for the basis of New Covenant
How foreign these leadership mindsets are to a Pauline spirit! Consider the following Scriptures and remember that a
good number of them were written to people in rebellion and on the verge of apostasy!
These apostolic remarks were written to the people, not the church leadership, not the elder board, not the covering
apostle. Some might say that the apostles, primarily Paul, wrote in “prophetic hope,” not actual reality; and that the
people were not really trustworthy, but in writing so positively about them, he was trying to draw out the quality for which
he was hoping for. I would offer that Paul actually believed the Holy Spirit was in the people of God, even among the
babes, the weak, the carnal, and the struggling.
I would ask, as leaders, who do we think we are? When a leader loses his or her scope as being a servant to the flock,
while they are one of the flock, and instead assumes a posture of being above or over the flock, as having in their
leadership call some sort of innate quality that sets them apart in a special privileged class of illumination, we are in a
most grievous place indeed.
A peril in some churches is the exaltation of ministers above the level of humanity, the centering of churches in the
person and authority of the clergy.
The mark of genuine apostles, or any church leader, is not how much authority they wield, nor loyalty and submission
they require, but how much they defer to Christ. I am not advocating abdication of executive authority into the hand of
the lowest common denominator among the masses – the paralyzing fear in every set man. I am passionate for a
change in theology, tone, methods, and spirit.
Ephesians 4:11-13 says nothing about government. Ephesians 2:20 says apostles and prophets are foundational, not
governmental. They do not rule over the body, sitting as the chief executive; they are under the body, providing the
hidden strength and substructure. The purpose of the Ephesians 4 ministries is quite explicit: for the perfecting of the
saints for the work of ministry. They are establishing servant ministries, not governmental. They serve both the local
church and the Universal Church, but they do not “govern.” The King James Version never uses the word government
associated with any of the five-fold ministries. I believe the Scriptures are precise, and when they are precisely silent,
we ought to be too! The idea that these ministries, especially, apostles, are governmental is assumptive and inferential
from other Scriptures regarding headship and ruling that we have already discussed.
Many have well documented the basic elements of what constitutes an apostle or the elements of apostolic function.
The problem is the emphasis on authority as the distinguishing or primary mark. Describing what is as if it were what
should be, rather than going to the Scriptures, is the error of many diagnosing the current apostolic renewal. Because
authority is a dominant feature of the emerging apostolic (I do not challenge that – it is unfortunately true) does not
mean it should be.
The first and foremost function of an apostle as a “sent one” is to accurately represent the One who sent him. The
emphasis in genuine apostolic ministry is not to see to it that apostles are restored to their proper place as it is to see
that Jesus is restored to His. Much emphasis in the apostolic movement is how the people under the apostle need to
maintain right relationship to their spiritually covering apostle rather than right relationship to God!
The job of an apostle is not to preach the restoration of apostles, or covenant, or governmental alignment, or spiritual
fathering. The goal of an apostle is to preach Christ and Him crucified and to assure an accurate representation of
Christ on earth. The goal of an apostle is not to build his network but to assure that the “building” of God is laid on the
Sure Foundation, which is not the governmental order of covering apostles!
In what could be broadly called the “restorationist movement,” there is great talk about the apostles and prophets being
restored to their proper place and function. While I loosely agree with that, it is a potentially dizzying idea. There is no
shortage of pride in the idea that God’s whole show has been deficient for oh, two thousand years, and has been held
up waiting for, well, us! How did the church survive without us!? The much talked about reformation and restoration is
not about the restoration of certain offices, governments, truths, and ministries to God’s people. It is the restoration of
God’s Son to His rightful place in our midst. Some in the apostolic movement have lost this center. They believe the
restoration of apostles to their place and position determines whether or not there will be an “end-time harvest.” For
them, the determining factor is not the manifestation of Christ but the manifestation of apostles. When the apostles
begin to arise by the thousands, we will be able to take the nations for Jesus Christ. The harvest cannot be brought
apart from this foundational office. Happily, there are some voices of sanity being raised at the present hour pointing
out that the apostolic movement is not about the apostles! It is about an emerging quality in the nature of the church,
the corporate man: being more completely conformed to a fully accurate image of Christ.
John Calvin sums up my concern in a typically brilliant way. If the present-day apostles would heed Calvin’s advice (not
his practice, unfortunately), this book would not be necessary. I am not arguing for the elimination of apostles but their
restraint! Calvin’s thoughts are worth including at length. (Emphasis is added.)
for himself; this can be secured only if what he has received from his Father be left to him, namely, that he alone
is the schoolmaster of the church. For it is written not of any other but him alone, “Hear Him” [Matthew 17:5].
as not to be drawn hither and thither at the caprice of men. For this purpose, it will be of great use to observe
how it is described by Prophets and Apostles. For if we concede unreservedly to men all the power which they
think proper to assume, it is easy to see how soon it will degenerate into a tyranny which is altogether alien from
the Church of Christ.
confers on priests, or prophets, or apostles, or successors of apostles, is wholly given not to men themselves, but
to the ministry to which they are appointed; or, to speak more plainly, to the word, to the ministry of which they are
appointed. For were we to go over the whole in order, we should find that they were not invested with authority to
teach or give responses, save in the name and word of the Lord.
special prerogative, commanding that he and no human being should be heard. When he said, “Hear him”
(Matthew 17:5), he commended his office to us, in few words, indeed, but words of more weight and energy than
is commonly supposed, for it is just as if he had withdrawn us from all doctrines of man, and confined us to him
alone, ordering us to seek the whole doctrine of salvation from him alone, to depend on him alone, and cleave
to him alone; in short (as the words express), to listen only to his voice.
namely, to expound the ancient Scriptures, and show that the things there delivered are fulfilled in Christ:
Truly there is nothing new under the sun. As poignantly clear and Christ-centered as these quotes are, Calvin’s later
extreme authoritarianism, only serves to make my point. In spite of writing the above, he became one of the worst
authoritarians who ever lived. While railing against the evil authoritarianism in the Roman papacy, he became like them,
to the point of executing dissenters. Being able to teach it and being able to live it are two different matters. Revelation
is nothing. Life is everything. Authority is intoxicating. Even for the most conscientious, well-meaning, and servant-
spirited person, it is two-hundred-proof hooch. Our American forefathers knew it, and the Holy Spirit knows it. Contrary
to the emphasis in the emergent apostolic, that apostles need to be vested with authority, they need to be restrained.
Unrestrained authority took down John Calvin, and it will take down the apostolic movement and those apostles in it.
Are Not Apostles Set First?
miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. (I Corinthians 12:28)
angels, and to men. (I Corinthians 4:9)
(I Corinthians 4:10)
Does not the Scripture clearly teach that apostles are “set” “first?” That is what it says. But what does it mean? The
word set means simply “to place.” An apostle is not “set” in any unique way any more than any of the other gifts listed.
The context of the passage and chapter is the diversity of God’s distribution with each member divinely set in his or her
unique place. Every member is “set” in the body, including the other ministries listed in verse 12:28.
The word first is the Greek word proton. It means “first in sequence, time, or place.” Thayer includes first in rank and
importance. See, there it is! Apostles have rank; they are first. Not so fast. This is one of the situations where word
definition is not enough to determine meaning accuracy, but word usage is just as important. How does the Scripture
use this word in other verses? Sixty verses in the King James Version use the word. In fifty-nine of the sixty verses it is
translated “first in time or sequence, not rank or position.” That only leaves one other verse. You guessed it: I
The context of the verse has nothing to do with governmental authority structures. The apostle is talking about gift
distribution in the church and their function, not hierarchical rank! The monarchial bias of the King James Version
translators shines through again! At the very least, this should make us slow to make bold, doctrinally-binding
pronouncements of authority concerning apostolic prominence based on one verse out of sixty! It might even move us
to abandon the proposition all together!
This is nothing but bias reading authority and rank into the verse because of our predisposition to see it there. Let’s
just be consistent. The context is a logical sequence of order in building a church, not first in rank and importance.
Apostles are only “first” in importance because without the first foundation the building does not go up. They are first in
a building sense but at the bottom in a hierarchical sense.
In describing the work of Geoffrey Bull, Don Milam says:
emphasis on creating apostolic networks. You will see no hint of pyramid control and subjugation. You will find a
man who has experienced Christ in a profound and deeply meaningful way and whose only agenda is to share it
Yes, apostles by reason of their calling are first:
AUTHORITY, ACCOUNTABILITY, AND THE APOSTOLIC MOVEMENT, by Dr. Stephen Crosby, Copyright 2006,
Pleasant Word (WinePress Publishing)
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