Some time ago someone corresponded with me and brought to my attention a Church of God fellowship and one of its publications about Mr. Armstrong. The name of the Church is Church of God in Wales. The name of the article is, "Just What is an APOSTLE?". Here is a link to their website. You can find the article in the "Articles" tab:
I have read their article. The main point the article tries to make is that we should never change any doctrines Mr. Armstrong gave to us or question if they may contain errors that need to be corrected. I believe that is wrong.
This post is the first in a series that will review the ideas in that article and show why some of those ideas are wrong.
This is an important subject. It has to do with faith, loyalty to God, and avoiding idolatry and heresy. It is vitally important for preaching the gospel to the world and the Ezekiel warning to Israel.
The idea that we should never change Mr. Armstrong's doctrines is an idea that several fellowships have adopted to one degree or another. It is a false idea, but some brethren have been deceived by the arguments some have made in favor of it.
The basic theme of the COGIW article is that Mr. Armstrong was an apostle and an apostle's doctrines should never be questioned or changed.
In this first post in this series, I just want to review what the Bible says about apostles.
What is an apostle? How can we define the term?
The Greek seems to mean, "one sent", and this has been taught by the Church. An apostle is one sent. But that is not a good definition. The postman who delivers my mail is one sent. So you can qualify it as one sent by God. But the prophets were sent by God, and they are not apostles. Prophet and apostle are two different offices, not the same (Ephesians 4:11, 1 Corinthians 12:28). A man can hold both offices, as Jesus Christ did, being both prophet and apostle. But they are not the same office.
There is a definition that is definite, accurate, and safe, but it leaves a lot of questions unanswered.
"And when it was day, He called His disciples to Himself; and from them He chose twelve whom He also named apostles" (Luke 6:13).
Christ named twelve of His disciples, "apostles".
Therefore, an apostle is one sent whom Christ names "apostle". It is a title, a name, and an office given by Christ.
An apostle is one who is named or called an apostle by Christ. If Christ calls a man an apostle, He is an apostle. If Christ does not call a man an apostle, he is not an apostle.
That is a safe definition, but it leaves questions unanswered. We can know of a number of men in the Bible that are called apostle. But today we cannot eavesdrop on Jesus Christ and God the Father in heaven to hear whether they call any man in our time "apostle". We can try to discern by the fruits, comparing the fruits of a man in our time with the fruits of apostles in the first century, and that can give us clues.
At the end of the post, I have listed all the scriptures I found in a computer search containing the words "apostle" or "apostles" in the NKJV of the Bible.
Let's notice some significant characteristics of apostles in the Bible.
First of all, the office of apostle is the highest ranking office in the Church of God. "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues" (1 Corinthians 12:28). "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers" (Ephesians 4:11).
It is Christ and God who make one an apostle, not man, at least in Paul's case and the principle suggests in every case. "Paul, an apostle (not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)" (Galatians 1:1).
There are examples of God backing up the teaching of the apostles with public miracles, and Paul mentions miracles as "signs" of an apostle, implying that these miracles are to be expected to prove that an apostle is an apostle.
"Then fear came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were done through the apostles" (Acts 2:43).
"And through the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people. And they were all with one accord in Solomon’s Porch....And believers were increasingly added to the Lord, multitudes of both men and women, so that they brought the sick out into the streets and laid them on beds and couches, that at least the shadow of Peter passing by might fall on some of them. Also a multitude gathered from the surrounding cities to Jerusalem, bringing sick people and those who were tormented by unclean spirits, and they were all healed" (Acts 5:12-16).
Now notice Paul referring to miracles, signs and wonders, as the signs of an apostle: "Truly the signs of an apostle were accomplished among you with all perseverance, in signs and wonders and mighty deeds" (2 Corinthians 12:12).
There is an implication here. When Paul refers to the miracles he performed as "signs of an apostle", he seems to be suggesting that these signs are expected of an apostle and help to identify who is an apostle. The whole context in this passage is that Paul is proving to his readers that he is an apostle.
The Bible does not say definitely that every apostle performs public miracles to back up his message. But that is an implication and a possibility.
At the time most of the first century apostles began their work, the Bible was not yet complete. The Old Testament was available to them, but the New Testament was being written by many of those very same apostles.
God gave His word to the people and the Church through the apostles. Where did the apostles receive their knowledge? To a certain extent, they learned from the Old Testament, for it was available to them and they could hear it read in the synagogues on the Sabbath. Paul was well versed in the Old Testament scriptures even before he became an apostle. But Jesus Christ taught the twelve apostles, and Paul, directly. Peter and the other eleven apostles learned from Jesus Christ's personal teaching by word of mouth for about three and a half years. Some of them may also have learned parts of God's truth through visions and dreams. Peter had a vision about the unclean animals prior to visiting Cornelius.
God revealed truth to the Church through the apostles. The word and teaching of the apostles was how God primarily taught the people. Not only was the Bible not complete, but it was not easily available to all the members and the common people in the first century.
Today, the Bible is complete, the printing press has made it readily available to everyone, and history has fulfilled Bible prophecies proving the Bible is the word of God. Thus, today, God communicates primarily and directly through the Bible, both to the ministry and leadership of the Church of God and to the members. He also communicates through the Bible to outsiders who are being called. Church ministers may go on television and speak to the public, but those who are called can check up directly in the Bible to see if the message they are hearing is true and is from God.
How can people today know that the Bible is God speaking? They can prove the inspiration of the Bible by fulfilled prophecy. The miracle of fulfilled prophecy is the proof of the Bible, the mark of authenticity that proves the Bible is what it says it is, the word of God.
But in the first century, the word of God came to the people by the word of the apostles. How could the people know the word of the apostles was the word of God? By the public healings, miracles, signs, and wonders performed by the apostles. That was the proof that their message was from God.
So just as God today backs up the Bible with the miracle of fulfilled prophecy so people can prove the Bible is the word of God, so in the first century God backed up the message of the apostles with public miracles, healings, signs and wonders so people could know the message was from God and that the word of the apostles was the word of God.
The COGIW article, "What Is an Apostle?", states in the summary of chapter 1 that the truth of God only comes by the revelation given to an apostle through the Holy Spirit. But that is not true. Most of the truth Peter, James, John, and the other apostles received came from the mouth of Jesus Christ who taught them personally for three and a half years. The Holy Spirit was with them and helped them understand, but the teaching was direct from the mouth of Jesus Christ while he was human on this earth.
Today, the truth of God comes from the Bible, which was written by prophets and apostles, and they received the truth of God in various ways: face-to-face (Moses and the twelve apostles), visions and dreams (Daniel and Peter), and spoken word (Samuel and Saul later named Paul). Many prophets and apostles may also have received direct revelation through the Holy Spirit inspiring the thoughts of their minds.
But, however God transmitted his message to them, we have their message as God's infallibly correct word in the Bible today. Men of God today, ministers of any rank, can help us understand the Bible, putting scriptures together to show us the logical conclusion, and God's Holy Spirit working with us and in us also helps us understand the Bible. But the truth comes from the Bible itself, and if a man in our age preaches a message from God, we must look to the Bible to see if that message is true.
Mr. Armstrong understood this principle when he told his radio listeners, don't believe me, don't believe any man, believe God, believe your Bible.
Mr. Armstrong never claimed that God revealed things to him apart from the Bible. He never claimed to be a prophet or to have received direct, prophetic revelation from God, apart from the Bible, in the form of dreams, visions, voices, or direct face-to-face communication with Christ or an angel.
TO BE CONTINUED
Here is a list of all the scriptures I found containing the words "apostle" or "apostles":
- Matthew 10:2 (names of the 12 apostles)
- Mark 3:13 (marginal notes says, "NU adds, 'whom He also named apostles' ")
- Mark 6:30 (the apostles told Jesus what they had done)
- Luke 6:12 (Jesus chose twelve disciples and named them apostles)
- Luke 9:10 (the apostles told Jesus what they had done)
- Luke 11:49 (God would send prophets and apostles, some of whom they would persecute and kill)
- Luke 17:5 (the apostles ask Christ to increase their faith)
- Luke 22:14 (the apostles sat with Christ at Passover)
- Luke 24:10 (the women told the apostles about the empty tomb)
- Acts 1:2 (Christ gave command to the apostles)
- Acts 1:26 (the lot fell on Matthias to be an apostle with the eleven, replacing Judas)
- Acts 2:37 (the crowd asked Peter and the apostles, what shall we do?)
- Acts 2:42 (the 3,000 that were added continued in the doctrine of the apostles)
- Acts 2:43 (signs and wonders were done through the apostles)
- Acts 4:33 (the apostles witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus)
- Acts 4:35 (those who had possessions sold them and laid the money at the apostles' feet)
- Acts 4:36 (Joses was named Barnabas by the apostles)
- Acts 4:37 (Barnabas sold his land and laid the money at the apostles' feet)
- Acts 5:2 (Ananias laid only part of the money he received for selling a possession at the apostles' feet)
- Acts 5:12 (by the hand of the apostles many signs and wonders were done among the people)
- Acts 5:18 (apostles put into prison)
- Acts 5:29 (Peter and the apostles say, we ought to obey God rather than man)
- Acts 5:34 (Pharisees put the apostles out of the room so they could talk privately)
- Acts 5:40 (apostles were beaten)
- Acts 6:6 (apostles laid hands on those to be made deacons)
- Acts 8:1 (all were scattered except the apostles)
- Acts 8:14 (the apostles in Jerusalem heard that Samaria received the Word, and sent Peter and John to them)
- Acts 8:18 (Simon the sorcerer saw that when Peter and John laid hands on those who received the Word, they received the Holy Spirit, and he offered the apostles money to be able to do the same)
- Acts 9:27 (Barnabas brought Saul (Paul) to the apostles)
- Acts 11:1 (the apostles in Judea learned that the Gentiles received the word of God)
- Acts 14:4 (Part of the multitude sided with the apostles. Acts 14:3 says that signs and wonders were done by their hands. Acts 13:50 indicates this is referring to Paul and Barnabas.)
- Acts 14:14 (apostles Paul and Barnabas tore their clothes)
- Acts 15:2 (Paul and Barnabas and others sent to Jerusalem to the apostles and elders about the question of circumcision)
- Acts 15:4 (Paul and Barnabas were received by the Church and the apostles and elders)
- Acts 15:6 (the apostles and elders came together to consider the matter of circumcision)
- Acts 15:22 (the apostles and elders with the whole church to send men to Antioch)
- Acts 15:23 (letter from apostles and elders and brethren)
- Acts 15:33 (after those sent stayed a while in Antioch, they returned to the apostles)
- Acts 16:4 (Paul and Timothy delivered the decrees determined by the apostles and elders in Jerusalem)
- Romans 11:13 (Paul is an apostle to the Gentiles)
- Romans 16:7 (Greet Andronicus and Junia who are of note among the apostles)
- 1 Corinthians 1:1 (Paul called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ)
- 1 Corinthians 4:9 (Paul says, God has displayed us, the apostles, as a spectacle)
- 1 Corinthians 9:1 (Paul says, am I not an apostle?)
- 1 Corinthians 9:2 (Paul says, if I am not an apostle to others, I am doubtless an apostle to you, for your are the seal of my apostleship)
- 1 Corinthians 9:5 (Paul asks, do we have no right to take along a believing wife as the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord and Cephas?)
- 1 Corinthians 12:28 (God has appointed first apostles, then prophets...)
- 1 Corinthians 12:29 (Are all apostles? Are all prophets?)
- 1 Corinthians 15:5-8 (Christ was seen after His resurrection by Cephas, then by the twelve, then by James, then by all the apostles, then last of all by Paul)
- 1 Corinthians 15:9 (Paul says he is the least of the apostles and not worthy to be called an apostle because he persecuted the Church of God)
- 2 Corinthians 1:1 (Paul, an apostle)
- 2 Corinthians 8:23 (if our brethren are inquired about, they are messengers (literally apostles, "sent ones" according marginal reference) of the churches)
- 2 Corinthians 11:5 (Paul does not consider himself to be inferior to the most eminent apostles)
- 2 Corinthians 11:13 (they are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ)
- 2 Corinthians 12:11 (Paul says, in nothing was I behind the most eminent apostles)
- 2 Corinthians 12:12 (the signs of an apostle were accomplished with Paul in signs and wonders and mighty deeds)
- Galatians 1:1 (Paul, an apostle, not through man but through Christ and the Father)
- Galatians 1:16-17 (Paul did not immediately confer with flesh and blood or go to the apostles)
- Galatians 1:19 (Paul saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother)
- Ephesians 1:1 (Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God)
- Ephesians 2:20 (being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the chief cornerstone)
- Ephesians 3:1-5 (the mystery revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets)
- Ephesians 4:11 (He gave some to be apostles, some prophets...)
- Colossians 1:1 (Paul, an apostle of Christ by the will of God)
- 1 Thessalonians 2:6 (we might have made demands as apostles of Christ)
- 1 Timothy 1:1 (Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the command of God and Christ)
- 1 Timothy 2:7 (Paul was appointed a preacher and an apostle)
- 2 Timothy 1:1 (Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God)
- 2 Timothy 1:11 (Paul was appointed a preacher, apostle, and a teacher of the Gentiles)
- Titus 1:1 (Paul a bondservant of God and an apostle of Christ according to the faith of God's elect)
- Hebrews 3:1 (consider the Apostle and High Priest, Jesus Christ)
- 1 Peter 1:1 (Peter, an apostle of Jesus Christ)
- 2 Peter 1:1 (Simon Peter, a bondservant and apostle of Jesus Christ)
- 2 Peter 3:2 (be mindful of the words of the prophets and the commandment of us the apostles)
- Jude 17 (remember the words of the apostles)
- Revelation 2:2 (you have tested those who say they are apostles and are not and found them liars)
- Revelation 18:20 (rejoice over her you holy apostles and prophets, for God has avenged you on her)
- Revelation 21:14 (the wall of the city had twelve foundations and on them were the names of the twelve apostles)