By Dick Scoggins
The Apostolic Calling
My early thinking on apostleship was shaped by Watchman Nee, a well-known Chinese theologian, who made a distinction between “the Church” and “the Work” – two distinct entities in the Kingdom of God with different spheres of influence. “The Church” is the larger body of believers who are called to bring the Gospel to the family, friends and neighbors around them. “The Work” is the apostolic work – the small bands of pioneers willing to take the Kingdom of God to where the Church does not yet exist whether geographically or with hidden people groups inside places where traditional churches exist, but not in forms suitable for these other culture/people groups. The apostolic community’s goal is to establish new forms of Church that will fit these people groups and reproduce locally expanding the Kingdom to every segment of society.
Jack Deere, in his book Surprised by the Power of the Spirit, states that to be an apostle is a calling, not a gift nor an especially gifted or powerful person. I strongly agree. In fact, the meaning of apostle is “an authorized sent one” or “messenger.” Apostles are emissaries of the Kingdom and work together in mobile, dynamic teams. They are to travel at the very least in twos, as Jesus taught (cf. Acts 13:2-4; 14:4,14; 15:39-41), and sometimes with helpers (cf. Acts 13:5). Apostles can also labor in communities or networks of communities (for example, Paul’s networks of teams on his second and third journeys as well as during his imprisonment).
The key mark of apostleship is not having a big personality and an exciting life, but rather experiencing trials and suffering (cf. 1 Cor. 4:9-13). When Paul is forced to defend his apostleship, he first cites his suffering (2 Cor. 12:7-10) before his signs and wonders (vs. 11,12). He wears his suffering as the badge of his apostleship and only acknowledges his signs and wonders when forced to do so.
Today’s Apostles: Radically Rethinking “Church”
In Jesus’ day, he declared that the Kingdom of God was to be torn from the nation of Israel and given to another people who would bear its fruit (Matt. 21:43). Within a generation, his words came to pass: the Temple was destroyed, and the nation of Israel had been wiped out. However, God sent Jesus to call out a Jewish remnant who would create new forms of worshiping communities that would survive long after the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple. These became the Eastern Orthodox churches of today. Jesus also attracted crowds of Gentiles who also formed their own, distinct worshiping communities. From the start, God appointed apostles like Peter to go to the Jewish remnant, and he appointed those like Paul to go to the Gentiles.
Either way, the Kingdom of God needed radically new forms and traditions to prepare for the era that was to come. Each of them planted new forms of Kingdom communities distinct from Judaism that could reproduce and fill the earth.
I believe we are seeing a similar pattern today.
The world is changing rapidly, and Western forms of church, birthed very much according to the traditions of the 20th century, are not keeping up. I believe that the existing church structures cannot just attempt to gradually tweak their traditions and forms in order to “stay relevant” with the world we live in today. Gradual changes will not do. For the Kingdom to come forth to new generations, there will need to be entirely new ways of doing “church.”
New types of communities of the Kingdom need to be envisioned and created to be Good News in a new era. I believe that apostles are the creative agents sent by God to bring about these radical, creative forms of the Kingdom.