Discussing Apostolic Ministry – Insights from Wayne Grudem’s Interview

Adrian Warnock, a minister in the UK interviewed theologian Wayne Grudem on a number of topics in 2006, including polity and apostolic ministry.   Without rehashing the entire interview, I thought that Wayne Grudem’s explanation of apostles and local eldership are very insightful.   Bear in mind, these quotes are taken from the context of an interview so they are not a treatise on church polity.  Here’s what Dr Grudem says about the biblically established pattern for plural elders.

“… biblical pattern for church government, which is plural local elders governing a church, with the pastor or senior pastor being one of those elders.   That seems to me to be the pattern in several verses of Scripture where we have indications about church government.  James writes to all the churches in the Roman Empire at that time and he expects that there will be “elders” who will pray for the sick in every church (James 5:14).   Paul appoints “elders” (plural) in “every church” (Acts 14:23) and he wants Titus to appoint “elders” in “every town” in Crete (Titus 1:5).   There is a consistent pattern of plural elders governing every church.”

Regarding apostles, Dr. Grudem clearly states his position – which is that apostolic ministry was established for a unique purpose and in operation during a specific time in church history.

The whole issue is – what replaces the apostles?   Everyone agrees that apostles were in charge of the churches at the time of the New Testament.   The Roman Catholics say that the bishops and Pope have replaced the apostles.  But the Protestant position has generally been that the writings of the apostles – that is, the New Testament Scriptures that were written or authorized by apostles – have replaced living apostles in the church.

There is no record of the apostles appointing successor apostles to fill in for them when they were gone.   Peter sends not a replacement apostle, but an epistle to the churches of Asia Minor, telling them he is doing this so that “after my departure you may be able at any time to recall these things” (2 Peter 1:15).   Paul tells the Ephesian elders that “after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock,” but he does not tell them to be subject to some new apostles whom he will send, but tells them to look to Scripture: “And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified” (Acts 20:32).

And I do think that the apostles had absolute authority to speak words of God and govern the churches as Christ’s direct representatives, a kind of authority that no human being has today.”

There’s more to his interview but in view of the recent release of the “In Defense of Apostolic Ministry” paper from an SGM church,  I thought this might be interesting way to initiate a discussion on the topic of apostolic ministry.  I hope to offer my thoughts on that paper after I’m done reading all 52 pages but it’ll take a few weeks – I’m a slow reader.

More to the point of this post-  some of you have asked about the provocative statement in my prior post – “the office of the Pope has more biblical justification than the apostolic ministry as historically defined by SGM.”.    I hope it didn’t offend anyone but I was simply suggesting the following – if any church body (SGM for instance) is going to advocate for the existence of an authoritative apostolic ministry or a contemporary “office of an apostle” , it will need to justify the legitimacy of that office.  For instance, the Roman Catholic church justifies the  authority of the Pope through a succession line from the original apostles, specifically Peter.   Likewise, the Episcopal church recognizes the authority of the bishops as partially and indirectly traced from the ministry of the original apostolate. (for reference: “Who Runs the Church – 4 Views on Church Government”, p 36).  I may be terribly mistaken but I believe that there is no current established episcopal system (one that involves a tier of ruling bishops over local church pastors) that does not draw the authority of the bishop directly or indirectly from the original apostolate.

In case, you’re wondering, I’m not advocating for the Roman Catholic apostolic succession.   However, my point is simply this – it’s not clear how SGM apostolic ministry traces the source of its authority.  I am merely suggesting that any attempt by SGM to reestablish the apostolic authority amidst their churches, begs an answer to this question – from whence does any SGM apostle/regional leader/board derive his authority?   Or put another way, who grants SGM apostles/board the authority they seek to exercise over local churches?

As Dr. Grudem rightly stated in this interview, most Protestants have long held that the authority of the apostles is now encompassed in Holy Scriptures – a view I hold and greatly rejoice in.    It also leads me to conclude that there is no apostolic office functioning within the Church today and by extension, certainly not in SGM.


13 thoughts on “Discussing Apostolic Ministry – Insights from Wayne Grudem’s Interview

  1. Can you tell me the context for that paper on apostleship? Do you know why it was written or for what audience? Or who Was involved in putting it together?

    If its just a random paper by a random church, with little circulation or influence it’s probably not worth a lengthy critique.

    However, if it’s being used to build an argument within or across SGM, then it’s probably worth digging into.

    This isn’t meant to be a gratiuitous slam on it, but the case it builds us weak at best, and has a lot of logical disconnects that really fail to connect the dots that I think it is setting out to connect.

    I think I’m being honest to say I am open to being convinced, but this paper didn’t do it.

    • It was put out by one of the North Carolina churches and it’s relevant because two of the proposed new board members (yet to be confirmed) are from NC – Phil Sasser, Mickey Connelly. I think this paper reflects the view held by Phil Sasser and his eldership team. I may be wrong so if someone can provide authoritative confirmation, I’d appreciate it. But if so, then it is entirely relevant since Phil and possibly old guard board members, like Mickey Connelly and John Loftness may be promoting this viewpoint from their position on the board.

  2. I appreciate your desire to “initiate a discussion on the topic of apostolic ministry” – we NEED to have church and movement wide discussions of these things – because ” to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good.” (I Cor 12:7). The Spirit is not given only to pastors, or only to board members, to decide these things, although these have the gift of dedicated time to devote to study because of the financial support of the church. Yet it is not for them alone and in isolation to decide how things will be, what doctrines should be believed by everyone, and what the proper polity is. It is for all of us to search the Scriptures and study and discuss with brothers and sisters and see if these things are so.

    If I believed that SGM were open to that conversation with the churches, their pastors and members, and would truly listen to and be open to more than one perspective, I’d be in faith to stick around and, as you said, “not go anywhere.” But I’m sensing a stubbornness and doubling down from those who would be leaders that encourages me to run – not stay… continuing to pray, though…

    I’ve read the 52 page paper (I’m a very fast reader) but have not had time to do the analysis necessary to discuss it thoroughly, so I really look forward to seeing what you write on the topic.

    • emSDG – Agreed – I think the issue of understanding apostolic ministry is part of the broader polity issue. We absolutely need to discuss this and not just among pastors but among the membership ranks as well. Members should take an interest in this and recognize themselves as stakeholders in the outcome. So while it may take me a while, I will comment on the paper and hopefully add some measure of insight to the discussion.

      • does anyone really believe the pastoral component has any interest in what the members think/believe/say in regards to this or any substantive concern? local/or at large. good thing Christ is our Head! maybe i need to look at the hope in the land of the living scripture again….

      • 2time224 – yes, there are pastors that demonstrate humble thoughtful pursuit of answers with members of the church. My friends at CLC, Redeemer (Arilington), SGC Fairfax, Grace Church SD and couple of other churches have indicated such genuine conversations w their pastors are ongoing. My question is – why aren’t more churches doing so? For the churches that don’t promote open discussions, I ask the pastors – what do you have to fear?

      • thank you for reminding me of the bigger picture, that not all sgm churches are as unresponsive as ours seems to be, and you ask very good questions!!!

  3. It seems Grudem is building his case on the absence of evidence and assumption rather than what scripture does say. Perhaps our issues are more to do with those who have been said to be apostles. Paul clearly knew his apostleship as a calling and it was recognised that he was so – one dimension missing in the current day is a demonstration of the Spirits power “I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. – 2 Cor 12:12”

    Given the state of many parts of this occupied world I would think apastolic ministry is as valid as any time in history. The planters and master builders are still needed. This is the second set of “apostles” in my direct experience who have sought to be served rather than serve and give their lives away for little or no reward.

    I still believe that ….. Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be – built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Eph 4 v 11 ….. the need is still the same whoever does it and whatever we call them!

    • Paul – In fairness to Grudem, it’s an excerpt of an interview, not a treatise on apostolic ministry. And, I do appreciate your point of view even though I do not fully subscribe to it. I’ll explain in future post but I think the Bible has evidence that the apostles in the early church were a special class – and there is no continuation of this office in the church today.

  4. This is THE issue, sgmNation. Without apostolic authority SGM would go “poof”. Abandoning this doctrine is what got this crisis really going.

    We all have presuppositions…CJ’s is that the world works ONLY when he’s in charge. All Scripture will be read with this principle in mind. When this happens, apostolic authority will pop up all over Scripture for said reader. The argument will start to rely on prophets and maybe even Judges too because you’re right that SGM canNOT trace apostolic succession as the Roman Catholic Church can. Just watch.

  5. Eph 2:19-22
    19 Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole building, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, 22 in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit.
    If Christ is the chief corner stone then the church is being built by apostles and prophets.

    Eph 4:9-16
    9(Now this, “He ascended”–what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) 11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ– 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.

    Then Christ (anointing has given us these 5 domata gifts for further building and development of the church (called out ones) Church meaning single person – like you and me, church could refer tot he church in the city like in Ephesus (Paul write one letter to all the elders and not address any single individual), Church could refer to the local church, church could refer tot he BOdy of Christ on the planet.

    Why limit it to micro or local context? When there is a whole macro context as well.

    1 Cor 12:27-31
    27 Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. 28 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. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles? 30 Do all have gifts of healings? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the best gifts. And yet I show you a more excellent way.

    • Marlon – appreciate you sharing scripture and humbly presenting your point of view. I’d like to respond but a brief comment wouldn’t do it justice and may be misconstrued as dismissive. So I think you’ve convinced me that I need to write a blog post on apostles and share my understanding. Thanks

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