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.