Recently I heard a great prophetic teacher (Thamo Naidoo from South Africa) mention in his message that there is a difference between apostles of churches and apostles of Christ. He said that while there were many apostles of churches, there were only very few true apostles of Christ on the Earth today. That one statement exploded on the inside of me and gave me much illumination. I had never heard anyone make this delineation before, but it makes a lot of sense to me. The following is what I have unpacked in the scriptures since Thamo made this statement.
Essentially, the word "apostle" means a person who is sent to represent another—whether a king, kingdom or entity like a church. First Corinthians 12:28 teaches that God places first in the church apostles, since they are sent by God to represent Him in a city to pioneer a beachhead (a church or ekklesia as shown in Matthew 16:18-19) for city transformation.
Apostles are the "sent ones" who represent the essence of what the church vision or mission is all about. In John 17, Jesus constantly referred to the fact that He was sent by the Father to the world, which is one reason Hebrews 3:1 refers to Jesus as our Apostle. Jesus was God's apostle sent into the world to redeem it. In Revelation 22:14, we see the term "the 12 apostles of the Lamb."
There will never be another apostle added to that list since there were only 12. However, it seems evident (at least to me) that Paul was also an apostle of Christ, which means this general category was not limited to merely 12 in total. Paul qualified his apostleship not only by planting churches but also by seeing Jesus (1 Cor. 9:1), which means that apostles at this level must have experienced a dynamic encounter and intimate walk with the Lord.
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In the New Testament there were dozens of people identified as apostles. It is my view that since Paul was an apostle of Christ his apostleship transcended the churches he founded. Although Paul did not found the church in Rome, he was respected enough by the general body of Christ that he was able to write the letter to the Romans with apostolic weight and authority as if he was the one who planted it. Hence, apostles of Christ garner a high level of respect beyond the borders of their own church networks, even though they would never attempt to supplant the authority of an apostolic leader who is the founder and/or leader of another network (unless there was heresy or a gross violation of biblical ethics).
Also, Paul warned that there were some who were masquerading as apostles of Christ (2 Cor.11:13), which probably means that this term (apostle of Christ) was used to identify some significant apostles who were not among the original 12. Furthermore, in 2 Corinthians 8:23, Paul identified some as "apostles of the churches" (not "apostles of Christ"), which I believe refers to the fact that these leaders only had limited recognized apostolic authority related to representing a particular constellation of churches.
Since apostles of Christ directly represent the Lord Jesus, they have a burden and calling for the whole body of Christ and/or a large expression of the global body of Christ. Apostles of Christ are also trans-cultural, trans-generational, and are more loyal to the kingdom of God than to a specific geopolitical affinity.
The following are 10 characteristics of apostles of Christ:
1. Apostles of Christ Build the Kingdom
Oftentimes, church apostles are just focused on their local church and/or their network or denomination. One of the reasons is because their assignment is limited to those works they personally oversee or have founded. They do not have the grace or leadership capacity to go beyond their particular church system, doctrine and/or culture. On the other hand, apostles of Christ have an ambassadorial call that transcends any one church, movement or denomination. Hence, even if they try to focus on one group or movement, God will constantly pull them into other church communities and/or nations to build apostolic foundations related to doctrine or kingdom life.
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