And He Himself gave some to be apostles…. — Ephesians 4:11 NKJV
When I was growing up, I was told there was no such thing as a living apostle. Our denomination taught that all the apostles died at the end of the “Apostolic Age” — along with miracles, signs and wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit! To my young mind, the term “apostle” belonged to a group of 12 legendary men who walked with Jesus 2,000 years ago. Once they died, that was the end of that!
But over the past decades, we have learned that much denominational teaching was wrong. Miracles, signs, wonders, and gifts of the Holy Spirit are still “alive and well.” Prophets, also previously considered relics of the past, are recognized and honored. No one would argue that the Church is also blessed with fiery evangelists, powerful pastors, and profoundly God-gifted teachers. But now — at the end of the age — it is finally being recognized that the apostolic gift still exists.
The apostolic gift has always been around, but the theology I grew up hearing wouldn’t sanction someone being called an apostle. To call someone an apostle seemed ludicrous and arrogant. Everyone “just knew” there was no such thing as an apostle — and to call a person by this name was almost considered a blasphemous insult to the first 12 apostles.
So thanks to our scholarly ancestors who read and spoke Latin, we reverted to calling apostles by the Latin name missionaries. But “missionary” is not a correct term in this context. The only reason we called apostles missionaries was the fear of retribution for calling them apostles, as they often should have been called.
I am not implying that everyone who is a missionary is an apostle. Some people are called to be missionaries — people who sense a need to go on a mission to help the work of God. This work is very beneficial and needful, but it does not in itself constitute an apostolic call. Often these are truly missionaries and not apostles — people sent by the local church or their denomination to help in some way on the mission field.