Why I Love...and Need the Apostolic Ministry: It Provides Clarity of VisionThursday, January 06, 2011
Over the next several posts, it's my attempt to describe some of the functions and benefits of the apostolic ministry as I have experienced them personally. These posts are not intended to be a formal theological treatise defending the ministry as a whole. Rather, I'm writing from the perspective of one who naively assumes that the apostolic ministry is something Christ still has for His church until He returns, and therefore as someone who benefits from it greatly.
One: The Apostolic Ministry Provides Clarity of Vision.
When I was six or seven years old...I can't remember for sure, perhaps for obvious reasons you're about to hear...I was hit in the right side of my head with an aluminum baseball bat. My right eye socket was crushed, my eye slightly spilling out of my head. If my life was a movie, this scene would make it rated PG-13 for disturbing images. I have no pictures today, only the recollection of reports from friends and parents. I was playing catcher, while the 18 year-old coach was hitting balls to other team members who were fielding. I guess that was pretty normal for an 18 year old, feeling like he had to be the one to hit all the balls, feeling the need to show off with how far he could hit a fast ball from a 7 year old. I'm sure it was quite impressive.
During this whole time I was foolishly not wearing a face mask. I complained of not being able to see well with it on, without any thought of the fact that I can see even worse today as a result! Nor was I wearing the standard hard helmet. That was probably because my mom was always calling me a hard-head, so I figured I didn't need more protection. Then as the next pitch fired into the batter's box, he stepped back and reared back his bat preparing to knock another homer. In his zeal to impress us once again, his back swing almost took off my head.
I don't remember much after that...obviously. I remember waking up laying on a stainless steel table, in the church kitchen. It was Wednesday night, and dad was preaching. He had to be interrupted and called to the kitchen to see what I'm sure was a macabre sort of scene. I then remember a blood soaked towel wrapped around my head...then moments later my head laying in mom's lap in the backseat of the car, only to fall out of consciousness again. When I came to, I was sitting up, strapped to a special chair, getting my head x-rayed. I went out again shortly thereafter, due to the anesthetic prior to surgery. I distinctly remember thinking that this was my moment...to rebuild my eye...and make it just like Steve Austin, the bionic man. "We can rebuild him," I faintly heard. Instead, I awoke in the hospital room with my head all wrapped up, and my bionic dreams crushed with my head. The diagnosis was that my eye socket had in fact been crushed, and prosthetic parts had to be fastened together with what looks today like one of those garbage bag twist-ties. My eyesight in the right eye would never be the same, of course. And every year it seems to get a tad worse.
I was deer hunting yesterday just before dusk. It was getting darker by the minute. I'm right-eye dominant, which means I favor looking through holes with my right eye. But as I looked through the scope of my Marlin 30-30, it was difficult to see clearly. I focused the scope a bit. No good. I cleaned both lenses. Still no good. "I just got a new pair of glasses a year ago!" I'm thinking to myself. Thankfully, I have a decent pair of binoculars which interestingly has a right eye focus. This means I can look through the binoculars, focus them with the top knob, but then fine tune the focus with the right-eye view finder. Ahhh! That was the trick! Now the main focus, and the right eye focus were working together to give me clarity. I began thinking about how I could affix them to my head with an elastic strap so I could see better all the time. Looking like one of the heroes from G. I. Joe would be cool. But that would look weird, and scare my church family. So I didn't do that.
However, I did discover that the apostolic ministry is much like the binoculars I was using yesterday. For various reasons due to sin and my own personality wiring, I don't have the complete picture. Things aren't very clear all of the time. Like the rest of us, I live out of focus...a lot. I'm in good company, however, because the Apostle Paul did too. "Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror..." (1 Cor. 13:12). One day Jesus will come back and I'll see everything with perfect clarity. Until then, Jesus has given His church apostles (Eph. 4:11). And here's their biblical job description.
"Their responsibility is to equip God's people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God's Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won't be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love" (Eph. 4:12-16).
So basically the apostolic ministry has been given as a gift of Christ Himself in order to provide vision and clarity. And the vision is unity and maturity. The other gifted people (prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers) do the same thing, of course. But the apostolic comes first because biblically it seems to function kind of like a set of guardrails along a highway, ensuring that despite whatever accidents might occur, they don't spill over off a bridge or ravine, or into the other oncoming traffic. Apostles keep that vision of ministry in front of us. And in so doing, they help maintain clarity. Vision creates clarity, when it's communicated right.
When things in the local church get out of focus, which they always will from time to time (some churches more than others, of course), apostolic ministry reminds the church of the biblical vision from Jesus Himself, and thereby sharpens the focus of the "ecclesiastical binoculars" so that the flock can see more clearly. The prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher may serve as the primary focus, much like the top knob on my binoculars. But the apostle serves as that right-eye focus on my binoculars, bringing an ever-sharper clarity to the ministry in a local church.
I'm so glad I have the apostolic ministry in my life. Without it, the vision I attempt to provide as a pastoral leader in my local church would be as bad spiritually as the vision in my right eye physically. In other words, I can't do it by myself. That's why Jesus was smart enough to put me in a team with other men whom I need in order to keep our church in target and heading in the right direction. I'm supposed to be on a team with apostles and prophets, etc. because without them my leadership would look like that one-eye-patched pirate on Pirates of the Caribbean, probably with the drunken, growling, Australian-accented speech included! And the band of people I attracted would probably be just like me! What a church that would make! Thank King Jesus for the apostolic ministry!