- The biblical apostles were the leaders of the first generation of the Christian movement. In more recent times, various Protestant and other religious leaders have claimed the title as well.The exalted status of the original apostles in the geographically expanding church was based on having known and followed Jesus prior to his crucifixion and resurrection. Paul claimed apostolic status based on his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9; I Corinthians 15:8-10).Through the centuries, the church claimed that authority had been passed to it from the original 12 apostles (minus Judas and plus Matthias) and Paul. The Apostles' Creed was seen as a summary of what the apostles taught. The apostles had passed authority to the bishops through the laying on of hands during their consecration service. The bishops in turn passed authority to congregational leaders through their ordaining the priests.Reformation-era churches held differing views on apostolic authority. The Anglican and some Lutheran churches continued to claim apostolic succession for their episcopacy. Within the Roman Catholic Church, the pope was seen as the "successor to the apostles," and his position as bishop of Rome of the Apostolic See. Catholics use the adjective apostolic to describe a variety of individual officials and offices deriving their authority directly from Rome. However, almost all Christians at that time (and today) assumed that the title apostle was retired with the death of the last of the 12.The position of apostle was revived in the 1820s following the visions claimed by Joseph Smith Jr., which led to the founding of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day SAiNTS.In one vision, the apostles Peter, James, and John gave Joseph Smith and oliver Cowdery the authority to organize the church anew. The two were ordained as modern-day apostles. Eventually, the new church established a self-perpetuating Quorum of the Twelve (apostles).An analogous movement emerged in England when a group of Bible students intently focused on the imminent return of Jesus Christ concluded that this event would not occur until certain biblical signs appeared, including the emergence of the charismatic gifts such as healing and prophecy, and the reestablishment of a 12-fold apostolate. They moved to designate a group of 12 apostles, who in 1835 assumed leadership over what was called the Catholic Apostolic Church. Because they believed the end-time was imminent, they made no provision for replacing any of the 12, and as they died off, the movement languished and has all but disappeared. Another group in Germany in the 1860s also set up a new apostolic core group, whose members could be replaced and whose number was not limited to 12. In the 20th century, this New Apostolic Church has become a significant international body.In the 20th century, a number of newer movements have claimed a form of apostolic authority for their founders/leaders. The term usually connotes the founding of new churches, but also usually implies a larger cosmic role - often prophesies of the end-time. For example, Herbert W. ARMstrong, founder of the Worldwide Church of God, was seen as an apostle. It was the belief of the Worldwide Church that at particular moments, God chooses to do a new work in history and commissions an individual to accomplish it. Armstrong assumed the power to pass his office to a successor; when the church splintered in the 1990s, some leaders claimed to have inherited the title.Various Pentecostals and Charismatics have also used the term. Several years after the founding of Pentecostalism, a non-Trinitarian perspective arose which was known as the "Jesus Only" movement. Its followers took the name "apostolic." While divided into different denominations, the "apostolic" churches have come together ecumenically in the Apostolic World Christian Fellowship.In the 1940s, the Latter-Rain movement appeared among Canadian Pentecostals, who adopted a church organization based on Eph-esians 5:11-12, centered around a five-fold ministry of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. An apostle was someone called and given authority by Christ, endowed with gifts of leadership, and assigned the special task of founding and overseeing local churches. In the second half of the 20th century, the Pentecostal/ Charismatic movement has seen the emergence of a number of new denominations and congregational associations who each accept a particular leader as apostle. In the late 1990s, Peter Wagner, a professor at Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, who had become impressed with the new apostolic groups as the present work of God, organized the International Coalition of Apostles to provide contact and coordination among the new generation of apostles.See also Pentecostalism.Further reading:■ R. Brown, The Churches the Apostles Left Behind (New York: Paulist Press, 1984)■ David Cannistraci and Peter Wagner, Apostles and the Emerging Apostolic Movement (Ventura, Calif.: Regal Books, 1998)■ M. Kraus, Completion Work in the New Apostolic Church (Waterloo, Ontario: New Apostolic Church, 1978)■ James S. Prothro, Apostles: The Missing Link of the Five-Fold Ministry (Marietta, Ga.: Robot Publishing, 1998)■ Wilburn D. Talbot, The Duties and Responsibilities of the Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 1835-1945 (Provo, Utah: Brigham Young University, Ph.D. diss., 1978).
Encyclopedia of Protestantism. Gordon Melton. 2005.