I’m wanting to put some thought toward a description of how I see the apostolic gift or office functioning. In thinking about the shepherding movement and the role of the apostle that’s now coming into vogue, I keep hitting on a bunch of negatives… a few themes in a leading order are as follows:
Everybody needs to believe in discipleship, in spiritual growth and maturity. My CLB was a post-discipleship-movement group, so there were a number of people nervous about the word “discipleship,” and a few others here and there who generally meant more by the word than was in the common usage. For the most part, it seems to be commonly assumed that discipleship consists of teaching and mentoring, or giving advice to the less spiritually mature.
In order to facilitate discipleship and mentoring relationships, it seems in some circles that everyone should have a personal pastor, or simply, to be pastored by someone. It is recognized that any good-sized church (by which “large” is intended), will not be able to have a senior pastor who has direct relationships with everyone in the congregation, and other mechanisms or ministries are put in place to provide spiritual care to others. This commonly include a pastoral staff and a network of small group leaders.
Back in my CLB, there was a good share of talk about accountability. Everyone should be accountable to their small group leader, who is in turn accountable to another, who is accountable to the church elders, who are accountable to the senior pastor, who is accountable to other pastors or to the apostle of record, who is accountable to a closed group of like-minded people. It sounds a bit like a pyramid scheme when you explain it like this… but what is never explained is why the people at the top of the pyramid can have peer accountability while everyone else is accountable up the line rather than to peers. Accountability up the line never works out as mutual accountability… it always leaves one person in the relationship with the power and the other person as the accountable one.
The explanation of this accountability pyramid lies somewhere in the discussion of “apostolic authority.” The church was built “on the foundation of the apostles and prophets,” which evidently puts them at the top of the pyramid. As the logic seems to go, one needs to be accountable to someone who is “over” them spiritually as an adviser, an “elder in the Lord,” one with delegated authority from someplace above them. Although much of charismatic evangelicalism will decry the papal system and be outspoken about the priesthood of all believers, some semblance of spiritual hierarchy is retained. It is suggested that some are given responsibility over others for their general spiritual welfare, and this responsibility is attendant with some form of authority with which to fulfill the responsibility. The phrase “spiritual authority” will crop up at times in these explanations.
Those who are “inside” the pyramid of spiritual authority have what is called a “spiritual covering.” They are in alignment with their leaders above them and with God through the authority passed through the apostolic leadership down to the individual believer. Those who are “outside” the pyramid of spiritual authority are in some way deemed to be without a covering, and though specific implications are rarely stated, it is often inferred that they are not under God’s protection from the Evil One, as God’s protection seems to rest in a person’s remaining under a spiritual covering and being accountable to those above. Being “outside” implies that a person is in rebellion (which, one may be reminded, “is as the sin of witchcraft”).
Spirit of Control
I recall from the more fringe-inspired of my charismatic days when the elders of my CLB and others would talk about a “control spirit” or “the Spirit of Jezebel” that was threatening to infiltrate the church, seeking to wrest the “government” of the church away from the church elders and usurp their authority. Odd that the people who talked about it the most were the ones whose control was being threatened. Disagree with what the church elders wanted, and you could be labeled as having “control issues.” Elders never had control issues of course, because they were entitled to have the power. Or something like that… this particular part was never really explained. It was everyone else who was rebellious.
The thing is, there are two places where this progression of terms seems to fit right into place… that of the apostolic ministry as many conceive of it, and the discredited shepherding movement. My own CLB was into the shepherding movement before I arrived, so it had already fallen out of favour when I got there. The function of the apostle and the apostolic adjective was becoming an increasingly common occurrence by the time I left, and I’ve noticed that a lot of the language is the same. So the first thing I need to say about any form of apostolic ministry is that it won’t look or sound like discipleship motifs past nor will it have the taint of authoritarian control.