#99: Music Ministry of an Apostle

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #99, on the subject of Music Ministry of an Apostle.

We have been talking about being “called” to “music ministry”.  Our first installment, #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect, made the point that most Christians are not what we call “ministers” and most musicians are “entertainers”.  In #97:  Ministry Calling we examined how to know whether you are “called” to be a “minister”, based largely on who you are, what motivates you and how you relate to others with needs.  Last time we identified five specific “ministries” in #98:  What is a Minister?, and said we would begin looking at individual ministries this time.

A man speaking on behalf of a major missionary organization once said that Billy Graham was not an evangelist.  His contention was that evangelists didn’t merely preach the gospel; they founded churches.

Painting of St. Paul, imagined c.1550
Painting of St. Paul, imagined c.1550

I knew that had to be wrong, not merely because Doctor Graham is perhaps the quintessential modern example of an evangelist but because it didn’t seem to fit what I knew of the first century church–so I looked it up.  The New Testament gives us only one example identified for us (in Acts 21:8) as an evangelist, known to us aptly as “Philip the Evangelist”.  Of his ministry we know three facts, which we will present in reverse order.

The third fact was that after he was some distance to the southwest of Jerusalem he traveled north and east (Acts 8:40), preaching the gospel in towns along the way until he reached Caesarea.  It does not say that he founded churches in these places, nor even that he stayed any time in each.

The second fact was that after his major effort preaching in Samaria he was directed to travel to Azotus in the southwest (known as Ashdod in the Old Testament) where he met an Ethiopian eunuch and explained the gospel to him (Acts 8:27ff), then after the eunuch’s conversion and baptism he let the man continue to Ethiopia and did not travel with him or say anything about starting a church.

It is the first fact that is most interesting in this regard, though.  In Acts 8:5ff Philip, fleeing persecution in Jerusalem along with many others after the lynching of Steven, arrived in Samaria and began preaching the gospel, and many were converted.  Word reached the apostles, still in Jerusalem, and they sent two of their own, Peter and John, who prayed that the Samaritan believers would receive the Holy Spirit.  Philip brought people to Christ, but it appears to have been Peter and John who started the church.

We see this also in the ministry of Paul, who said that he wanted to preach only where the gospel had not yet been heard, who told the Corinthian church, which he founded, that they were proof of his apostleship.  He was an apostle, that is, translated more precisely, an emissary or envoy or representative, whose job it was to found churches, to bring the gospel to people who had not heard it and get them organized into gatherings (ekklesia, which we often render “churches” but which generally refers to groups of people assembling based on some commonality that distinguishes them from the general population) through which they could grow–and then move elsewhere.

But then, aren’t apostles infallible speakers on behalf of God?  Isn’t that why we respect everything they say?  No, and not exactly.

In Galatians Paul tells of the occasion on which quite a few leaders from the Jerusalem church visited the church in Syrian Antioch.  The Jerusalem church, being in the heart of Judea, was almost entirely Jewish believers; the Antioch church, being in a gentile country, was much more integrated.  Jewish and gentile believers sat together at meals.  (This did not mean they ate the same food; Jewish Christians in the first century were clearly still observing kosher diets, while accepting that gentile Christians were not obliged to do so.)  When Peter arrived, he saw that this was the way it ought to be, and joined the party.  However, when James (probably “the brother of the Lord”) arrived, he created a “Jews Only” table around himself, and gradually all the Jews in the Antioch church–including Barnabas and Peter–were separating themselves from the gentiles during meals.  Paul publicly rebuked them:  they were wrong, they were sending the wrong message, they had bought the lie.  Jews might eat different food than gentiles, but all were equally embraced in the family of God and called to embrace each other as equals.  That was the important point in Galatians–but the important point for us is that Peter and Barnabas, both called apostles, were wrong.

The authority of an apostle derives from the fact that he is the person who brought the message and founded the church, and it’s his responsibility to get it organized and see that it thrives.  We have apostles today–most of them we call missionaries in places where there are no churches, working to bring people to Christ and join believers in organized mutual support groups.  The apostle tells people what to do to make that work, and ultimately to make himself obsolete.  The New Testament apostles in a very real sense founded all the churches, and so what they wrote has authority in part because they are the founders of our churches, and they told us the best ways to do things to make them work.

The writings of the apostles have another basis for being authoritative, in that they are “scripture”, that is, we believe God was behind those writings specifically giving us His directions for how we should live and work together.  Note that Mark, Luke, James, and Jude are never said to be apostles in the New Testament, and we do not know who wrote Hebrews, but we do not consider their books any less authoritative than those written by Matthew, John, Paul, or Peter.  They are the divinely-preserved record of our founding principles, and as such are the written basis for all we are.

The apostles of today are on the front lines of ministry, some of them in places like former Iron Curtain countries where faith had been obliterated, some in Islamic countries where a confession of faith can mean death, some in primitive regions where the message has barely penetrated.  They work with people who need to have the gospel, but who need more than that, help and direction in building a community of believers who can work together.

That is not to say that there are no apostles in modern civilized western countries.  Faith has been fading in many of these, and there are mission fields in the cities and the countrysides, places where no one is proclaiming the message of grace and peace.  God sends people into these places to bring hope, to save the lost and unite the dispersed, to build churches not so much as buildings but as gatherings.  These are the first people to minister to a local church, because these are the people who create that church and set it on the path toward unity and love and service.

The apostle’s response to the needs he encounters can vary greatly.  He will of course use whatever gifts he has to meet needs directly, but his greater interest is in creating a community of believers who can meet each other’s needs.  One person’s need within the community is an opportunity for another person to meet that need, and the apostle seeks to make that happen, to make himself obsolete as the community learns to minister within itself.

There is a degree to which the apostolic ministry uses music in the greatest variety of ways, because the apostle has the broadest ministry objectives.  He needs to evangelize like the evangelist, but also shepherd like the pastor and instruct like the teacher, at least until he can find persons in those congregations who are called to those ministries.  Then, once the church is established, he goes somewhere else and starts the process anew.  His job is not to be the ruler in the church, but to be its first servant, and see to it that others are moved into positions of service that allow him to leave.  If Paul is our best example, the apostle will return from time to time to help with any problems, and sometimes stay for a while to support the ministry efforts in one place or another, but the job is to start the church and then get it to a place where it runs itself without him.

So apostles are vitally important to the existence of churches, but they aren’t special in any other sense, and we need them and should recognize them–and particularly if you have that calling, you should understand what it is you are doing.  If indeed you are called to found a church, you probably are not called to stay there long, but to leave it in the capable hands of other ministries while you go found another.  There is no long-term job security for an apostle, one of the reasons Paul and Barnabas did not bring along wives.

Next on the list is the prophet.

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