Recently one of my spiritual daughters encountered a so-called “apostle” on Facebook who just wasn’t honest about something. It was my spiritual daughter’s group, the one she created, and there was a question about the direction a certain aspect of the group was going to take. The so-called “apostle” had already more-or-less taken over several different aspects of the group, without permission, and did not agree with the course of action the group was to take.
Instead of just being honest and calling this what it was – which was a power and control struggle, a battle of the flesh – this so-called “apostle” tried to spiritualize it. Her defense? The “apostle defense.”
I’m going to guess none of you out there have ever heard of the “apostle defense.” That’s because it’s my term coined to describe what keeps going on in the Body of Christ. The “apostle defense” is when a so-called “apostle” uses (or should I say, misusing) the gifts and calling of the apostolic office in order to defend fleshly behavior geared around power and control. I have seen it time and time again: someone is challenged, someone doesn’t like it, someone tries to take over, and someone else attempts to completely crush a vision in the process…all in the name of being an “apostle.”
I’m tired of the apostle defense. Yes, as apostles, we are gifted with vision, foresight, creativity, creative ability, authority, and establishment. We are established to build the Kingdom of God, tear down things that are not of God, establish order, and walk within the spiritual edification and building God has placed within us. There are so many ways in which God gifts the apostle for the Kingdom. At the same time, just like anything else, we must check ourselves spiritually, exhibit spiritual maturity, and so much more. Gifts are nothing if they are not turned to fruit. In that vain, anyone can claim to be an apostle with a series of gifts that sound good, look good, and seem to work good…until the flesh is challenged.
Out comes the “apostle’s defense.”
One of the main defenses of this woman was the key that she could not ascribe to the order of the group leader because she is an “apostle.” In her minds’ eye view, and according to her own words, apostles are the highest calling of the entire five-fold, the five-fold rolled into one. For this reason, whenever she disagrees with something or feels it is out of alignment with her vision, she will conform it to her vision. She will tear down anything she sees fit to tear down and replace it with whatever she feels is appropriate in its place. Because this is her concept of being an “apostle,” she cannot and will not submit to anything or anyone else’s vision as it does not conform to her own.
There are numerous serious errors in this type of thinking. The apostle’s ministry is NEVER spoken of as being a “higher calling” over the others. The Bible identifies that apostles were first appointed, then prophets, then teachers; but this is a statement of establishment in authority, not preeminence. The five-fold ministry is an establishment by Jesus Christ to build up and edify the church (Ephesians 4:11-16). It is not a hierarchy, but rather, a balancing of gifts given by the Father to ensure the church has everything it needs and is perfected in every area. No office of the five-fold is the others rolled into one; they are separate offices established for separate purposes that come together and work efficiently in decency and in order. While several of the offices may share in different spiritual gifts and may complement each other, there is no “highest calling.” Ministry is not some sort of divine climb up the ladder of success. To give an illustration, the five-fold ministry is not a 1950s singing group where the apostle is the lead singer and the other four ministries are the back-up singers. Apostles are an important and essential aspect to the church. They are essential for its well-being, health, and function; but the church can’t fully function without the other four offices, either. We have a five-fold ministry because we need all five offices. Just as it is a mistake to assume the church can function efficiently thinking the pastor is every office rolled into one, we likewise can’t make the mistake of assuming the apostle is every office rolled into one and ignore the rest of the five-fold.
I am truly exited to live in a time where so many are embracing the five-fold calling and to see true apostles rise up. At the same time, I am seeing more false apostles rise than true apostles which causes me grave concern. When God called me to be an apostle in early 2004, I’d never even heard of an apostle before. Now all I hear about are apostles and prophets, and we have gotten just as out of balance in the area of the apostle as we used to be with the pastor. Now being an apostle is a defense for all sorts of nonsense, power and control, and the excuse that people must submit to everything a so-called apostle does, with no regard, respect, or dignity for the fact that all five of the offices herald a certain level of authority and vision and the authority and vision in question must always be respected.
We also have the question of the “s” word in here: submission. I am the first one to admit that the office of the apostle demands a certain amount of respect. At the same time, apostles do not have the right to step on the toes of other people in the name of their office or their authority. If we are a part of a bigger ministry, bigger group, or joining something that is not our own, we have to submit to the vision of that group. Why? Because by joining it, agreeing to participate in it, or somehow share in it, we are saying we believe the vision is of God. Even though we don’t get the vision ourselves, we are saying that yes, this is a part of the Kingdom of God and I want to be a part of this individual’s Kingdom vision. If we can’t handle that, we need to not join the group. If we can’t handle it, we also need to look at why. The Bible commands ALL believers to submit to one another as believers in the Lord (Ephesians 5:21). Submission to our leaders is just the beginning of what God asks of us in the Kingdom. This means we show common respect, courtesy, and support to any vision we can affirm is a part of God’s Kingdom. While I do believe God puts us in certain circumstances to bring forth correction, discipline, or order where there is none, that doesn’t mean EVERY situation we find ourselves in calls for that. If we are participating in someone else’s vision, we need to make sure we hear from the Lord as to how to handle the situation and what we are going to do if the individual doesn’t submit to the word God is bringing forth through us.
As an apostle, I am going to be very transparent in saying something about all of us who are called to this office: we can be a bunch of hotheads. This includes me. The apostle is intense, fiery, passionate about the things of God, and not shy in speaking out about what we feel is wrong. By virtue of our call, it is in our very nature to correct what we disagree with. That therein is what we need to check, and why it is so essential we rely on the revelation of God and His maturity in us rather than our spiritual gifts to carry our ministries. I know in my own life, I was much like I am now even before I was an apostle…even before I was saved! I was bold, daring, and spoke my mind. I was bossy; I told everyone what to do. I was a great administrator and was good with leading people. I had a gift but I didn’t know how to use it. Yes, I was good at leading people and good with administration, but I also turned a lot of people off because I was leading by the flesh. I would get angry when people disagreed with me. I would be furious when someone contradicted me, or did something different from what I did. I didn’t understand why people would seem to have half of stuff right and deem the rest wrong. I was a hothead. I threw fits, started fights, and caused rifts. My gift wasn’t being used properly and instead of building up, it was used to tear down and break apart.
God has spent years building the needed spiritual maturity within me to allow me to call myself an apostle. It was a process; not an entitlement. Apostle is a ministry; not a title. It is an honor to be in God’s service and a powerful realization to recognize we walk with others in the Kingdom. I cried for a week when God started to deal with me about myself. You know what? I needed to grow up. I didn’t need to remain as a pouting, whining baby. There is no time for fleshly nonsense in the Kingdom and I have no tolerance for it. If you can’t handle yourself with other people, you can be as gifted as you like. You are not qualified to serve and call yourself an apostle.
How people who claim to be apostles handle conflict and disagreements is a strong point of their calling and leadership abilities. It is also a sign of their spiritual maturity and ability to handle others. Blaming flagrant disrespect and fleshly power and control on the fact that one is an apostle is simply unacceptable. Even now, I do not shy away from confrontation, because that is not what God has called me to do. As apostles we must handle situations, disagreements, and conflicts on a regular basis. When something is wrong, we must present it as being wrong – but we must PRESENT the error with the Word and with the authority of the office. It’s not a matter of “I’m Diana Ross and you are a Supreme. Submit to MY VISION!” Rather, it is walking in the office of discernment to the point where we know what is God from what is not, and we are prepared to stand up for what is NOT God with the grace and dignity of our office.
I am not naive enough to think everyone always accepts the office of the apostle or the authority therein. There are at least two men on the internet who have labeled me as a “false apostle” because I would not recant my calling to please them. Neither situation ended well, but it wasn’t because I behaved disrespectably; rather, it was because they did. The circumstance that inspired this blog is not one of those circumstances. If you can’t submit to any vision other than your own, that tells me you’re not submitting to the vision of God because the Kingdom of God is bigger than each one of us and requires ALL of us as Kingdom builders to proclaim, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is at hand” (Matthew 4:17).
We need to be honest with ourselves about who we are. We need to be honest with others about our calling and our ministry. If we don’t want to do something, we need to step up and accept responsibility for our own feelings – and distinguish those from the spiritual demands, callings, and anointings of the apostolic office. Above all, we need to pray for discernment – because that is the ultimate spiritual gift. Don’t abuse the calling God has placed on your life. Walk as you are called and in the Spirit of Wisdom. No matter what your calling may be – there is no defense for immaturity of the flesh!
(C) 2011 Lee Ann B. Marino. All rights reserved.