The apostle is a gift given by Jesus Christ to the Church. Apostleship is a calling. There is a belief that the office of apostleship discontinued with the 12 apostles. However, the Bible doesn’t teach that.
The 12 Apostles
The 12 apostles (with Mattias as the 12th in place of Judas) were foundational to the early Church. The Bible tells us that the Church is founded on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ being the Chief Cornerstone. (Eph 2:20)
Therefore, faithfulness of the church was judged by their faithfulness to the apostles’ doctrine. (Act 2:42; 2Pe 3:2; Jud 1:17).
The 12 apostles along with the elders (among whom was James, the brother of Jesus) at Jerusalem had authoritative position in all matters of doctrine pertaining to the Church universal (Acts 15:2,4,6,22).
Though Paul and Barnabas were apostles who were first sent from Antioch, where they returned and remained, they came to Jerusalem when the dissension arose.
When Philip preached in Samaria, it was the apostles from Jerusalem who came and established things there (See Acts 8).
Paul, Barnabas, Silas and others
We read of Paul, Barnabas, and Silas are called prophets and teachers in Acts 13:1.
But, after the church had prayed for them and sent them according to the will of the Holy Spirit, they are referred to as apostles (Acts 14:4,14).
Paul makes it clear that an apostle is not ordained by any church. One cannot be ordained as an apostle. An apostle is Christ’s gift to the Church (Eph.4:11; Gal.1:1).
He refers himself as an apostle many times and talks of himself as an apostle to the Gentiles (Rom.11:13). He also talks about the signs of an apostle (2Cor.12:12).
The fact that the 12 Apostles were with Jesus didn't give them supremacy over Paul. But, they perceived the grace that Christ had given to Paul. (Gal.2:6,7,9; Rom.1:5). The Church is not an organization with a hierarchical structure. We are not bound in one administrative structure; but, we are bound together in one Body, one Spirit, one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism, one God and Father of all (Eph.4:4-6). Jesus made it clear to His disciples that He wasn't interested in a human organization (Mark 9:38-40).
Who is an Apostle?
An apostle is neither someone who claims by himself to be an apostle nor a title that someone can assume. It is a calling and the true apostle shall be known by their fruits (2Co 11:13-15).
How was Paul able to discern these as false apostles? Of course, by their fruits, their works. They were “deceitful workers”.
In contrast, we see the work style of Paul as a true apostle:
For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit. But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts. For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness–God is witness. Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ. But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children. So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us. For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe. (1Thess 2:3-10)
1. An apostle is someone sent (Gk. apostolos) by Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit to bear witness of Him (Matt 28:18ff; Acts 1:8; 13:1-3; Gal.1:16). In Paul and Barnabbas' case, the Holy Spirit asked the church to separate them to Him Paul and Barnabbas to the work that He had called them to. The calling and the anointing preceded their being separated and sent by the church. (Gal.1:15; Rom.1:1; 2Cor.1:21). The church was only instrumental in sending them away, with prayer, fasting, and laying on of hands, through the Holy Spirit. The church didn't ordain them as apostles; the Holy Spirit called them as such.
2. An apostle possesses apostolic authority (Acts 5; 2Cor 13:10).
3. An apostle preaches the Gospel with the demonstration of power (2Co 12:12; 1Cor.2:4,5; Heb 2:3,4).
4. An apostle lays, with the authority of Christ, the foundation of a church through the expounding of the Gospel, the establishment of faith, doctrine, and order in the church (Eph 2:20; Act 15:41; Rom 15:20; 1Co 3:10,11; Heb 6:1-2). He may remain in a place for a very long time till the church there is fully established and till the Holy Spirit wishes him to move.
5. An apostle has the authority of a spiritual father over those who have been established in faith through him. He is the one whom the church imitates. (1Co 4:15-16). In that area, he is more important than ten thousand instructors or teachers who come and go.
6. An apostle has concern for the local churches (not one but many that he has founded) (2Co 11:28).
7. The apostle is known by his works. His work is the seal of his apostleship (1Co 9:1,2; 2Co 3:1-3).
8. Apostles represent churches for issues and needs that pertain to all churches (Acts 13:1-3; 14:27-28; 15:2,4,5,6)