Recovering the Fellowship of the Apostles and New Testament Eldership Part 2

The Apostolate or fellowship of the Apostles was the foundation of the early Church’s governmental unity and is still the key to the success of the Church’s global mission in the 21st century.

In Matthew 16 Jesus declared that He would build His Church, His Holy Nation, and that He would build it in such a way that the very gates of hell (the governments of cities and nations) would not be able to resist the Church’s march in history. What is Jesus talking about? How can this happen? What is the key to the Church’s functional and structural unity and the success of its apostolic mission in the earth?

In Part I we saw that Jesus Himself established what the New Testament writers call “the fellowship of the apostles” or “the apostolate”. In the transition that took place from the Jewish age to the Messianic age, the Lord took the Kingdom of Heaven from the High Priests and rulers of Israel (the Sanhedrin), and He gave it to the Apostles, the fellowship of apostles or the apostolate (governmental body or council) that Jesus Himself had established. Together these Apostles extended the Kingdom and planted Christ’s Church throughout the Roman Empire. At the Lord’s direction they also ordained elders, who were the ruling pastors or shepherds of the allotments or congregations of the Church, who together with the apostles governed the Lord’s House.

Part II of Recovering The Fellowship of the Apostles (the Apostolate) and New Testament Eldership deals with understanding true biblical Eldership and its relationship to the fellowship of the Apostles or the Apostolate. The Apostolic pattern or model of Church government is patterned after the governmental pattern of the Old testament Israel (first the natural and then the spiritual). But just as Jesus prophesied to the Chief Priests and Rulers of Israel, Christ’s Apostles (the Apostolate) and Elders replace the Chief priests and Elders (the Sanhedren) as the governmental council or Senate of the Israel of God.

It is foolish to talk about an apostolic reformation in the 21st century without recovering the governmental unity established by Jesus in the first century.

RECOVERING THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE APOSTLES (THE APOSTOLATE ) AND NEW TESTAMENT ELDERSHIP is in fact Lesson 6 of AD250 The Non-Negotiables of Apostolic Christianity, one of the most important and controversial courses in the Ern Baxter School of the Apostles Doctrine, Church History and Theology, one of eleven schools or disciplines of study from which we develop our degrees in apostolic and prophetic studies for the Apostles Theological seminary. This powerful and strategically relevant course is one of the courses being offered in our Summer Quarter beginning June 4, 2007. AD250 The Non-Negotiables of Apostolic Christianity is being offered free to all who visit our online website at, and register your user name and password.


C. The biggest issue facing the Church, as we enter a New Millennium, is the issue of structure!

1. How do we connect? How do we commune? How do we govern ourselves?

As I mentioned previously in my article God’s Agenda For The Twenty-first Century the greatest problem facing the 2ist century is not the problem of evil, but the problem of a divided Church!

2. If it is true that “form follows function,” then the modern church, the church of the twenty-first century, desperately needs to recover the form or the governmental order that enabled the early Church to function as the restored House of David, as Zion.

a. We need to recover the governmental order and structure established by Jesus Himself in His own ministry and followed by those first Apostles that enabled the early Church not only to function as One Holy Nation and as the army of God, but also to triumph over the persecution of both the Jews and the Romans and receive the Messianic Kingdom!

b. How desperately we need to rediscover the divine architecture of the Church of the Apostles, the structure of victory!

3. We hear a lot today about the “army of God.” We preach about it and sing songs about it.

a. Some of the greatest Christian hymns and anthems through the ages celebrate the Christ’s Church as a great spiritual army marching forth as Jesus promised to defeat the powers of the kingdom of darkness:  “Like a mighty Army moves the Church of God” and “Onward Christian soldiers, marching as to war…” and many, many more.

One modern writer composed a parody on the old hymn, “Like A Mighty Army”:

“Like a mighty tortoise moves the Church of God…
Brothers we are treading where we’ve always trod.”

b. The tragic truth is the modern church is not structured, nor does it function as an army.

c. We function like guerrilla fighters!

We are fragmented and divided into independent bands or marauding troops fighting our own little battles, often against one another.

We function more like separated “clans” or “sheikdoms,” fragmented, divided, quarreling, and competing among ourselves!

4. A real army has structure!

a. It has a chain of command with generals and officers.

b. It has rank and order.

c. An army has discipline and training.

d. A real army has powerful weapons and battle strategies developed in a war college.

e. An army has a clearly defined mission and purpose.

f. It has marching orders, orders of engagement and commands.

5. If the modern church is ever going to function as one Church and ultimately succeed in its mission to possess cities, disciple nations, and fill the earth with the glory of the Lord, we must recover the governmental order of the Lord, His divine structure! (See Ephesians 4:8-16 and Colossians 2:5.)

a. The Church of the Twenty-first Century desperately needs to recover a structure that will enable us to function as One Church in the earth, as One Holy Nation, as the army of God globally!

b. It is going to take true apostolic government and valid eldership to confront the powers of darkness and governments of the present world system!

D. Through the mercy and grace of the Lord, the Church of the twenty-first century must somehow recover the fellowship of the Apostles, a vital and functioning Apostolate, that together with a biblical Eldership that has been raised up and properly joined or connected by the Spirit of the Lord to work together in cities, regions and nations throughout the earth to extend Christ’s Kingdom and to govern the Lord’s Church worldwide.

(I am not speaking of a man-made organization or a new denomination. What I am talking about is impossible in the natural and will require the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in this century, just as it did in the first century!)

1. Today, we desperately need true “apostolic and pastoral eldership” that can develop apostolic strategies, build the Lord a disciplined and ordered army and lead that spiritual army in conquest over the powers of the kingdom of darkness!

2. Many of us (I include myself in this number) have grown up in “Anti-Church” movements. We have not only had inadequate paradigms of Church, we have also had inadequate paradigms or models of Church government or structure.

a. Many of us have come out of denominational backgrounds that openly declare that Apostles have ceased. We have come out of church groups and denominations whose basic understanding of Christ’s Church is limited to a non-biblical belief in “independent, antonymous, local churches,” and whose understanding of eldership is limited to the un-scriptural concept of the “Senior Pastor and his Elders.”

b. Still others, having grown up in ancient or historic denominations, have bought into the Episcopal model of Church government with Bishops and Priests instead the New Testament order of Apostles and Elders.

Thus in many ways we have not only been “anti-Church, but also “anti-apostolic government”.

c. Many in the present move of the Spirit of God throughout the earth have recently come out of dead religious systems, but haven’t come into proper relationship with valid apostolic government.

Afraid that we might somehow become like the systems and organizations out of which we have come, we have been afraid to come into Christ’s governmental order for His Church.

As a result we have a great governmental problem. Today, many Pastors are not related to any sort of valid apostolic leadership, or even to the other Pastors or Elders in the cities where we labor. And even worse, many Apostles are not related to the Apostolate or the fellowship of the Apostles.

d. It will take true apostolic government and a united Church (a Holy Nation) to adequately confront the governmental structures, cities and nations presently under the sway of the principalities and powers of Kingdom of Darkness!

It will take the Apostolate and a global Eldership to properly unite the Lord’s Church worldwide and to mount the kind of spiritual offensive needed to conquer the powers of the Kingdom of darkness and liberate the cities and nations of the earth.

E. Eldership is inherently a “corporate” or “representative” principle.

“Elders” or “Bishops” (as we have pointed out these terms are used interchangeably) are the true pillars or the foundations of governmental unity in the Lord’s Church worldwide.

1. They are the “spiritual fathers” or heads of father’s households, “ruling Pastors” or “Shepherds” of the Lord’s great flock, each responsible under the Chief Shepherd to guard, care for, “oversee” and “bishop” his own allotment or congregation, but who also with his fellow Shepherds, Elders, or Bishops must guide and govern Christ’s One Church in the earth.  (I Peter 5:1-3, Acts 20:17,28)

a. Elders or Bishops are the spiritual fathers and as such responsible for the welfare of their allotment of believers and best able to represent or speak for them at in council.

b. Thus together, recognizing and submitting to one another, they are to give overall spiritual leadership and government to the Lord’s Church in the cities, regions, nations of the earth.

Together they are responsible for the welfare and success of the Lord’s House, the restored House of David.

2. However, we must also remember that there are different measures of grace and governmental rule. There are local Elders, and trans-local. (It is important to remember at this point that just as there are different measures of grace and governmental rule, there are also different levels of council, local, regional, national and international.)

a. There are Elders or Bishops (the Shepherds or ruling Pastors of the various allotments or congregations) who together in collegiality with one another are to govern the Lord’s Church in a city.

We read of the Apostles and Elders who resided and labored in Jerusalem, who together gave spiritual oversight or government to the Church in Jerusalem. (Acts 15:4)

In Acts 20:17, 28 Paul sends for the Elders of the Church at Ephesus (Obviously he had some sort of ongoing apostolic oversight or governmental authority which they recognized and honored). He admonishes them:

“Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.”

Together, in plurality, the Elders of Ephesus were to oversee the flock of God in the city.

Paul even warns these Shepherds that in the future some of their own number would eventually break rank with their brothers, become wolves, draw disciples after themselves, and divide Christ’s flock in Ephesus. I wonder what the Apostle would have to say to the Shepherds in our cities today!

Clearly the pattern in the Apostolic Church of the first century was one city, one Church with numerous allotments or congregations, a plurality of Elders or Bishops, each overseeing an allotment, but all together governing the Lord’s Church in each city.

We see this pattern throughout the New Testament! (See Philippians 1:1 and Titus 1:5)

b. But there are also trans-local Elders. Bishops (Apostles) who’s governmental spheres reach throughout the Church in a geographic region or a nation.

Thus Peter appears to give overall apostolic leadership and government to the work of God in the region or nation of Judea. (Acts 1: 15ff; 2: 14ff; 8: 14ff; 9:32ff and 10: 1ff)

Paul and his apostolic company, which at various times included numerous Apostles, Apostolic Deputies, and many other fellow workers, worked together with one another and gave apostolic leadership and overall government to the Lord’s Church and to the Churches (City-Churches) in the regions of Cyprus, Crete, Pisidia, Cilicia, Asia, Macedonia, Achaia, Asia and Galatia, preaching the Gospel of the Kingdom, making disciples, raising up Christ’s Church, structuring and ordering Church life and ordaining Elders in every city. (See Acts 13-28, I Timothy 3, Titus 1:5.

c. And of course there are Elders or Bishops (Apostles) whose rule or influence is international or global in scope.

Among these in the first century were the original Apostles of the Lamb, especially Peter, James and John, Paul, and Barnabas. (Consider Acts 15: 6-29, and the first major Apostolic Council that still impacts the work of Christ and His Church worldwide. Also consider Peter’s General Epistle universally acknowledged by the Lord’s Church as a Catholic Epistle, and James addressed his Epistle to the Twelve Tribes, the New Israel of God.)

d. It is critically important to remember that in addition to being special Envoys of Christ the King sent to cities and nations to offer the covenant of peace, Apostles are also Shepherds, Elders and Bishops called to govern His Church.

Today, some Apostles, like James are called and chosen to oversee or elder in a locality or city. (James was obviously recognized by his fellow Apostles and the Elders as the resident Apostolic head or presiding Bishop of the Church in Jerusalem.)

Others like Peter and Paul are called and chosen to oversee or elder the work of God with others so chosen in regions or nations, and even globally, depending on the measure of grace given to them by the Lord Jesus, the Chief Apostle and Head of the Church.

3. The pattern of Eldership in the Old Testament is the foundation for the apostolic understanding of Eldership in the New Testament!

a. The biblical principle is “first the natural, and then the spiritual.” The Old Testament Church is really the shadow and type of the New Testament Church!

b. In Old Covenant Israel Elders were the fathers or heads of the various families, clans, tribes, and the nation.

c. There were not only heads of households, but also Elders of villages and cities; there were Elders or the chief men of clans and geographic regions, of the twelve tribes, and finally the Elders or chief men of the whole Nation.

(Not just local Elders or fathers but trans-local.)

d. “Patriarch” literally means “first father”.
The “Patriarchs” were the “first fathers” or heads of the tribes of Israel. At the time of Jesus and the twelve, the Chief Priests and the Elders constituted the Sanhedrin (the Seventy), which functioned as the ruling Council or Senate. Together they represented and governed the whole nation of Israel.

4.As has already been mentioned, Jesus declared to the Chief Priests and rulers (Elders) of Israel that the Messianic Kingdom would be taken from them and be given to others. Thus after Christ’s death and resurrection, the fellowship of the Apostles and the Apostolate replaces the Chief Priests, and the Elders of the Lord’s Church replaces the Elders of Old Israel as the governing Council or Senate of Christ’s Church. (This fundamental understanding is the basis or underlying principle behind governing councils and synods throughout the history of the Church.)

We see this most clearly in Acts 15, the account of the first Church Council.

a. Look at verses 1 and 2.

There was a great controversy over the issue of circumcision. Paul and Barnabas were sent to Jerusalem to confer with the “Apostles and Elders” on the matter.

b. Verse 6 is a key verse.

The Apostles (Apostolate) and the Elders related to them came together in Council or as a Senate to render judgment or govern the matter.

c. Verse 7 tells us there was “much debate.” And Peter gave his testimony and counsel.

d. Verse 12 tells us that Barnabas and Paul testified and gave their counsel.

e. In verses 13-18 James quotes Amos concluding that the widespread conversion of the Gentiles is proof the “tabernacle” or house of David had been rebuilt or restored in the resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ just as the Prophets had promised.

f. In verse 19 James pronounces his judgment as the resident Apostolic Head of the Church in Jerusalem and the Presiding Bishop of this “Synod”.

In this Jerusalem Council we clearly see the principal of plurality and collegiality in the government of Christ’s one Church in the earth as the Apostles and the Elders discussed the matter together as a Council or Senate.

We also see the principle of apostolic headship as James declares his judgment on the matter. It is interesting to note that James was the presiding Elder or Bishop in this case and not Peter.

g. Look at verse 23. 

There was corporate agreement. The Council of Apostles and Elders bore witness to and accepted James’ judgment in this crucial matter and together with the whole Church agreed to send messengers to the Church at Antioch.

Note that the Council or Senate sent a letter containing an “apostolic decree” from the “Apostles and Elders”. (Look at 16:4,5.)

It is also worth noting here that when Jesus promised Peter and the other Apostles that He would give them the keys of His Messianic Kingdom, He also declared to them, “Whatever you bind (forbid) on earth shall be bound in heaven and whatever you loose (permit) on earth would be loosed in heaven.”

The point is that the Apostles (The Apostolate) and the Elders together governed the restored House of David, the Holy Nation, the Church of Jesus Christ as the New Sanhedrin or Senate.

4. There is no question that the highest governmental authority in the early Church was the Apostolate, the fellowship or communion of Apostles that Jesus Himself established as the foundation of the Church’s governmental unity!

a. The highest authority in the New Testament Church, the Church of the Apostles of the Lamb and those first Ascension-gift Apostles, was not the Senior Pastor and his Elder Board! 

b. It was not a singular Bishop with his Presbyters or satellite ministers and churches! (This is a popular model of Church government and structure in certain Pentecostal and Charismatic circles today.)

c. Nor was it a singular Apostle with his apostolic team and network of churches (Even if he was the Apostle Paul)!

d. No! The highest authority governmental authority in the Church of the Apostles, the restored House of David, God’s Holy Nation, was the fellowship of the Apostles, the Apostolate and the Eldership that it established throughout the Roman Empire!

e. According to the Gospels Jesus chose the twelve that they might be in with Him, in fellowship with Him and each other, and that they might share together in His apostolic ministry and His administration of the Church that He would build!

Luke tells us in Acts 1 Christ’s purpose was that they might each have a portion in His “Apostleship” or “Apostolate”!

f. In Acts 2:41 and 42 Luke tells us that after Peter’s great proclamation of God’s sovereign decree (Verse 14 tells us that Peter stood up with the eleven. Peter was the spokesman that Day, but his word was the message of the whole Apostolate) 3000 souls were baptized and added to the Church.

The new converts continued in the Apostles’ doctrine and in “fellowship”. They had been added to the “fellowship of the Apostles”.

g. Later the Apostle Paul (the arch-type of Ascension-gift Apostles throughout the ages) goes up to Jerusalem by revelation of the Spirit (perhaps this very revelation of the fellowship of the Apostles) and submits his Gospel to those who were Apostles before him, “lest he had run in vain...”

And Peter, James and John, Apostles of the Lamb, give him the “right hand of fellowship,” the fellowship of the Apostles!  (Galatians 2:1-2, 7-9)

h. And finally, the Apostle John writes in I John 1, “…that you might have fellowship with us (the fellowship of the Apostles), and our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son, Jesus Christ!”

As the hymn writer put it, “What a fellowship, what a joy divine!”

When the lord began to deal with me about these matters, as I pondered John’s words in his epistle, my first thought was, “Who cares? Who wants to fellowship with a bunch of smelly fisherman?”

But then I read, “And our fellowship is with the Father and the Son.” And I said, “Count me in! I want to be part of that sweet communion.”

i. This fellowship of the Apostles and with the Apostles was the foundation of the early Church’s unity and the secret of the Church’s success in overcoming the world in the first century.

Very simply, the early Church was one because the Apostles were one! The early Christians and the Churches established in cities throughout the Empire had one faith, Jesus is Lord and King, imparted to them by the Apostles who were part this essential fellowship. They had one experience of God’s presence and power, because members of the Apostolate laid hands on them and imparted the gift of the Holy Spirit. They had one rule or order because members of the Apostolate taught them how to behave in the House of God. They had one spiritual government and functioned as one Church in the earth because the Apostolate and the Elders who were in right fellowship with them governed the Lord’s Church throughout the Empire.

The “fellowship” or “communion” of the Apostles of the Lord Jesus! Many Apostles, but one Apostolate! Many Shepherds, Elders, or Bishops, but one Eldership! Many allotments or congregations of believers (That we call “local churches"), but one united Church joined together throughout the earth by valid apostolic government, as the Household of God, the restored House of David, the Holy Nation, the Israel of God!

If the Lord’s Church is truly going to function as One Holy Nation and as the Army of God in this New Millennium and succeed in its mission to disciple the nations, we must recover this critically important apostolic key!

As Christ’s ministers and as church leaders, we must recover the Apostles’ radical revelation of the Church’s governmental structure, the fellowship or communion of the Apostles. We must recover the New Testament understanding of Christ’s Apostolate and true Eldership!

1. We must understand that Apostles are not only Christ’s Envoys commissioned and sent to governments and nations to bring the government of God to cities and nations throughout the earth, they are also spiritual Fathers or Patriarchs in the House of God!

As Patriarchs (Stewards (See Isaiah 22) of the revelation of the mysteries of Christ, His Messianic Kingdom and His Church), Apostles are responsible under God, to restore the foundations of the Church’s faith and to bring the “spiritual tribes” together governmentally or structurally to function as One Apostolic Church in the earth, the House of God, restored House of David, the Israel of God, the Holy Nation!

They are called and chosen of God to work together as members of Christ’s Apostolate to establish true Eldership, responsible and representative government for His Church, not just in the cities, but also in the nations throughout the whole world! (Councils, Presbyteries and Synods)

2.  But Apostles are not only Fathers, they are also spiritual Generals specifically chosen and commissioned by the Lord Jesus to gather the “independent troops” and “guerrilla bands” scattered throughout the world and build them into a great spiritual army.

As members of Christ’s Apostolate, recognizing and submitting to one another in the Lord, they are to come together in various configurations and levels of council to confer with one another and with valid pastoral eldership to develop effective strategies for the Church’s warfare with the Kingdom of Darkness throughout the earth! (In II Corinthians 10:3-6 Paul speaks of apostolic “strateias” or strategies)

It is going to take a mighty spiritual army, the whole Church, the Holy Nation, to defeat the principalities and powers of the Kingdom of Darkness and possess cities and nations. It will take a corporate anointing!

Any believer can cast out demons and heal sick bodies in the Name of Jesus (Mark 16: 17-18). But it takes a corporate anointing to cast down principalities and powers over cities and to heal the body politic of a nation.

If we are going to see an Apostolic Reformation of the Church in the 21st century, if the Church is going to function as an army, one Holy Nation, and if we are going to succeed in our mission to disciple nations and fill the earth with the glory of God, we must recover the Apostles revelation and pattern of Church government, the fellowship of the Apostles (the Apostolate) and New Testament Eldership.

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