John Eckhardt comes out swinging in this book (originally written in 1999 but revised in 2017) in explaining that apostleship did not cease with the death of the apostles. Unfortunately, his exegesis usually proves to be forced, his conclusions seeming to have been drawn before giving the Bible texts room to “breathe.” I say this as a Pentecostal, having grown up hearing the theory that the office of apostelship indeed never ceased but that the Church throughout her history “quenched” the Spirit. Eckhardt shares such Pentecostal leanings and while I wholeheartedly would agree that the Church has done her fair share of injustices through time, I don’t hold that the lack of the ecstatic is a sure sign of spiritual illness. Here are a few reasons why I would not recommend this book:
A Disregard of Church History
Eckhardt says that the Spirit wasn’t really present until the ecstatic started happening on a large scale (we trace this back to the early 1900s), making it sound like God did this huge cosmic thing in his Incarnation and Teachings and death/Resurrection/ascension and initiation of his church and then just took off for for 1500 years or so, only to restore the church back to glory in the 1900s. To me this reeks of triumphalism as well as the placing of one denomination on a throne above all others. Of course, every denomination has at one time or another been guilty of this.
A heavy reliance on Acts as a blueprint for how to do church is evident, which is the standard (Classical) Pentecostal position. I have changed my position though I still lean towards Pentecostalism in that I (as Gordon Fee-also a Pentecostal) believe Acts is simply the history of the early church. This does not mean we cannot learn from Acts (God forbid!) but this does mean that there is more going on in Acts then just the ecstatic. There is also the fact that there are no poor in the churches but all (wealth) is shared. I would argue that if tongues is to be named as an evidence of the Spirit, then why isn’t this common (and radical) love viewed as an imprint/evidence of the Spirit as well? (Perhaps that’s for another post!) I realize Acts still is meant to show us how to do church up to a point; but it is written primarily as history and not as some sort of church guide.
At one point in Acts we are told that the church (in Acts) experiences a respect from the surrounding city-favor some translations will say. Does this mean that this is prescriptive for all churches? Eckhardt thinks so, writing that “God gives apostolic churches favor in their cities, regions and nations.” This is bizarre to me, since the early church experienced more hardship than so-called “favor”; and since Paul seems to think that to be a Christian is to suffer. So does Jesus (more importantly) for that matter.
Though I hold that the office of apostleship has long ended, I do not pretend that this is an issue that can be easily resolved. Those on both sides of this debate may be grasping at straws since Scripture can be muddy or foggy in this respect. While the author (a continuist) is prone to offering weak “proof” texts to uphold his position, the same seems to be occurring from many in the cessasionist crowd. Those on both sides try to resolve this issue (and others) by mere Bible-proofing, leading to circular (never-ending) arguments. Humility from all Christians is a requirement. Can we admit as the Apostle did that not all things are really that clear?
We don’t yet see things clearly. We’re squinting in a fog, peering through a mist. But it won’t be long before the weather clears and the sun shines bright! We’ll see it all then, see it all as clearly as God sees us, knowing him directly just as he knows us! (Paul in 1 Cor 13:12, The Message)
*I received my copy from Chosen in exchange for an honest assesment
February 11, 2017 at 12:55 pm
I reached the same conclusion too, after reading the book. I am also a Pentecostal who believes the office of the Apostle indeed ceased.
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February 11, 2017 at 5:39 pm
Glad to hear from you, Edmond! What made you come to such a position? (Growing up Pentecostal this position was not favored but seemed to be frowned upon; has that been your experience as well in Pentecostal circles?)
February 11, 2017 at 5:43 pm
I live in Zimbabwe and it seem anyone who plants two churches becomes an apostle. This forced me to look at what the Bible teaches on apostleship and church governance. When I question people on this I’m quickly labeled a heretic.
February 11, 2017 at 8:07 pm
Thank you for a small window into Pentecostalism in Zimbabwe. I appreciate that you are looking at what Scripture seems to be saying and not letting people pressure you (by deeming you a “heretic”) to think otherwise. I am curious to how Pentecostals in Zimbabwe generally view the gifts of the Spirit and the miraculous, namely the gift of tongues? As well as their general stance on women in ministry?
February 11, 2017 at 8:34 pm
Pentecostalism in Zimbabwe dates back to around 1910, through the ministry of a Canadian-American, John G. Lake and a Briton, James Brooke. However, around the same time a political resistance against the colonial government began. The emphasis on the gifts of the Spirit and present day ministry of the Holy Spirit became a political weapon against colonial government. Several African Initiated Churches began, and their emphasis were on the gifts of the Spirit, particularly prophecy.
Sadly, this development led to total rejection of the Bible as an inspired word of God. And in most of these churches anything Western is considered demonic. Until recently, some of these churches discouraged members to visit hospitals, did not allow girls to go to school, and child marriages where common. It is interesting to note that syncretism is quite common.
However, in the past two decades so the rise of neo-Pentecostalism. The newspapers daily report on miracles and purported miracles. One pastor claimed he was going to give people miracle money. Another posted video online that claim to show a woman losing 10 pounds after prayer. The weirdest made people drink sewage water claiming it has healing powers.
The prevailing economic problems facing the country has led to all this. But genuine miracles are even more, the media has no time for them.
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February 11, 2017 at 10:10 pm
You’ve given me much to think about (now I am even more intrigued about Pentecostalism in non-Western countries and how it relates to Pentecostalism in America/the West!). You say that most churches view Western ideas as equaling demonic ones; does this apply to other denominations besides Pentecostalism? Also, I assume that this lends itself to the colonizing Spirit of America/the West?
February 17, 2017 at 8:39 am
Interesting thoughts, I’ve not read the book mentioned, but I am fairly familiar with the group known as the ‘New Apostolic Reformation’ (NAR), which appears to be the same school of thought from which the book is made.
I believe that a common issue with this school of thought is that it is somewhat of a current, and generic trend (rather than a real reformation). According to Paul, the church age is ordered by the five fold ministry (Eph. 4), as Christ has not yet returned this is as True today as it was in the days of the Acts. I think, however, that a problem arises when ‘apostles,’ and ‘prophets’ are believed to be – as you put it ‘church office’ positions.
The word ‘Apostle’ simply means ‘sent one.’ The twelve were ‘ordained’ apostles when Jesus Christ personally sent them. Being sent by Jesus is not, strictly speaking, a church office, or a ministry position at all. A ‘bishoprick’ would infer a position in church office, ‘apostleship’ is different than an ‘office.’
After sending the twelve, Jesus also personally sent Paul – again, not a church office, or position, but a commisioning to work in Christ’s behalf. I believe that all True apostles are sent personally by Jesus (‘apostle’: sent one, all biblical apostles were sent by Jesus = Simple.) This, too, is one point where I take issue with the so called NAR, in that they reduce apostleship to a ministry, or church office position or title. As an apostle, Paul gave Timothy instructiins on how to set up church governances, and nowhere in His instruction did he say that ‘apostles are head of the organization, then prophets are under that…’ rather, he used the terms ‘bishop,’ and ‘deacon,’ etc.
Spiritually, Jesus never stopped sending apostles and prophets this is biblical fact as far as I am concerned because we are still living in the church age. I don’t think that the realities of these were locked away until the Asuza street revival, only that people were not aware of them. If you go back through history God has raised up True leaders and ministers from the time of the Apostles until now. There have been reforms and backslidings ceaselessly in Christian history. I’ve recently blogged a bit on George Fox and the Quakers – who I think originally came closer to nailing apostolic Christianity than the Pentecostals, and the NAR (I believe George Fox was a True prophet in his day). But also the early Methodists were impressively spot on with things (Randy Clark has even claimed that he believes John Wesley was an apostle (though his church office title was ‘bishop’)).
I’d better digress, or I’ll go on talking your ear off. Thanks for the thoughts – interesting discussion, brothers! Look not to the teaching of man or your own human opinikns, but to the Spirit of God deposited within you: He will guide you into all Truth!
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February 18, 2017 at 5:12 am
You bring up very interesting points. I too am very interested in Quaker beginnings as well as Wesleyan roots.
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February 18, 2017 at 7:42 am
Here is the link to my first ‘Quaker’ post – it links to the second which chronicles my single ‘actual experience’ with modern Quakers. These also contain a link to a free public domain digital version of the Autobiography of George Fox, who founded the movement. It is readily evident to me that he was powerfully prophetically gifted; an interesting part of the early movement was the revelatory insight, and prophetic accuracy of many Quakers. They also had some degree of miraculous (a few miracles, and demonic deliverances are told of in the autobiography, though Fox also mentions that he has not chronicled many of the miracles he saw because he believed the generation was to hardened to receive testimony of them.)
March 13, 2017 at 9:35 pm
February 18, 2017 at 7:52 am
Sorry, after all that ado, I did not actually add the link mentioned: