Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions by Alan Johnson: A Review

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Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior
In the latest RBS Tabletalk post, Reformed Baptist missionary Trevor Johnson reviews the recently published book Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions by Alan R. Johnson. According to Trevor, the book not only helpfully distinguishes the unique role of a missionary/church-planter or little "a" apostle from that of a pastor but also highlights the need for the church to pray for and prepare such men for this important role. The book also underscores the need for the church to give greater priority to frontier missions. Those interested in missions and understanding better the role of a cross-cultural foreign missionary will benefit from this book.

Apostolic Function in 21st Century Missions by Alan Johnson: A Review by Trevor Johnson


Puritan Board Junior
Haven't read the book, but I'd like to make one comment. I fear the use of the term "Apostolic" when applied to others than the original Apostles. We cannot afford to forget that those who followed the Apostles in pioneering churches among unreached people groups do not possess the canonical authority of the origninal apostles, and when we use the term apostle to describe a contemporary Christian's church planting function, sooner or later the group surrounding that individual will encounter a strong and highly dangerous temptation to treat his words as having canonical authority.

Dr. Bob Gonzales

Puritan Board Junior

On the one hand, I share your concern that we carefully distinguish those apostles who by Christ's appointment had canonical authority from other church office-bearers who do not. On the other hand, we shouldn't try to be more cautious than the Bible itself in our use of biblical terminology. It's an undeniable fact that the NT writers applied the Greek term for "apostle" to those who were commissioned by the churches for a specific task but who did not possess canonical authority (see, for example, 2 Corinthians 8:23). Moreover, the term "missionary" is nothing more than the Latin equivalent of "apostle." It's more linguistically sound, I think, to use the terminology as the Bible does and allow for different "senses" for the terms.

Thanks for your input.
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Ordinary Guy (TM)

Your fear is exactly why the writer of the review makes a special note that it is not the office of an Apostle that he is talking about.

But, just for the record, though it is too lengthy, I would prefer missionaries, rather, to be called "Sent-Out Servants."


Staff member
I would prefer missionaries, rather, to be called "Sent-Out Servants."

OK, maybe something catchy like "Apestalmeno-doulon." (With apologies to the purists, I wanted it to sound like something in pseudo-technical English).


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
What about the "biblical" term: "evangelist"? Eph.4:11, Act.21:8, 2Tim.4:5.

This is the term the Orthodox Presbyterian Church has preferred to properly describe the position and function of the "missionary" (which latter term historically, our church has also applied to the wives of the ministers, or to doctors--even women--and nurses, etc., administrators; in other words, to employees of the church in foreign fields).


Ordinary Guy (TM)
Bruce, can you tell me more about this? Are you using "evangelist" then as an office or a function? Many, many reformed say that there are no more evangelists from Eph 4, don't they? Is there a sense of being sent out to where the church does not yet exist?

Is there any way - with the use of this term evangelist - to make a distinction between same-culture sending and cross-culture sending? There is a huge difference in sending someone out to Iowa and to Afghanistan. I would hate for Iowa-based efforts and efforts among the Pashtun to get the same screening, training and funding.

Can women and unordained men also be dubbed with this term?

For several hundred years, the more common term for sent-out folks across a cultural boundary has been missionary, whereas many have referred to those evangelizing within the realm of their own ethno-linguist boundaries as being evangelists. Is there anything in the term evangelist that stresses that, no, there is not yet a church in this people-group and that a missionary is sent-out to cross the boundaries of this unreached distinct ethno-linguistic entity to bring them the Gospel?. It appears that the culture-crossing component is better served by the term missionary, whereas those operating same-culture are better referred to as evangelist.

When the OPC broke away, the term in use at large was missionary. Can you tell me why, when the OPC formed, they departed from the accepted terms and adopted the term "evangelist" instead? Was it a reaction against Presbyterian support of "iffy" missionaries at that time, such as Pearl Buck?

Also, how used is the term evangelist used by OPCers, in general, instead of the term "missionary" anyway? Has the term gained wide recognition and traction? Has it ever caught on?

In this address by one of the founding members of the OPC, he uses the term missionary almost exclusively:The Church and Missions

Also, the OPC book of Church order seems to designate "evangelist as an office and limit it to men:

1. Our Lord Jesus Christ established his church of the new covenant on the foundation of the apostles and prophets. The apostles were appointed to be witnesses to the risen Christ, testifying in the Holy Spirit to what they had seen and heard, heralding the gospel to the world, and grounding the church in the teaching of Christ. Together with the prophets they spoke by revelation, recording in the Scriptures of the New Testament the fullness of the truth as it is in Christ Jesus. When their testimony was completed their calling and office was not continued in the church, and the powers and signs that endued and sealed their ministry ceased.

2. Our Lord continues to build his church through the ministry of men whom he calls and endues with special gifts for teaching, ruling, and serving. Some of these special gifts can be most profitably exercised only when those who possess them have been publicly recognized as called of Christ to minister with authority. It is proper to speak of such a publicly recognized function as an office, and to designate men by such scriptural titles of office and calling as evangelist, pastor, teacher, bishop, elder, or deacon. There are diversities of ministry within any office, for every man is called to be a steward of his own gifts. At the same time, a general designation of office may be applied to a group of functions within which separate offices could be distinguished.

3. The ordinary and perpetual offices in the church are those given for the ministry of the Word of God, of rule, and of mercy. Those who share in the rule of the church may be called elders (presbyters), bishops, or church governors. Those who minister in mercy and service are called deacons. Those elders who have been endued and called of Christ to labor also in the Word and teaching are called ministers.

at: Book of Church Order

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How about big-A apostles and little-a apostles?

This is close to what the author of the book advocates, Big A apostles were one-time offices that took the Gospel across cultures to unreached areas and formed the foundation of new churches. Now, missionaries function in this same manner, focusing on crossing cultures and focusing on the least-reached, forming the foundation of new churches among ethne who have never had a local manifestation of the universal church among them.


Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Yes, when one looks at the immediate assistants and successors to the Apostles--men like Mark, Luke, Timothy, Titus--we understand them to be "Evangelists" of a particular kind. Some of them were inspired of God to write Scripture. That puts certain men of a certain class of church-officer into a unique, transitional, first-to-second-generation office of Evangelist. In some cases, they seem to have been solely (by himself) responsible for a wider range of oversight of churches than we think of today in our non-hierarchical churches.

In our church (OPC), we understand that certain aspects of that transitional-office still have a use in the post-apostolic age. Specifically in mission-settings, especially abroad, but also at home. We categorize such men as a species of Minister (Pastor, Teacher, and Evangelist). A missionary might be "founding" a native church. If he is alone in his work, how will "the church" (more broadly conceived) establish a daughter-church? Is it right for one man alone to ordain other ministers? Does that not run the risk of him beginning and continuing his labors as a kind of "bishop"?

That is exactly the shape of which we wish to avoid. Our church, therefore, ordains a man as an evangelist, and entrusts him with a specific (and limited) power of the whole Presbytery (church-unit) to establish a church, and ordain as necessary, in the name of the rest of the church, under circumstances where the evangelist cannot be joined by any representation of the rest of the Church of Christ. In this way, we desire to avoid the establishment of even a semi-permanent "bishopric," a hierarchical ecclesial form which we find is unsuitable outside of the apostolic age.

The Apostles were definitely "over" the whole church, everywhere. No place on earth were they not "rulers," envoys and legates of Christ, the King. They still so rule. They do so (and by them, Christ also yet) by the inscripturated Word. We, his minor Ministers of State, mind our various churches for a time, until we are recalled to report in person, and give an account of our ministry.

"Missionary" is a fine term. I tried to make that clear, and the OPC uses it in its broad sense, which therefore includes many women who either accompany their ordained minister husband, or else are employees of the mission. All these are missionaries, and we commonly refer to them as such.

But, precisely because we so call even women "missionaries," we need a term for the preacher and minister of the gospel. Is he a "higher" office than other men of Presbytery? If so, how could we ordain him? No, but he is one of us. So how is his job different? The circumstances are different. He must be entrusted with the "general will" of the church, which is that we want a proper church established; and that means the ordination of elders and ministers. But if he's the only one on the mission site, he needs the authority granted by Christ to the church, not given to any one man after the Apostles.

The OPC BCO devotes three chs, I believe, to explaining the Pastor, the Teacher, and the Evangelist of the church, as a species of the generic Minister.

As for the question of the difference between Home and Foreign Missions, well our church-bodies all have permanent, separate committees that deal with both those orientations. Of course, there are always various qualities and qualifications that different situations demand. But we recognize that a "church-planter" is not that different in function from a missionary. The biggest difference is in the closeness of support from the rest of the church. The home-missionary is typically operating within the geographic bounds of a Presbytery. But, quite often he starts out in a new work all by himself.

Hope this helps explain further.
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