Paul is very clear – Jesus Christ is the foundation upon which the Church is built (1Co 3:11). He elaborates further, however, when writing to the Ephesian believers and explains that Jesus is the chief cornerstone and apostles and prophets are included in forming that, all important, foundation upon which the Church is built (Eph 2:20).
This is not just a New Testament idea. When interacting with the religious leaders of his day Jesus said that God had (in Old Testament times) sent them both prophets and apostles (Lk 11:49). In fact the Old Testament Hebrew word ‘schalach’ has been translated in the Septuagint (Greek translation of the Old Testament) as apostle and appears some seven hundred times. Prophets, of course, were very prominent throughout the Old Testament. The work of God and the purpose of God, it seems, demands throughout all ages, the participation of these two foundational ministries. We minimize their worth, discredit their value and ignore their importance at our peril!
Apostles or ‘sent ones’ will always lead the charge. They spearhead the advance of God’s agenda. Old Testament apostles we could identify would be people such as Abraham who fathered the chosen nation; Moses, who led God’s people out of Egypt and established Israel as a nation and a theocracy under God; Joshua, who led the people of God into occupying the promised land; David, who established Israel as a kingdom and a significant military power and Solomon who led Israel to its finest hour and we could identify many, many more! Prophets, as we have been discussing quite extensively, were raised up to keep God’s people close to God and committed to living for the reason why they were chosen as God’s special people – to represent Him and His kingdom among all nations.
Apostles in the New Testament, such as the twelve (Mt 12:2-4) and Paul and Barnabas (Ac 14:14), spearheaded the advance of the world Christian movement beyond Jerusalem into other regions of the world. Other apostles, such as James the Lord’s brother (Ga 1:19), oversaw significant works ensuring that established communities of believers grew and flourished. Prophets came to Antioch from Jerusalem (Ac 11:27) such as Judas and Silas and ministered in this amazing Gentile church. Little wonder that the leadership had no hesitation in releasing Barnabas and Paul for missionary (apostolic) work as a result of their prophetic ministry in which they said “much to encourage and strengthen the brothers.” (Ac 15:32).
The ministry of apostles and prophets are foundational ministries! They were in the Old Testament and they were in the early Church. Scripture ranks them first and second respectively in order of importance of all ministries in the Church (1Co 12:28).
Jesus, in continuing to give the Church these same ministries following His ascension (Eph 4:11), gave a clear message that each and every generation of the Church was to build their contribution to the work of the Kingdom, upon this very same, unaltered foundation – Christ the cornerstone together with the ministry of apostles and prophets!
The psalmist says, that unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain (Ps 127:1). More than seventeen times God told and reminded Moses to build the tabernacle according to the pattern God had showed him while on the mountain (Ex 25:14). As laborers together with God (1Cor 3:9) we must build God’s way – building on the foundation of Christ the cornerstone and the ministry of apostles and prophets. An uncompromising focus on, commitment to and involvement in the world Christian movement is the clearest sign we are!