Is The Church Incomplete Without Prophets And Apostles?


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Latter-day Saints believe that Christ’s Church needs a living prophet and apostles in order to have the original structure that Christ gave his church. They also feel they need a living prophet to give them relevant revelation from God. Even after a person is saved out of the LDS Church, it can be difficult for them to overcome this idea. So what does the Bible teach about prophets and apostles? Is the modern church incomplete without them?

Prophets and Apostles Defined

Let’s begin with definitions. A prophet is someone who received authoritative revelation from God and spoke on God’s behalf, sometimes also writing down that revelation. Prophets were primarily active in the Old Testament era, and once the church begins in the New Testament, their role and importance seems to begin to fade. When the New Testament speaks of a prophet, only 11 out of 144 instances refer to a living prophet in the church.

“Apostle” literally means “sent one.” Sometimes this title was used generically to refer to someone sent on an errand (John 13:16; Philippians 2:25). However, the New Testament most commonly uses “apostle” as a technical term to refer to a member of a specific group of men that Jesus personally appointed to be witnesses of his resurrection with his authority and miraculous power. These are the Twelve Apostles most people are familiar with (Matthew 10:1–4).

Prophets and Apostles were Foundational

Even though prophets and apostles are both gifts Christ gave to the church (Ephesians 4:11), the Bible teaches that they were foundational gifts. Ephesians 2:20 says the church is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone.” The prophets and apostles laid the foundation of the church by teaching about Christ. That foundation has been completed in the New Testament, so their role is complete. Once you lay the foundation of a house, you don’t keep laying more foundations. You move on to build the rest of the house.

Their foundational, temporary role is substantiated by the fact that no one alive today can meet the biblical requirements for being an apostle. An apostle must have been:

  • Personally appointed by Jesus (Matthew 10:1–5; Luke 6:1–3; 9:1–2; Acts 1:2, 21–26)
  • Personally given miraculous authority and power that was under their control (Matthew 10:1–5; Luke 6:13; 9:1–2; 2 Corinthians 12:12)
  • Male (Acts 1:21–26)
  • Involved in Jesus’ earthly ministry in some way (Acts 1:21–26)
  • A legal witness of Jesus’ resurrection because Jesus had physically appeared to them in his resurrected body (Acts 1:21–26; 1 Corinthians 9:1–2; 15:1–9)

No one today meets all of those requirements. That’s why Paul says that he was the last person Jesus appeared to in order to make him an apostle (1 Corinthians 15:1–9). It’s also why Revelation 21:14 states that throughout all of time, Christ only had twelve apostles total, not an ongoing succession of apostles.

Prophets and apostles were foundational to the church, but these offices weren’t intended to be ongoing. Prophets and apostles weren’t replaced when they died. (The only exception to this is Matthias replacing Judas in Acts 1:15-26, but Peter specifies that this is a unique situation that fulfills an Old Testament prophecy). Furthermore, when churches were established in the New Testament, they installed elders (Acts 14:23; 20:17), not prophets or apostles. Paul left a list of requirements for elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3; Titus 1:5-9), but not for apostles and prophets. This implies that only elders and deacons were intended to be ongoing offices in the church.

Prophets and Apostles Have a Role in the Modern Church

Prophets and apostles minister to the modern church through the Bible they wrote. Acts 2:42 says the early church was devoted to “the apostles’ teaching.” This teaching was preserved for us in the New Testament, and their writings still instruct the modern church today.

We see early examples of this even in the New Testament. The Thessalonian church received a letter claiming to be by an apostle and to contain revelation from God that contradicted Paul’s teaching (2 Thessalonians 3:1–3). What did Paul tell them? “Stand firm and hold to the traditions you were taught, whether by what we said or what we wrote” (2 Thessalonians 3:15). They faced a new challenge, but Paul told them to go back to the teaching he’d already given them.

So it is for the modern church. We face new challenges, but we have the timeless teaching of the prophets and apostles in the Bible to instruct us on how to respond to those challenges. Even though they are dead, the prophets and apostles still speak through the Bible they wrote.

The Modern Church Has a Living Prophet and Apostle

“But don’t you need a living prophet and apostles?” someone might ask. To that we answer, “Yes, we do! And we have one: Jesus.”

Jesus is both our living prophet and living apostle (Luke 24:19–24; Hebrews 3:1). He died for our sins, rose in victorious glory, and is exalted at the Father’s right hand. If he is our living prophet and apostle, what else do we need? Don’t put your hope in anyone on earth who claims to be a living prophet or apostle. Rather, look to Jesus, our glorious living prophet and apostle who is exalted in heaven.