The word charism has tones of graciousness, of generosity, and of a joyful liberty. Paul speaks of different charisms, their functions and proper usages in the church. A charism is a free and gratuitous gift and it is for the building up of the community. In the first letter to Corinthians, Paul discusses in detail about the various charisms. Paul also puts apostleship as one of the various charisms operative in the church. He asks, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles?” (1Cor 12:29 NRSV).
The apostleship heads the list of charismata for the building up of the Church. The term apostle is derived from Classical Greek ἀπόστολος (apostolos), meaning “one who is sent away”. The apostle is the one who is sent out to the world to spread the Good News and establish the kingdom of God in the name of the Lord. He or she is an emissary of the Lord. In the early church, the apostle needed to be some who has been with the Christ, starting from baptism to the time he was taken up. The Acts of the Apostles states, “So one of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these must become a witness with us to his resurrection.” (Act 1:21-22 NRSV). An Apostle also needs to be one who is chosen by the Lord. That is why they pray to God, before deciding on Mathias to be the apostle in place of Judas. “Then they prayed and said, “Lord, you know everyone’s heart. Show us which one of these two you have chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside to go to his own place.”” (Act 1:24-25 NRSV)
Over the centuries, the Catholic Church understood the apostleship as an office. This office is, therefore, carried over to Bishops, who are the successors of the twelve apostles of Jesus. But if the above Biblical passage could apply to the office of the apostles, I find it difficult to understand how anyone could become an apostle today. Therefore, a broader understanding of apostleship could help us to understand the charism of apostleship.
The apostleship as a charism could explain why Paul uses the term for himself and others who are in the ministry of the word (1 Cor 4:9: 9:5; 15:9). He even uses the term to refer to Junia (Rom 16:7), who could be a possible women leader of the church. The word is also used by Luke for Paul and Barnabas (Acts 14:14). However, he uses this word towards the end of the book and after this usage he would always use the word apostles with elders. So probably, Luke might have noticed an increasing phenomenon of Paul and Barnabas and others being called as the apostles.
By rightly analyzing the above passages, we can very well say that, Apostleship is a gratuitous gift. It was given to the twelve apostles of Jesus as a free gift. “He went up the mountain and called to him those whom he wanted, and they came to him. And he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons (Mk 3:13-15 NRSV). They were called not for their own benefit and edification, but for the building up of the church. That is why apostleship can rightly be called a charism. As it is rightly quoted,
“The Apostolic office contains in itself a claim to all charismata, for the object of its ordinary working is identical with the object of these special gifts: the sanctification of souls by uniting them in Christ with God. The Apostles received the first great effusion of charismata when the Holy Ghost descended on them in the shape of fiery tongues, and they began to speak in diverse tongues. Throughout their whole missionary activity they are credited with supernatural powers by Scripture, history, and legend alike. The legend, however fanciful in its facts, is built upon the general sense of the Church. Through the Apostles the fullness of Christ’s gifts flowed on to their helpers in various measure, according to the circumstances of persons and places.”
Apostleship is therefore a charism, and as a charism still continues to be freely bestowed on the individuals for the building up of the church. This charism might accompany other charisms. But anyone who is doing the apostolate of Jesus can rightly be called an apostle. That is why Mother Teresa of Calcutta is known as the apostle to poor and destitute, St. Francis of Assisi can rightly be called the apostle to the nature, etc. This apostleship also invites us to be a missionary of Jesus, to proclaim his words, even to the people who have not heard about Jesus, like St. Francis Xavier, the second apostle to India.
In my personal experience of being called to the ministerial priesthood of Jesus, I always thought about it as a free gift which is given to me for the building up of the kingdom of God. If my call was only to the priesthood, I might end up as being a mere cultic priest. Therefore, I understand that my call to priesthood is a call to be an apostle.
This apostleship can co-exist with the office. The charisms and office are often said to be in conflict. But in apostleship they can co-exist and complement each other. Having said this, I do not intend to minimize the charism of apostleship exclusively to the office or to those in hierarchy. It is a free and gratuitous gift and therefore can be bestowed upon anyone whom God chooses (cf. Mar 3:13-15). God can call anyone to be an apostle. The great apostle Paul is an example of that.
Therefore, if God chooses one to be an apostle, he or she should strive to be an emissary of God. This call can be to different spheres of life. One may be called to be an apostle to Eco-systems, to social-service, to education, to proclamation, to service, etc. These calls are, therefore, to different apostolate. If we can give Christ to the world, we can become apostles. One needs to find out his apostleship. It calls for discernment.
Therefore, if one wants to be an apostle, he or she also needs to respond to the call very positively. As the Gospel of Mark says, “… he appointed twelve, whom he also named apostles, to be with him, and to be sent out to proclaim the message, and to have authority to cast out demons.” An apostle should, therefore, have the God-experience. He or she is an emissary of God, one who brings God visible in the world.
We must understand that apostleship is a charism and as a charism it is a gratuitous gift and should be used for the building up of the community. “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ” (Eph 4:11-13 NRSV). If one calls himself or herself as an apostle of the Lord, he or she must strive to build up the body of Christ.
* The above article first appeared under my previous blog https://biblicalstudent.wordpress.com.
* It was reproduced from my notes. No plagiarism purposefully intended.