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Should apostles and prophets govern the Church today?


Previously I shared from the research of John Collins (author of “Weaponized Religion”), whose website exposes credible allegations of fraud and misconduct by numerous charismatic and Pentecostal figures from the past 150 years. Now I’ll offer something a bit more practical: doctrines perpetuated by these individuals, the risks inherent, and alternative interpretations of Scripture we have every right to adhere to instead.

After all, if informed consent is standard before receiving life-altering medical procedures, why are life-altering doctrines any different? It can mean the difference between pursuing one career or another, one romantic partner or another, moving to one place or another. One need only hear stories from ministries such as the International House of Prayer in Kansas City to get an idea of how serious the consequences of our doctrine can be.

Below are two popular teachings which are non-essential for belief in the continuation of spiritual gifts (one may reject continuationism if they wish — I personally have not), have questionable origins, and a proven track record of causing harm in the lives of believers. With this information one can choose to remain in said teachings; or investigate further and rethink them.

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1. The restoration of the ‘Five-Fold ministry’ (the authority of apostles and prophets)

“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, until we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).

“Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ Himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit” (Ephesians 2:20-21).

The Five-Fold understanding of these passages is that they describe church “offices” intended as a hierarchy of governance. Thus, the Church being built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets means some are called to the office of Apostle and Prophet. Without their leadership and “dispensing of grace” as the foundation of the church — with evangelists, pastors, and teachers supporting them — it is believed that the Church will not attain the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.

Most Christians who teach and believe this doctrine are well-intended, unaware of its origins and who it historically benefited (cult leaders Jim Jones and Paul Schäfer, for example).

The Five-Fold is a derivative of Manifested Sons of God theology, which itself has unclear origins. This theology is usually credited to George Warnock’s book “The Feast of Tabernacles,” published in 1951; but research traces the doctrine as far back as Frank Sanford in 1901[1], and there is evidence it was taught by William Branham in 1947.  According to researcher Stephen Montgomery (author of “Converging Apostasy”), it may have evolved from a body of Christian and esoteric literature over a period of centuries. John Collins places modern roots in the doctrines of British Israelism. The most influential early figure to bring these teachings to the United States was John Alexander Dowie[2], who used them to become unfathomably wealthy. Modern iterations bear varied resemblances to these early doctrines.

By labeling oneself an Apostle or Prophet under the Five-Fold, one may wield a tremendous amount of nearly papal influence. This is because Five-Fold labels of Apostle and Prophet imply divine authority and revelation in a way other titles do not. While most church leaders are well-intended and their communities vibrant, this set of beliefs tilts towards manipulation and lends itself well to being exploited by individuals high in traits such as narcissism and psychopathy. An elevated risk of spiritual abuse results.

An alternate reading of Ephesians is that “apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers” refer to gifted yet ordinary individuals who serve the Church and community in distinct ways, but not to a hierarchy of leadership. “The foundation of the apostles and prophets” has historically been understood to refer to the Old Testament prophets and the 12 Apostles.

These more traditional readings are not at odds with belief in the continuation of miracles in response to prayer, or with belief that the Holy Spirit speaks to believers today (without adding to the canon of Scripture). One may reject a church hierarchy based on spiritual gifts without rejecting the existence of spiritual gifts or a diversity of ministries.

Most of the body of Christ believes church leadership is described in 1 Timothy 3, where the qualifications for bishops and deacons are outlined — not in Ephesians 4:11. Elders are also frequently referenced throughout the New Testament as having leadership in the church (a simple read on this subject can be found at

Using these passages, God’s intent for a much safer and more democratic form of church governance may be safely inferred.

2. End times revival to usher in the return of Christ (the spirit of Elijah)

This also emerged from Manifested Sons of God doctrine, in which the Five-Fold is seen as necessary to equip the church to usher in the End Times revival. Two key Scripture verses are:

“Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet Before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord. And he will turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the hearts of the children to their fathers, lest I come and strike the earth with a curse” (Malachi 4:5).

“And it shall come to pass afterward that I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants I will pour out My Spirit in those days. And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth: Blood and fire and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the coming of the great and awesome day of the Lord” (Joel 2:28-31).

Although Luke 1:17 identifies John the Baptist as the man who came in the spirit of Elijah to prepare the way of the Lord, a trend emerged in the 1900s where the coming of the second Elijah was imminently anticipated by some, and a generation operating in the “spirit and power of Elijah” by others. Many followers of William Branham believe he was Elijah to come (spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 17:11), and some modern charismatic organizations teach the coming of an Elijah generation.

This generation is expected to supernaturally manifest before the return of Christ, and is tied to other verses such as Romans 8:19: “For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God.” This may mean aspiring to as many supernatural acts as possible or engaging in 24/7 prayer and worship.

Churches popularizing a Manifested Sons of God-derived message attract passionate young people, but the burden to usher in an end-times revival is not a sustainable mindset for most adults needing to steward their marriages and support their families. As they grow older, some experience guilt and shame for abandoning their apostle/prophet’s spiritual vision and mission in favor of more practical responsibilities.

An increasing number of researchers are concerned this burden is a modern resurgence of ancient gnostic teachings, and not required for a life fully devoted to Christ and ready for His return. The Bible gives provision for simplicity: “Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need” (Ephesians 4:28).

“He has shown you, O man, what is good; And what does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”(Micah 6:8).

“But we urge you, brethren, that you increase more and more; that you also aspire to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you, that you may walk properly toward those who are outside, and that you may lack nothing” (1 Thessalonians 4:10-12).

To conclude, while all of church history and orthodox theology affirm the importance of evangelism and missions, it is not historically orthodox to believe the very return of Christ is contingent on believers ushering in an “end times revival” under the “spirit and power of Elijah.” Combined with Five-Fold Restorationism, this teaching has created many high-control cults and unhealthy churches.

It is important for every charismatic believer to know they don’t disappoint God by rejecting either of these teachings or any leaders drawing unhealthy authority from them. Sweeping generalizations are unhelpful, but careful thought is necessary. Each Christian is free to examine Scripture and history for themselves; to choose the church they attend and the plans they make for their life.

[1] Cult Mysteries Linger. 2016, Feb 14. Sun Journal. “During an evangelical convention in Auburn at a temple on the corner of Union and Summer streets, Sandford announced on Nov. 23, 1901, that he was the prophet Elijah. According to Scripture, Elijah arrives just before the end times.

[2] Dowie Testifies. 1902, Jun 3. Piqua Daily Call. "'Dr.' John Alexander Dowie, the proclaimed 'Elijah the Restorer.'"

Dusty May Taylor is a freelance writer, blogger and podcaster living in British Columbia, Canada. She can be found on X (@DustyMayT) or through her website at

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