All Christians are called to use their gifts to serve the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12:12–31); nevertheless, God has appointed certain men to specific offices in His church as we await our Savior's return. This is part of His wise plan to equip all of His people for effective kingdom service.
One of these appointed offices is the Apostle. Today, there is a lot of misunderstanding regarding this office, and two errors stand out. First, some people hold the erroneous view that the words of Jesus recorded in the four Gospels are more authoritative than the words of Apostles such as Peter and Paul in their epistles.
Of course, we would want to affirm that Jesus, as very God of very God, has authority over all others, including His Apostles. As important as they may be, the Apostles are, in the end, servants in the kingdom. Their writings, however, have special authority, authority that is equivalent to Christ's authority because when the Apostles speak in Scripture, they are speaking the words of the Savior.
We see that this is the case when we consider the role of the apostolos in the ancient world. In the Roman Empire, an apostolos (from which we get the English word apostle) was anyone with the authority to speak to others on behalf of the emperor. The apostolos had such authority that to disobey him was to disobey the caesar. The apostolos delivered the emperor's word, which was as binding as it would have been if the emperor had been present to speak it himself.
Like these secular apostles, the new covenant Apostles were appointed to speak on behalf of the great Emperor, the Lord Jesus Christ. As today's passage indicates, Jesus chose a select few to serve as the church's foundation, our Lord being its cornerstone. These men delivered the special revelation upon which the church is based, and to disobey their writings in Scripture is to disobey Christ Himself.
Understanding the foundational role of the Apostle helps us avoid the second error regarding this office, namely, that there are Apostles living today. A building's foundation is laid only once, so there have been no Apostles since the church was fully established in the first century. We build on the foundation of the Apostles by obeying their teaching, but none of us is appointed to give special revelation.
The prophets and apostles have given us a sure foundation—the inerrant and infallible Scriptures. We do not expect God to give us new revelation today but only to lead the church into a deeper understanding of the truth He has already delivered to His saints. The words of the Apostles recorded in the Bible must be enough for us, and we are not to follow others who claim to be Apostles today.