Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 04/25/1999
"And he gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ."
We are beginning to see that if we are to walk worthily of our calling, the Church must function as it was designed to function, and if the Church is to function as designed, it must be built up through the exercise of Spiritual Gifts, the signs and spoils of Christ's victory, on the part of the whole Body. There is a number of lists of the Gifts in the New Testament. They are not identical, though they do overlap somewhat. Some are longer than this one. But this one seems to be foundational to the others, dealing with those gifts pertaining to spiritual leadership in the Church. The job of the leaders is to equip all the members to use the gifts in the longer lists (v. 12 ff). Therefore, if we want the Church to function properly so we can walk worthily, we had better understand v. 11.
Actually, they are both. The offices are gifts of God to the Church. What would it be without having had the apostles to lay its foundations at the beginning? Where would it be without pastors to shepherd it today? And the officers are gifts of God to the Church as well, if they are chosen properly. For those officers who are truly called are gifted by God for their ministry in the Church.
That process is described in I Timothy chapter 3. It is not the subjective self-appointment many churches have allowed it to become today, though it does have a subjective element. It begins with a (subjective) desire to serve on the part of the individual and proceeds to the (objective) recognition by the existing church leadership of the gifts needed for ministry and the qualifications for office in that individual. Then, after the needed training, they are to be confirmed by the Church and ordained by the laying on of hands. The elders of the local congregation, with the advice of the larger church, should be intimately involved in the process from the beginning. But too often today individuals "feel called" not on the basis of a real desire to serve so much as a guilt trip at an altar call, and then go off to Bible School or Seminary and proceed to candidate for a pulpit assignment without any supervision by their own local church elders at any point in the whole process--and this is done based on their subjective feelings alone, apart from any objective assessment of their gifts and qualifications by those who ought to know them and have spiritual oversight over them.
This short-circuiting of the prescribed biblical process for calling leaders is one of the reasons the church is so far from being the Church today. I have known pastoral ministry students who almost brag that they do not like to read, and who confess that they "have never been good at literature." Now, what under God's heaven possesses such people to believe that they are called to a job whose primary duty is to be an EXPOSITOR of a TEXT????? Not only do they not have the gifts requisite for such an office, they do not even have a clue as to what its nature is, what its responsibilities are, or how it is designed to function. Yet they are sure on the basis of some nebulous "experience" that this is God's will for their lives. And the Church does not challenge their presumption but encourages them in it. Such churches deserve what they get. They will NOT get "the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the Body of Christ."
The Apostles, along with the Prophets, had the job of laying the foundations for the Church (Eph. 2:20). They therefore had authority over the whole Church, not. like the elders, only the local church. The qualifications for this office were rather rigorous. An Apostle had to be an eyewitness of the Resurrection (Acts 1:22, 1 Cor. 9:1), they had to be appointed by Christ himself (Gal. 1:1), and they were supernaturally empowered for the job (2 Cor. 12:12). Their function was to lay the doctrinal foundation for the Church for all time. And their office was temporary; there were to be no successors. This is obvious from the very nature of the qualifications: it was not possible for there to be eyewitnesses of the Resurrection after the first generation. Therefore, those churches and cults that have an ongoing office of Apostle are in grievous error, as is the Church of Rome, which sees the apostolic function continuing in the Teaching Magisterium. So how does the Church get along without Apostles today? The New Testament itself is the ongoing continuation of their ministry. Their writings continue to be the foundation and touchstone of orthodoxy and authenticity for all faithful disciples of Jesus around the world.
The word Prophet comes from the Greek prophemi, which means "to speak forth." A prophet is one who speaks for God. This often involved statements about God's intentions for the future, but prediction is incidental to the prophet's role, not essential. 1 Cor. 14:29, where the churches are instructed to "pass judgment" on prophetic utterances, proves that the NT prophets were not like those in the Old Testament. The OT prophet seems more parallel to the NT apostle. So NT prophets were not so much those who gave God's Word (that would be the apostles) as those with a special insight from God in applying his Word. Prophecy seems then to have been more a gift than a recognized office. In so far as it was an office, it seems to have ceased along with the apostles; the gift continues to function informally in the church.
The gift and office of Evangelist is fairly simple and uncontroversial. These are people with a special gift for explaining the Gospel and calling for decision, for commitment to Christ. Whether informally or as an officer of the Church, evangelists are surely still with us--think of Billy Graham or Luis Palau.
The first and most important thing to notice here is that this is one office, not two. The way the article groups the nouns in Greek makes this crystal clear. Pastors are supposed to be teachers; it is an essential part of their job. The Pastor is a Shepherd: he guides, protects, leads, and feeds the flock. And the way he does this is by teaching--teaching the whole counsel of God in the biblical text. So the model of the Church we often get in conservative American Protestantism, especially here in the South, where the Pastor's primary role is that of Evangelist and the congregation's job is to pay his salary and drag hapless unsaved people in to hear his evangelistic appeals, is simply unbiblical. It confuses two separate functions. (I do not of course mean that pastors should not evangelize, but rather that their primary role is that of equipping the saints so that the congregation as a whole can evangelize.) To fail to follow the NT plan for church offices and ministry is to produce a church which is less than the Church, which is frozen in perpetual immaturity and is ironically not very effective at evangelism either.
No passage is more crucial to the Church being what it was meant to be and functioning as it was designed to function than this one and the verses that follow. Therefore we will be examining that design very carefully in the coming weeks. May God give us the grace to implement it. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams