Dear Church Family,
In the adult Sunday school class, we have been learning how to interpret the prophets of the Old Testament. One of the things that has been helpful is to define the office and role of a prophet. Of course, this has led to further discussions concerning the role of apostles in the New Testament, and the continuance of certain offices in the church today.
Among Christians, there are several views concerning the offices of the church. Even within Presbyterianism, with regard to the offices of the church, there is debate between those who hold to a two office view (elders, deacons) and a three office view (pastors, elders, deacons). Painting with a broad brush, however, most Christians agree that the Scriptures describe various offices with various roles which God has given as gifts to the New Testament church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, elders, deacons (Ephesians 4:11-13; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1). Some may add or take away from this list, but in general, these are agreed upon among most all Christians.
Foundational Offices in the Church
The disagreement comes when one asks the question: Are any of these offices extraordinary and foundational, and therefore no longer applicable in the church today? Here, there is a continuum of opinion. Again, painting with a broad brush, on one end of the continuum are those who believe that all of these offices continue into the present day. Typically, these are the charismatic and Pentecostal churches, along with those churches which have been influenced by their theology and doctrine. On the other end of the continuum are those who believe that the Scriptures teach that some of these offices were temporary and foundational, and therefore do not continue into the present day. The Reformed and Presbyterian tradition, along with those churches influenced by their theology and doctrine fall in this latter category.
About a year ago, I was teaching a lesson in which I referenced and read Ephesians 4:11-12 where the Apostle Paul says that Christ “gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and 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.” After the class, a visitor came up and told me of how he had just read a book on something called “the five-fold ministry” which taught that all of these offices were not actually offices, but gifts spread across the church to various individuals, including apostle and prophet.
Then he asked, “What do you think?” I said, “It really doesn’t matter what I think. If you look at the book of Ephesians, you will see that at the end of chapter 2, the Word of God tells us that the offices of apostle and prophet are foundational offices of the church (Ephesians 2:19-22). Then, in the beginning of the next chapter, the Word of God tells us that one of the distinguishing characteristics of apostles and prophets is that they received special revelation concerning the mystery of Christ and the gospel which was not revealed to others (Ephesians 3:1-7). In the Pastoral Epistles (Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus), there is no mention of raising up apostles and prophets anymore. These pastors were to establish only the offices of elder and deacon in the church.”
Continuing Offices in the Church
There is another way of thinking on this issue that does not fall on this continuum at all. The Quakers and Darbyites reject all church government. They reject the idea of divinely appointed offices in the church, but replace them with offices instituted by man. Interestingly, a form of this ‘third way’ has become the way of thinking of some congregational or non-denominational churches. In my experience, this view seems to be on the ascendance in certain parts of evangelicalism.
This way of thinking, however, does not square with the teaching of Scripture. Clearly, from Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council to Paul’s admonition to appoint elders in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 (and his addressing them specifically in his letter to the Philippians), God has established certain continuing offices in the church: elder and deacon.
The Doctrine of Ordination
One of the things that sets confessional churches apart from other churches in evangelicalism is our understanding of the importance of these offices and the doctrine of ordination. Negatively, we deny the view of those who believe that the offices of prophet and apostle are continuing offices in the church; and, we deny the view of those who reject church government altogether. But our doctrine of ordination (or any doctrine to which we hold) cannot, and is not, based simply on a set of denials. Positively, we believe that the Scriptures teach that God has gifted certain men in His church to be stewards of the mysteries of God (elders) and stewards of the giftings of the church (deacons).
Surely there are a myriad of responsibilities which God gives to the elders of the church (shepherding, comforting, exhorting, and caring for God’s people), but guarding and teaching the doctrines of the faith are at the center. Though there be no more apostles and prophets to whom God gives new revelation, pastors and elders are to guard the gospel and doctrines of the Christian faith which have been entrusted to them (1 Timothy 6:20-21; Titus 1:9).
In a world marked by egalitarianism and the democratization of opinion and authority through political processes and technology, the idea that not everyone has the same authority and responsibility is anathema, but it is a clear teaching of Scripture (1 Corinthians 12:28-31).
This is just a cursory overview of the various views of the offices of the church and the importance which the Bible ascribes to the doctrine of ordination and the responsibilities and authority of those offices. We have really only scratched the surface. But, I wanted to close in sharing with you a passage of Scripture which causes me, as a minister of the gospel, to tremble.
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul writes to his young protégé, “Pay close attention to yourself and to your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will ensure salvation both for yourself and for those who hear you.” The phrase “you will ensure salvation” is the rendering of one word in the original language: soseis. It is simply the future tense of the verb “to save” (sozo). Literally, Paul says, “Guard yourself and your teaching; persevere in these things, for as you do this you will save both yourself and your hearers.”
Of course, God in Christ is the only author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2); faith and salvation are the gift of God’s grace alone (Ephesians 2:8-9). Yet, God uses human agents – men called by God and the Church – to be stewards of the mysteries of God – to guard and distribute gifts from the very storehouse of heaven, the gospel promises of God (Matthew 13:52).
Commenting on 1 Timothy 4:16, John Calvin writes,
“It is by the preaching of the gospel that we are gathered to Christ. And as the unfaithfulness or carelessness of the pastor is ruinous to the Church, so the cause of salvation is justly ascribed to his faithfulness and diligence. True, it is God alone that saves; and not even the smallest portion of his glory can lawfully be bestowed on men. But God parts with no portion of his glory when he employs the agency of men for bestowing salvation. Our salvation is, therefore, the gift of God alone, because from him alone it proceeds, and by his power alone it is performed; and therefore, to him alone, as the author, it must be ascribed. But the ministry of men is not on that account excluded.”
Please pray for your pastor and elders that they may persevere in guarding themselves and their teaching, as God uses faulty, human instruments to accomplish His saving work.
The Lord be with you!
- Pastor Peter M. Dietsch