Five-fold Ministry — Is It Important?

Question from a Site Viewer

Is There a Good Book on the Five-fold Ministry?

I am looking for a good book on the subject of the five-fold ministry (that presents the pros and cons). Also, I’d like a good book on the topic of apostles and prophets and if apostles and prophets are for this present age. If you have such a book, may I have a copy (free of charge, please)? If you know of such books, please let me know.

Tim’s Answer

You have asked for a book on the five-fold ministry (with pros and cons), and whether apostles and prophets are for today. Unfortunately, I do not know of such a book. I would be happy to provide you such a book, if I had one. But I do not.

But I encourage you not to put a great deal of stock in such matters. If one reads the teachings of Christ or the teachings of the apostles in the epistles, one finds that such matters are not the focus of God. We need to focus where Jesus focused and to pursue the things that He and His disciples taught. We will not ultimately be judged by these obscure matters, such as the five-fold ministry or whether there are apostles or prophets today. Rather, we will be judged on whether we trusted Jesus and whether we loved God with all of our hearts and loved our neighbors by meeting their needs.

And I say “obscure” because the five-fold ministry is largely based on one verse in Scripture (Ephesians 4:11 – which actually only mentions four ministries since pastors and teachers are linked in the Greek as being one ministry) and secondarily on one other verse (1 Corinthians 12:28 – which mentions only three of the ministries). Neither verse addresses the issue of whether or not apostles and prophets were merely foundational to the church (see Ephesians 2:20) or are ongoing. I am reluctant as a matter of proper Biblical exegesis to make important to the church what Scripture does not, or to major on matters that are conjecture rather than direct teaching.

There is yet another reason why I find the present focus on this matter somewhat troubling. The church, for nearly 2,000 years, did not read Ephesians 4:11 as requiring the existence of apostles and prophets in the contemporary church. I have searched through the early Church Fathers from the time of John the Apostle until 325 A.D. Only twice in their writings was Ephesians 4:11 even addressed, even though their writings are filled with Scripture, and neither place was it used in a sense to prove or disprove the continuing function of the five (or more properly four) offices. I wonder why it now becomes a big issue. Was the Spirit absent from His church for the past 2,000 years? I note that some early church fathers saw the continuation of prophets into their days, and the Didache, an early 2nd century church document, speaks of apostles and prophets as continuing (Chapter 11), though it at the same time uses both words to describe the same person and places strict rules on how to judge whether they were true or false (if they asked for money they were false).

And yet I know Christians that go out of their way to dispute the existence of apostles or prophets today, and still others who are equally as adamant that there are both apostles and prophets. Whether there are or there are not, the bottom line for me is that I must love God with all of my heart and all of my soul. I notice that Paul did not appoint apostles and prophets for the churches, but elders who were to teach and oversee the flocks. And this elder leadership sprang out of the Jewish synagogue, because that was precisely how the synagogues were organized. The people would choose elders to oversee the flocks. God established His local church in the same way. The elders shepherded the flocks, or “pastored” them, since the word “pastor” means to “shepherd.”

I suppose where the issue really comes to bear is in those groups that have apostles and prophets. In my view, I do not so much care what someone is called but I care a great deal about whether they teach the Word as God has given it to us. If someone calls himself an apostle and proclaims the Word faithfully, then I say “amen.” If someone calls himself an apostle and forsakes the Word and instead utters all sorts of strange teachings, then I do not say “amen.” But the same is true of those who call themselves prophets, evangelists, pastors, elders, deacons, reverend, or any other title. All things must be tested by the Word (Acts 17:11). The Word is what sanctifies us (John 17:17), cleanses us (Ephesians 5:26), and is God’s revelation to us. It is the Word that is to be glorified (2 Thessalonians 3:1). Jesus Himself placed a high priority on the Word. The writer to the Hebrews talks about those who are unskillful in the Word (Hebrews 5:11). And Peter says that we should desire the sincere milk of the Word (1 Peter 2:2).

All should be judged by the Word, whether they are faithful to the Word, whether they mirror the attitude of godly leadership as given to us in the Word, and whether they are submissive one to another as the Word teaches. I do not much care what someone is called (within reason), if they faithfully adhere to the Word. But if someone thinks by being an apostle that they can dominate someone else, they by that attitude are demonstrating that they are not of God. Jesus said and Peter affirms that true leaders lead by example, not by being overlords. We are greatest when we are the servants of all and use our time to be a blessing to others.

May the Lord guide you into truth. And I pray that God will help you find ways to be a blessing to others. In so doing, you will be doing the mission of Christ.

a pilgrim,

five-fold

What's Your Opinion?