Apostles today? Part Two – Do Ephesians 4 ministries continue?

Apostles today? Part Two – Do Ephesians 4 ministries continue? June 27, 2011

The following post is from Fathering Leaders, Motivating Mission by David Devenish, copyright 2011 reproduced with permission from Authentic Media.

Only Some of the Ministries Continue Today?

We now turn to the third view: that the gifts of the Holy Spirit still continue today, but not the gift of the apostle. This view acknowledges that all five ministry gifts of Ephesians 4:11 were given by the ascended Lord Jesus to the church at the beginning, but contends that not all of those gifts continue today. Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones, for example, taught that only the pastor/teacher continues today. He argued that not only did the apostle and prophet disappear after the first century, but so did the evangelist. The evangelist, he said,

‘supplemented the work of the apostles and extended it and caused it to spread and become established. Thus the evangelist was a man whose office was temporary, and as the churches were established and became more settled, this office likewise disappeared.’22

Those given a special call to preach the gospel today were not, in his view, ‘evangelists’ in the New Testament sense of the word but rather ‘exhorters’, as apparently they were known in the UK in the eighteenth century. It was necessary, he maintained, for an apostle to have witnessed Christ’s resurrection, to have been commissioned to his work by the risen Lord himself in person, and to be a man with supernatural revelation of the truth, so that he could speak not only with authority but also infallibly.

Wayne Grudem, in his book Systematic Theology, argues for the continuation of prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher, but not apostle. He says:

‘The two qualifications for being an apostle were: (1) having seen Jesus after His resurrection with one’s own eyes (thus, being an “eyewitness of the resurrection”), and (2) having been specifically commissioned by Christ as His apostle.’23

J.B. Lightfoot, in his classic essay to which I have already referred, argues the same case. Wayne Grudem does point out:

‘Today some people use the word apostle in a very broad sense to refer to an effective church planter, or to a significant missionary pioneer (“William Carey was an apostle to India,” for example). If we use the word apostle in this broad sense everyone would agree that there are still apostles today – for there are certainly effective missionaries and church planters today.’

He proposes, however, that it is inappropriate and unhelpful to use the word, because it causes confusion between the roles of New Testament apostles and contemporary church planters and evangelists, and implies a desire for ‘more authority in the church than any one person should rightfully have’.24

So in the face of these strong arguments, why do I believe that the gift of the apostle continues today?


Given to the Church in Each Generation?

One of the key passages to be debated is Ephesians 4:11–13:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

This chapter seems to speak to the continuing needs of the church throughout its history, and not just its initial first-century foundations. The five-fold ministries were given by the ascended Christ as love gifts to the church for a particular purpose, namely that God’s people would be equipped or prepared for works of service, so that the body of Christ might be built up. This need continues until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. The chapter defines maturity as not being like children (i.e. immature), tossed about by every strange doctrine, and it notes that the body of the church learns to build itself up in love as each member of the body functions as it should.

This equipping ministry is surely needed in every generation, and it is not a natural reading of the passage to assume that there is a distinction between gifts that should continue to perform this equipping function and gifts that should not. The differing views of Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones and Wayne Grudem on this point illustrate the unsatisfactory results of attempting to make such a distinction. It is true, as Wayne Grudem emphasizes, that the word ‘gave’ in relation to the ascended Christ is past tense and refers to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit with his gifts when Christ ascended on high; but surely all gifts continue to come from the ascended Christ to his church and his ministers. It seems to me a more natural reading of Ephesians 4 to assume that the church in each generation needs the gifts of the ascended Christ, just as it needs and is promised the power of the Holy Spirit, similarly given from the ascended Christ. Though the day of Pentecost was the first pouring out of the Holy Spirit, it was not one single event for all time, as the verse ‘The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call’25 makes clear, but an ongoing promise of forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The whole tone of Ephesians 4 seems to suggest something both dynamic and normative for the church at all times. As Markus Barth writes:

In 4:11 it is assumed that the church at all times needs the witness of ‘apostles’ and ‘prophets’. The author of this epistle did not anticipate that the inspired and enthusiastic ministry was to be absorbed by, and ‘disappear’ into, offices and officers bare of the Holy Spirit and resentful of any reference to spiritual things. Ephesians 4 does not contain the faintest hint that the charismatic character of all church ministries was restricted to a certain period of church history and was later to die out.26


22 Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Christian Unity and Exposition of Ephesians 4:1–16 (Baker Publishing Group, 1981) p. 192.

23  Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (IVP and Zondervan, 1994), p. 906.

24  Grudem, Systematic Theology, p. 911.

25    Acts 2:39.

26   Markus Barth, Ephesians 4–6 (Doubleday 1974), p. 437.


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