Ephesians 4:7-10. b) The character of spiritual gifts is extremely varied (continued).
Looking back, we observe that all five gifts relate in some way to the ministry of teaching. Although there are neither apostles nor prophets in the original sense today, there are evangelists to preach the gospel, pastors to tend the flock, and teachers to expound the word. Indeed, they are urgently needed. Nothing is more necessary for the building up of God’s church in every age than an ample supply of God-gifted teachers. Yet I wonder if this need has ever been greater than it is in our own day. In some areas of the third world great ‘people movements’ are taking place. Large numbers, in some cases whole villages and tribes, are accepting Christ, and the church growth rate exceeds the population growth rate. This exciting fact brings with it both problems and dangers, however. The newly baptized converts are spiritual babies. As such they are prone to sin and error, and almost defenceless against false teaching. Above all else they need teaching from the Word of God. In some situations, believe it or not, missionaries are calling for a moratorium on converts. ‘For heaven’s sake’, they pray to God, ‘don’t give us any more, for we don’t know what to do with the thousands we already have.’ I sometimes urge my charismatic friends, therefore, some of whom seem to me to be preoccupied with the less important gifts, to remember Paul’s dictum ‘earnestly to desire the higher gifts’ (1 Cor.12:31), and to consider whether these are not the teaching gifts. It is teaching which builds up the church. It is teachers who are needed most.
Another important question is raised in this verse (11). There is no mention in it of presbyter-bishops or deacons (to whom reference is made, for example, in Phil.1:1 and 1 Tim.3:1, 12), still less of the threefold order ‘bishops, presbyters and deacons’ which came to be developed in the second century and is widely acknowledged in Christendom today. How should we account for their omission here? Is this just an earlier stage before the more developed situation reflected in the Pastoral Epistles? Alternatively, should we distinguish between an ‘institutional’ ministry appointed by the church (‘bishops, presbyters and deacons’) and a ‘charismatic’ ministry appointed by Christ (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers’)? No, neither of these explanations should commend itself to us. To separate the ‘institutional’ from the ‘charismatic’, or ministerial ‘order’ from ministerial ‘gifts’, is a false distinction and a disastrous one. That there is such a thing by God’s intention as an institutional ministry or a ministerial order (whether threefold or twofold does not matter for our purposes here) is clear from the Pastoral Epistles. Timothy was to select and ordain presbyters and deacons for every church. But how would he select them? What were to be their qualifications? Partly he was to assure himself of the integrity of their moral character, partly of their doctrinal orthodoxy, and partly of their gifts (e.g. ‘an apt teacher, *didaktikos*, 1 Tim.3:2). It is inconceivable that the church should select, train and ordain people who lack the appropriate God-given gifts. Ordination to the pastoral ministry of any church should signify at least (1) the public recognition that God has called and gifted the person concerned, and (2) the public authorization of this person to obey the call and exercise the gift, with prayer for the enabling grace of the Holy Spirit. So we must not separate what God has united. On the one hand, the church should acknowledge the gifts which God has given people, and should publicly authorize them and encourage their exercise in ministry. On the other, the New Testament never contemplates the grotesque situation in which the church commissions and authorizes people to exercise a ministry for which they lack both the divine call and the divine equipment. No, gift and office, divine enabling and ecclesiastical commissioning, belong together. It seems to me that Paul indicates this by numbering ‘pastors and teachers’ among Christ’s gifts to his church, since the work of ordained presbyters is precisely to shepherd and teach Christ’s flock. ‘They therefore are insane’, writes Calvin without mincing his words, ‘who neglecting this means (sc. of building up the church), hope to be perfect in Christ, as in the case with fanatics who pretend to secret revelations of the Spirit, and the proud, who content themselves with the private reading of the Scripture, and imagine they do not need the ministry of the church.’