Saturday, October 29, 2005

From the Cliff-edge of Mt. Nebo 4

From where Moses stood:On the edge of the promised land, Moses stood here and saw far more than physical geography. He saw a political map of the twelve tribes and a redemptive history stretching away to the coming of the Messiah.

—•— What is an Evangelist? —•—
Mark Heath has posted a helpful summary of officers in New Frontiers Churches in his ‘wordandspirit’ journal. I find the distancing of apostles in the New Frontiers movement from the apostleship of the twelve apostles helpful and look forward to the day when they are able to say ‘different from the twelve and from Paul.’ In the meantime I feel provoked to re-examine what I, as a ‘Word and Spirit’ cessationist, ought to think about evangelists.

To fast forward through all the background for church offices we should make the following points with no explanations or deviations. There are two and two only groups of officers in the churches, denominated respectively as ‘overseers’ (bishops) and ‘servants’ (deacons). The overseers are distinguished primarily by their ability to teach but not all of them specialize in doing so, so there is one office but distinctions between officers. Similarly with deacons there are degrees of attainment and experience brings change and responsibility. Some terms, elder, pastor and teacher, are shown to be synonymous with overseer so it is not a great leap to see the link between the ‘… great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus’ [1 Timothy 3:13] that deacons gain and the term ‘evangelist’.

Ephesians 4[07-14]

7 But to each one of us grace was given
according to the measure of Christ’s gift.
8 Therefore He says:
“When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this, “He ascended”;
what does it mean
but that He also first descended
into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He who descended is also the One who ascended
far above all the heavens,
that He might fill all things.)

11 And He Himself gave
some to be apostles,
some prophets,
some evangelists,
and some pastors and teachers,
12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry,
for the edifying of the body of Christ,

13 till we all come
to the unity of the faith
and of the knowledge of the Son of God,
to a perfect man,
to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ;
14 that we should no longer be children,
tossed to and fro
and carried about with every wind of doctrine,
by the trickery of men,
in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting,

Let’s skip over why so many past theologians have thought that evangelists disappeared along with apostles and prophets and take it for granted that this is something that continues with us. To put it in the terms we were using earlier, there are still deacons who serve well and gain great confidence in the faith and we need to fit them into Ephesians 4. Forgive me also for jumping over any discussion about why apostles and prophets should be considered to continue or to have ceased because such discussions are not key to the functioning of evangelists. We’re done with fast forwarding now; it’s time to play at normal speed.

Three functional pairings out of five ‘giftings’: The first pairing is that of apostles and prophets because we could helpfully translate Ephesians 4:11a-c as ‘And He Himself gave on the one hand the apostles, on the other hand, the prophets.’ A different kind of grammatical construction makes the third pair a different kind of pairing so that ‘pastors and teachers’ are lumped together as one part of the second pairing: evangelists and pastors-and-teachers. It is not out of order to make the equation that evangelists are to apostles what pastors / teachers are to prophets. Draw a diagram to see how that maps onto the text. I’d do it for you but I’m somewhat technologically challenged as you can see from the lack of permalinks around this post. (My apologies if I’ve learned how to do them by the time you read this.)

The one-handing of evangelists and the other-handing of pastors / teachers fits in very well with the separation of ministries into overseer and servant. We could ask why Paul doesn’t just talk about bishops and deacons but his purpose here isn’t to establish once again that there are two offices in the church, moreover, the one-is-to-the-other diagram doesn’t work with deacons and overseers per se; deacons need to have gained great confidence in the faith before we can expect any semblance of an apostolic function to be seen in them.

Differentiation and development: Because of the grammar used we are able to look at the pastor / teacher pairing as a differentiation within the office of overseer. Because of the word used we are able to see degrees of development in the office of deacon. We always have been capable of underestimating the value of deacons because we tend to define the limitations of the work that deacons should be doing in terms of work that apostles ought not to be doing. It is therefore the more frustrating that we are so capable of limiting the work of an evangelist to a limit that does not embrace the apostolic functions apparently entailed to the place of the evangelist in Ephesians 4.

Not in Word only: This tendency is not helped by focussing on the vocal nature of these ministries because it is all too easy to see that they have the common characteristic of being publicly vocal and miss that speaking is the means to ends rather than ends themselves. The ends of these ministries are listed as ‘for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.’ And let’s not get distracted for the minute about whether the work of the ministry is what the saints are to be equipped for or what the ministries are themselves for or both. However these are split up, they are all directed towards the church. This goes with the territory for pastors and teachers but against the grain a little for evangelists. We are inclined to consider that the gifts of pastors and teachers are inwardly directed and that would accord easily with these purposes but we are equally predisposed to see the giftings of an evangelist to be outwardly directed and that is not reflected in these purposes.

Except that the work of the evangelist is to these purposes and outwardly directed when the function of the evangelist is seen to involve planting new churches and serving reconciliation between churches without being the sort of super-elders that diocesan bishops both aspire to and fail to be because diocesan bishops are also a misinterpretation of what an officer is for. I suggest that exploring the role of an evangelist as we find it delimited in Ephesians 4 should go some distance towards fulfilling the purposes of equipping the saints and edifying the church.

No comments: