(Section from the book titled Which direction is the Church going to?
by Sandor Abonyi)
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We should rely on the Word alone leaving behind all previous convention and tradition. The gifts of the Holy Spirit are manifested in several places in the world and many times in very spectacular ways, but why are there distortions? We can read in Ephesus 4.11-12:
„And he gave some apostles; and some prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:”
When writing about the proper ways of the functioning of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, Paul also gets into details concerning the ministries as the necessary parts of the body in 1 Co. 12.12-28.
„For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.….But now has God set the members every one of them in the body, as it had pleased him. ..And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of you: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you. …..That there should be no disruption in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another...Now you are the body of Christ and members in particular. And God had set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healing, helps, governments, diversities of tongues.”
Importance of apostolic and prophetic ministries
Not by mistake is that Paul mentions the apostolic and prophetic ministries among the first ones, for they are considered foundations stones in the Church as for their importance and place. „And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief corner stone; In whom all the building fitly framed together grow unto a holy temple in the Lord:” (Eph. 2.20-21)
We can well believe that Paul, as an apostle, had the proper vision concerning this matter through the Holy Spirit.
What for and why are these ministries given?
„Till we all come unto the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and from, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplied, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, make increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love. “ (Eph. 4.13-16.)
So we can well see how important it is from the point of view of the building of the Church to have each of these biblical ministries – as channels of the gifts of the Holy Spirit – working at their proper places to their own measure.
What is the condition of the Church today like? Do biblical ministries work and do they work the proper way? In the churches where the gifts of the Holy Spirit have visibly been working recently they are mostly powerfully manifested through one-one great servants of God. (It is something similar to the Nile’s flooding in Egypt which used to be a blessing whenever it flooded and people took great advantages of it, however, at the same time, the inundation also caused damage and disorder. We know how great a blessing it could become when its flow was finally controlled and irrigation canals could be shaped.)
Ministries complete each other
„And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of you: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.” (1 Co. 12.21.)
„That there should be no disruption in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another..” (1 Co 12.25.)
In addition to the leadership of the local churches let us have a further look at another very important question, namely what the Bible tells us about the supervision over more than one local churches. We need to read Acts and Paul’s letters carefully.
The churches that belonged to the supervision of the apostle Paul made up an apostolic area. See the attached biblical model at the end of the book. According to the Bible the “supervision” of more local churches is the task of an apostolic group as it can be seen well in the case of the team which was created around Paul (Paul, Silas, Timothy, Titus and Markus).
We can see there the following:
- After the foundation of a local church and the appointment of elders, it was the elders that looked after the local church.
- However, the supervision and building of local churches was the task of an apostolic team.
Tasks of an apostolic team
Studying the Bible we can discover what tasks an apostolic team has. These are the following:
– The establishment of new local churches (preach the gospel, lay biblical foundations) as it was with Paul: evangelisations in different towns, staying several months in the newly grounded churches.
– The appointment of elders in each local church (Titus 1.5.),
– Supervision over the clean preaching of the Gospel and pure doctrines.
– Spiritual guidance and instructions in difficult questions (Paul’s letters to the local churches and to a few people).
– Make ministries in local churches complete by filling the needs (for example: warning, teaching and evangelisation)
The characteristics of apostolic leadership:
– There is no constant residence (head-office). (The ministers travel to local churches and not the other way round.)
– Personal visits, sending and calling back ministers.
– Apostolic letters written to local churches.
– Personal apostolic letters to partner ministers (for example: Paul’s letters to Titus and Timothy).
Now let us have a look at the ministries that have a most relevant role according to the Bible in the building of churches, consequently in the work of an apostolic team, as well.
Biblical ministries and their characteristics
In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus – as we studied earlier – we can read the following:
„And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: …From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplied, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, made increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.” (Eph. 4.11-16.)
The Bible speaks about different ministries, which are to build the Church. They are the following: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. It is sad that these Biblical ministries can hardly be discovered in present day churches, so no wonder the Church is not being built the way it should be.
What characterizes these ministries today? The ministry of the evangelist is a spectacular, successful ministry all over the world. The ministry of the pastor is mostly understood as a single person church leader, in many places minimizing hereby the ministry of presbyters who are biblically the true leaders of a church. In some cases we can meet teachers and prophets who are independent of churches. I believe that there are a lot of servants of God who are really apostles, but out of false modesty they do not dare to call themselves apostles or they just do not know that they are apostles. The apostles in the Bible call themselves apostles with a naturalness, however, in the case of Paul it was necessary for him to prove that he was an apostle. The biggest problem might be that we seem to have forgotten about the fact that the apostolic ministry exists even today. There is the bad practice in theology of referring to the apostolic letters as pastoral letters. Modern theology banished apostles from the present day Church. This disheartening situation led to the one person pastoral system, where no place remains for the ministry of apostles. We often quote Heb. 13.8.:
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever”, but this also means that He still gives each ministry – including apostles – the same way today as yesterday.
The above verses have to be applied not only to the miracles, but to the five main ministries as well. In order to change the currently experienced abnormal situation in the Church it would be very important to know and to name these ministries their names so we can have them function filled with their biblical content.
We should not forget that the Church is built upon the foundation stones of apostles and prophets and not on the ministries of pastors and evangelists! The most important is that the churches function in a biblical way – led by presbyters without a single person leader over them and that it should become obvious who the apostles, prophets, pastors and evangelist are so that they can properly build the Church. We can see that though the ministry of pastor exists, its content has been totally changed. It is of very much importance to recognize biblical ministries. The following review can help us to do so, where we can see the main characteristics of the different Biblical ministries:
Specific tasks: includes each ministry gift. (1Co.3.10., Eph. 2.20.)
– ability to establish churches (1 Co. 9.2.)
– lay the grounds of churches,
– spiritual father for churches founded by him.
Specific tasks: speaks messages from Good through the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1.21., Jam. 5.10.)
His messages concern
– the present and the future,
– persons and historic events,
– he has revelations, visions, which are to be judged (The status of the Old Testament prophet is different from the prophet of the New Testament)
– he is not an autocratic leader, rather an adviser,
– he cannot receive visions for everything (he is not an oracle!),
– the ministry of the prophet is more than only to receive a few revelations (his task is not only to give information, but many times he has to fulfill a commission which might be very dangerous and painful).
Specific tasks: a delegate of the Good News
– preach the good news and salvation,
– preach Jesus starting from any verse,
– is directly empowered by God (see Philip),
– has gifts to perform miracles and to heal the sick
– is able to lead people to the decision of salvation,
– mostly he is the one that baptizes the converts
– but is unable to found churches therefore he needs the help of an apostle.
(elders, presbyters, bishops, principals)
Specific tasks: look after the flock
– watch over the flock,
– be models for the flock,
– the pastors (the elders in the local church) lead and represent the church,
– warn, minister to the sick.
Specific tasks: nurturing (feeding)
– has anointing from God, his teaching is interesting, constructive, not dry,
– many times his ministry functions together with other ministries,
– openness to learn (the humbleness of mind).
Conditions to start any ministry
– a call by God and the recognition of the call (being convinced in our spirits, God speaks to our spirit through dreams, visions or revelations),
– confirmation by the revelations of others,
– being empowered with gifts for the ministry,
– devotion to the Call,
– obedience to the will of God.
It is very important for each minister to function in his own ministry and according to his own measure. If we believe the Word these ministries are in function nowadays, though in some kind of a deformed way and they are not called by their names.
Here arises the question if it can be guaranteed not to have the Holy Spirit departed from the church or elders fail to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit under an apostolic supervision and presbyterian leadership? There is NO such guarantee. However, we can see God’s wisdom even in this case, too, because He wants to lead His people through the Holy Spirit by more people.
„Now in this that I declare unto you I praise you not, that you come together not for the better, but for the worse. For first of all, when you come together in the church, I hear that there be divisions among you; and I partly believe it. For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” (1 Co. 11.17-19.)
What does it mean? It means that those elders that have fallen out of the leading of the Holy Spirit and aren’t able to find Him will come apart from the living part of the body together with their supporting members. If no good can be expected from their gatherings in the future it is better if they divide so that the living part can live and the dead part does not hinder the living one. This is the wisdom of God. God wants no dead churches where the Holy Spirit is not present and the believers are persecuted “in the name of God”. Such churches are worse than the none existing ones. Church splits we think a horrible thing to happen and try to prevent are in fact parts of God’s plan and they need to happen. This is the only way the living church can survive and is able to pass on the Gospel.
If there are Biblical ministries, there are also false ministries. What false ministries do we know about? A few false ministries one can see day by day:
– the „pastor”, who is a one-person leader in a local church,
– the head pastor, who is in fact a “pastor in chief” and the superior to some other pastors,
– pastoral carer,
– ministry of deliverance etc.
The firstly mentioned false ministry is an unbiblical, deformed form of the earlier detailed presbyterian leadership and the secondly mentioned false ministry is the deformed form of the apostolic ministry.
The pastoral carer and the ministry of deliverance is similar to a disciple’s ministry, but with reduced competence.
What is the problem with these ministries? The pastoral carer helps the soul of people, what is basically a good thing to do to some extent, because soul should be also strengthened so that the spirit can bear strong spiritual burdens. However, the overemphasizing of these things leads to the development of psycho-Christians.
Deliverance is a good thing and is also biblical, however, as a separated and independent ministry leads to false results. The one who has such a “ministry” is inclined to see devils even in things where there aren’t any and this might lead to deformations in the personality and with time he himself might need deliverance.
The real problem is that ministries have been created and named with names which are not in the Bible. Therefore the Word will not be clear for us and the biblical ministries will be distorted.
Should not we follow the Word in this area as well? How do we dare to take the courage to find other ministries than the Bible writes about?! The other ministries not detailed here (exhorter, giver, etc.) need to have the empowerment of the disciples, too.
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