Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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November 2007 • Volume XI, Issue 19


Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists

One of the glorious purposes of our Saviour’s victorious ascension into heaven (Eph. 4:8) was to give His beloved church men to teach her the truth of His Word: "And he [i.e., Christ] gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers" (11).

This text, Ephesians 4:11, is appealed to in many Pentecostal/charismatic circles as proof for their ongoing "Fivefold Office" or "Fivefold Ministry." This is mistaken, first, in that this verse refers to four, and not five, offices: Christ "gave [1] some, apostles; and [2] some, prophets; and [3] some, evangelists; and [4] some, pastors and teachers" (11). The last phrase is crucial in this connection. It does not say, "some, pastors; and some teachers;" it states, "some, pastors and teachers," indicating that "pastors and teachers" (being governed by "some") refer to one office, that of pastor/teacher. Second, three of these four offices are not permanent in the New Testament church (as we shall see).

Let us consider each of these four offices in turn, beginning with that listed first, that of "apostles." The apostles, in the technical sense in the Bible, are the eleven disciples (Judas being an apostate), Matthias (Acts 1) and Paul (Acts 9). These men’s qualifications include their seeing the risen Christ; their being directly appointed by Him; their having authority over all the churches (II Cor. 11:28); their terrible persecutions (I Cor. 4:9); and their working genuine miracles in the service of the true gospel (II Cor. 12:12). The ascended Christ gave these men the grace and authority to lay the foundations of the New Testament church by the gospel of Jesus Christ and to write canonical Scripture (think of the inspired writings of Peter, John and Paul).

These qualifications exclude any and every claim to be an apostle since the death of the beloved John to Christ’s triumphant return at the end of the age—contrary to the claims of Rome that the pope is the successor of the apostle Peter and the pretensions of the "apostles" of the Catholic Apostolic Church of Edward Irving (1792-1834), the Mormons and many Pentecostals.

Second, Ephesians 4:11 speaks of "prophets." These prophets are extraordinary office bearers with extraordinary gifts, especially in that they received revelation directly from God. This included the inerrant foretelling of future events. Thus the prophet Agabus predicted the famine in the days of Claudius Caesar (Acts 11:28-30) and Paul’s bonds and sufferings in Jerusalem (21:10-11). We also have various canonical books (Matthew, Mark, Luke, Acts, James and Jude) penned by inspired New Testament prophets. These, with the canonical writings of the apostles, constitute the foundation of Christ’s New Testament church (Eph. 2:20).

Third, Ephesians 4:11 speaks of "evangelists." This name is specifically given in its technical sense to Philip (Acts 21:8) and Timothy (II Tim. 4:5). These men, and others, such as Titus, served as assistants to the apostles. The evangelists received an extraordinary call; Timothy was appointed to his office "by prophecy" (I Tim. 4:14). Evangelists exercised extraordinary gifts. Philip wrought miracles in Samaria (Acts 8) and Timothy received the "gift of God" with the laying on of Paul’s hands (II Tim. 1:6). In the New Testament scriptures, we see evangelists being left in or sent to new churches to build them up, as Timothy in Ephesus (I Tim. 1:3) and Titus on the island of Crete (Titus 1:5).

These three offices, though differing from each other in several particulars, have several important things in common. First, they are extraordinary offices. Apostles, prophets and evangelists received an extraordinary call. Apostles and evangelists and (probably some) prophets wrought miracles. Apostles and prophets (but apparently not evangelists) were inspired.

Second, these three offices involved itinerary work, moving around from one field of labour to another. This is particularly clear with the apostles and the evangelists.

Third—and this is especially important against the Pentecostal assault—all three of these offices were temporary. The apostles and prophets laid the foundation of the church, and this only needs laying once (Eph. 2:20). Through the apostles and prophets, we now have the inspired, inerrant, sufficient and complete Scriptures (II Tim. 3:16-17; Rev. 22:18-19). The evangelists passed away with the office they assisted, that of the apostles. For none of these offices are we given rules for their continuance or a list of qualifications, unlike the permanent offices of elder and deacon (I Tim. 3; Titus 1).

Fourth, the offices of apostle, prophet and evangelist, like the office of pastor/teacher, are teaching offices (Eph. 4:11). This is a key idea in the context (11-16). This also explains why the special offices of elder and deacon are not mentioned here, for the key idea of these offices is ruling and administering the mercies of Christ, respectively, and not teaching (as such). Rev. Stewart

Taking the Kingdom by Violence

And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12).

What kind of violence and force are meant? Does it mean that a believer should make some effort to enter the kingdom of God? And how does this fit with salvation by faith alone through grace alone?

The figure Jesus uses in the text quoted above is very powerful. He is speaking in this discourse of John the Baptist, His forerunner. John occupied a unique place in the noble company of prophets. He was the last of the Old Testament prophets and straddled the two testaments. He had, as it were, one foot in the old dispensation and one foot in the new. This unique place of John is the reason why the Lord says that John was the greatest of all the prophets, yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he (11). This very statement will give you some idea of the vast difference that came about between the two testaments when the Spirit of the ascended Christ was poured out on Pentecost.

In spite of the fact that John straddled both dispensations, John died in the old dispensation and did not see the dawning of the new day begun at Pentecost. Thus his status in the historical revelation of God’s purpose is inferior to the one who is "least in the kingdom of heaven."

Perhaps to understand this unique place John occupied, we may use the figure of the kingdom of heaven as a magnificent palace. In the old dispensation the saints could see the door to the palace, but could not enter through the door. It was locked because Christ, who is the "door" (John 10:9), had not yet come.

However, on that door were many beautiful pictures of the kingdom. These pictures were the types of the old dispensation: the sacrifices, the flood, the deliverance from Egypt, the inheritance of Canaan, etc. They were beautiful pictures, and the Old Testament saints could learn quite a bit about what was on the other side of the door by looking at the pictures. But they could not enter!

Now think of John as one who stands in front of the door. By accomplishing his ministry when he pointed out Christ as "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world" (John 1:29, 36), John, so to speak, opened the door a crack. This enabled the saints in what was still the Old Testament to see a little bit of what was behind the door. When they saw what was behind the door, they were so amazed, so thrilled, so excited, that, we may say, they stormed the door in their anxiety to enter. They could not wait. They took the kingdom by violence and force. They would not be turned back.

This, I say, is a powerful picture of the attraction which the kingdom of heaven has for believers. Consider that the great burden of the Old Testament saints was their sin (cf. Matt. 11:28). Those who labour and are heavy laden are those who have long sought to find forgiveness of sin and salvation in the works of the law, but who found only futility in all their labour, and for whom the law became a burden impossible to bear. How poignant then the words of our Lord: "Come to me ...!" (28). In the kingdom was complete forgiveness and the splendour and glory of salvation. After all these years of travail and anxious pain, John opened the door a crack when he pointed out Christ as the door. The saints could not be held back. They stormed the door. They still do. You and I do. We cannot bear the burden of sin any longer. We flee to Christ. No one can keep us back. All our hearts crave is to be found in Him!

Notice, however, that I consistently used the word "saints" to describe those who storm the door of the kingdom. This specific word is the key to the answer to your second question: "Does it mean that the believer should make some effort to enter the kingdom?"

Taken at face value, the answer to your question is, "Yes! Yes, of course." Jesus says so in many place. We are to enter the narrow gate. That is something we do. We are to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we are to be Jesus’ disciples. We do that. We are to become like little children to enter the kingdom. That is our calling and obligation. Saints are not and may not be antinomians who claim that they need do nothing other than sit back in their rocking chairs and let God do it all. Do we become careless and profane people because we believe that salvation is by grace alone? No! What kind of a saint is that (Rom. 6:1ff.)? Let no one say that the Reformed faith teaches any such thing!

Only saints saw through the crack in the door and they only caught a glimpse of the riches on the other side. Only saints stormed (and still storm) the door. And, do not forget, saints are those who are already in the kingdom: by the power of God’s promise in the old dispensation and by the Spirit of Christ in the new dispensation. Because they are saints, they have been washed in the blood of Christ, the sovereign ruler in that kingdom, who imputes to all His own the righteousness He earned on the cross.

But they are sinning saints, or, if you will, saintly sinners. And so they (you and I) must daily flee to Christ for a refuge from the burden and weariness of our sins. We flee to Christ, the door; we see the glorious blessedness of the kingdom of heaven; we storm the door (with anxious petitions for forgiveness in Christ’s blood and to obtain the blessedness that is found in that kingdom). We take the kingdom by force.

Even the saint’s storming of the kingdom is by the power of being in that kingdom, for it is God who works in us both to will and to do of His good pleasure (Phil. 2:12-13). The activities in which the believer engages, empowered by grace, are his actions, actions for which he is even rewarded. Let no man say that he needs not to do anything. The command of the gospel to God’s people is: "Be what God has made you!" Storm the door and take the kingdom by violence! And go through the door, which is Christ! Prof. Hanko

For a fuller explanation of this text, listen to Prof. Hanko's sermon.

For an excellent, new, 68-page booklet, "From the Beginning: Recovering a Biblical Perspective of Divorce and Remarriage," contact the author, John Hooper, 8 Prospect Walk, Saltash, Cornwall, PL12 4RG, England (£2.50 inc. P&P).

If you would like to receive the Covenant Reformed News free by e-mail each month (and/or by post, if you are in the UK), please contact Rev. Stewart and we will gladly send it to you.