Bevere Reflections: 5 fold church authority
If you’ve heard of five fold ministry you are definitely in a Charismatic church. The concept is fleshed out in different ways but there are some central themes. In general the 5 fold ministry is a divine leadership structure for the church involving apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Bevere contends that each of these 5 offices is the greatest authority in the church under Christ.
This theology comes from an interpretation of Eph 4:7-17 NRSV:
7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it is said, "When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people." 9 (When it says, "He ascended," what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.) 11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.
I don’t think anything in this passage implies authority or office. It is obvious that these are areas of gifting (v 8-9). If the church functioned with these 5 offices you would think this would be mentioned somewhere else. We see requirements for elders and deacons (1Tim 3), and some elders were appointed (Titus 1:5) but there is no mention of prophets or teachers being appointed. You would also think that early church tradition would reflect the importance of these 5 offices but they don’t. Just like scripture tradition speaks of elders, deacons and eventually bishops.
There might be something special about these 5 gifts in that they equip others whereas some the gifts are not primarily for equipping others. One might be able to argue that equipping gifts imply some sort of leadership role in the church. Assigning someone to an office merely recognizes this gifting and establishes people in a role where they could use it.
I don’t take this approach because I see a need to emphasize function over position. If one is in a church setting where everyone is a minister there is no need to complicate the situation with assigning office or title. It is just as easy to say you are good at doing such and such a thing, how can we help you do more of it?
I think the main point of these passages has been missed. God gave gifts for the following purposes:
- equip the saints
- build up the body
- promote unity
- bring people to knowledge of Jesus and
- bring people to maturity.
I think the gap between those in positional leadership (clergy) and everyone else (“laity”) pretty much insures that people will be hindered in coming to a knowledge of Jesus and maturity. When all that people need to do is show up, sing, listen, and give money there is no drive to grow, to learn or to gain more skills they can use in ministering to others. I see that smaller simple churches have such an advantage in this because everyone sees the immediate needs and when people contribute it is very apparent to them and to others how much their contribution is worth. Maturity comes when people learn to connect to God, interpret and apply the bible truth as well as minister to others.
I find it striking that the very same churches that stress the five fold ministry are the same ones that are “tossed around by every wind of doctrine.” There is always some new teaching to follow. I’m not surprised that so many people run from these situations and end up with the Eastern Orthodox or the Anglicans just for the stability of a deeper tradition with a long history.
Because there is so much emphasis on the ministry of leaders and so very little equipping the people aren’t equipped and this stunts their development. So much of what we call ministry in the church is one person with authority speaking to a great mass of people that aren’t trust to speak to the group. This is at best challenge and a transfer of knowledge and it is anything but equipping. If it were then schools would do the same thing. Imagine a training school that did nothing but give inspirational lectures and gave out no homework, conducted no exams, and offered no practicum.
I’ve heard people say they need to get “fed” at church. I say people need to be equipped to cook for themselves.