Bevere Reflections: 5 fold church authority


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.

  1. #1 by KB on July 18, 2005 - 7:45 pm

    I’ll admit that I’ve only read a small portion of what is on this site but we seem to be on the same page so far.

    I noticed the Anabaptist link and the Bethany College link. Are you a Mennonite?

    My father is a Mennonite pastor. Of course, this means I had a good look at what went on behind the scenes. Your reflection today really hit the nail on the head for me. I’ve been telling my father that he needs to challenge his congregation to become active participates in their faith. He tries but hasn’t been terribly succesful at his current church.

    I’m glad to know there are some like-minded people out there. I’ll be back.

  2. #2 by Nathan on July 19, 2005 - 2:02 pm

    Good post, LT.

  3. #3 by Leighton Tebay on July 20, 2005 - 12:33 am

    KB:

    I’m not Mennonite in an ethnic sense. I do consider myself a sort of neo-anabaptist.

  4. #4 by Duncan Macleod on July 20, 2005 - 4:16 am

    I’ve had a few friends talk about John Bevere’s teaching on submission to leadership. Teaching produced by the local pastor in reaction to challenges and questions. Where does Bevere write about APEPT? Is it in his book, “Under Cover”?

  5. #5 by KB on July 20, 2005 - 1:10 pm

    Actually, I’m not “ethnically” a Mennonite either. My parents converted when I was 11. My dad was an agnostic before that and my mom was Catholic. I know… strange. haha

    Something this post reminded me of was my dad’s latest review by the congregation. He wanted to see how he was doing so he asked the elders to question the Sunday School classes. They listed his strengths and weaknesses. Here are two of his weaknesses:

    1. He takes too much onto himself. He needs to let others help him out.

    2. He needs to be more involved and visit the elderly and shut-ins more.

    Now, he asked me to proofread his response and I could not believe he had glossed these over. I told him to tell the people who wanted him to stop over loading himself to go visit the shut-ins.

    The members could see that he was ALWAYS busy but they weren’t willing to take that burden from him. Some tasks, such as visiting fellow church members, shouldn’t have to be delegated out by the pastor. People should just do it.

    He’s having a lot of problems at this church. These people are so stuck in their ways. All they want is a pat on the back for being good Christians even though they don’t do much but show up on Sunday.

    Sorry for rambling. I don’t attend church anymore and THIS is part of the reason.

  6. #6 by Leighton Tebay on July 20, 2005 - 8:54 pm

    Duncan:

    He mentions it in “Under Cover” on page 184.

  7. #7 by Paula on July 21, 2005 - 7:42 am

    I AM ethnically a Mennonite, but was raised in the Evangelical Free Church of Canada, a fundamentalist-type protestant church. I live in a community where there are old-school Mennonites (head coverings, no tv’s, ugly dresses) and new-school (Mennonite Brethren, meet in a normal church, dress normal, watch a lot of tv). Most of my relatives are still Mennonite. I tell you all of this so you can decide whether my next statement has validity.

    The problem you are speaking of, an unwillingness to be involved in the actual living out of one’s faith, of helping in anyway in church (other than bringing food to potlucks), of expecting the pastor to do everything…is RAMPANT in the Mennonite church today. Kind of funny for a church that had it’s beginnings in radical protest. Obviously I’m not saying ALL Mennonites are like this…but I see the problem everywhere, not just in their church but in their homes. They don’t want any kind of confrontation, so if someone is sinning, you just quietly shun them and don’t talk about it, unless you are quietly talking about it to someone else. I love my family, I love the people in the churches here…I’m not out on some sort of Mennonite vendetta…but it makes me sad.

  8. #8 by KB on July 21, 2005 - 1:43 pm

    Paula,

    My family is pretty progressive compared to Conservative Mennonites. They dress normally and watch TV (and my dad is obsessed with computers.)

    I think that it’s possible that non-ethnic Mennonites (like me and my family) may have helped lead to the degeneration of traditional Mennonite morals and values. I mean, traditionally, Mennonites are pacifists and there are kids from my local Mennonite church joining the army. (Not that I have anything AGAINST that… it just is not a thing Mennonites 500 or even 50 years ago would have done.) Mennonites today are NOT the same as the Mennonites people think about when they hear the word. Todays Mennonites are a mixture of old values and new ideas. People from other backgrounds have brought their ideas into the mix and have had a major impact.

    It’s a bit sad when I think about it. The whole reason my parents were attracted to the Mennonite faith is because they were DIFFERENT from other denominations. They were something entirely different than Catholic or Protestant. However, now it seems the major difference is just infant baptism.

    There are some older members of the church who still cling to the old ways, but they are VERY old. THEY are the people who would go visit a person in the hospital instead of expecting the pastor to do it.

    A very basic Mennonite idea is that the church is not a building. The church is the people. The community. Sadly, this is no longer the case. The people have become just an audience instead of active participants in their faith.

    As for confrontation, you are absolutely right. I have a really horrible experience at a Mennonite Brethren church when I was 18. It’s the real catalyst that caused me to abandon the church. A 40ish year old schzizophrenic man attended our church. My dad always tried to help him out with everything. He always tried to get him to take his medication as well. When I graduated high school he decided I’d make a great wife (even though I was engaged that summer). Thus began the big stalker saga that I don’t have time to go into. Suffice it to say that I was VERY much harrassed by this man in many, many ways over the course of the summer. Several members of the congregation mentioned to me that Mr. P seemed to be following me around and staring at me (this was before all the crazy stalker behavior began). However, once it came to a head and he was questioned by the police, these SAME people denied anything was wrong with him. One woman even told me she had prayed his szhizophrenia would go away and she had faith it had, so I must be lying.

    The church elders met. My father was the pastor, so he HAD to attend church. I was an innocent victim. However, they allowed myself, my mother and a close family friend to walk out of the church instead of asking Mr. P to take a leave of absence from attending church until everything was settled with the police. They would never confront him even when we had amassed mountains of evidence. Even when I began receiving death threats.

    Because of the unwillingness of the church “leaders” to take a stand against wrong and immoral behavior, they lost several valuable church members. After my family moved away, several more families followed our lead once they heard what had happened to me.

    Sorry. I rammble a LOT and this is still a sore spot for me.

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