Church Education Trust

Christian Belief

ST009/4 Church Ministry.


The Christian Ministry.

In the Old Testament the Jewish priests offered sacrifices as the necessary basis for forgiveness for the people, for atonement for the nation and for the keeping of a right relationship between the people and God.    

With the coming; of Jesus Christ and the offering of His sacrifice for sin once and for all (Heb.9:23-28), the necessity for animal sacrifices came to an end. The new ministry of the Christian Church is based not on the hierarchical system of the Old Testament, but on the government and worship of the synagogue. 

Peter states that every believer is a priest, the member of a royal and holy priesthood, and the sacrifices he offers are spiritual ones (1 Pet.2:5 & 9). There is no sign of a sacerdotal priesthood in the New Testament and the idea of the universal priesthood of believers has always been cherished by the protestant and non-conformist churches. 

Unfortunately, however, there grew up gradually but quite early an unscriptural and over-accentuated distinction between clergy and laity, i.e. between those particularly set apart for spiritual duties and the ordinary members of the assembly of believers.

Christ is the Head of the Church, and as such, by His Holy Spirit He has authority over the whole Church to direct and inspire it in all its activities, outreach and worship. But if, as we have seen, there was some sort of organization in the early church and if Christ Himself appointed His twelve Apostles, then it is clear that God intended there to be a measure of human authority and government as well as divine. 

It seems obvious, too, that some of the body of believers would be set apart temporarily or permanently to perform such special spiritual duties which would be necessary and also to give leadership in the government, activities and worship of the Church. That this did actually take place we have evidence in the Acts of the Apostles (Ch.6:1-6; 13:1-3).

In the New Testament record we have mention of several offices and ministries. Sometimes they are given what appears to be a title and sometimes they are mentioned under the type of work they perform. Sometimes in the various accounts these two overlap, and it is not easy exactly to decide how separate or how intertwined they are. There seem, though, to have been actual offices. Three of these have generally been considered extraordinary and transitional and two regular and permanent.

a. The Extraodinary and Transitional. 

The three classed under this category are apostles, prophets and evangelists. Not all would agree that all, or even any, of these are really transitory, but it would probably be better to deal with each class separately.


This name is often limited to the original twelve, plus the apostle Paul who is always considered to have taken the place of Judas, rather than the one appointed by lot. There seems to be no justification for this as Lightfoot has shown in his additional note on the term as used in Gal.1:17. Barnabas is certainly called an apostle (Acts 14:4,14) and so seemingly is James, the Lord's brother (1 Cor.15:7, Gal,1:19), and likewise Silvanus (1 Thess.2:6). 

It appears, too, that Paul called Andronicus and Junias such in Rom.16:7. If the name cannot be limited to the original twelve, is it correct to say that the office finished with apostolic days? Those who say that it did base their assumption largely on three passages of Scripture ;1 Cor.9:1,2; Acts 1:8 and 21-23. In these passages it does seem that the correct use of the term "apostle" is limited to those who saw the Lord Jesus Christ and were witnesses of His resurrection. 

This does not rule out Paul as he hod a special revelation of the risen Lord. It probably does not rule out any of the others mentioned above, all of whom could well have at least seen the risen Lord, even if they did not see Him before the Crucifixion. It is more likely, however, to rule out one other who seems to have been an important person but who is ruled out by the New Testament. 

The statements by Paul in 2 Cor.1:1 and Col.1:1 each includes Timothy as a brother but excludes him from the apostleship. It is obvious from the history of Timothy in the Acts of the Apostles that he could not have personally seen our Lord. On the other hand, there are those who hold that as the gift of apostleship was one of the gifts of the Spirit, it must
have continued and that the gift must be in use today. 

On the one hand, therefore, there is the problem that the office did seem to die out after the apostolic days end has never seemed to be revived as an office until recent days, i.e. in the Apostolic Church; on the other hand it would appear that if the other gifts of the Spirit have never been withdrawn, neither has this one and that the gift of apostleship is manifested in those who have done and are still doing pioneer work in different parts of the world, whether Christians from the West or the Last.


"Prophets" are usually considered to have been "extraordinary teachers who were raised up for the purpose of establishing the churches in the truth, until such time as they should be under qualified and permanent instructors". There were times when they had the gift of foretelling (Acts 11:28; 21:10,11) but it does not appear that this was always so.

The word itself may mean "forth-tell' as much, as "fore-tell". Paul states in Eph.2:20 that the church is "built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets". These words taken in connection with his statements concerning prophecy in 1 Cor.12 & 14, show that he considered the prophet as important. 

This is also generally considered to have been an office which passed away as the church became established. On the other hand there is no clear indication in the New Testament that it was to be temporary, but at the same time the office does seem to have later become limited to a few travelling preachers and finally died out. Prophets are mentioned in the church at Antioch (Acts 13:1) and again in the two places in Acts quoted

It appears from Acts 15:32 and 1 Cor.14:3 that their purpose was exhortation, edification and consolation. As well as the travelling prophet there is the gift of prophecy in 1 Cor.12 which apparently wasexercised by members of the local church as part of the worship service. It is that that is used as the proof of its permanence.

From what is told us in 1 Cor.14 we see that prophecy was never, when rightly exercised, attended by ecstatic frenzy. The "spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets" writes Paul and therefore it was always controlled, intelligent and subject to the criticism and discernment of others (see 1 Cor.14).

There seems to be no real reason why both the office and the gift should not be in existence today. It surely can be applied in its official sense to the one who is called and anointed of God to declare the deep things of the Spirit and the whole counsel of God in the exposition of the Scripture and in the power of the Holy Spirit; in the local sense it can be applied to those who, under the anointing of the Spirit, declare that word of God which clearly applies to the circumstances, situation and hour in which it is delivered.


This again is a very difficult office to assess exactly. The word itself is only used three times in the New Testament (Acts 21:8; Eph.4:11; 2Tim.4:5), though the words from which it is derived (euangelion, meaning "gospel or good news", and euangelizomai, meaning "preach the gospel or good news") occur again and again.

But on this basis the word only means a "teller out of the good news" and no definite theory can be proved from this. In this sense all the early believers were evangelists. The only reference of the above three which undoubtedly refers to an office is Eph.4:11 and possibly Acts 21:8.

Even the reference in Ephesians cannot be considered absolutely clear for two reasons. First, the "evangelist" is not mentioned in any other list, not even the gifts of the Spirit; secondly, surely apostles and prophets were both evangelists. Perhaps then it was only added in Ephesians because while apostles and prophets both did the work of evangelists, there were also those who did the work of an evangelist but who could not be classed as apostles or prophets.

Some would hold that the "evangelists" were the assistants of the apostles and that such as Timothy and Titus are to be counted in this class. It seems, though, that these were rather special representatives of the apostles and that the evangelist was one more specially set aside to tell the good news on a more permanent basis than the ordinary believer.

If this is the case, then the evangelist is still in existence. There is hardly sufficient evidence to be dogmatic. In later church writings the word "evangelist" was used of the writers of the Gospels. In each of these three the commission is a roving one rather than an office in a local church. The next two, as will be seen, are different.

The Regular and Permanent.

The two offices to be considered in this section have to do with the work and worship of the local assembly. They are, therefore, of a more permanent nature than those considered in the previous section, permanent, that is, in the sense that they remain in the same locality and do not move about in the same way as the others. The two under consideration are those of Pastor and Deacon.


The word "pastor" is the Latin for "shepherd" and the idea behind it is that of caring for the flock. In Eph.4:11 it is linked with "teachers". There were probably teachers who were not pastors in the strict sense of the word, but who exercised their ministry in a different manner, but none can truly be a pastor without being a teacher.

The words of Paul to the elders from the Ephesian Church whom he met at Miletus make it reasonably clear that the pastoral work was carried out by the elders. This leads us to the consideration of the relationship between "elders" and "bishops".

There are two words used in the New Testament from which two distinct offices have been derived, although it is difficult to show from the New Testament that they were other than one and the same office. 

The two words are (presbuteroi) and (episkopoi). The firstwas a normal word for "elder" either in age or experience and was also used of the elders in the synagogue. Our word "presbyter" is only this word anglicized. (As a matter of interest "priest" is only a corruption of this word and therefore had no connection originally with a sacrificing priest, which in Latin was a "sacerdos"; the Greek word for a sacrificing priest is something quite different.) 

The second, is translated "bishop" in the A.V. and the word "bishop" actually comes from it through the Old English and the Old Saxon. It comes from a verb meaning "to oversee" and thus literally means "overseer", and this translation is used once in the New
Testament (Acts 20:28). 

As far as the relationship between the two is concerned, a careful comparison of the verse just mentioned with verse 17 in the same chapter, and a like comparison between Titus chapter 1:5 & 7, puts it beyond doubt that as far as the early church was concerned, the two were one and the same office. The word "presbuteros" had more reference to the person, and the word "episkopos" to the work he did, that is spiritual oversight of the local assembly. There is no sign in the New Testament of the kind of bishop we know today. 

It would appear that the change came in a perfectly natural way, accentuated by the circumstances in which the early church found itself. The New Testament records show that it was the practice for there to be several presbyters or elders in one church. While we presume that every church had them, this fact is not actually stated. 

Someone would naturally have to take the lead, i.e. by taking the chair at meetings and in other ways. It would probably fall to the lot of the same one each time, especially if there was one of more ability than the others. This tendency would increase as leadership was required in times of persecution and as the opposition of the Roman Government grew, requiring someone to face and deal with the Roman officials. 

Gradually, therefore, this man took the oversight, and the title "bishop" began to be given to him alone, the remainder being called "elders". By the middle of the second century these "local" bishops were common. It was much later before anything in the nature of our "provincial" bishop came into being.

This seems to be the way in which the government of the church evolved and there is no justification for holding that the apostles gave any definite instructions one way or the other. If they had it is inconceivable that there would have been as much variety as there was and that no one would have quoted the apostles to uphold what they were doing. 

Especially is this so in the case of Ignatius who was obviously very strongly in favour of bishops and yet who did not substantiate his arguments by quoting the commands of the apostles. There is no trace either that Clement of Rome even expected there to be a bishop at Corinth; he wrote to and discussed the matter of the elders without the slightest suggestion that Paul appointed a bishop, that there ever was one or that they were wrong in not appointing one. 

Neither does Clement himself call himself the bishop of Rome, although there is little doubt that he was. Other illustrations could be quoted, but the point is that there was no general ruling on the subject and there certainly would have been, had the apostles laid down definite regulations.


The word is again an anglicizing of a greek word "diakonoi". It literally means "servants" but not "slaves". The word for "slave" is almost always rendered "servant" in the New Testament, but this is a different word and means "one who freely serves or ministers to others in any way. The word is used in this way in the New Testament more often than in the official sense of "deacon". 

It is usually considered that the office of deacon was first instituted as recorded in Acts ch.6. It may be so, but it is doubtful whether the actual office was in existence as early as that; also when Philip, one of those appointed, is mentioned later in the Acts, it is as "one of the Seven", not as a "deacon".

It does appear that when the office is mentioned in the New Testament it refers to service and administration in the more secular and temporal affairs of the church, but there is little recorded to enable us to be certain about this. From what we know of the history of the later church, it would seem that for several centuries after the emergence of the single bishop, the deacons had more to do with the liturgical side of church than the presbyters; the presbyters dealing more with tine administration. 

The only ones who really fulfil the office today are to be found in the Baptist, United Reform, and other churches where deacons are elected for the purpose of seeing to the temporal side of the affairs of the local assembly. There are deacons in the Anglican Church, but these are only probationary priests, the first step before being ordained as a priest.

To sum up this section, we may say that the New Testament reveals that the Holy Spirit dispenses sufficient and adequate gifts to the Church to enable the worship and work to be carried on in a way which God can bless and own. It does not, however, lay down any definite instructions as to how the church is to be governed, nor as to the type of ministry to be exercised. It is obvious that there is a spiritual ministry and that some are especially called to exercise this, but the details are not given.

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