Thursday, May 5, 2016

The Problematic Idea of "Five-Fold Ministry"

Just saw what might be good news on my Facebook feed about a revival here on this side of the North American Continent. They're starting to call it the rumble in the Northwest. I hope there is real stuff happening. But reading the news about it turned up something else interesting. The revival is being associated with something called the New Apostolic Reformation. Interesting. So I looked if up and found that actually, although I wasn't aware of the label, I do know something about this, since for a while I was in a church which was into this.

The New Apostolic Reformation centres around a reading of Ephesians 4:11 that states that for the church to be truly complete, all of the functions mentioned in the passage have to be present -- the Five-Fold Ministry (don't forget the capitals.) Apostles, evangelists, prophets, pastors, and teachers. And along with the idea comes a narrative. And it's the narrative that gives the idea its power. It goes something like this. After the time of its infancy, the church lost its power possibly because they left a God-given structure and opted for a politically supported hierarchy of priests. (or something like that) At any rate the Five-Fold Ministry was lost to the church. But since that time God has been restoring to the church the different offices (pastors, teachers, prophets etc.) And here we are directed to different points of time in the history of the charismatic movement as exemplary of the restoration of this or that office. Proof positive of a divine plan. The whole thing culminates in the recent restoration of apostles among us.

And so now we can really get this party started, so to speak, because each of the offices will equip the body of Christ in their own special way. And that sounds fine enough. The pastors and teachers will shepherd and inform. The prophets and evangelists will stir up speaking from God and reaching out to the world. And the apostles? Well there's the really big problem. What are the apostles going to do? I've heard that they inspire the church to new things. But that isn't what really is about is it? Because if there's one impression of what apostles did in the early church, its that when push came to shove, they ruled.

But let's walk backwards from the point of ruling, and looking at Paul, (our most prominent example of an apostolic ruler) let us understand how it was that he ruled (gave direction, admonishment) all of the churches that he wrote to. The picture simplifies itself then. Thing is, most of them, he himself planted. Of course he's going to watch over them and try to keep them on the right track. And there's crux of the issue. Apostolic authority did not reside in the office of the apostle. Rather it flowed from the apostle doing his function, which was to plant churches. It's only later that people started to equate apostleship with rule.

A humorous side note: Some would-be apostles like to try to have it both ways (humble and vain.) "No we're not really Capital A Apostles. We're small a apostles." This is a laugh because the original text of the New Testament was written in uncial letters. Uncials are all the same case. The usage of capitals came later. Big A or little a, if you claim apostleship, you know what you've got to do. Apply to your nearest mission board and get out of here.

Because, you see, the word apostle (sent one) is synonymous with missionary (sent one.) It is not, as some would have it, synonymous with 'benevolent dictator for life.' I think this might disappoint some of the new 'apostles' that have cropped up, but, truthfully, if they want the term to apply to them, they have to leave here and plant churches in other cultures. Because Eph 4:11 is not the only place that apostles shows up in a list. In I Cor 12:28, the phrasing is different. "First apostles, second prophets..." Suddenly we have not a five fold ministry, but a multi stage ministry. And "first apostles" makes a heck of lot of sense in that context. Who else to start a work in any location but the apostles? Furthermore, the fact that one list is a chronology, makes a really good case for the similar other list being a chronology, too.

Another weakness of the restoration narrative is that it's an attempt, not to progress as the church, "brighter and brighter till the full day," nor surpass the early church and do "greater works" than Jesus -- as he promised-- but to look back to the good old days and try to be the church in the New Testament. Do people really have the idea that everything in the New Testament is a template? That every work-in-progress solution found in the NT to the problems of church polity against the backdrop of the Graeco-Roman world is God's design for the church forever?

So go ahead and enjoy the Lord's presence as he is apparently visiting the North West. Love him and follow him with all your heart. But don't necessarily buy into the whole Five-Fold/New Apostolic thing. Unless God is telling you to. Because you'll need more authority behind the choice than a misread passage...