Ephesians 4:11 – Offices or Functions?

Note:  The following is in reply to a series of questions posed to me about the Ephesians 4:11 “Offices” of the Church.

I see Eph 4:11 as expressing functions in the church that Spirit-filled leaders fulfill, not strictly as offices. The A/G position paper on the subject uses the term “functions,” as well. The church still needs all those functions. I do not think there are still capital-A Apostles, but there are small-a ones.

The Capital-A Apostles were the Eleven and Paul, who received the Gospel directly by Christ, to start the church, and whose message is authoritative.  The “small-a” would apply to people commissioned by the Lord to perform a task such as a pioneer work, I think.

I do not think there are now authoritative prophets in the OT sense. Since the HS has been poured out on “all flesh,” all may prophesy, as the Spirit gives utterance. Philip, his daughters, Agabus and the other prophets who prophesied Paul’s imprisonment, I think are good examples of NT and Church Age prophets.

Eph 4:11 lists leaders and functionaries gifted according to their callings and concomitant responsibilities.  I believe that people are primarily called to fulfill functions in the church, not offices.  To the extent that there is no exercise of gifts and a calling, there is no office.  Paul was called to the function of Apostle, but also fulfilled functions of prophet, evangelist, and the rest, at times, so the functions are not exclusive of individuals.

It is natural enough for one who fulfills a function to become regarded as filling an office.  Yet it cannot be demonstrated in the NT that there was an official “office” of prophet or evangelist in the church.  (Paul encouraged all to seek to prophesy, 1 Cor 14:1, 39.)  Philip was called an evangelist (Acts 21:8), but there is no hint of office, any more than his prophetic daughters were said to be in an office of prophet.  Timothy was told to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Tim 4:5), but was not said to “be” an evangelist.

If there were “official” offices in the NT churches, they were elders and overseers.  From among the local elders came local pastors (“shepherds” — with a pastoral care function) and teachers.  Due to leadership failures such as in Corinth, Paul began to appoint leaders, subordinate to him, to correct and supervise.  Such were Timothy and Titus, who yet were never called pastors.

A calling does not necessarily presume an office.  There are many kinds of callings, not necessarily vocational nor enduring.  There could be something I am called to do today, perhaps for the first and last time, like intercede for a certain person or need.  Yet that does not install me in an office of Intercessor.  Intercession is a function which any or all Christians might be called upon to do from time to time, as the need and opportunity arises.  (Same with prophecy in 1 Cor 14.)

When discussing the function of pastor, I prefer to use the NT definition, rather than the modern application as leader of a church.  In the NT, the pastoral function is one of pastoral care, which is caring for the needs and welfare of the flock.  This would likely not entail authoritative leadership (no leader in the NT is called a pastor) but comforting and counseling, perhaps even arranging to meet material needs.

Regarding gifts, back up to Eph 4:7 ff.  Paul begins, “unto every one of us is given grace (CHARIS) according to the measure of the gift of Christ.”  He uses Ps 68:18 in rabbinic fashion to illustrate the exaltation of Christ by the Father, by which we know from other passages that Christ has had all power “put under his feet.”  Paul consciously changes “received gifts” to “gave gifts to men.”  It is in the context of the giving of gifts by Christ that Paul lists persons (4:11) who, in turn, are intended to “equip” or “mature” the church, resulting in service and edification, and further inoculating them against error and deception.

Paul regularly mixes gifts themselves with the persons who are gifted to fulfill their functions in his “gift lists,” see Rom 12:6 ff., 1 Cor 12:29.

Metaphorically and spiritually, the fulfilling of the 5 Functions is intended to construct the Body of Christ by keeping all the parts connected to the Head, Christ.  1 Cor 12 is parallel.

So Paul’s emphasis is on the function or activity of the gifted persons, not on the persons or “offices” themselves.  We all know that simply putting people into labeled offices is worthless unless they fulfill their intended functions.  Moreover, the ability to fulfill those functions is spiritually endowed, not a product of human authority or talent, as in the case with all charismatic gifts.

© 2012 Paul A. Hughes


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