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The Importance of Church Office in the Ordinary Ministry

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In Scripture all of God's people are presented as priests, living stones being built into a holy sanctuary. Yet not all of the covenant people are ministers. All are sheep, but not all are shepherds under the Great Shepherd (as Paul especially argues in 1 Cor. 11 and 12). There are different gifts and different callings within the one body. Christ is the sole mediator between God and humanity (1Titus 2:5), but he has given "the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers" to his body, "building [it] up" (Eph. 4:5-16). These differing gifts generate special offices of ministry and oversight. Such graces, however, are not qualities (or, as in Roman Catholic terminology, an indelible "character") sacramentally infused into ministers so that they might be elevated ontologically above the laity. They are simply gifts for particular offices, given in order to serve the rest of the body. As Christ has promised, he has not left us orphans but is present by the Spirit through the ministry of the Word. Admittedly, this is a difficult interpretation to affirm, especially since most of our modern translations (in contrast to older ones) render Ephesians 4:11-12 as follows: "The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry" (NRSV, but also essentially the same construction in other modern translations, including the ESV). However, there are good reasons for preferring the older translations (for example, the King James Version), which render the verses, "And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ."

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1 [ Back ] Our interpretation depends largely on whether we render katartismon in verse 12a "equip" and eis "for" or render them "complete" and "in." It is possible lexically to render katartismon either "equip" or "complete" (also train). However, "completion" fits better with the logic of the argument, where the analogy is that of a body growing up into maturity. This occurs through Christ's gift of evangelists, pastors, and teachers. Furthermore, this gift is given for the express purpose of "building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine," but instead be engaged in "speaking the truth in love" (vv. 12-15).
2 [ Back ] Andrew T. Lincoln, Ephesians (WBC; Dallas: Word, 1990), 253; cf. T. David Gordon, "'Equipping' Ministry in Ephesians 4," JETS 37, no. 1 (March 1994): 69-78. It is also interesting to read Calvin's commentary on this passage (Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul to the Galatians and Ephesians, trans. William Pringle [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996], 277-86), especially since the more recent translation does not even occur to him. For this very reason, he seems to capture the flow of the passage's argument more smoothly than many commentators who follow the newer translation.

Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of apologetics and systematic theology at Westminster Seminary California (Escondido, California), host of the White Horse Inn, national radio broadcast, and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine. He is author of many books, including The Gospel-Driven Life, Christless Christianity, People and Place, Putting Amazing Back Into Grace, The Christian Faith, and For Calvinism.

Issue: "Embassy of Grace" May/June 2011 Vol. 20 No. 3 Page number(s): 24-27

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