Sunday, January 02, 2011

Ascension Gifts (1)

We will never understand the gifts listed in Ephesians 4, if we start with our existing church structures. The common church hierarchy is pastor-elder-people. If the pastor is placed above the elders then the other gifts have to be put up there too. People often want to put the apostle above the pastor, so we end up with a new hierarchy: apostle (pseudo-bishop)-pastor-elders-people. The problem is that no place is left for the evangelists and prophets.

The starting point is wrong. The modern pastor-leader role just does not fit with Eph 4, because it does not exist in the New Testament. Apart from real sheep shepherds and Jesus the Chief shepherd, the Greek word shepherd is only used as a noun once in the New Testament. That is in Eph 4:11, and there it is used to describe a gift, not an office.

The word pastor is used as a verb in Acts 20:17,28 and 1 Pet 5:1,2. In both these cases, elders are told to shepherd (verb) the flock that is in their care. We do not have a verb for shepherd in English, so it is usually translated with the verb “to be” plus the noun shepherd/pastor. This translation is misleading, because it makes the role sound like an office. “Tend” or “look after” would be a better translation. These two passages both say that shepherding is something that elders should do. The use of a verb rather than a noun suggests that Peter and Paul are telling elders what to do, rather than giving them a name. Therefore, pastor is not a higher-level ministry, but a responsibility given to elders. This can be hard to accept, but it is the New Testament teaching.

Shepherds watch over their sheep, so tending includes watching. Therefore, it is interesting that these two passages also give elders a role in exercising “oversight” (watching over). Titus 1:6,7; Phil 1:1 and 1 Tim 3:1,2 also imply that overseer is another title that was used for elders. We confuse the situation by transliterating the Greek word “episkopos” as bishop. Actually it is just a word meaning “watch over”, which is a task that elders are commanded to do by Peter and Paul.

We will never understand Eph 4, if we try to make the ascension ministries too big. They become a special ministry, with a special anointing, that do special work. This is dangerously elitist and unfortunately many people who take these titles are now being put in a special place above the rest of the body. Peter was quite happy to call himself an elder. We need to bring these gifts down to earth. When I look at what these ministries do in Eph 4:12-16 it pretty ordinary stuff, building relationships and helping people grow. There is no hierarchy above elders in the New Testament. This is why Paul only ever appointed elders.

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