HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div
Leadership in the Church
An Examination of Offices
The New Testament mentions a wide variety of leaders in the church: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, teachers, bishops, elders and deacons. What are these offices? Are they commanded for the church today? Let’s examine the evidence, starting with the titles given in Ephesians 4:11: “Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers.”
Isn’t a prophet somebody who predicts the future? That may be one meaning of the word, but that’s not the only way the word is used. When the Samaritan woman perceived that Jesus was a prophet (John 4:19), it was not because of a prediction about the future, but because of a revelation about the past and present. When the guards told Jesus to prophesy (Matthew 26:68), they were asking for a revelation about the present, not the future.
On the Mount of Olives, Jesus made some predictions. But even before that, the people considered him a prophet (Matthew 21:11). It was because of his teaching and his miracles (Luke 7:16 and Luke 24:19; John 6:14; John 7:40 and John 9:17). Moses had predicted such a prophet — “a prophet like me” (Acts 3:22-23) — and Moses was known much more for teaching than for prediction. Jesus was a prophet like Moses, speaking the words of God. The role of a prophet might include predicting the future, but it didn’t necessarily require predictions.
God appoints prophets in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). In the early church, some prophets made predictions (Acts 11:27 and Acts 21:10). Others served in encouraging and strengthening (Acts 15:32). In Antioch, they worked with teachers (Acts 13:1). Philip’s four daughters prophesied (Acts 21:9). Paul referred to a prophetic message that accompanied Timothy’s ordination (1 Timothy 1:18 and 1 Timothy 4:14). When people spoke in tongues on the Day of Pentecost, Peter said it fulfilled a scripture about men and women prophesying (Acts 2:17-18; cf. Acts 19:6). God was causing them to speak.
Paul listed prophecy as one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 11:5). A prophet is “spiritually gifted” (1 Corinthians 14:37). Paul urged the Corinthians to desire the gift of prophecy (verses 1, 39) — but, judging by the way that Paul used the word, this rarely means predicting the future. “Everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort…. The one who prophesies edifies the church” (1 Corinthians 14:3-4). Prophecy is also for instruction (verse 31). God inspires prophetic messages to build and help the church.
Prophecy, although a very helpful gift, has limitations. “We know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Prophecies will cease (verse 8). Love is much more important (verse 2). Every Christian should love, but not every Christian has the gift of prophecy. “We have different gifts, according to the grace given us” (Romans 12:6).
Paul gave some instructions about how prophetic speaking should be done decently and in order. In keeping with social custom, women were told to cover their heads when prophesying, and men were told they should not (1 Corinthians 11:4-5). Instead of everyone speaking at once, people should take turns (1 Corinthians 14:29-31). If God inspires a second person to speak, the first person should stop (verse 30). The result of such prophecies would then be “that everyone may be instructed and encouraged” (verse 31).
In summary, prophets help the church by comforting, edifying, encouraging, instructing, strengthening and sometimes by predicting.
CONTINUES TOMORROW …