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.”
Jesus is the perfect example of every category of a church leader. He is an apostle, a prophet, an evangelist, a shepherd, an overseer, a servant and a teacher. He called himself a teacher, his disciples called him teacher, the crowds called him teacher, even his enemies called him teacher. “Teacher” is the Greek equivalent of “Rabbi” (John 1:38 and John 20:16).
One of Jesus’ chief activities was teaching. He taught not only his disciples but also the crowds — in the temple, in synagogues, in towns and villages, on mountains and at the lakeside. “I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus said. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple” (John 18:20).
Jesus commanded his disciples to teach (Matthew 28:20), and they did. “Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 5:42). Paul taught in Ephesus “publicly and from house to house” (Acts 20:20). He called himself a teacher, and he told Timothy to teach (1 Timothy 2:7; 1 Timothy 4:11-13; 2 Timothy 1:11 and 2 Timothy 4:2).
Paul told the Colossians to teach one another (Colossians 3:16). People who have been in the church a long time should be able to teach (Hebrews 5:12). If they have a gift for teaching, they should teach (Romans 12:7). Although every member may teach, not everyone has the position of “teacher” (1 Corinthians 12:29). James warns us, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers… because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). God appoints teachers in the church (1 Corinthians 12:28); he gives teachers to equip the saints (Ephesians 4:11).
The Holy Spirit teaches (Luke 12:12; John 14:26; 1 Corinthians 2:13 and 1 John 2:27). Scripture teaches (Romans 15:4 and 2 Timothy 3:16). Overseers should be able to teach (1 Timothy 3:2). Paul warned Timothy, “Watch your life and doctrine [teaching] closely” (1 Timothy 4:16).
We are frequently warned about false teachers and false teachings. Jesus warned about the teachings of the Pharisees; later, some of them taught that Gentiles had to be circumcised (Acts 15:1). John warned about idolatrous and immoral teachings (Revelation 2:14-15 and Revelation 2:20-24). Keep away from false teachers, Paul warned (Romans 16:17). “If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him” (2 John 10).
Using the word for “teaching,” Paul warned about “every wind of doctrine,” “human commands and teachings,” and “things taught by demons” (Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:22 and 1 Timothy 4:1). “The time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Timothy 4:3). “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings” (Hebrews 13:9).
What should be taught? The way of God (Matthew 22:16). Obedience to Jesus’ commands (Matthew 28:20). The word of God (Acts 18:11). The Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 13:12 Acts18:25 and Acts 28:31). A way of life in Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 4:17). The teachings were given by Paul (2 Thessalonians 2:15 and 2 Timothy 2:2). The elementary truths of God’s word (Hebrews 5:12). Specific doctrines (Hebrews 6:2). The true faith (1 Timothy 2:7). The truths of the faith (1 Timothy 4:6). The gospel (2 Timothy 1:11). “You must teach what is in accord with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1).
Teachers play an important role in the church. As a simplification, evangelists bring people into the church, and teachers build on that foundation to help members in the church to minister according to their spiritual gifts. The categories overlap — evangelism frequently includes teaching (as seen in the ministry of Jesus and the sermons in Acts), and teaching must include the gospel — but in general, evangelism is targeted at nonmembers, and teaching is targeted at members.
That concludes our survey of the terms found in Ephesians 4:11. We will now look at bishops, elders and deacons.
CONTINUES TOMORROW …