HH, Sir Godfrey Gregg D.Div

Leadership in the Church

An Examination of Offices

I want to launch a series of studies about the offices in the church. There are offices given by our Lord and those given by Paul the Apostle. I will try my best to give all the details that are available to me for our edification and learning.

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.”


The word “apostle” is sometimes used for the highest rank of church leadership. However, the word had a different meaning before the church existed. It originally meant “one who has been sent” — an ambassador or representative. This general meaning is seen in some New Testament uses.

Jesus used the word in a general sense when he said that a “messenger” is not greater than the one who sends him (John 13:16). Similarly, Paul referred to some apostles whose names were not given; the New International Version of the Bible calls them “representatives” (2 Corinthians 8:23). The general function of an Apostolos was to represent someone else. When Paul called Epaphroditus and Apostolos, he may have meant that Epaphroditus was a messenger of the church at Philippi (Philippians 2:25).

Jesus, who was sent by the Father, was an apostle (Hebrews 3:1). The 12 disciples sent by Jesus were also apostles (Mark 3:14, etc.). The disciples are not in the same category of authority as Jesus, but the same Greek word is used. The focus is on the function, not rank. Barnabas and Paul were also sent out, and they were called apostles (Acts 14:4, 14).

The disciples and Paul used the term Apostolos as the name of their leadership office in the church (Acts 15:23; Romans 11:13; Galatians 1:1; etc.). Authority came with the sending — a messenger sent by Jesus Christ had an authoritative understanding of that message.

James may have been an apostle, too — in one verse he is distinguished from the apostles, and in another, he is included (1 Corinthians 15:7 and Galatians 1:19). Similarly, Timothy is excluded sometimes (2 Corinthians 1:1 and Colossians 1:1) and included once (1 Thessalonians 2:6) — but in this latter verse, Paul may have been using the term in a general sense of messenger or representative.

The reference in Romans 16:7 is debated. Some say that Andronicus and Junia were apostles; others say that the verse simply means they were esteemed highly by the apostles. However, even if they were apostles, they were likely messengers rather than having a permanent position of authority in the church. (If they were apostles in the same sense that Paul was, it is odd that we know almost nothing about them, either from the Bible or from church history.)

Some people falsely claimed to be apostles (2 Corinthians 11:13; Revelation 2:2). Paul facetiously called them “super-apostles” (2 Corinthians 11:5 and 2 Corinthians 12:11). Although he was the least of the apostles, he was not inferior to the self-proclaimed apostles (1 Corinthians 15:9). God appointed some people to be apostles (1 Cor­inthians 12:28; Ephesians 4:11). This was part of the foundation of the church (Ephesians 2:20 and Ephesians 3:5).

What role did apostles have in the church? The Twelve and Paul were instrumental in beginning the church. Soon after Jesus ascended to heaven, the disciples said that a requirement for their “apostolic ministry” was to have been with Jesus during his ministry (Acts 1:21-25). These apostles not only preached but also exercised some administrative leadership. They laid hands on deacons whom the people had chosen (Acts 6:6) and they made decisions with the elders (Acts 15:22).

Paul mentioned some of his qualifications to be considered an apostle: seeing the Lord and raising churches (1 Corinthians 9:1). His converts were the “seal” of his apostleship — evidence that he had been sent, at least to them (verse 2). He noted characteristics that marked an apostle: “signs, wonders and miracles” (2 Corinthians 12:12). An apostle preaches the gospel as a faithful mes­senger of the Lord. He is an official representative of Jesus Christ, more exclusive and authoritative than elders.


Author: Godfrey Gregg

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