Monday, June 23, 2008

Equippers and the Equipped

In a series of posts last year (1, 2, 3, & 4), I discussed the realities of how leadership (eldership) actually gets expressed in the modern church. Some of what is said in this series of posts will touch on some of the same material, but from a slightly different perspective. You may find it helpful to take a look those articles in conjunction with this series, hence the links for your convenience.

The list of gifts found in Ephesians 4, which we will tackle with this post, I think, is perhaps the most misunderstood of them all. Today, especially in some of the newer church movements, these gifts are seen, it seems to me, as expressions of authority rather than as functional utilities. Polity is established on having people serve in the "offices" of apostle and prophet, rather than understanding these things as giftings which serve a need in the body. I believe this is a misappropriation of the scriptures theorologically [HT: Mark Hadfield (boy, do I miss his blog!)], and practically, such authoritarianism is all too Catholic and cultish. Rather than misappropriating the names of apostle and prophet, why not borrow the tried and true and use bishop; after all, church leadership is established by the NT in the office of elder or bishop. If one can see that folks of many different giftings can serve as elders, the fight for biblical polity and proper understanding of gifting is half won!

There are four gifts mentioned in the list in question: apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers. Listing them this way, rather than as five, acknowledges the particular grammar of the passage, even though the other lists mention teaching on its own. Evidently, in the context of Ephesians 4, it is the teaching aspect of pastoring that is being highlighted by Paul, rather than more administrative functions. What these gifts have in common, and what is focused upon in our text, is that they serve a preparatory function within the body of Christ. Peter divided matters of gifting into two, serving or speaking: in our passage, Paul divides them into equippers and the equipped. The named four are the equippers, the unnamed mass (and those that will eventually be the four), are the equipped.

Believe it or not, Romans 10:17 provides a rationale as to why Paul would present the equipping gifts the way he did. Presenting pastoring in the unusual fashion he did (with teaching emphasized), I think, clinches the argument. What is the means by which equippers take the raw material of Adamic flesh and build it into the body of Christ? It is the word. The proclamation of it to the unbeliever brings new birth, the presentation of it to the novice is what inculcates truth, the application of it is what guides the established. In the kingdom, faith is what matters, and faith arises on the wings of the word. So, the most fundamental quality of these four gifts is not authority of position, but in God-given ability to proclaim the word.

Apostles proclaim the word among a people which has not heard it in order to establish the church of Christ among them. Evangelists proclaim the word to folks that have not heard it so they might receive the good news of the gospel. Prophets proclaim the word, fitted for the moment, which helps folks be built up in it. Pastor/teachers proclaim the word to people who need to apply it to living with understanding. All of them endeavor to move folk along on the pathway to maturity and their own service in the body through functional gifting, for what's the use of equipping if the equipment is never used?