Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The Foundational and the Following

Returning to our discussion on the list of gifts found 1 Corinthians 12...

Peter divided the gifts into two classifications: speakers and servers; Paul divided them into the equippers and the equipped in Ephesians 4; and in the passage in question, he divides them into the foundational and the following. As I have argued before here and here, the ordinals used in v. 28 refer to sequence not importance. Paul's point in using this demarcation was to show the proper development of gifts in the body, not to offer v. 29-31 as a qualitative gradient that would allow future cessationists to dismiss the miraculous. I think the sequential feature of the text is hard to deny, which makes me wonder why the cessationists wouldn't consider apostles, prophets, and teachers as subject to termination, but the various, primarily miraculous, gifts as continuing just to be more faithful to the text!

The body of Christ, in any area, starts with one, or at best a very few people. Generally, that one was sent there by God to be his representative and to establish his kingdom in that place (the ministry of an apostle). When the apostle starts his work in that place, he is the body of Christ, and whatever ministry comes forth, comes forth through him. As the word with signs attending begins to reap a harvest of souls, folk are added to the one and the body grows. As the body grows, God raises up people to speak as he leads them for the strengthening, encouragement and comfort of God's people (the ministry of a prophet). The church is thereby established as ministry is expanded beyond the apostle to the prophet; hence, the apostles and prophets are foundational to all that is built upon their work in the future.

As growth and development continue, God raises up folk who can teach those who have come to believe what he has commanded and how to apply that word to daily living (the ministry of a teacher). Once a body is at the place where some greater measure of those who have believed the good news have become disciples of Christ (taught), ministry expands into a host of more specified giftings. At the point, the fact that not all are apostles, or prophets, or teachers, or work miracles, or heal, or speak in tongues, as a ministry, becomes self-evident. A obsessive fascination with, or a "self-appointment" to a particular gift out of place and prior to its time only hinders the proper Spirit-directed development of the body. Hence the Paul's dissertation to the Corinthians on the subject.