We are taking a closer look at evangelistic apologetics in this new series. It follows the popular series Evangelistic Apologetics – The Church Under Attack, which published as a 33-part series on FaithandSelfDefense.com from January 2014 to March 2020. That series is now available for free as a set of five eBooks.
In the first part of our new series we asked whether evangelism is our job. Our answer is that evangelism is the job of every Christian. We wrote that Jesus Christ gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to His Church, “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-13).
In the second part of our series we will look at what Jesus had in mind when He gave His Church apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. What role do they play in the Lord’s Eternal Plan?
Apostles (ἀποστόλους) played a very important role in the early years of the Church. Jesus chose them personally to preach the Gospel and establish congregations of saved people in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and across the world (Acts 1:8). We know much about what apostles accomplished by reading their letters, the Book of Acts, and letters from the disciples of the apostles (Apostolic Fathers).
We learn from the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Ephesians that apostles are part of the foundation of the Church, “the household of God,” along with the prophets (Ephesians 2:20). The word “foundation” (θεμελίῳ) means thing laid down as a foundation, belonging to a foundation. The foundation of a building is the substruction of the building. The apostles and prophets (their lives and teachings) are part of the foundation of the Church. Jesus is the Chief Cornerstone (ἀκρογωνιαίου) of the Church. The word comes from two Greek words (ἄκρον and γωνία) that mean at the extreme angle or corner. Jesus is the massive cornerstone who upholds the Church, made up of both Jews and Gentiles who Jesus created “in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace” (Ephesians 2:15).
The Apostle Peter also spoke about the importance of Christians being “mindful of the words which were spoken before by the holy prophets, and of the commandment of us, the apostles of the Lord and Savior” (2 Peter 3:2).
Jude, the half brother of Jesus, also wrote to Christians about remembering “the words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 1:17).
We know from the Letter of Hebrews that God spoke through the Old Testament prophets “in time past to the fathers” and “in these last days spoken to us by His Son” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Jesus taught the apostles the truth of the Gospel message as they ministered together. He also sent the Holy Spirit to teach them “all things” and bring to their remembrance “all things that I said to you” (John 14:26). The apostles (messenger, one sent on a mission) did what Jesus commanded them to do – “make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20).
Do we have apostles like those of the New Testament today? Despite what many teach today, the answer is clearly “no.” We know from Acts 1 that the Apostle Peter said an apostle had to be a “witness with us of His resurrection” (Acts 1:22). The two men who were apostolic candidates to replace Judas Iscariot, Justus and Matthias, qualified to be apostles. The apostles prayed and cast lots. The lot fell on Matthias and he was “numbered with the eleven apostles” (Acts 1:26). Jesus later personally chose Saul of Tarsus to be an apostle and revealed Himself to him as risen from the dead (Acts 9; 26).
There are many today who claim to be apostles, see visions, be taken up to Heaven physically to meet with God, be guided by angels, speak for God, etc. However, those claims are not true. They are false apostles and should be avoided.
The only message of the “apostles” that Christians should follow today is the message of apostles named in the New Testament. Their words as recorded in the Bible are our only infallible guide to truth, as promised by Jesus Christ (John 14:15-18; 15:26-27; 16:12-14). Anything else presented as an apostolic message outside of Scripture should be rejected.
The prophets (προφήτας) Jesus gave to the Church after His resurrection and ascension had the same purpose as apostles: “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12-13).
The apostles often quoted the words of Old Testament prophets to demonstrate that what people were seeing had been prophesied by the prophets centuries earlier. You will find those Old Testament prophets mentioned often in the Book of Acts and Letters of the Apostles.
You will also find New Testament prophets mentioned as well. Some examples are:
- Acts 11:27-28
- Acts 13:1
- Acts 15:32
The work of the prophet in the New Testament is explained well in Ephesians 4, Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. Prophets were to:
- equip saints for their ministries
- prophesy in proportion to their faith
- prophesy from a heart of love
- speak words of edification, exhortation and comfort to people
Anyone who believes Jesus has given them the gift of being a prophet should read 1 Corinthians 14 carefully. The Corinthian Christians were divided and confused about many issues, one of them being spiritual gifts. Paul’s message to them was unity in diversity. Spiritual gifts are meant to bring Christians together in their service and worship of Christ Jesus (1 Corinthians 12). Spiritual gifts are meant to be used from hearts filled with the love of God for others (1 Corinthians 13). Spiritual gifts should be used to help bring order into God’s service (1 Corinthians 14). Anything less than that is a misuse of spiritual gifts, including the gift of prophecy (prophet).
Even as the apostles warned about false apostles, they also warned about false prophets (e.g. Acts 13:6; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1). Jesus warned about false prophets (e.g. Matthew 7:15; 24:11, 24; Mark 13:22). Unfortunately, Christians around the world today are listening to and believing false prophets. That has led to terrible theology and great division in Christianity, just as Jesus and the apostles warned.
If someone claims to be a prophet of God, put them to the New Testament test. They will pass or fail depending on both their theology and their practice. If they pass, listen to what they say and follow their example. If they fail, don’t listen to what they say and don’t follow their example. Be aware that Christian leaders can change. Even good leaders need to be watched carefully to see whether they continue “in the faith.” If they don’t, go to them with some other strong Christians to share your concerns. If they won’t listen to you, have nothing more to do with them.
“Now I urge you, brethren, note those who cause divisions and offenses, contrary to the doctrine which you learned, and avoid them. For those who are such do not serve our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly, and by smooth words and flattering speech deceive the hearts of the simple.”Romans 16:17-18
Evangelists (εὐαγγελιστάς – bearer of good news) are gifted people with a message. The message is the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The Greek word is used only three times in the New Testament: Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5. Acts 21:8 gives Philip (one of the seven from Acts 6) the title of “Philip the evangelist.” We know from Acts 8 that Philip preached the Gospel with great power and effectiveness – “And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.” (Acts 8:6) We also see in Acts 8 how God used Philip to explain the Gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch who was in charge of the treasury of Candace the queen of the Ethiopians. The eunuch believed the Gospel and was saved. Interestingly, Philip had “four virgin daughters who prophesied” (Acts 21:9). Paul told Timothy to “do the work of an evangelist” (2 Timothy 4:5).
According to what Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians, the work of an evangelist includes equipping (training) the saints “for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:12). Evangelists have a gift for explaining the Gospel to unbelievers in a way that God blesses and saves people. Evangelists also have a responsibility to equip Christians in how to explain the Gospel to unbelievers in ways that God will bless. Paul is a wonderful example of an apostle who evangelized and equipped believers to evangelize the lost. Jesus, of course, was the first Evangelist – “Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:14-15) Jesus also trained His disciples to preach the Gospel (Luke 9:1-6; 10:1-12).
Anyone who believes they are an evangelist should be actively involved in sharing the Gospel with unbelievers and equipping Christians to share the Gospel with unsaved people God brings into their lives. If someone calls themselves an evangelist but is not doing the work of an evangelist, be wary of what they claim. Know that something is spiritually wrong when a person claims to be an evangelist but is not doing the work of an evangelist.
God does not give His people special roles in His Church for their personal gain. As Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians:
“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. There are differences of ministries, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of activities, but it is the same God who works all in all. But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all.”1 Corinthians 12:4-7
Far too many people who claim to be Christian evangelists are doing so to become famous and wealthy. Is it any wonder that the history of the prosperity gospel (health and wealth) includes so many people claiming to be “evangelists.” Beware of anyone who is making a lot of money from preaching the Gospel.
If someone claims to be an evangelist but is preaching a false gospel, warn them and those they are preaching to and avoid them if they don’t repent.
Pastors and Teachers
There is good reason from the Greek construction of Ephesians 4:11 (Granvill Sharpe’s Rule) to believe that the phrase “pastors and teachers” addresses one person, rather than separate gifted people.
Remember that the word “gave” in Ephesians 4:11 is ἔδωκεν, not πνευματικῶν (1 Corinthians 12:1) or χαρίσματα (Romans 11:29; 12:6; 1 Corinthians 12:4, 9, 28, 30-31). Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers are what Jesus gave (ἔδωκεν) to the Church. We need to look elsewhere in the New Testament to see if what God gave the Church are πνευματικῶν or χαρίσματα. You may have noticed in the section above about evangelists that they are not referenced as πνευματικῶν or χαρίσματα. Preaching the Gospel (εὐαγγελίζω – to announce good news) is a “work of ministry,” but not a specific spiritual gift. Timothy, who assisted the Apostle Paul and served as a leader in the early Church, was told to do the “work of an evangelist.”
So, let’s look at “pastors and teachers” to see what spiritual gifts they may have, keeping in mind that Jesus gave (ἔδωκεν) them to the Church “for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry.”
The Greek word for “pastor” is ποιμήν and is used 18 times in the New Testament. The word means shepherd. The Latin translation of the Greek is pastor. A shepherd is a guide, provider and protector of a flock of sheep. Jesus said this of Himself – “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep.” (John 10:11). The Apostle Peter called Jesus the “Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25). Peter knew something from Jesus about shepherding the flock of God. Jesus told Peter to “Feed My lambs .. Tend My sheep .. Feed My sheep” (John 21:15-17). The word “feed” (βόσκω) means to “pasture, feed” the Lord’s lambs and sheep. The word “tend” (ποιμαίνω) means “to act as a shepherd, guard and protect sheep.” The word “tend” (ποιμαίνω) is from the same root as the word ποιμήν (pastor). The word ποιμήν is not listed as a spiritual gift (πνευματικῶν or χαρίσματα) in the New Testament. It is something gifted people do – they “tend” God’s flock.
The fact that the word “teachers” (διδασκάλους) is combined with “pastors” gives us some insight into why Jesus gave (ἔδωκεν) them to the Church. Pastors (shepherds, flock tenders) guide, pasture and protect God’s people by “teaching” them the Truth of God’s Word. “Teaching” (διδάσκων) is included in Romans 12:7 as one of several χαρίσματα that God has given to His people (Romans 12:6-8). Paul included the gift of being a “teacher” in a list about spiritual gifts that he gave to the Corinthians:
“Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually. And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Are all workers of miracles?” 1 Corinthians 12:27-291 Corinthians 12:27-29
Notice that God “has appointed these in the church.” Teachers follows apostles and prophets in the χαρίσματα list. That matches what Paul wrote in Ephesians 4 given that evangelists and pastors are not listed as χαρίσματα in the New Testament. In Paul’s χαρίσματα list in Romans 12, Paul wrote this – “he who teaches, in teaching.” That’s what teachers do, they teach. Their primary focus is on teaching (διδασκαλίᾳ). The word means instruction. Instruction in what? What God has said through the prophets and His Son (Hebrews 1:1-2), which includes the sayings and writings of His apostles. Nothing more, nothing less.
A Bible “teacher” understands what Jesus told Satan:
“It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.’”Matthew 4:4
Teachers focus on sound doctrine. I’ve been accused of focusing too much on doctrine, as if that’s a bad thing. Unfortunately, many Christians are confused about the word “doctrine.” Those I’ve spoken to about it believe doctrine is what church denominations and their leaders teach specific to their denominational belief. I understand their concern because of the vast differences in many denominations’ statement of beliefs. However, that is not the meaning of the word doctrine in the New Testament.
The Greek word translated “doctrine” is διδαχὴ and means “teaching, what is taught.” Jesus called His teaching “My doctrine” in John 7:16. The people who were saved on the Day of Pentecost “continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine” (Acts 2:42). As we saw earlier, the apostles’ doctrine was the same doctrine Jesus taught them. That’s the same doctrine pastor-teachers should teach today. Unfortunately, that is not always the case:
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.”2 Timothy 4:3-4
Shepherd-teachers (ποιμήν-διδασκάλους) have a responsibility to teach God’s people in a way that guides them, feeds them, protects them and equips them for their work of ministry. The only way they can do that is to teach the doctrine (teachings) of Jesus Christ and His apostles. If a particular denominational teaching happens to agree with the teachings of Christ and the apostles, that’s good. However, many denominational teachings do not agree with the teachings of Christ and His apostles. What are Christians within those denominations to do when denominational teaching is in opposition to New Testament teaching?
“Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.”Hebrews 13:8-9
The section of Ephesians 4 we’re studying continues in verse 14:
“… that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”Ephesians 4:14-15
That’s another reason Jesus gave gifts to His Church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers), so that Christians would no longer be little children who are tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine (teachings).
Some Christians through the years have believed the answer to the denominational problem is to start new denominations or groups or to call themselves non-denominational. However, giving yourself or your church a different title does not insure against “various and strange doctrines.” It will always return to the same solution. We must follow the specific teachings of Christ and His apostles. “But,” you say, “my denomination or non-denominational church does follow the specific teachings of Christ and His apostles.” How do you know that’s true? What is the foundation of your belief concerning your church or denomination? Is it because you like the people in your church, the leaders and the methods of worship? Or is it because you know the teachings of Christ and His apostles and the teachers in your church are in agreement with them?
Every Christian must be both curious and cautious about what church leaders are teaching them. You will find many other articles and series in FaithandSelfDefense that address this problem, including the ongoing series A Layman’s Guide To False Preachers and Teachers. As we mentioned at the beginning of this article, you may also find an older series helpful called Evangelistic Apologetics: The Church Under Attack.
How do Christians endure the many divisions within Christianity and the attacks on the Church? Unfortunately, as we saw earlier in Paul’s letter to Timothy, many will not endure. We wrote an article addressing both the problem and solution last year. It’s called They Will Not Endure. We pray that will be helpful to you as well.
Jesus Christ did everything for us. He died for us, rose for us, ascended to Heaven for us and gave us gifts. Those gifts include apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Jesus our Great Shepherd gave us those gifts to guide us, protect us and feed us. Let’s be wise in who we follow and what we believe:
“And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”Ephesians 4:11-16
We will take a closer look at how we do ministry that God will bless in the next part of our special series.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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