"The Faulty Foundation of the Five-Fold Ministry"



By Robert M. Bowman




It has recently become popular to speak of "the five-fold

ministry," a system of church government with apostles, prophets,

evangelists, pastors, and teachers. The neo-Pentecostal

"Restoration" movement and its offshoot, "kingdom now" teaching,

claims that one of the things which God is "restoring" to the

church is this five-fold ministry.


The sole proof text used to support this concept is Ephesians

4:11-13, which states that Christ gave "some as apostles, and some

as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and

teachers,..._until_ we all attain to the unity of the faith and the

full knowledge of the Son of God." The word "until," it is argued,

proves that the church today needs apostles and prophets as much as

evangelists, pastors, and teachers.


However, it is the "building up" of the church (v.12) which

must continue until the church is mature, not all five of the

offices listed in verse 11. This is clear when the whole text is

read as follows: "And He gave some as apostles, and some as

prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and

teachers; [these offices were given] to equip the saints for the

work of service, [which work has as its goal] to build up the body

of Christ until we all attain to the unity of the faith..." The

offices of apostle and prophet would naturally cease in the church

once their role in "equipping the saints" was completed; that is,

once the New Testament canon was completed.


Some have objected that there is no reason to bracket off the

apostles and prophets from the other three offices listed in verse

11. However, in the very same epistle, Paul states that the church

has "been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets"

(Eph. 2:20) and that Christ's mystery concerning the church was

"revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit" (3:5).

These statements indicate that the role of apostles and prophets

was fulfilled in the first century.


The New Testament is particularly clear about the temporary

role of the apostles, since they were chosen to give eyewitness

testimony of the risen Christ (Acts 1:21-26; 5:32; Luke 1:1-4; 1

Cor. 9:1). Paul indicated that he was the last person to see the

risen Christ and receive an apostolic commission (1 Cor. 15:8). The

epistles of 2 Peter and Jude, among the very last New Testament

writings to be penned, exhort the readers to avoid false doctrines

by recalling the teachings of the apostles (2 Pet. 1:12-15; 2:1;

3:2, 14-16; Jude 3-4, 17). Peter and Jude did not say, "Listen to

the apostles living today," but instead urged believers to

"remember what the apostles _said._"


I am not arguing that only the Twelve and Paul were apostles.

Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Silas (1 Thess. 2:6; cf. 1:1), and

Andronicus and Junia (Rom. 16:7) all were apostles of Christ, and

thus were no doubt among the more than 500 witnesses to the

Resurrection (1 Cor. 15:6). However, none of these persons was

chosen as a successor to an earlier apostle (Matthias was Judas's

_replacement,_ not his successor, since Judas had forsaken his

apostleship, Acts 1:21-26).


There are other senses in which the word "apostle" is used in

the New Testament. Certain individuals, including Epaphroditus,

were "apostles of the churches" (2 Cor. 8:23; Phil. 2:25). These

"apostles" had no authority over the church; they were messengers

sent by and subject to their churches. In this latter sense it

would be perfectly legitimate to speak of church representatives as

"apostles," were it not for the confusion which might result from

such usage.


Therefore, in the usual biblical sense of the term, there are

no apostles today. Nor are there any prophets in the usual sense,

as they were part of the "foundation" laid in the first-century

church. This is not to deny the continuing validity of the gift of

"prophecy," since Paul does refer to prophesying as a basic

activity in which all Christians are urged to participate to the

extent God gifts them (Rom. 12:6; 1 Cor. 11:4-5; 12:10; 13:2, 8-9;

14:1-6, 20-33; 1 Thess. 5:20), and in a general functional sense

persons exercising this gift are even called "prophets" (1 Cor.

14:32,37). Yet Paul also speaks of specific persons who occupied an

office of "prophet" which was second in authority only to apostle

(1 Cor. 12:28-29). It is this office of "prophet," not all

prophecy, which I am arguing passed away around the end of the

first century.


Finally, some errors on this matter are worse than others. The

loose use of the world "apostle" to refer to missionaries or church

planters is not a serious error as long as this usage is sharply

distinguished from the concept of an apostle who brings new

doctrinal revelations and wields unquestionable authority.  Nor is

it a grievous error to interpret Ephesians 4:11 to refer to

"apostles" in this sense of a church planter. The same would apply

to those who hold that Ephesians 4:11 refers to the ongoing

charismatic activity of prophesying.  I do believe these

interpretations are mistaken, but they are not in any way

antagonistic to Christian faith.


On the other hand, to interpret Ephesians 4:11 as a call for a

restoration of the office of apostle of Christ is not only a

mistake in exegesis, it opens the door to heresy. To claim that the

church today needs visions and revelations through modern apostles

and prophets of Christ is to deny the sufficiency of the Bible (2

Tim. 3:16) and to place the church at the mercy of false apostles,

the likes of whom the apostle Paul warned us about in no uncertain

terms (2 Cor. 11:13-15).


The teachers of the "five-fold ministry," in seeking to

"restore" a foundation which has never been moved, are actually

laying a false foundation which will not support the building up of

the body of Christ.


End of document, CRJ0009A.TXT (original CRI file name),

"The Faulty Foundation of the Five-Fold Ministry"

release A, September 6, 1993

R. Poll, CRI_