The primary ministry in the church

In the human body there are no useless cells; every cell that is alive has a specific function. The God who invented the human body also invented the Church, and used the working of the human body to illustrate its nature (e.g., Romans 12:4f, 1 Corinthians 12:12f). The "cells" of the Church body (you, for example) came into being by being brought to life and then grafted into that body -- Christ's body. And, as in the human body, once we are within the body God plans for every believer/cell to grow into a specific ministry. The appointed ministries are not the primary ministries. The primary ministry of the Church is that which each believer has toward his or her brothers and sisters in the community. The official ministries exist primarily to build up the saints for their ministry (Ephesians 4:11-12; also implied in Hebrews 5:12). Serving each other's needs with the self-sacrificing spirit of Christ; speaking the truth to each other with His love; bearing one another's burdens with His compassion; witnessing about the Father, the Son and the Spirit: these are the primary ministries of the Church, and are to be carried on by every believer.

All believers are priestly witnesses with respect to the world (1 Peter 3:15), yet with respect to the body the ministry of some of us is chiefly supportive. These supportive ministries are actually the most crucial ministries, and are an aspect of the primary ministry that we have talked about above. God wants each of us to minister in some gifted way to the body at large.

God will raise up some to be personally supportive, the gifted encouragers of others.1 They will, through the endowment of the Spirit, grow into a sensitivity to see when someone is discouraged; they will be gifted to help such people see the fleshly trap they are in, and help them out of it.

The Lord will raise up some to be prayerfully supportive. All believers are to be in much prayer, of course; our prayer helps us to strive together with the one for whom we pray (Romans 15:30; also 2 Corinthians 1:11). But some are gifted to a ministry of prayer and intercession, like Anna in the temple day and night (Luke 2:36-37), or the ministering widows mentioned by Paul (1 Timothy 5:5).

Finally, the Lord will raise up some to be financially supportive. All believers, of course, are to give generously, as they are able (1 Corinthians 16:1-2; 2 Corinthians 9:6-7). But there will be some, like J.C. Penney was reported to be, for whom financial support is a gifted ministry (e.g., Romans 12:8). God will bless and guide them into financial abundance precisely because he wants them to be His channels of bounty to the local body, helping to elevate the standard of living of others, so that there are no poor in our midst. How many of us who are living an abundant life are going to hear God announce to us that we had thoughtlessly and carelessly spent an income on ourselves that in fact had been enabled by Him for the purpose of this very ministry?

The celibacy and community life which are available in apostolic Christianity are ways that many in this ministry (and in other ministries as well) can be released to be even more fruitful in their service.

Regardless of how abundantly staffed the local church may be with the ordained ministries we are about to outline, the church rises or falls according to her primary ministries. Even though we are spending less space talking about this primary ministry, please never let it escape your mind while you are reading that this is the most important ministry in the local body.

Two forms of "the ministry"

Having said this, let us now study those specific ministries which the Spirit will raise up in a truly apostolic congregation. There are two ways of looking at the Spirit-given ministries in the New Testament: they may be of permanent and regular nature, and they may be of a temporary and occasional nature. The first may be called the "appointed ministries" and the second may be called the "acts of ministry" or the "manifestations of the Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:7).

One might easily expect God's orderliness to manifest itself in what turns out to be a rigid manner: "You are either a prophet or a deacon; God will always use a prophet to bring forth prophecy and deacons to minister in practical areas." But, as it turns out, the Spirit may raise up prophecy from one who is not a prophet (1 Corinthians 14:1), and may anoint a "deacon" to proclaim the gospel with power (e.g., Stephen in Acts 6:8f; Philip in Acts 8:4f). We ought to expect the Spirit to normally raise up the manifestation through the corresponding minister, but not be at all surprised when He does it through another channel. Some manifestations of the Spirit have no corresponding appointed regular ministry (e.g., the speaker in tongues or an interpreter of tongues); one will never know who the Spirit might anoint in those cases. And some appointed ministries have no corresponding temporary manifestations (e.g., elders and apostles).



(Acts 6:1-6; Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8-13)

The ministry of the deacon is not primarily a liturgical office, fulfilled by administering communion or preaching. You can tell how much of a real society a body is by looking at the role of its diaconate. The primary importance of the deacon's office is derived from the fact that the local church is a social and economic unit, as well as a doctrinal and worshiping one. The deacons minister all of the temporal affairs of the church under the authority of the pastors; they coordinate the finances of the community, the ministry of hospitality and welfare, job training skills, building projects, allotments to those in ministry and missions, and the care of the orphans and the sick. They are not restricted to this ministry, though; God can use the diaconate as a training ground, as it were, for other ministries (Acts 6:8f, 8:26-40).

Women may be deacons (Romans 16:1-2; 1 Timothy 3:11).2 They can minister to other women and to children in ways that male deacons often could not. However, if married, their husbands would have to fully support their ministry, and it could not take away from their responsibilities at home.

Male deacons must demonstrate well-ordered and harmonious households, if married. They must be the husband of only one wife (i.e., no divorce and remarriage, which would place them in two bonds).3

If a person presents himself for such a ministry, he or she is to be tested; then, with the approval of the community, they will be ordained by the elders (e.g., Acts 6:1-6).


...he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church. And when they had come to him, he said to them, ... 'Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:17-18, 28).

The elders are the pastors ("shepherds") and overseers ("bishops") of the church (Acts 20:17-28); the three terms are synonymous in the New Testament. Scripture knows of no regular ruler over the elders, or pastoral "expert" in addition to them. In apostolic Christianity the elders are a pastoral, educational and ruling team (Please read now: Acts 11:30, 14:23; Philippians 1:1; Titus 1:5).

This plurality of elders (with the corresponding synonymity of the terms "pastor," "elder" and "overseer") continued to exist in the early Church for some time. When Clement of Rome wrote to the Corinthian congregation in the name of the Roman congregation at the end of the first century he spoke of only two ordained offices -- bishops and deacons -- in their congregation. The Corinthians had wrongly cast off the authority of their elders:

For our sin will not be small, if we eject from the episcopate those who have blamelessly and holily fulfilled its duties.4 Blessed are those presbyters5 who, having finished their course before now, have obtained a fruitful and perfect departure... But we see that you have removed some men of excellent behaviour from this ministry, which they fulfilled blamelessly and with honor.6

The "Didache," written about the same time, also knows of only the two ministries:

Appoint for yourselves therefore bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men who are meek and not lovers of money, and true and approved; for unto you they also perform the service of the prophets and teachers. Therefore despise them not; for they are your honourable men along with the prophets and teachers.7

There was a gradual evolution in the churches with regard to the original team ministry of the elders. What Jesus had brought into being through His Spirit was an office of authority that originates from a common mind, to be exercised among those whom He had gifted with leadership, and who had been ordained into ruling authority. But it is in our fallen nature to want more security than what God provides: Israel was not content to have judges raised up by God as the situation demanded, but wanted a king like the other nations (1 Samuel 8:4-9). That same carnal nature has expressed itself in our New Covenant age as well. We see signs of it even within apostolic times: think of Diotrephes in the third epistle of John. Motivated by a desire to be "the first among them," he took it upon himself to rule like a king within the congregation (3 John 9-10). That passage is the only place I know of in the New Testament where there is an indication of one-man rule, and it is certainly not being commended there, is it. The churches' adoption of a monarchial form of leadership was a yielding to the deeply rooted idea of kingship that was universal in worldly cultures of the day. Their failure is as easy to understand as the churches' drive to make leadership fit the worldly model of democratic leadership in our own age. Both are understandable, both disobedient, both sad. One carnalizes authority, the other almost eliminates it.

Tracing this historical evolution by examining the documents of the early church, it is rather clear that, at first, this "monarchical episcopate" was within the local congregation, and that the title "overseer" or "bishop," which had been originally applied to every elder/presbyter, was now restricted to that elder who was given preeminence among the other elders within the congregation. It is not necessary to look for some council which formally created this new pattern; it was as natural and unannounced as the slide into democratic structures of modern Christendom. And as time went by, given the way new churches were spawned by the growth of existing ones, it is similarly easy to imagine how the so-called "bishop" of a mother congregation would evolve into a ruler over that congregation's daughter-churches as well. Combine this development with the perennial tendency of churches to conform to the patterns of thought in the society around us, and you have sufficient cause to account for the subsequent historical evolution of leadership in the Church: from bishops who rule over the daughter congregations of their own congregations, to bishops who rule over secular political districts (i.e., the Roman "diocese"), to "metropolitans" and "patriarchs" (i.e., bishops who are over a group bishops), and finally to the Roman imperial principle imbedded within the Roman Catholic papacy: the bishop who is emperor over all bishops.

Even after the churches had adopted the so-called monarchical episcopate, the knowledge of the original plurality apparently continued for some time, at least in some circles. An amazing example is provided by the uniquely learned and very widely-traveled Jerome (c. 345-420) who was commissioned by Pope Damasus to translate the Bible into Latin (the "Vulgate"), and whom even Augustine considered his superior in knowledge. In one of his Biblical commentaries he wrote:

...a presbyter is the same as a bishop, and before ambition came into religion by the prompting of the devil, and people began to say, "I belong to Paul; I to Apollo; I to Cephas," the churches were governed by the direction of the presbyters acting as a body. But when each presbyter began to suppose that those whom he had baptized belonged to him, rather than to Christ, it was decreed in the whole Church that one of the presbyters would be chosen to preside over the others, and that the whole responsibility for the Church should devolve on him, so that the seeds of schism should be removed."8

While we cannot find any trace of such a "decree" for the whole Church, and must regard Jerome's account of it as speculation, we have his clear testimony that the extra- congregational exercise of authority by bishops and popes was rooted in the failure to have the mind of Christ. Thus, a man-made source of unity came to take the place of the unity of the Spirit.

The elders are the fathers of the congregational family, and have a father's kind of authority in the church (1 Corinthians 16:16; 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13; 1 Timothy 3:4-5; Hebrews 13:17). They are not simply "coordinators," "facilitators" or elected representatives of the people (who, in democratic theory, are the ones who possess the authority).  They are rulers, with God-given authority to make binding decisions in every area over which the Church has authority from Christ.9 They are the resident "authority organ" in Christ's body (e.g., Acts 15:4, 6, 22-23 -- it was not only apostles, but the elders as well, who came to a common mind).

But the elders, as full of authority as they are, are not oriental despots. You may speak frankly, even critically to them (but not behind their backs). Look, for example, at Peter's response in Acts 11:1-18, when he was openly criticized by the brethren. They obviously had not been taught to maintain an uncritical silence before their leaders (for that matter, think of the ease with which the original disciples could confront Jesus Himself: Matthew 16:22; John 13:8).

Your submission is not to any particular elder, but to the body of elders, when they are speaking from a common mind (Acts 15:22, 25, 28).10 That common mind, arrived at after the manner of Acts 15, is the appointed way by which they are to enter into the mind of the Spirit of Christ in any given situation, whether disciplinary or doctrinal.11 And anyone else who is mature in the Spirit of Christ will be able to enter into that mind as well, even though they do not have the elders' authority and responsibility.

The church's government is not a democracy; nor is it a monarchy; nor is it an "oligarchic dictatorship" (i.e., a dictatorship exercised by a committee). There is no worldly model or counterpart for the church's government because the world has no access to the mind of Christ through the working of the Holy Spirit. The perennial danger among elders is that they may fall either into a democratic majority-rule procedure, or into a domination by one man, neither of which conditions is an entering into the mind of Christ through a common mind. The church's leadership was originally structured in the way it was, precisely because that is the best structure and procedure through which Christ can communicate His will, and rule over His people as their Head. No human society can operate that way. The plurality and common-mind rule of the elders is actually a form of structured faith. It presupposes an actual communication between Jesus and His elders when they are in prayerful deliberation, but it will not work (nor is it supposed to) when there is a poverty of repentance and faith.

Protestantism has come to have a rather low regard for the topic of the proper organization of its leadership. Most that I have talked to do not think much about it at all; and if they do think about it, they incline toward the idea that any form of leadership that works is fine, as long as it does not infringe upon the rights of the individual. But the reason for that unconcerned attitude is, in my opinion, due to the loss of authority in their churches. When there is no actual authority being exercised, it hardly matters how you structure your leadership. But in any real society, where authority is being exercised, the organization of your society and its leadership becomes very important indeed, so important that people of the world are willing to do battle and die over the matter. And Satan certainly seems to have thought that the proper structuring of apostolic authority is quite important: it is one of the very first things he got the churches to abandon.

The elders are the shepherds ("pastors") of the church -- not merely over the body as a whole, but over the individual disciples. They are not "prying" when they want to know about your heart -- it is their responsibility: they keep watch over your "souls" (Hebrews 13:17), not merely over your behavior, and they must give an account regarding you to Jesus. Your response to them should be generous and humble, giving them joy instead of grief in the exercise of this responsibility.

Each of the elders is a pastor, teacher and minister in the assembly. There is not to be one person who preaches, teaches, exercises authority and directs the ordering of the assembly, but a ministering team (who all engage in the same pastoral responsibilities, even if not to the same degree in each responsibility).

The pastoral team must also be able to do well what the whole community is exhorted to do: "That you all agree, and there be no divisions among you, but you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment" (1 Corinthians 1:10). One can hardly dismiss the form and procedure outlined here for elders on the ground that it does not take human nature into account and is too idealistic -- not when one realizes that the apostles expected such a high degree of unity for the entire congregation, as is exhorted above by Paul. In this regard, elders are merely required to be able to act as mature believers.

The elder is one who has proven his calling through extensive participation in the life of the closely-knit apostolic community, demonstrating both the gifts and the character outlined in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 and Titus 1:5-9. He must be a sound teacher and demonstrate a serving spirit. He must be demonstrably free from the compulsion to be first among his peers: the ability to enter into a common mind is not at all the enemy of creative and vigorous debate, but that ability is indeed impossible to a heart that desires to be exalted above others.

Once again, the church's community life proves to be an asset, by providing an excellent way for the needed testing of an elder to be conducted. It allows one's personal and family life to be observed in a very clear way. But whether or not a potential elder has lived in community, it is clear that elders/pastors must have been observed over a period of years from within their own brotherhood in order to be adequately tested. For a congregation to have to "import" their leadership, and to do so after hearing only a few sermons and talking for a few hours, and to not think anything is wrong with that process, is an indication of the spiritual poverty in Christianity today.12

According to apostolic instruction, the pastor must be a male, for his is an office of ruling authority over the congregation, and God does not want His daughters to exercise ruling authority over His sons (1 Timothy 2:12). He must be old enough and sober-minded enough for the older people in the congregation to be able to look up to him as one who can lead them.

If an elder is married,13 he must, like the deacon, have a well-ruled and harmonious family, with children who are "trustworthy."14

When a pastoral candidate is approved by the brethren, the existing members of the presbytery (the presbytery is the body of elders, if you recall) will consecrate and authorize his ministry through the laying on of hands (e.g., 1 Timothy 4:14, Acts 6:6).

If all the brethren are in submission to the body of elders, each individual elder is in an even deeper submission to the body of his fellow elders. Hence, there need be no fear that the elders are seeking that position because it puts them into a place of kingly rule over others while remaining free from restraints themselves.


All elders are required to be teachers, but not all teachers are required to be elders (e.g., Acts 13:1, James 3:1). Every believer should grow into some kind of teaching ministry (Hebrews 5:12), but the ministry of "teacher" is an authority-bearing office in the congregation. The solemn warning of James (3:1) is addressed to one who represents the whole truth of Christ and His Way. A teacher is one whose doctrine has been demonstrated to be God-centered, rich and soundly balanced; he is then authorized by the church to be a "shepherd of minds," as it were. A logical place to look for candidates for elders within the congregation would be among those who have already been set apart as teachers. Restoring the dignity of the teaching ministry would also help remove the perennial temptation to ordain as elders men who are too young to be elders, but who manifest both gifts and desire for ministry.

A teacher is a minister of doctrinal authority, and that is why Paul forbids a woman to be a teacher over men (1 Timothy 2:12). Yet that very prohibition also implies that a woman may teach and have authority over other women, and over children.

You see, pilgrim, doctrine is very important in apostolic Christianity: it should be both orthodox and deep. Apostolic doctrine aids in our growth in godliness (1 Timothy 6:3f), and nourishes us (1 Timothy 4:6); therefore a teacher is to pay careful attention to it, and thus "insure salvation both for you and for those who hear you" (1 Timothy 4:16). In apostolic Christianity, a person is committed to the body of doctrine that was presented by the apostles (Romans 6:17), not simply to a personal confession that "Jesus is Lord." Many Evangelical Protestants react so strongly against the orthodoxies of those thought to be unregenerate that they have tended to create a cleavage between the idea of a personal relationship with Jesus and that of zeal for orthodox doctrine. But that schizophrenic attitude is not biblical. The Scriptures are rather clear that the relationship cannot be real without the doctrine. The body of apostolic doctrine is the source of all sound teachings, and must be zealously defended (Titus 1:9-11). The apostle John even goes so far as to say:

Any one who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son. If any one comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not receive him into your house, and do not give him a greeting; for the one who gives him a greeting participates in his evil deeds" (2 John 9-11).

The "teaching of Christ" mentioned by John is not only the teaching about Christ (e.g., the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation), but the teachings of Christ -- Christ's teaching -- (e.g., turning the other cheek, "giving up all" of ones possessions). So let there be no thought of any "non-doctrinal Christianity," or of any growth in the Lord without growth in understanding our "most holy faith" (Jude 20). If you are under the influence of the Holy Spirit, so is your mind. He wants your mind to deepen its grasp of both the fundamentals and the more advanced doctrines (Hebrews 5:11-6:3). Biblical holiness cannot be had apart from ever-deepening Biblical knowledge. And the ministry of the teacher exists to bring you into a deep grasp of the truths and the obediences of our faith.


If we yield to Him, the Spirit will even today raise up men like He did Timothy (2 Timothy 4:5, 1 Timothy 1:3) and Philip (Acts 21:8, 8:5-15), to assist in the apostolic work of raising up congregations of believers through their gift of anointed preaching. This ministry is also a natural training ground for future apostles (as was the case with Timothy -- 1 Thessalonians 2:6, 1:1).

Evangelism is more than preaching the death and resurrection of Christ; it is the ministering of the word of God in its full range of truth and power, as we see in the evangelist Philip (Acts 8:5-15, above): proclaiming the way of salvation, to be sure; but also speaking God's word of deliverance and of healing.


Prophets are men (and women -- Acts 21:9)15 who can be relied upon to receive and speak revelations from God. All Christians should pray for God to raise up prophecy through them (1 Corinthians 14:1), but a prophet is one to whom that utterance comes as a ministry of the Spirit, one who is deep and disciplined in the Spirit of Christ (e.g., Paul and others in Acts 13:1; Agabus in Acts 11:28, 21:10). And such prophets will be raised up to be part of the ministering team in each local church that is walking faithfully under the influence of the Spirit of Christ (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:29-32).

Prophecy continued to be an expected ministry in the Church for several centuries after Christ. Justin Martyr, writing in the middle of the second century, stated:

For the prophetical gifts remain with us, even to the present time. And hence you ought to understand that the gifts formerly among your nation (i.e., the Jews) have been transferred to us.16

Similarly, Irenaeus wrote some twenty years later from what is now France:

In like manner we do also hear many brethren in the Church, who possess prophetic gifts, and who through the Spirit speak all kinds of languages, and bring to light for the general benefit the hidden things of men, and declare the mysteries of God..."17

The prophetic ministry is an important check upon the tendency in an authority-filled body to rely too heavily upon the elders to declare the will of God. It is not only through the common mind of the elders that God communicates His will, but also directly through His prophets (even though it is the elders who possess ruling authority). It is certainly no coincidence that the absolutist attitudes about the church rulers grew precisely at the same time as the prophetic ministry declined.

The atmosphere provided by the community is very important for prophecy. On one hand lies the admonition, "Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances" (1 Thessalonians 5:19). Yet, on the other hand, we hear, "Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1; also, 1 Corinthians 14:29). We must encourage each other to speak out when someone can sense a movement of the Lord within them, and yet be very careful to evaluate everything that is uttered, not being hesitant to challenge an utterance that is inconsistent with Scripture. A person can, without being a false brother, mistake his or her excitement for a movement of the Spirit; a negative discernment is not at all a condemnation of the person. A prophet will be one who has proven himself or herself capable of discerning the Spirit of the Lord. He knows the voice of the Lord, and the brethren have come to trust him.


In New Testament teaching, apostles are not only "the Twelve" and the "heaven-sent" (i.e., Paul), but any who are set apart by God for that ministry, grow into that calling in the fellowship of the church, and are then sent out by the church with both the authority and the divine gifts necessary to establish churches (e.g., 2 Corinthians 8:16-23; Romans 16:7; 1 Thessalonians 1:1, 2:6; Titus 1:5).18 God will indicate His choice of them by backing their ministry with unusual outpourings of divine power (2 Corinthians 12:12; Romans 15:19; Hebrews 2:4).

The work of an apostle is not to rule over a local church, but to bring local churches into being, to get them on their feet (so to speak), and then move on.19 And they are not "loners" either: when you study the Scriptures you see that they always seek to function in teams -- several apostles, along with evangelists, prophets, and others, traveling together (e.g., Acts 13:2f, 15:36-40, 18:1-5).

It is the ministry of the apostles and prophets that lays the foundation for apostolic congregations (Ephesians 2:20, 3:5). It may well seem rather shocking to hear the world "apostle" being used in our day, but as long as we do not associate the call to be an apostle with some kind of claim to messiahship or deity, there is no reason to withhold our assent. The shock of encountering a true apostle will actually be rather small when compared to the shock of encountering an apostolic congregation!

The ministry of apostles continued at least through the end of the first century. In The Didache, written at the end of the first century or the beginning of the second, we see that apostles, true and false, were encountered commonly enough to require guidance about how to test their genuineness:

But concerning the apostles and prophets, so do according to the ordinance of the Gospel. Let every apostle, when he comes to you, be received as the Lord; but he shall not abide more than a single day, or if there be need, a second likewise; but if he abide three days, he is a false prophet. And when he departs let the apostle receive nothing save bread, until he finds shelter; but if he ask money, he is a false prophet.20

As time went on, the term "apostle" came to take on the meaning that it now popularly has: the Twelve plus Paul and (perhaps) a very few others mentioned in the New Testament. I suspect that the development of monarchial bishops acted to suppress the apostolic office, since with their development came also the development of the claim that they were the ones who succeeded to the apostles authority.


It is evident from the Scriptures that these ministries of the Church are intended by God to be in operation until the return of Christ. There are no statements of Jesus or His apostles to suggest that any ministries we have discussed above were intended to be temporary. Any arguments that could seemingly justify the absence of any one of the ministries (e.g., apostles) would also justify the absence of any or all of the others. If there is no justification for prophets, there is none for teachers or elders. And, conversely, if there is Scriptural justification for teachers so also is there Scriptural justification for apostles and prophets. Having said that, however, one still ought to be very cautious about the claims made in some charismatic groups about "so-and-so" being an apostle or prophet. One may believe in miracles without ceasing to be very cautious about when one accepts something as truly miraculous; the same principle applies to accepting prophets and apostles. A true apostle or prophet will not mind being scrutinized quite carefully.

These ministerial offices are not mutually exclusive. A number were both prophets and teachers (Acts 13:1); Peter was an apostle and elder (1 Peter 5:1), as was John (2 John 1, 3 John 1). This latter combination would seem to indicate that when they were not traveling they would be ministering as elders in their home fellowships.

The normal pattern, appointed by God, is that the community should provide support for those who labor in ministry among them (1 Corinthians 9:14; 1 Timothy 5:17-18). Here again, community life proves to be a blessing to the brotherhood, because many more individuals can be supported when they are living in community than when they have to maintain their own households.

The concept of a "revolving ministry," in which leaders are elected for limited terms of office, after which they are replaced by others, is a concept that seems more a product of secular democracy than of the Scriptures. The idea of a temporary ministry is not at all mentioned or even implied in the New Testament, and does not fit well within that New Testament model of the human body and its permanent, organ-like ministries.


But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good (1 Corinthians 12:7).

As was stated in the beginning of this chapter, in addition to the permanent ministries within the church, the Spirit also manifests Himself in individual acts of ministry. The most obvious occasion for manifestations of the Spirit are during an assembly of the church, but He will manifest Himself in other times of ministry as well (e.g., Acts 8:7; James 5:14-16).

1. The word of wisdom. This is not the wisdom that is derived from a person's years of experience in following Christ, but a supernatural infusion that enables one to know God's perfect solution to a problem, or His answer to a question (e.g., Jesus in Matthew 21:25; the decision of Acts 15). This was promised by Jesus in Luke 21:12-15.

2. The word of knowledge. Again, this is a supernatural infusion of knowledge, not the knowledge already possessed by the individual (e.g., Jesus in Luke 22:34; the promise to the jailer in Acts 16:31; Paul in Acts 27:22-25).

3. The gift of faith. This is not the faith which trusts Christ and leads to salvation; rather it is the faith which moves mountains (Mark 11:22f, 1 Corinthians 13:2).21

4. Gifts of healing (Mark 16:18; Acts 28:3-5; Galatians 3:5).

5. Effecting of miracles (Mark 16:18; Acts 28:3-5; Galatians 3:5).

6. Prophecy (Acts 21:4, 10-11; 1 Corinthians 14:24, 29). This is not the same as powerful preaching, but the kind of divinely-revealed utterance that can reveal the secrets of a man's heart, "...the hidden things of men, and ...the mysteries of God," as Irenaeus said.

7. Discerning and casting out spirits (Mark 5:8-9, 8:25-29, 16:17; Acts 8:7, 16:16-18; 1 Corinthians 12:10, 14:29; 1 John 4:1-3). The discerning of spirits is a gift which allows us to tell when it is a spirit that is being manifested or causing a problem, and what spirit it is. It of course goes hand-in-hand with the subsequent ministry of casting them out in the name of Jesus.22

8. Kinds of tongues (1 Corinthians 12:10). There are several "kinds of tongues," given to be used in several ways:

9. Interpretations of tongues (1 Corinthians 14:5, 13, 26-28).

10. Exhortation (Luke 3:7-18; Acts 2:40, 15:32; Romans 12:8; Hebrews 13:22). This is the gift of making an appeal to people's consciences, helping them to decide to choose what they know is right.


The above manifestations of the Spirit can come through any member of the body; and they are always subject to testing and discernment (e.g., 1 Corinthians 14:29; 1 John 4:1). The apostolic kind of assembly can never be completely governed by ritual or printed bulletins (although there is certainly room for some), because the manifestations of the Spirit cannot be known ahead of time.

These manifestations of the Spirit continued in the Church well past the first generation of Christians. In addition to testimony we have already heard from Justin Martyr, he also reports that the casting out of demons was a commonly occurring ministry.

You can learn this from what is under your own observation. For numberless demoniacs throughout the whole world, and in your city, many of our Christian men exorcising them in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, have healed and do heal, rendering helpless and driving the possessing devils out of the men, though they could not be cured by all the other exorcists, and those who used incantations and drugs.25

And in addition to his previous testimony, from his second century vantage point in what is modern day France, Irenaeus reports on other gifts and manifestations of the Spirit that were still operative in his day in the churches:

...those who are in truth His disciples, receiving grace from Him, do in His name perform miracles, so as to promote the welfare of other men, according to the gift which each one has received from Him. For some do certainly and truly drive out devils, so that those who have thus been cleansed from evil spirits frequently both believe in Christ, and join themselves to the Church. Others have foreknowledge of things to come: they see visions, and utter prophetic expressions. Others still, heal the sick by laying their hands upon them, and they are made whole. Yea, moreover, as I have said, the dead even have been raised up, and remained among us for many years. And what shall I more say? It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, (scattered) throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and which she exerts day by day for the benefit of the Gentiles, neither practicing deception upon any, nor taking any reward from them."26

Like us, the churches of the first several centuries also had the Scriptures, but they also continued in the manifestations of the Spirit. The argument that these miraculous "signs" were only needed in the days of the apostles while the Church was being established and the Scriptures were being written is an anti-scriptural rationalization, attempting to justify the powerlessness of the traditions of those who argue that way. Is not this the reason they are mistaken, that they understand neither the Scriptures nor the power of God (Mark 12:24)? These theological rationalizations are destructive of faith and repentance: they take away that divine discontentment over current Christianity which a simple reading of the New Testament begins to stir up within us -- a discontent that should drive us to our knees in prayer and fasting, until our hardness, unbelief and worldliness are exposed and taken away by the Spirit of holiness and resurrection glory. For shame that we Christians who claim to speak in the name of God to the human race using such arguments, should be so ignorant of the intentions of the One we claim to represent!

In conclusion

Looking at all of these ministries and manifestations of the Spirit that God has always intended to be operative within the Church, one cannot but be overwhelmed at the acute spiritual "anemia" that is characteristic of contemporary Christianity (even in the charismatic movement). It is not simply the restoration of the baptism in the Holy Spirit for individuals that will bring about the restoration of these ministries and manifestations to the Church. Rather, it is absolutely necessary for the fellowship of the Christian community to be restored to her Biblical intensity, intimacy and authority. Without such true and costly Biblical fellowship and obedience we cannot become the kind of society that God can trust enough to make the stewards of His gifts. The real question is, then, are we willing to surrender our personal and family egos in the radical way that is required for us to be bound together in an apostolic way? Are you, pilgrim?



1 This gift is perhaps the "helps" of 1 Corinthians 12:28. <back>

2 There is substantial controversy over this point, but the simplest reading of these Scriptures favors women deacons. The word used for women is merely the female form of the word used for male deacons. I refer you to the reasoning of J.N.D. Kelly, in his exegesis of the passage in Timothy, The Pastoral Epistles (New York: Harper & Row, 1963), p. 83-84. Additional testimony on behalf of female deacons comes from the early second century. About 112 A.D., Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia (in Asia Minor), described to his emperor, Trajan, how he was investigating and punishing Christians. In that description he mentioned "applying torture to two maidservants, who were called 'deaconesses'" (Pliny, Epistle X, "Ad Trajan" quoted in Henry Bettenson, Documents of the Christian Church, 2nd Ed. (London: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 3). There is also widespread evidence from the fourth century that the office of female deacon was important and widespread (admittedly, evidence from such a late period cannot carry much weight by itself). When Scriptures are capable of varying interpretations we should use the practice of the early churches as the safest guide to what interpretation to choose. <back>

3 Some interpret "husband of one wife" to mean that the elders, deacons and those in the order of "widows" could only be married once (i.e., no remarriage even after one's spouse has died). This is the understanding of J.N.D. Kelley, in the previous reference (pp. 75, 84, 115). It is very clear that such a tradition did exist in the early church in certain areas, but it is not clear that such was the original meaning of the term. Until there is greater clarity about this possible interpretation, I believe we should enforce only the meaning that is certain. <back>

4 Note the plural here, indicating a team of bishop/elders within the Corinthian congregation. <back>

5 i.e., "elders" (Greek: "presbúteroi"). Note how the terms "episcopate" (i.e., bishops/overseers) and "elders" are used synonymously in these two sentences. <back>

6 "1 Clement," xliv, Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. I, p. 17. See also chap. xxi, xlii, xlvii, liv, lvii.  <back>

7 "The Didache ," ch. 15. J.B. Lightfoot, translator, The Apostolic Fathers (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 128. "Dídachê" is a Greek word meaning "teaching." Note here the mention of a ministry of prophets. <back>

8 "Commentary on the Epistle of Titus," 1:1,5. Quoted by Henry Bettenson, The Later Christian Fathers (London: Oxford University Press, 1970), p. 189. <back>

9 See chapter 10. <back>

10 Collectively, the body of elders is called the "presbytery" (1 Timothy 4:14).  <back>

11 If you have ever been trained in brainstorming techniques, you will know that, even in the flesh, entering into a common mind can be not only an ego-subduing process, but a very creative one as well. And when those egos are submitted to the Spirit of Jesus, He orchestrates a unity that is united to His very own wisdom, so that we too can come to say, "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us" (Acts 15:28). <back>

12 And if you want to argue that some very holy men moved about in their ministries in that way, I will agree with you. But that truth is as invalid an argument for imported leadership as the truth that there have been some very holy popes is an argument for the papacy. <back>

13 The phrase "husband of one wife" can be no more a command for elders to marry than 1 Corinthians 7:2 is a command for all believers to marry (see 7:6f). Rather, Paul assumes marriage as the norm, and then restricts the elder to only one wife (as with the deacon). It is hardly likely that Jesus and His apostles would encourage celibacy as a higher way of life, and then forbid the eldership to those who took their advice. <back>

14 Titus 1:6; not children "who are believers" as is commonly translated. The Greek adjective "pistos" means overwhelmingly "trustworthy" or "reliable," and only rarely "believer" or "believing." See Moulton & Milligan, The Vocabulary of the Greek Testament (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1930), p. 515; also J.B. Smith, Greek-English Concordance to the New Testament (Scottdale: Herald Press, 1955), p. 292. <back>

15 How can we reconcile the fact of women prophets with the exhortation for women to remain silent in the assembly (1 Corinthians 14:34-38)? There is nothing to reconcile, once we consider that prophesy has no exclusive connection with the congregational assembly. Think of the prophecy that Agabus gave to Paul (Acts 21:10-11); there is nothing in the text that indicates or even implies that it was given during such an assembly. <back>

16 "Dialogue with Trypho," ch. LXXXII. The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 240. <back>

17 "Against Heresies," The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 531. <back>

18 In the Book of Revelation, the apostle John gives further support, although indirect, that the number of apostles was larger than those we are used to reading about. He commends the Ephesian church for exposing through discernment those "who say they are apostles and are not" (2:2). If there had only been a fixed number of apostles there would have been no need to test the claims of those who said they were apostles. They could merely have said in so many words, "If your name is not on our list of valid apostles, you are not an apostle." <back>

19 This is not to say that an apostolic congregation cannot come into being in other ways as well: e.g., the moving of a number of believers into a new area or the dividing of an assembly that has grown too large. <back>

20 "The Didache," ch. 11. J.B. Lightfoot, The Apostolic Fathers. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1956), p. 127. <back>

21 Assuming, of course, that they need moving. <back>

22 See the essay on "Demons and Exorcism" in the Supplemental Essays. <back>

23 1 Corinthians 14:6 may also be another description of the "kinds" (or "uses") of tongues: revelation, knowledge, prophecy and teaching. Tongues, with interpretation, could take on any of those four properties. <back>

24 From the way Paul worded his desire in 1 Corinthians 14:5, it is perhaps likely that not all the Corinthians spoke in private tongues, either; but he makes it clear that he wanted them to do so. <back>

25 "The Second Apology," ch. vi, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1; p. 190. <back>

26 "Against Heresies," II.xxxii.4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 1, p. 409. It is very interesting to note that this passage was part of an argument against the Gnostics, to show that our Lord had not in His own day "performed such works simply in appearance." Irenaeus wanted to show that the miracles of Jesus in His day were credible by pointing out that they were still happening in the Church. The whole discipline of "higher criticism" might never have been able to develop last century, had the "Bible believing" Christians been able to offer what Irenaeus could, instead of only verbal arguments. <back>