Word Gifts and Christ’s Body—Ephesians 4:11-13 (part 2)

(continued from part 1, p=4275http://craigkeener.com/?p=4275)

The mature body, like her head

The ultimate goal of such equipping is unity in believing and knowing Jesus (4:13a). Thus we will function as Christ’s full body (4:13b). When we act together as Christ’s body, the world can see Christ through us. (Of course, that does not mean that all will like us; they did not all like our Lord, either.) This does not mean that we dare get a “big head” as if we have “arrived”; some have emphasized our wondrous role in Christ so much that they have forgotten how solely dependent this role is on Christ himself. We as Christ’s body function properly only as we all remain in connection with our head, our Lord Jesus Christ (4:15-16).

Nor is Paul providing an eschatological scheme or predicting a progression toward maturity through history. Rather, such unity is always the goal, for the church in every generation. Still, the world has yet to see the body of Christ functioning fully in mature unity of knowing and trusting Christ. God delights to reveal his wisdom in forming the church even to the angelic hosts (3:10), and I suspect that he will have a generation through whom he can prove what he can make of new creatures in Christ. After all, Scripture speaks of preaching Christ’s good news among all peoples before the end (Matt 24:14) and of the full harvest of gentiles coming in (Rom 11:25). May we become that generation!

Ultimately, Christ’s body must grow up, no longer immature, taken in by false teaching (4:14). In this context, such false teaching at least includes whatever would take our attention away from Christ and his body and put it on human leaders. In contrast to false teaching, we must lovingly speak truth (4:15), i.e., God’s word consistent with the gospel. Thus we will grow up to be like Christ our Lord (4:15). Paul shows that this is accomplished not by forced ecclesiastical conformity, but by conforming to Christ and nurturing one another in love (4:16)

How do we avoid such “winds of teaching” (4:14)? For one thing, we must make sure that those sowing the ministry of the Word are genuinely serving Christ’s body. Thus one must test those who call themselves apostles (as in Rev 2:2). Paul was definitely not against apostles, since he was one. But he challenged his rivals in Corinth as “false apostles” (2 Cor 11:13). Why? Paul as a true apostle suffered greatly for the gospel (11:23-33). He broke new ground, reaching lost people and preparing them to carry forward the mission (10:14-16). His rivals, by contrast, were false apostles, boasting as if they had won the Corinthians to Christ. They were boasting in other people’s labors. Those who grow big churches or denominations by siphoning members from other churches rather than really reaching people for Christ ought to consider what they are doing. Granted, true teaching may attract many new members, and we do need true teaching. But those who want the title had better be willing to pay the spiritual cost.

Scripture also warns against false prophets (e.g., Matt 24:11, 24). Some of these are certainly outside the church (Rev 16:13), but others pretend to be believers—wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt 7:15). They misrepresent Christ (1 John 4:1) and exploit God’s people (2 Pet 2:1-3). We may also speak of false evangelizers: those who proclaim another gospel, whether by inflating themselves (2 Cor 11:4) or by supplanting Christ’s finished work with other requirements (Gal 1:6). False teachers can overlap with false prophets (2 Pet 2:1).

Meaning of apostles and prophets here

The New Testament uses the title “apostle” in two ways. The Gospels and Acts usually restrict the title to the Twelve (Acts calls even Paul and Barnabas apostles only in one passage!). Cessationists are right about the Twelve: the Twelve have ceased! Paul, however, applies the title more widely (e.g., 1 Cor 15:5-7), to various ground-breaking agents authorized by Christ, such as himself (Rom 1:1); James (Gal 1:19); Andronicus and Junia (Rom 16:7); and probably Silas and Timothy (1 Thess 1:1; 2:7).

What we have today is the second kind of apostles. For both kinds of apostles, we may expect signs confirming their reaching the lost (2 Cor 12:12), but especially and most extensively sacrificial suffering for the gospel (e.g., Matt 10:16-39; 1 Cor 4:9; 2 Cor 11:23-33).

Like apostles, evangelists and pastor-teachers, prophets remain necessary so long as the church needs to come to maturity (Eph 4:11-13). In the Bible, we see a range of different forms of prophecy. Sometimes prophets prophesied to nations; at other times they prophesied to individuals. In the latter case, Scripture most often record prophecies to kings (because of the focus of the historical books), but apparently many were expected also to prophesy to many others (e.g., 1 Sam 9:6-9; 2 Kgs 8:1). Before the exile, prophetic books were often arranged in poetry, but most prophecies found in historical narratives are more prosaic. Prophecies often echoed earlier prophecy (e.g., covenant lawsuits in prophetic books), so we can expect that they were often rooted in prior Scripture.

Some preachers today want to deny that this gift continues. But it existed throughout biblical history (though more in some times than others), and there is no biblical indication of it ceasing until Christ’s return, when we see him face to face and no longer need such partial revelation (1 Cor 13:8-12; cf. 1:7).

Those who deny its continuance typically claim that continuing prophecy would compete with Scripture as God’s Word. This claim, however, is plainly false, since prophecy flourished at the time that Scripture was being inspired and never competed with it. They are overlapping but different forms of revelation. Many prophets prophesied during the OT era without their prophecies being recorded in Scripture (e.g., 1 Sam 10:10; 19:20; 1 Kgs 18:4). If just two or three believers prophesied in average weekly meetings in just about a hundred house churches in the first century, we might envision somewhere around 400,000 prophecies in first-century churches. These prophecies are not recorded as Scripture (or else our New Testament would take quite a bit longer to read through—and woe to us professors who have to survey it all in one semester).

Prophecy about personal direction or prophecy that is essentially Spirit-led biblical exhortation does not add to Scripture, if it is genuine prophecy. There is no reason to assume that postbiblical prophecy that does not teach new doctrine adds to Scripture any more than assuming that for postbiblical teaching. Unfortunately, the doctrine that prophecy must cease is a postbiblical teaching. Who, then, risks adding to Scripture?

Some protest, Scripture does not explicitly predict prophecy’s cessation, but if you read Scripture with the right theological system, you will see that it must cease. So where does this theological system come from? If it imposes on the text what is not there, is not this system adding to Scripture? That is, this argument for the cessation of prophecy is guilty of the very error that it attributes to those who continue to prophesy.

Having said this, of course, all prophecy must be evaluated (1 Cor 14:29). We know in part and we prophesy in part (13:9), so we must evaluate both prophecy and teaching based on what God has already revealed. Scripture is not all that God has ever spoken (see discussion above about Scripture noting true prophets without recording their prophecies). But it is the canon—the true measuring stick—for all claims to revelation. It is the already-tested Word that Christians as a community agree on as certain. Those unwilling to stand under its verdict, whether in prophesying or teaching, inevitably end up condemned by its verdict.

Meaning of pastors and teachers

Finally, and relevant to the discussion of prophets just concluded, Paul lists pastors (literally, shepherds) and teachers. The Old Testament (and the ancient world in general) often speaks of leaders as shepherds; good ones are supposed to care for the sheep. For this role, teaching is crucial.

In fact, the grammar may suggest here not a fivefold ministry but a fourfold one, against common traditions: pastors and teachers are closely linked: the Greek reads tous men apostolous, tous de prophêtas, tous de euaggelistias, tous de poimenas kai didaskalous. That is, four of the groups are distinguished with tous de, whereas pastors are linked with teachers (the Greek term kai can mean “and” or “even, i.e.”).

At the very least, pastors and teachers linked closely together. Scripture elsewhere insists that pastors must be able to teach (1 Tim 3:2; 2 Tim 2:24; Tit 1:9); it is essential to know and teach the Scriptures, and to do so according to the true gospel.

We don’t need to agree on every secondary detail of understanding. But we must be united on the gospel and work for unity and the maturity of Christ’s body.

(Continued from part 1, http://craigkeener.com/?p=4275)

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