The presence of gifts, and those who are qualified to care for the flock, is a great blessing in the church of God. Scripture teaches that gifts are given by God, by the Lord Jesus as ascended, and the Holy Spirit’s actions.
This is seen as follows: In 1 Corinthians 12:28, “And God has set certain in the assembly [church]: first, apostles; secondly, prophets; thirdly, teachers; then miraculous powers; then gifts of healings; helps; governments; kinds of tongues”. In Ephesians 4:11, “and he [Christ] has given some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some shepherds and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints; with a view to the work of the ministry, with a view to the edifying of the body of Christ”. As to the Holy Spirit - in Paul’s address to the elders of Ephesus, Acts 20:28 – “Take heed therefore to yourselves, and to all the flock, wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God, which he has purchased with the blood of his own”. So we learn that God had set certain in the assembly, Christ has given a variety of gifts and the Holy Spirit is said to have set elders in an assembly.
The apostle Paul indicates in no uncertain terms that he was an apostle, “not from men nor through man, but through Jesus Christ” – Galatians 1:1. He and the other apostles received their call from Christ – not from votes or church councils, nor any other device of convenience or expediency. Never is it said that a church chose an elder or a gift in the Lord’s service. The Lutheran “Statement of Faith” quotes Acts 13:2-4 to support a company so choosing. Let us look carefully at what happened. “And … the Holy Spirit said, Separate me now Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them. Then having fasted and prayed, and having laid their hands upon them, they let them go.” It is crystal clear that the Holy Spirit initiated the whole matter. Then the local company happily identified themselves with them, as shown in the laying on of hands. The assembly at Antioch did not choose Barnabs and Saul; the Holy Spirit did. The “laying on of hands” is not a sign of appointment – not even in the Old Testament times. Anointing was the public sign for that. Those offering sacrifices laid their hands on the head of the sacrifice as a sign of identification.
The apostles - and an apostolic delegate such as Titus - certainly are recorded as choosing elders in an assembly. It is noteworthy that elders are always spoken of in the plural. [The word “bishop” should really be translated “elder”.] An elder is not described as a gift, but a person of moral qualifications in a locality. An elder is always linked with a locality, whereas gifts such as preacher, teacher or prophet are to exercise that gift wherever they may be. Now it is my impression that when the apostles or Titus went to a locality and “established elders”, that action would be recognising what the Holy Spirit had already effected in persons their. That is why Paul says to the elders of Ephesus, “wherein the Holy Spirit has set you as overseers, to shepherd the assembly of God”.
We must not take on ourselves some service just because the apostles were given it.
The apostles were foundational. And not even the apostle Paul would interfere with another person’s link with the Lord. Note how Paul wanted Apollos to go to Corinth, but accepted the latter’s conscience, 1 Cor. 16:12.
Another most important point: the apostles never appointed “ministerial gifts”, but elders; and the company chose deacons for the service of food distibution at Jerusalem – see the reference to Acts 6, below. These are not among the gifts given by the ascended Christ in Ephesians, or set in the church by God in Corinthians.
The Lutheran Statement of Faith, page 54, states that “Christians have a right and duty to call men to serve them in the public ministry”. We have seen from verses quoted above, that it is a divine appointment, not ours. In the article, the first scripture chosen to support the statement is Acts 20:24. There Paul clearly speaks of “the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus”. He was not called to service by any other than Christ. The next two quotations in the footnote bear on the fact that Paul had a fruitful ministry. The next one refers to 1 Corinthians 3:5 which again confirms that “as the Lord has given to each”. It shows that the Lord is the giver and appointer, not the church, nor any group of individuals - not even apostles.
It is certainly our responsibility and privilege to recognise and honour those labouring in the Lord’s work. This is seen in 1 Thess. 5;12 and 1 Tim. 5:17,18. We pray that the Lord may raise up more true evangelists, shepherds and teachers, and for the grace for us to do our own bit. How do you know if a person has a gift? By its exercise. Proverbs 18:16 tells us that a man’s gift makes room for him. It doesn’t require a certificate from an organisation. The servant answers to his Master. Of course the audience has a responsibility to judge – see 1 Corinthians 14:29. The Bereans (Acts 17:11) were commended for searching the scriptures to see if these things were so.
When does the assembly have the right to choose? When it gives. Put simply, he who gives has the right to choose. In Acts 6:1-7, we find the apostles serving tables, dispensing food to the needy. To free themselves for the ministry of the word, they recommended that the company look out for themselves suitable men to look after this service. The people then chose seven men. The KJV says “ordained” but the Greek just means “chose”. Ecclesiastical bias ocasionally coloured the work of the KJV translators. The point is that the company was the giver, therefore the company could choose who would serve. Again at Corinth, Paul was coming, and they were to take up a collection for the poor in Jerusalem. He told them to choose persons who would carry the gift to Jerusalem, accompanying him. So it is with the Lord. He is the giver of the gifts, so he has the right to choose whom he will. Acts 6 has been used to show that ordination by man is of God, when it actually proves otherwise.
People will ask: How can a gathering function without a recognised clergyman? Surely you must have someone to conduct things? Believe me, it can work without having an ordained minister. I have seen it work even where Christians have gathered in quite large numbers. If we gather in a spirit of humility and wait for one another, there is no problem. If room is made for the Holy Spirit, each occasion where the saints are gathered can be very blessed. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty” – 2 Corinthians 3:17. In 1 Corinthians 14 instructions is given as to conduct in the assembly [church]. Provision is to be made for all to participate – see verses 26 – 33 especially. Persons who may have come with something on their hearts to give out, but they are to respect the fact that another may have received an impression while there - Paul says a revelation.
May the Lord help us all to discern his mind from the word, and seek the grace to carry it out. It will result in his glory and our blessing. MM