Examining The Five-Fold Ministry

By Roger Marshall*

An integral part of dominion theology or “Kingdom Now” theology is the doctrine of the five-fold ministry. It is based on Eph. 4: 7-13, which reads: “But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ. Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men…And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some evangelists; and some pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” Using these verses those who advocate the doctrine of the five-fold ministry claim that God is restoring to His church the offices of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers in order to perfect the saints and prepare them to rule or “take dominion” over cultures, cities, governments, nations etc.

However, on a very important point it should be noted that Eph. 4: 11 is not teaching a five-fold ministry at all since according to the Greek grammatical construction which uses “some” to introduce the words “pastors and teachers” together, it is presenting this gifting as belonging to one group of persons. Hence the pastors are the teachers; furthermore the Greek word translated “and” can mean “in particular.” Therefore it can be translated as follows: “And he gave some to be pastors in particular teachers.” This highlights or emphasises the fact that those who have the role of caring for or shepherding the flock are also responsible for feeding or teaching the flock. They are called to be pastor-teachers or teaching shepherds (see John 21: 15-16; Acts 20: 28; 1 Tim.5: 17; 1 Pet. 5: 1-2). In light of these facts the so-called five-fold ministry identified in Eph. 4: 11 should really be seen as a four-fold ministry.

Nevertheless, I think that since the churches through out the years, especially the evangelical churches, have always had evangelists, and pastor- teachers, we should rather see the so-called restoration of the five-fold ministry as really the restoration of a “two-fold” ministry; that of apostles and prophets. I say this because in past times persons in the evangelical churches did not readily hold the offices of apostle and prophet. What is now intended is that the already existing evangelists and pastor- teachers are to come under the authority of the newly “restored” apostles and prophets. This objective is justified by their interpretation of Eph. 2: 19-21 which reads: “Now therefore ye are no more strangers and foreigners but fellow citizens with the saints and of the household of God: And are built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone. In whom all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord.”

However, according to Eph. 2: 19-22 the church universal is already built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets of the first century church. Interestingly enough the Greek grammatical construction used in Eph. 2: 20 is the same as in Eph. 4: 11 about the pastor-teachers. Hence the apostles are the prophets. The church’s foundation is actually the doctrine of the apostles of Christ, which is divine revelation from God preserved for us as Scripture (see Acts 2: 42; Eph. 3: 1-5; 2 Pet. 3: 15-16).
Every time we read the New Testament and quote or correctly preach from it we are preaching and teaching the apostles doctrine. As such we are still subject to their apostolic authority and office, though dead they still speak. Therefore whether we realise it or not the ministry of the apostle-prophets of the early church was never lost that would merit a restoration of their office.

Is the office of Apostles being restored today?

Those who claim to be or may aspire to be apostles, as a unique and distinctive ministry in the body of Christ, need to ask themselves the question; in what sense are they apostles or in what sense could they become apostles?

The answer to this question could either validate or invalidate the claim that God is restoring the office of apostles to the church. I say this because the term apostle was used in basically three different ways in Scripture.

First the term apostle, from the Greek apostello means to “send” and was used in a general sense referring to all believers as “sent” ones (cf. John 17: 18; 20: 21). Since in this sense all believers are already apostles or “sent” ones there is no need for this ministry to be restored to the body of Christ because it never ceased.

The second way the term apostle was used was to describe missionaries/messengers sent out on missions by and subject to the churches (see Acts 13: 1-3; 14: 14; 15: 22; Phil. 2: 25; 1Thess. 2: 6). Again in this sense there is no need for a restoration of this type of apostolic ministry because it never ceased.

The third way the term apostle was used in Scripture was in the unique sense that applied only to the apostles of Christ. These men were personally chosen by Jesus himself and were given authority over the church to instruct and guide it in all aspects of faith and practice. They gave divine revelation that recalled the past, explained the present and unveiled the future ministry of Christ to his church, Israel and the entire world (cf. Jn. 14: 26; 16; 13; Acts 2; 42; 15: 1-29; 2 Pet. 1: 12-16; 3: 2-16; Jude 3-4, 17-18; Rev. 1:1-3).

To be an apostle in this sense a person had to be an eyewitness of Jesus’ earthly ministry, death and resurrection (Acts 1: 21-22;cf. Luke 24: 44-48; 1 Cor. 15: 7-8; 9; 1; 1 Pet. 5: 1).

They demonstrated miraculous sign gifts (e.g. the instantaneous healing of the sick and physically disabled etc.) that confirmed their message was from God (Mk. 16: 17-18; Acts 2: 43; 3: 29-30; 5: 12-16; 19: 11-12; 2 Cor. 12: 12; Heb. 2: 1-4).

Their teachings and writings were regarded as Scripture on par with the Old Testament Scriptures and were, and still are not to be changed, tampered with or altered in any way. To do so was, and still is to be accused (see Gal. 1: 6-9; 2 Tim 3: 16-17; 2 Pet. 3: 15-16; Rev. 22: 18-19).

This form of apostolic ministry is the only type that we can legitimately say ceased with the death of all those who had fit the criteria. Furthermore their unique office can never be restored since no one today fits the criteria. However, I would add that although the apostles in this last category have all died, their ministry has never ceased since the church today is still founded on their doctrine. Therefore all three categories of apostles and their presence in the church throughout church history, whither in the general sense, the missionary sense, or the unique sense that refers to the irreplaceable apostles of Christ, invalidate the claims of the restoration movement within Dominion Theology that God is restoring apostles to the church. One cannot restore what has never been lost.

Therefore what should we make of the claims within the restoration movement about the restoration of apostles? When we examine the literature these claims amount to nothing more than an attempt to usurp authority over the churches in a sense that belongs only to the first century apostles of Christ. For example restoration apostle Terry Virgo in his book Restoration in the Church says: “The elders often feel trapped within the framework and long for an outside voice to authoritatively proclaim the way forward. Indeed, it is very often the elders who most feel the need for the apostolic ministry…Traditional churches are feeling the pressures of new life. Charismatic gifts are emerging; a desire for freer worship is being expressed. How are leaders to proceed? Many are facing such issues and do not know which way to turn. Conferences for likeminded pastors will not provide the full answer, nor will charismatic organisations. God’s way is to give apostles and prophets. He has simply appointed men with different gifts to do different jobs”(emphases mine).

Of Elders, Bishops and Pastors

However, in New Testament teaching the role of the pastor-teacher is key to the survival of the local church. Whereas we tend to divide up leadership in the contemporary church into separate offices such as elders, pastors and bishops, in the New Testament an elder, pastor and bishop were actually one and the same person.

In 1 Tim. 3: 1-2 a bishop is identified as a pastor-teacher.

In Tit. 1: 3-7 an elder is identified as a bishop.

In 1 Pet. 5: 1-2 an elder, pastor, and bishop is clearly identified as one and the same person. The passage reads: “The elders [presbyteries i.e.presbertery] which are among you I exhort who am also an elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, and also a partaker of the glory that shall be revealed: Feed [poimaino i.e. shepherd/pastor] the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight [episkopeo; from which we get the term bishop] thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”
This fact is also expressed in Acts 20: 17-18, 28.

Bible expositor John Mac Arthur in his book Answering the Key Questions About Elders p. 8, points out that the term elder emphasises the spiritual maturity of the person, the term pastor emphasises his role in caring, feeding and guarding the flock of God, while the term bishop emphasises his function, which is actually that of an overseer.

Therefore as Pastor Michael G. Moriarty says “an elder is just a different word describing the same office as a pastor or bishop” (cited in The New Charismatics, p.200).

In the days of the early church the churches were lead by a plurality of elders/pastors/bishops (Acts 14: 23; 20: 17; Tit. 1: 5). This something we should probably strive to have restored.

The role of the pastor-teacher is to safeguard the flock from false teachers by teaching them sound doctrine (Acts 20: 28; I Tim.4: 6, 11, 13; 5: 17; 2Tim. 2:15;Tit. 2: 1).

What about prophets?

The concept of New Testament prophets appears to be a signification identifying persons gifted in edifying, exhorting and comforting the church such as Judas (not Iscariot) and Silas (see Acts 15: 32; cf 14: 22). Hence the gift of prophesy in the New Testament context seems to have been the ability given by the Spirit to some to give inspired exhortation, edification and comfort to the church (see 1 Cor. 14: 3, 24-25).

These prophecies or exhortations were to be judged for correctness (1 Cor. 14: 29).

These prophets were subject to authority of the apostles (1 Cor. 14: 37).
*Roger Marshall is executive director of Project PROBE Ministries a Barbadian Christian apologetics organisation.