Ephesians 4:11 “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists,”
God’s greatest gift has been his only begotten Son, Jesus Christ. “He came down to earth from heaven, who is God, and Lord of all,” the hymnist says. He took that tremendous step from throne to stable, and then the incredible journey from the stable to the cross, and beyond it the journey on the cross itself from the immolation to the dereliction. The angels must have been saying, “Will this never, never end? How low is he going to go? How low does he have to go?” But at the end he says, “It is finished,” and all the work of cosmic redemption that the Lord Christ had to do was over. His people have all been redeemed. He failed in nothing; he omitted to say nothing. We don’t ask for Jesus to come back and do what he forgot to do. We don’t need another divine humiliation. We don’t need another Jesus. It is finished.
So redemption was accomplished, and the next step was the accomplishment of revelation. The record of the work of Christ must be written down; the documents of the New Testament are part of our redemption. For the next two thousand years men must know who Jesus is, and what he said and did. So with the same care that Jesus showed in accomplishing divine redemption he then showed in accomplishing divine revelation.
1. THE LORD JESUS GAVE SOME APOSTLES TO THE CHURCH.
What does he do? He chooses twelve men to be with him for three years. At first there were a group of disciples following him but then Luke describes to us quite deliberately and solemnly how Jesus appointed the apostles, “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles” (Lk. 6:12&13). Nothing of that kind of holy preparation occurred when Jesus sent out seventy men on an evangelistic mission, but before the apostles were selected there was a Messianic night of prayer (and there were only two occasions when this happened), and then a Messianic summons, leading to a sovereign Messianic choice (there was no call for volunteers). From the crowd of disciples just these twelve were taken, and then the Messianic designation was made – “I am calling you my ‘sent-ones'” – for that is what the word ‘apostle’ means. They were certainly to be a circle of intimate companions, and also a missionary body, but more than that, they were a special service unit called ‘the twelve’, clothed with his own authority. They were delegates, whom he sent out and commissioned to teach and to act in his name; “As the Father sent me, even so I send you,” he said to them. Then he said, “Those who receive you are receiving me, but those who reject you are really rejecting me.” He even said to them, “I tell you the truth, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven” (Matt. 18:18). So you couldn’t slip a membrane between the message of Jesus and that of the apostles. They and their message were that close.
Then for almost three years Jesus gave all his time and all his reserves of patience and teaching skills to these men. He walked with them, and slept alongside them, and ate with them day by day, and so he trained them. He made sure they were present at some of his mightiest and most sacred moments. They were there at the Transfiguration and in the Garden. They heard the Sermon on the Mount and the discourse in the Upper Room. He would slow the tempo down at times, and take them away privately, vanishing from the public gaze for months at an end to teach them and answer their questions. He educated them preparing them for their role. Yet there was something greater than that; not a work done to them and outside them and before them, but work done within them. Jesus gave them a special bestowal of the Holy Spirit to enable them to do the work of being an apostle. Jesus explained to them what was going to happen, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (John 16:12-15). Jesus told them that through the Holy Spirit the Twelve would be enabled to understand the whole truth the world needed to know concerning him, and they would be able to make it known to others in speaking and writing. That is the reason there is such agreement in the New Testament between Matthew and Peter and Paul and John and James and the others. They were indwelt by the same Spirit, and he was the one who guided them all into all the truth that was needed.
Then something fascinating comes out of something tragic; when Judas betrays Jesus, as had been prophesied, the church wants to make up the ranks of the apostles to twelve again, but they know there was no way that they could make a man an apostle. They are certain of this, that the qualification for apostleship means taking from our ranks, “one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection” (Acts 1:21&22). So he had to be with the disciples from the beginning, seeing Jesus come and go, but most important of all he had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. That certainly narrowed it down to a very small group of young men, in fact there were just about two of them who were not apostles who had been there when John baptized Jesus. One was called Joseph and the other was called Matthias, but which one to choose? Even they – Peter and John and the other apostles – couldn’t take that decision. Apostleship had to be a divine appointment not human. So they prayed to the risen Lord to guide them as to the one he had chosen, and then they cast lots, and the straw they drew had Matthias’ name on it and in that unique way for the whole New Testament he was added to the twelve.
Then Paul was also appointed to the apostleship by the Lord. Paul is absolutely certain of his own calling to be an apostle; you remember how his letters invariably begin? He writes to the Romans, “Paul, a bondservant of Jesus Christ, called to be an apostle.” He writes to the Corinthians, “Paul, called to be an apostle of Jesus Christ.” He write to the Galatians, “Paul, an apostle sent not from men, neither by man, but by Jesus Christ, and God the Father . . .”. When he jointly writes a letter with one of his helpers alongside him Paul is resolute to make the distinction of office between that man and himself, for example to the Colossians, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ . . . and Timothy the brother.” To the Galatians he writes, “Paul the apostle . . . and all the brethren which are with me.” Not in one single case does he call his companions ‘apostles.’ But when he refers to Peter he addresses him as an apostle (Galatians 2:8 and I Corinthians 15:1-16). There are other men who were sent by the church, missionaries, and the word is the same, ‘sent ones’, ‘apostles’ with, as it were, a lower case ‘a’. That actual word is used in a few instances to describe such men. Their very names and anonymity indicate that they are minor figures in the New Testament church, ‘Epaphroditus’ and ‘Andronicus’ and ‘Junias’. They are not of the Twelve, and did not claim it, but Paul is one of the Twelve (it is a symbolic number). He had seen the risen Lord on the Damascus Road and he had received a commission and a call there by Jesus Christ. He says about Paul: “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles” (Acts 9:15). Again he says to Paul, “I will send you far away to the Gentiles” (Acts 22:21) – Paul was a sent-one. Again, Jesus says to him, “I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen of me and what I will show you. I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them” (Acts 26:16&17). So Paul’s apostleship was directly from the Lord Jesus, indistinguishable in its call from that of the other twelve. That is why he tells the Galatians his apostleship was not from men nor through man. He writes to Timothy and he says, “For this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying” (I Tim. 2:7). He challenges his critics in Corinth, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (I Cor. 9:1). Later on in the letter in chapter fifteen he is writing about the resurrection of Christ and he says, “Then [Jesus] appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (I Cor. 15:7-10).
So you do see how impossible it was for a man to choose to become an apostle or to be made an apostle by popular acclaim or because he was greatly loved and honoured by the church. No one in the early church thought, “The reason we don’t have more apostles is because we haven’t prayed enough; our faith is too weak Let us have a night of prayer and name and claim two more apostles.” They never dreamed of behaving like that, any more than asking for another Jesus. The church couldn’t ‘work up’ apostles; there was no man in the whole world who could give this honour to another man. It was not like getting the Victoria Cross or being made a member of the House of Lords. You didn’t become an apostle because of your dynamic personality or from the distinguished service you might have rendered to the church, or by the number of books you’d written, or the number of people who’d been converted under your ministry. Only Christ could make anyone an apostle and give him that authority to write gospels and letters in Jesus’ name, and he appointed the Twelve and then stopped. Timothy was a great Christian pastor but Timothy was not an apostle. Titus was a great preacher and evangelist but Titus was not an apostle. Silas was a great worker in the church, but Silas was not an apostle, and neither Paul nor anyone else could make any of those men apostles.
An apostle’s influence continues to be enormous even in the year 2004. What Matthew, Mark, Luke and John wrote in their four gospels about the Son of God binds the consciences of the church until the end of the world. I must believe it; I must preach it; I mustn’t preach anything else. What Paul and Peter and James and Jude wrote in their letters claims our obedience. The Holy Spirit given by Jesus Christ breathed through those men so that what they wrote was exactly what God wanted them to write. How far? To the jots and tittles. So when Paul’s letters were read out to the congregation on a Lord’s Day there were of course great truths about Christ’s salvation heard by the people, and immensely stringent ethical imperatives to new living, but then, in addition, there were expressions of great authority interspersing everything, such as the following; “We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command” (2 Thess. 3:4); “In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers, to keep away from every brother who is idle and does not live according to the teaching you receive from us” (2 Thess. 3:6). “This is why I write these things when I am absent, that when I come I may not have to be harsh in my use of authority – the authority the Lord gave me for building you up, not for tearing you down” (2 Cor. 13:10); “Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan . . . (I Cor. 5:3-5). Only a divinely created self-consciousness of staggering dimensions (or man’s utter wickedness) would dare to bind men’s consciences in such a way. Only the Twelve had heavenly authority to speak like that. No pope should dare to speak like that. Let the rulers of the earth tremble before it. If anyone preached another Jesus, whom the apostles had not preached, then we all know that that man was a false apostle and a minister of Satan. But the New Testament church fully accepted the unique authority that the apostles had. You find Jude writing to Christians and saying gently to them, “But, dear friends, remember what the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ foretold” (Jude 17). So when the church came to settle on the canon of Scripture it did not give its authority to the letter to the Romans or the gospel of John. It bowed before those books and recognised them as the breath of God through his servants.
However, in addition to the words of the apostles there were also distinctive signs by which God bore witness to the truth of their writing and preaching. 2 Corinthians 12:12 says this, “The things that mark an apostle – signs, wonders and miracles – were done among you with great perseverance.” Or again in Hebrews 2:3&4 (A.V.) “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him; God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will.” So if Paul calls special miraculous gifts “the things that mark an apostle” he surely implies that not all Christians had them. It was the apostles who had them and those on whom they laid their hands. Suppose I were to direct you to the Vicarage for the first time by saying to you that The Vicarage was in the High Street and that you couldn’t miss it because it had a For Sale sign outside it. But when you got to the High Street you discovered that there were a dozen houses with For Sale signs on them. That sign would be useless for designating which house was The Vicarage, it would no longer be the determining sign. So there was something distinctive about the sign God used to point to a man being an apostle. It was a wonder or a miracle. It was a sign that this man was an apostle. They had those signs, and those on whom they had laid their hands. They alone had them; all the rest are delusions.
There was once an African student who would occasionally come to this church. He has returned to home to Ethiopia but every few years he drops me a little note or makes a request. This week I was saddened to get this E-mail from him:
“Mark your calendar and make plans now to catch the Believer’s Voice of Victory broadcast September 27 through 30 when Kenneth Copeland will have as his special guests Oral and Richard Roberts. Check your local listings for broadcast times in your area. Recently, God gave Oral Roberts a vision concerning the future of the United States, the Jews, the Christians and the world. Since that time, God has given Brother Copeland a prophetic word concerning that vision. This is Oral Roberts’ vision: “Instantly I heard that voice and then I saw with my eyes something I’d never seen. Suddenly, in the clouds in the skies above New York City and the east part of the United States, and which hung there for quite some time and then spread out across America, without touching the ground, and then God defused it away from America and sent it out to the nations of the earth
“I saw something coming down from above: Smoke and vapor and blood, or it looked like that to my eyes, to my spiritual eyes. There it was hanging so huge until it almost blotted out the sky. And then I heard God’s voice: He said, ‘This is one of the signs of the end time because the world is not ready for the second coming of my Son: My Church is not ready for the second coming of my Son: The Jews, with whom I’ve had the covenant for thousands of years, they’re not ready for the second coming of my Son. The nations of the earth are not ready for the second coming of my Son.’ Oral Roberts.”
The Bible tells us to test the spirits; Jesus warns us about false prophets who are wolves in sheep’s clothing. I have no hesitation in dismissing such a ‘vision’ as a fund-raising attention-seeking gimmick. I am ashamed of such a man being my Christian brother. This man by devising a ‘sign’ like this wants to be considered an apostle. We refuse to give him such rank. He is a millionaire, that we acknowledge, but in Christian understanding he is an infant. he should not be allowed in any pulpit anywhere. We grieve that Africa and Asia and South America are being flooded with colourful magazines promoting such wicked claims. The miraculous sign which God gives to every single gospel congregation is the Bible. Let us honour it by preaching it, and bringing its words alone to the consciences of our hearers, not asking them to believe our evil delusions. I can do little but warn you, and write a letter dissuading our Ethiopian brother from being drawn into such barren fantasies.
So in the gifts that Christ poured out on the church in very first place he gave the apostles. They were the most important of all the spiritual gifts. They were what we know as foundational gifts, and that title is set before us in two places, first of all here in this letter back in chapter two where the church is described as “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets” (Ephs. 2:20). The other vivid picture of this is found in the picture of the glorified church like a vast city in the heavens; you see it in the book of Revelation 21 and verse 14, “The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb.” The apostles and prophets were foundational gifts for the whole church.
Imagine a couple employing a building firm to erect a new house for them. They are kept waiting beyond the promised starting date and then finally the trucks and JCB’s arrive and the trenches for the walls and foundations are cut out. Then one day the cement truck comes its cylinder revolving and the long tube is pulled out and it fills all the trenches with the cement foundations. Then he lays the central raft of cement. Then, what is this? A few days later another cement truck arrives and another foundation is laid on top of that raft of cement. A few days later another cement truck comes with yet another foundation to pour on top of the previously laid cement. The couple waiting to get into their house get on the phone to the builder in a mighty agitated state. “What are you doing? We have a foundation, in fact we have two foundations. Why are you laying another? There is no need of another. Now we need you to build on the foundation. The building needs to go up, not another and another foundation be laid.”
They are absolutely correct. So it is with the apostles; they were first in the gifts the Lord Christ gave to the church because they are the foundation which every congregation all over the world for the next two thousand years is going to build on. This congregation has to build solely on the foundation of the twelve apostles who saw Jesus Christ alive from the dead – those men who were commissioned personally by him. What I preach has to be tied to their apostolic teaching just like my face is tied to its image in a mirror. What we believe has to be the apostolic faith. How we behave has to be in line with apostolic precepts. When we test strangers who speak to us about the Christian religion we do so by the standard of the apostles.
We are told of the 3,000 men who were converted under the preaching of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost that they continued steadfastly in the apostles’ teaching and fellowship. They sat and listened to what Matthew and Peter and John and Andrew and James and Simon and the other apostles taught them in groups meeting all over Jerusalem, some of them in the shade of the city walls, others in upper rooms lit by oil lamps, and they drank in all the teaching of the apostles. They had never heard anything so wonderful. This is what they believed from that time on, and there could be no fellowship amongst them without that could there?
Imagine a man on the edge of one of those early groups sitting and listening to John or Andrew and arguing and disagreeing with what the apostle was saying and trying to get other men to reject the teaching. Could there be fellowship with such a man? Impossible. Apostles’ fellowship is based on the foundation of the apostles’ teaching. It is exactly the same today. Men say to us that we can disregard the apostles’ teaching about the blood of Christ, or about substitutionary atonement, or the virgin birth, or the second coming, or the miracles and yet they want us to be in fellowship with them. I am saying to you that there can be no fellowship without obedience to the apostles. Apostles’ fellowship was not based on nice feelings towards one another; unity was not a warm’n’fuzzy matter, nor is it today! Unity must be in truth.
So the apostles’ gift was to lay a foundation on which every congregation is to build. The foundation they laid has lasted two thousand years and it will last until the Saviour appears. No other foundation can any man lay but that. There is no need for more apostles. We must not pray for more apostles to be given to us. We don’t pray for another Jesus to be sent – another Jesus! We don’t pray for another apostle to be raised up. We don’t need even one more apostle. If a man comes to you and claims he’s an apostle then you know that he’s a crook. I love Martin Luther, but Luther was not an apostle, he was a preacher. I love John Calvin, but I am not going to impose Calvin on you as an apostle; he was a preacher. I love Bunyan, and Whitefield, and Daniel Rowland, and Spurgeon, and M’Cheyne, and Machen, and Lloyd-Jones, but none of those men was an apostle, and nobody ought to make them apostles. Their words don’t bind my conscience. I can disagree with some of the ideas of Luther and Calvin and Lloyd-Jones and so on, but I cannot repudiate what Paul wrote to the Romans, or John wrote in his gospel. Those men were apostles and my mind and thinking and heart and soul has to accept what they say as the authorised servants of my Saviour. If I love the Saviour I will accept what his apostles say. Apostles ceased when the last apostle died. There was a cessation of this gift by Jesus Christ because it was a foundation gift. Everyone who believes this is a cessationist.
The way the gospel church has been undermined in Wales in the last 150 years has been by attacking the apostles, making them mere men, children of their time. And it has been done in the name of Jesus! “We want to return to Jesus’ simple Galilean gospel, not Paul,” men have said. Once the apostles have been pushed out of the pulpit then any political or philosophical ideology could be preached, even Buddhism could be taught, and as a result of this the Spirit is quenched, and the churches collapse. But Jesus has given me the apostles. God will only bless his apostolic message. Without apostolic solidarity unity and fellowship and cooperation are gone. I am saying to you that when the modernist denies apostolic teaching on justification then fellowship is undermined. When the cult leader sets out another foundation like the Book of Mormon then we are building a totally different religion. When Roman Catholicism adds to the apostles’ teaching ideas for which there is no foundation in the New Testament at all, in fact, which are categorically against the New Testament such as purgatory, and Mary as a CO-redeemer, then there can be no unity. When the Anglican church makes a homosexual a Dean or a Bishop in the face of clear apostolic prohibitions the peace of a church is destroyed. There can be unity only in the apostles’ teaching.
The apostles have laid a foundation for every gospel church until Christ comes again. Build on this alone. All mankind has to get its beliefs and practices from these spokesmen whom God sent from heaven. That is the church’s evangelistic task. That is the challenge facing the church in the 21st century. I would think that many of our biggest battles, especially in the area of inter-religious recognition, are going to be fought here.
2. THE LORD JESUS GAVE SOME PROPHETS TO THE CHURCH.
When you read the New Testament you see that in those first decades there wasn’t a clear break between the Old Testament and the New Testament. That wouldn’t come for about forty years. During this time there was a sort of Christian overlap of old and new covenant practices. I am talking about things like the drawing of lots to choose an apostle. There were some Old Testament stipulations for casting lots. Then you notice also how the early Christi ans went to the Temple and worshipped there, and visited the synagogues and fellowshipped there, and Timothy was circumcised, and some of the converted Jews kept the seventh day Sabbath as well as the Lord’s Day, and kept some of the food laws. I am talking about this overlap period that lasted until the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. There was not a decisive cut-off point in practice between the Old and New Covenants before that. One faded away and the other took over entirely.
The prophets were part of this special period in the history of the church. They were men who alongside the apostles brought a word from the Lord just like the Old Testament prophets, but they didn’t possess the same authority as the apostles. There was one prophet who is very interesting; he is the key to understanding the prophets whom the Lord gave after Pentecost. His name is Agabus and we meet him twice in the book of Acts, first of all in Acts11:27-30, “During this time some prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them, named Agabus, stood up and through the Spirit predicted that a severe famine would spread over the entire Roman world. (This happened during the reign of Claudius.) The disciples, each according to his ability, decided to provide help for the brothers living in Judea. This they did, sending their gift to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.” What do we have here? An Old Testament picture of a prophet coming down from Jerusalem, and he is predicting a severe worldwide famine which was also going to embrace the promised land. Judea was to be a land flowing with milk and honey, but if it turned away from God and scorned and persecuted his servants then God would punish them by withholding the rain and sending famine. That happened in the Old Testament – you remember how Elijah prayed and there was no rain for a few years. We can see that that was the very thing that was happening in this chapter. There was a severe persecution coming from Jerusalem’s hatred of the Lord. It scattered the Christians in Judea (v.19) and many fled to Antioch where many people had been converted. Also in Judea the king of the Jews, Herod, intended to persecute the church and he actually killed one of the apostles, John’s brother James (Acts 12:1&2). So Agabus, possessed by a spirit of prophecy, announced what was going to happen, that God would show his displeasure to the Old Testament people of God by sending a famine to Judea, and the Christians living in Antioch must make provision for them. The prophecy was fulfilled and the Christians in that wealthy community sent provisions to their fellow believers in Judea.
Then again we meet Agabus in Acts 21:10&11, “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Paul’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, “In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of this belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles.”‘” What do we have here? Again a familiar Old Testament picture of the hatred amongst the Jews that was centered in Jerusalem and focussed on the Lord and his prophets. It was impossible, said Jesus for a prophet to die outside of Jerusalem, and he set his face resolutely to go here. He was the Suffering Servant who died in Jerusalem, and so when his great servant Paul also set off to preach in Jerusalem the prophet Agabus using a typical Old Testament symbol to help get the message across – tying his hands and feet with Paul’s belt – announced that Paul faced captivity and suffering in Jerusalem. Again this prophecy was fulfilled. So Agabus was amongst the last Old Testament/New Testament prophets.
Through the prophets God was preparing the way for the coming of Christ. The epistle to the Hebrews begins with these familiar words, “In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son.” The preparation is over; Jesus is the final prophet speaking God’s message (Mark 12:6). He tells the world all it needs to know, and he tells the church all it requires to make it perfect. Men like Agabus lived in the overlap of the two dispensations and they give their brief predictions, but hardly any more of those little prophecies are recorded in the New Testament. We’ve got four gospels! We’ve got all the letters of Paul and Peter and John. We today are the ‘have-it-allists’. The prophets’ prophecies were not that important. We know that there were thousands of sayings and actions of Jesus which, if they were all written down, could fill all the shelves of the National Library of Wales. They were never recorded because God determined his church would be none the holier or more effective by having mountains more of divine revelation. How much more were additional prophecies of these real New Testament prophets utterly surplus to the church’s permanent needs. They were not recorded; they were foundational gifts and after this compact foundation is laid of 27 New Testament books and the 39 Old Testament books the church gets on with its work of building on them declaring Jesus Christ to the world. It will do this until the end of time. You say you want a prophet to speak today, and the church needs them, but God says to you, “I’ve given you Jeremiah, and you’ve never read it. Why should I give you more? After the novelty of the new toy has vanished it will gather dust in the corner like the old toys.
There have been mighty preachers in the history of the world and often men dub them ‘prophets’. A.W.Tozer and Dr Lloyd-Jones have been called ‘prophets’ as they boldly confronted the world in the name of Jesus Christ with a message from God. May God raise up many more ministers like that, but they were not prophets in the technical sense of the term. Throughout history there have been men who preached with the Holy Ghost sent down from heaven. May there be many more – men who were like John the Baptist, burning and a shining lights. You can call such men ‘prophets’ but they are not like Agabus who brought a prediction from God about famine in the promised land and Jerusalem’s hatred of God’s servants.
There have been men who have been able to make some unusual accurate predictions about the future, and that is a strange phenomenon. There have been such men in the past in the Highlands and islands of Scotland. It happens, and when the man is also a very pious Christian it is quite striking and memorable, but I don’t know what is its connection with godliness, or its connection with these apostles in Acts and the letters. There have also been men who have occasionally spoken a brief word with deep earnestness and authority and that message has been very fitting and helpful. That has happened and it seems to me that it is carping to say, “Don’t call that a prophetic word.” That is what it appears to be from many angles, but again the men giving it were not ‘the prophets’ in the church – like you have ‘the deacons’ in the church and ‘the elders’ in the church. They were men who knew God and were given an insight and authority at a certain time with a certain message.
So you have two foundational gifts of apostles and prophets and that is how they are described in Ephesians 2:20, that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.
3. THE LORD JESUS GAVE SOME EVANGELISTS TO THE CHURCH.
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his sermon on this text argues as persuasively as he does for any position which he holds that this gift was also one of the temporary foundational gifts in the church. Those were his views on the apostles and prophets. I’m not sure about the office of evangelist having ceased. His is not a popular view, but as I’ve read what he says I think it has much to commend it. How he argues his case for the cessation of this gift of evangelism is thus:
“If any are surprised that I place the evangelist and his office in the same extraordinary and temporary category as the apostles and prophets, the probability is that they are thinking of an evangelist in terms of the modern use of the term. This is something essentially different from its use in the New Testament, where we are not told much about the evangelists. Philip who is mentioned in the eighth chapter of the Book of the Acts, was an evangelist. He is mentioned again in the twenty-first chapter. It is quite clear also that Timothy and Titus were evangelists. The Apostle Paul reminds Timothy to do the work of an evangelist. It seems clear from these references that an evangelist was a very special man who was in close association with the apostles. Some of the Early Fathers in the church tended to say that the evangelists were those who wrote the Four Gospels; but that cannot be the case in the light of what we are told in the places already mentioned. The evangelist is a man who had been given a special ability and power to make known, and to expound, the facts of the Gospel. Generally he was a man appointed by the apostles themselves, and can be described as a kind of understudy to the apostles. He was one sent by the apostles to do a given work. Sometimes he was sent ahead of the apostles, as Philip was sent to Samaria, but generally he followed the apostles.
“The apostles, prophets and evangelists were itinerant. They travelled around and established churches and laid the foundations of the Christian Church. Frequently, therefore, you will find that the evangelist was left by the apostle to build upon the foundation that had been established, to expound and explain the truth more fully. Or, as I have said, sometimes he was sent ahead of the apostle to prepare the way and to introduce the general message of the Gospel. That was his particular task. He had not seen the risen Lord, he could not witness to the resurrection in that manner. The story of Titus and Timothy proves that beyond any doubt. But he was a man whom the Holy Spirit had led the apostles to choose. He had been given certain abilities; he knew the facts, he knew the truths of the Gospel, and he could present them in a clear manner and with unction and authority and power from the Holy Spirit. He thus supplemented the work of the apostles and extended it and caused it to spread and to become established. Thus the evangelist was a man whose office was temporary, and as the churches were established and became more settled, this office likewise disappeared.
“This does not mean that there may not be men since then, and in the Church today, who are given a special call to preach the Gospel in a particular way and manner, but strictly speaking they are not evangelists in the New Testament sense of the word. It would be better to call them ‘exhorters’, as they were called at the time of the evangelical awakening of the eighteenth century.” (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, “Christian Unity,” Banner of Truth, 1980, pp. 191&192).
Some have argued that some time after Dr. Lloyd-Jones preached those words he actually changed his mind, having come to believe that the gifts of apostle, prophet and evangelist had not ceased. I’ve not found anything in what he said later on concerning the offices of apostle and evangelist to indicate that there was any change at all in his views of their temporary nature. Dr Lloyd-Jones was about sixty years of age when he expressed those opinions which I’ve just read in your hearing about the temporary nature of the New Testament office of evangelist. You remember that he had held these views during that mighty ministry in Sandfields, Aberavon in the 1920s and 1930s which period has been called a revival, though he never called it that. I am pointing that out merely because there is a current fallacy in some quarters of Wales, that men who are cessationists cannot know a religious awakening because they are grieving the Spirit. They forget that men like Jonathan Edwards and Whitefield and Spurgeon, some of the mightiest preachers in the history of the church were all cessationists concerning the miraculous and revelatory gifts. They believed that gifts like those were all affirmations of the divine approval resting on Jesus Christ and his apostles. “Let us take the whole God-breathed Word and let’s preach it in the power of the Spirit to the world!” That was their conviction.
So was the office of evangelist one of the foundational offices? Men have parted company with the Doctor. Principal Macleod has written, “It is difficult to accept this conclusion. For one thing, the evangelistic mandate is clearly permanent. The church in all ages is under obligation to extend the kingdom of God. Indeed, this is one of its primary roles. Is it conceivable that the Head of the church would give such a responsibility without giving the necessary gift and the necessary functionary? Or that He would give a plentiful supply of pastors, deacons and elders and yet leave the evangelistic role unprovided for?
“Nor is there any indication from the nature of the evangelist’s office that it was intended to be temporary. Their case is quite different from that of apostles and prophets. To be an apostle, a man had to have seen the risen Christ and this was enough by itself to mean that they could have no successors. Prophets had an inferior position to apostles. But they too were channels of special revelation through whom God gave instruction and guidance to His church in the days before the formation of the New Testament canon. . .
“Evangelists, by contrast, required no extraordinary qualifications, impossible in the conditions of today; nor has their function been superseded. On the contrary, it lies at the very heart of the church’s calling. In practice, all churches have conceded the force of these arguments by appointing missionaries. What is extraordinary (and absurd) is that we appoint such evangelists to operate only outside our own shores. Historically, possibly, there was some justification for this. Britain was saturated with churches and their pastors might be deemed to be acting as local evangelists. Today, the situation is quite different. Many new housing areas are churchless; many churches have no gospel; and a frightening proportion of the population are completely alienated from the Christian faith. What we have, in fact, is a post-Christian spiritual wilderness which can only be reclaimed by painstaking missionary endeavour.” (Donald Macleod, The Monthly Record of the Free Church of Scotland, December 1980, “Should We have Evangelists?”).
Whatever our view of this New Testament office of evangelist we are all praying that God will pour out especially on his people in Europe a flood of church-planters, and men with an awakening ministry, men with evangelistic gifts. These will be men who will be allowed as much discretion in carrying out their work as pastors and teachers, men of unusual preaching gifts. Their work must flow out of the life of the church, be sustained by it and flow back into it. Of course we are not going to wait until God raises up another Spurgeon or Whitefield. We must seek to thrust out into the harvest-field the best men we have.
How glad would we be to avail ourselves of the services of such men specially gifted for such an evangelistic ministry. I sometimes feel that my whole ministry has consisted of laying a foundation for such a man to come here. No calling is more theologically demanding than that of a man who in the face of human apathy, incomprehension and hostility must expound the great doctrines of salvation, and do so lucidly and cogently. He must be doctrinally very discerning. A man can hardly propel Christian convictions into the minds of others if he is not clear about them himself.
Whenever someone in the church raises the question of evangelism, asking what we are doing to reach the lost for Christ, I am restlessly delighted and guilty and thankful that you have done this, and pray that you will be an example to us. There is such anguish in making meaningful contact with the world around us today in the name of Jesus.
7th November, 2004. GEOFF THOMAS