The Body of Christ Continues the Work

by Scott

I’m rolling out a longer series on what is known as the five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4:11-13. Here is my thesis thus far, as summarised in these three statements below:

  1. Upon His ascension to the Father, Jesus began gifting people in all five of the Ephesians 4 ministries – apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds (pastors), and teachers. As Eph 4:11-13 makes clear, these ministries are given to equip the body of Christ and help prepare them to outwork the ministry of Christ in the world today. (You can read more here.)
  2. Jesus Christ was the greatest to function in all five of these ministries – the greatest apostle, the greatest prophet, the greatest evangelist, the greatest shepherd and the greatest teacher. We can only function in these ministries as we look to Him who was faithful in all five. (You can read more here and here.)
  3. The Holy Spirit was sent in the place of the resurrected and ascended Christ, all to continue the full work of Christ. As ‘another Helper’, just as if Christ were still here in active ministry, He is the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching Spirit. (You can read more here.)

But the major premise of this article is that the entire body of Christ, the one new man in Christ (see Ephesians 2:13-16), has been called to be all of Christ to all of the earth. Thus, with such a calling to fulfil the ministry of Christ, this means we, as the body, are to walk as an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching community.

No, I’m not at the place yet of showing why I believe apostles or prophets still exist today (for some reason, I won’t need to prove to anyone that evangelists, shepherds-pastors and teachers still exist). I’m simply showing how the body of Christ is called to fulfil all ministries of Christ by the power of the Spirit of Christ. Thus, we are inherently an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching people.

But let’s move on…

God’s People in Their Apostolic Role

What is an apostle again? Essentially a ‘sent one’. That’s what it means to be apostolic in its essence.

Thus, I think we all can recognise that God’s people have been sent into the world to be a mission-minded people. This is our apostolic calling! We see this in the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 and through Luke’s version of the same in the apostolic commission of Acts 1:8.

God has called us to be ‘ministers of reconciliation’ proclaiming that, in Christ, God is reconciling people to Himself (2 Corinthians 5:18-20). Therefore, we are to be a company of apostles with an apostolic mission in this world.

God’s People in Their Prophetic Role

I’m not sure I need to put too much here, as I wrote a whole article on the topic of the prophethood of all believers. Yep, you read correctly. Of course we are a priesthood as well. But we are also a prophethood (and even what we might call a ‘royalhood’, but that’s a topic for another day and time.)

We can see this overall call to the body of Christ through Peter’s quotation of Joel in his Pentecost sermon. After the Spirit had been poured out, this is what Peter says:

16 No, this is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:
17 “‘In the last days, God says,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your young men will see visions,
your old men will dream dreams.
18 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days,
and they will prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18)

Peter has a revelation that what Joel had prophesied long ago was being fulfilled right in their midst. Joel had said that, in the last days, the Spirit would be poured out on all flesh (Joel 2:28-29)!

No longer would there be a gender divide of who is qualified to receive the Spirit – sons and daughters, males and females would both be included. And there would also be no age barrier – young and old were both included. The Spirit was now available to all of God’s people, not just a select few.

What was the fruit of such an outpouring of the Spirit: ‘and they shall prophesy’ (Acts 2:18). Moses had made God’s heart clear long ago, but here was the fulfilment of those words uttered long ago:

But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29)

Thus, at Pentecost, we see the firstfruits of the prophethood of all believers. The prophetic Spirit was to be given to all God’s people to empower them to be a prophetic body, just like their Head. And for the past 2,000 years, God has continued to utilise his prophetic community in the earth.

God’s People in Their Evangelistic Role

I already touched on this somewhat in the apostolic role of God’s people, but just as a reminder, we are a people who have been sent into the world with good news. That’s what evangelists are at their core – bearers of God news. And I would venture to say that the entire body of Christ, though maybe not each individual is gifted as an evangelist, has good news to make known to those with whom we interact – family, friends, colleagues, even strangers.

We are an evangelistic people who bear the gospel, looking to make disciples of those who respond.

God’s People in Their Shepherding Role

Sure, as with the rest of these five ministry gifts, Jesus gifts specific people as pastor-shepherds, though I think we easily misunderstand what this gift really is about (it’s a gift, not so much a title or position). But we, as a community of God’s people, are also called together to care for one another. With the Spirit in us, we can offer words of strength, encouragement and challenge as we sense God’s leading. What a great opportunity to care for those in our family, the body of Christ.

Below are just a couple of passages for consideration:

24…But God has put the body together, giving greater honor to the parts that lacked it, 25 so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. (1 Corinthians 12:24-25)

1 Brothers and sisters, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. 2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ. (Galatians 6:1-2)

I’ve always loved these words of spiritual writer Larry Crabb:

‘That cry from your heart is your longing to be part of a true church, to participate in spiritual community, to engage in spiritual conversations of worship with God and co-journeying with others. You yearn for a safe place, a community of friends who are hungry for God, who know what it means to sense the Spirit moving within them as they speak with you. You long for brothers and sisters who are intent not on figuring out how to improve your life, but on being with you wherever your journey leads. You want to know and be known in conversations that aren’t really about you or anyone else but Christ.’ (The Safest Place on Earth, p19)

God’s People in Their Teaching Role

The new covenant declares the great truth that God’s people could know God themselves. There would be no need for the mediatoral work of a special group of people.

31 “The days are coming,” declares the LORD,
“when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
32 It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they broke my covenant,
though I was a husband to them,”
declares the LORD.
33 “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD.
“I will put my law in their minds
and write it on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
34 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest,”
declares the LORD.
“For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.” (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

This does not mean we completely negate the role and function of teachers, as other passages show the importance of such a specific gift, especially the Scripture I’ve pointed to in Ephesians 4. But we no longer need such a sacerdotal system to act as mediators, since we are all part of the royal and holy priesthood of God (see 1 Peter 2:4-10).

We are the ones who have been set free by the truth (John 8:31-32 ). Thus, we are not called to solely study God’s word in Scripture so that we can be puffed up with great theological knowledge (see 1 Corinthians 8:1 ). Such completely misses the point. Rather, we study His God-breathed word so that we can be used in helping others know God for themselves, being set free by the truth. This we, even as a company of believers, can do in the strength of God’s Spirit.

Some Summary Thoughts

Thus, the community of Christ continues to have the call to be all of Christ in all of the world. This means embracing our apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching ministry as the whole body of Christ together. Of course, I still believe Christ gifts various individuals in these ministries, with these particular people helping us be better equipped and more effective in these areas of ministry. But we should never negate our calling as a whole community.

And, I suppose that, as we do this together, we will have quite an effective ministry amongst the world in which we live.

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