Christ ascended, He gave gifts to men. Ephesians 4:8
What gift did God give to the Church at Pentacost? Jesus by the Holy Spirit gave pastors and teachers to the Church for the good of the Church after He ascended into heaven (Ephesians 4:7–11).
Of course, the gifts that Christ gave the Church are far greater than simply the ministry or any other group of gifts. Yet, Paul singles out the ministry in Ephesians 4 as the gift of Jesus Christ to the Church by which He governs, feeds, and leads the Church He purchased with His own blood (Acts 20:28).
In many versions of the Bible, it says, "He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." The words "to be" are added to make the passage make sense in our language. There is nothing wrong with doing that. We have to do that, or our translation would be gobbledygook. However, in this case, the passage makes perfect sense even if we remove it. So, instead of Christ giving "some to be apostles..." we have Christ gave "some apostles..." This indicates Paul's emphasis here is not that some men receive gifts for ministry but rather that the Church receives the gift of ministry.
So why did Jesus Christ give the ministry to the Church? The rest of the passage (Ephesians 4:7–16) answers that question. There is both a positive and negative purpose; namely, to build up some in sound doctrine and to refuse those who oppose it.
The Positive Purpose — To Teach Sound Doctrine
The Apostle explains this positive purpose in two ways. He says that pastors are given "for equipping the saints for the work of ministry" and "for edifying or building up of the body of Christ." Both have reference to the positive teaching of theology or the system of doctrine revealed in the Bible that leads to salvation and godliness.
The goal of the pastor, then, is to teach the way of truth that will build up the saints unto salvation and edify them for the work of the ministry. The pastor is the leader in ministry, but he is not the only "minister" in a broad sense. All of the saints are called to serve God through honest labor, evangelism, and worship.
The goal of this teaching is twofold. It is to lead us to "the unity of the knowledge of the Son of God" and to "a perfect man," or to maturity. The ministry is God's way of building the Church up in a unified system of doctrine and causing them to grow up into solid and mature Christians.
The Negative Purpose — To Refute False Doctrine
The negative purpose is not stated directly here. The text says that part of becoming a mature Christian is "no longer being children tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting" (v.14, cf. Titus 1:9).
It is of utmost importance to recognize that without the maturity that comes from long study and hearing of the Word of God, we can easily be misled because of the cunning with which false doctrine is presented. Very few false prophets stand up and say, "Before I begin my message, I want to let you know that I am a false prophet." In fact, I have yet to hear any of them say that.
For example, a Jehovah's Witness may come to your door, and you may respond, "But you don't believe Jesus is the Son of God." The JW will confidently respond, "Yes, we do." The problem here is that he means something different by "son," something different by "of," and something different by "God." In the same way, too often people have accepted claims of "I believe in justification by faith alone" because some will use the phrase, even though they mean something different by "by," by "faith," and by "alone." It is the job of pastors to make this clear to people so that they will not be tossed to and from with every wind of doctrine or led down the path of destruction.
Challenge to Pastors
Since this is the case, this ought to challenge us as pastors. It is not enough to say that we were once gifted with the gifts, but we must actively be edifying, equipping, and refuting. WE must also go to the refreshing streams of the Word of God (and not just in preparing for a sermon or study!) in order to have something with which to equip and edify the saints.
Secondly, we must remember that we are not the only gifts to the Church. As Paul says on this very point in 1 Corinthians 14:32, "The spirits of the prophets are subject to the prophets." We must use our gifts and be ready to benefit and rejoice in the gifts of other ministers in our presbytery or classis and beyond.
We must also remember that we are not the only generation that God has gifted to the Church. We must go back to the Church Fathers because, as William Perkins wrote, "Satan raises old heresies from the dead in order to retard the restoration of the Church which has begun in our own time" (The Art of Prophesying, p. 24).
Challenge to all Church Members
If it is true that a pastor cannot be fully equipped for his task without recourse to the gifts of other ministers, then it is certainly also true for the rest of the Church. If we cut ourselves off from the Church, then we cut ourselves off from Christ’s means for Christian maturation.
It is amazing to see how many people think they are Christians even thought they are not part of the visible Church. They think they are fine, but their growth is stunted and they are being tossed all over the place by every wind of doctrine or lulled to sleep by the false comforts of the world.
Many people object to such a strong view of the Church because the Church is in such a sad condition. There are many ministers who have little or no education and indeed are worse than useless. I can certainly sympathize with this and also mourn at the sad state of the Church today.
However, going out on our own is not the answer. To think that someone can be a Christian apart from the visible Church is presumption and extremely dangerous. The answer to the problem of the proliferation of false and empty teachings in the Church is simply to seek out the true Church all the more diligently. Consider this analogy. If your local grocery store was only selling Twinkies, would you go there just because it was close to your house? Would you stop feeding your family because the grocery store near you did not have good food? No, you would keep searching until you found a place where you could get nourishing food for your family, however much effort it might take.
If we believe that Christ is the Savior, then we must also seek the means He has chosen to administer that salvation. That place is the true Church. Not everything that calls itself a Church is a Church, and so we must seek out the true one.
But praise God that we have found the true Church. Even though it is but a small remnant, we need to thank God that we still have the truth of the Gospel in our Reformed Churches. It is the gift of Christ. This ought to make us thankful but also make us fear because of how often we have abused this gift and taken it for granted. What a miracle of God's grace that His Church still continues among us!
Since the Church is the gift of Christ we must also remember that it is ever dependent on His mercy and grace. Our response should be to get on our knees and pray for its continuation among us, humble ourselves for our sins, and pray that God would continue to give us His gifts to raise it to a better condition in the earth.
On the other side, let us also remember this: We are not dealing with a Savior who only begrudgingly gives to His people. We are dealing with a generous Savior who will not fail to give His Holy Spirit to all who ask of Him (Luke 11:13).
Rev. J. Wesley White is the pastor of New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Spearfish, South Dakota.