Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

The uniform confession of Christ as Lord produces multiform effects. The source, the distribution and the operating power are Divine, not human: "Now there are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit. And there are diversities of ministrations, but the same Lord. And there are diversities of workings, but the same God, who worketh all things in all" (verses 4-6).

The essential element of harmony and unity is pointedly stressed by a sevenfold mention of "the same," first as to the Triunity of the Godhead, "the same Spiritthe same Lord ... the same God," and then a fourfold repetition of "the same Spirit," in verses 8-11. So in Ephesians 4, with reference to the whole Church, the Body of Christ, stress is laid upon the essential unity--a sevenfold oneness; there not only of the Trinity, but of details of a basic character relating to the church.

There is a threefold diversity, first as to possession of the gifts, then as to forms of service, and then as to their exercise: diversity of "gifts," of "ministrations," of "workings." Firstly, the differing gifts are distributed to be possessed according to the individual capacity as Divinely prepared. Secondly, there are the varying kinds of ministration of service.23

23Not "administrations," as in the AN. The exercise of rule is not in view here. The word is diakoniai, "ministrations," i.e., forms of service. The gifts are charismata, gifts of grace (expressive of their utility); they are energemata, "workings" (expressive of their activity).

Two enumerations of gifts follow, one immediately, in verses 8-10, the other in verse 28. The former has to do with the functions discharged, the latter more particularly with the persons who exercise them. The lists are not formal and exhaustive. The order sets forth, to some extent, their comparative importance, but the great object for which they are mentioned is to keep before us their Divine origin, and the purpose for which they are bestowed. "To each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit withal" (verse 7). Their rightful exercise gives evidence of the power of the Spirit of God acting through the human channel. This again, in each case, is for the profit both of the one who possesses the gift and of the other members of the church. They are given not for the display of human abilities but for the glory of God in the edification of the saints. They are given not to be characterized by an atmosphere of mystery, but that the Spirit's power may be manifest.

The Temporary and the Permanent

They are mentioned just as they were in operation in the churches in apostolic times. Some were designed for the temporary and special purposes of that period, others were for permanent functioning. This is made clear in the next chapter. The personal gifts of apostles and prophets, for instance, were bestowed for the immediate purposes of the time. They laid the foundation of the truths of the faith by the revelations Divinely imparted to them, and laid it completely. No foundation doctrine remained to be added. The special work of apostles and prophets ceased with the completion of the inspired Scriptures. All that was communicated to them by direct revelation, and through them by oral testimony in the churches, was, during their lifetime, imparted "in the written Word of God."

Tongues and Prophesyings

As with the temporary character of the ministry just mentioned, so with other gifts imparted for the particular purposes of the apostolic period. "Tongues" were "for a sign" and especially to unbelieving Jews (I Cor. 14:21, 22):the Apostle makes this clear by basing the fact that they were for a sign upon the quotation from Isaiah 28:11, 12, wherein God declared that "by men of strange tongues" He would speak "unto this people," that is to say, to Israel. This testimony, the rejection of which was likewise foretold, continued while God maintained relations with His earthly people, and ceased with the termination of those relations."24

24As to the gift of tongues, this was not be exercised without being interpreted (verse 28). There was a special gift of interpretation (12:10). Each of these was an inferior gift (verse 31; 14:1, 2, 12, etc.).

So, again, with the miraculous manifestation of the power of the Spirit of God. In every instance recorded in the Acts, the testimony and its appeal were especially to Jews, as vindicatory signs of what God had done and was doing through Christ Jesus in His death, resurrection and session at His right hand. Firstly, there was the testimony at Jerusalem at Pentecost (2:22-36); secondly, in Samaria (8:14-17); thirdly, at Caesarea, in the house of Cornelius ("they of the circumcision were ... amazed," 10:45); fourthly and lastly, at Ephesus, where the "certain disciples" were clearly Jews who had been baptized with John's baptism, and had not heard "whether the Holy Ghost was given" (19:2, R.V.). The sign was accompanied by the exercise of the gifts, tongues and prophesying (verse 6). There is no further mention of this kind of demonstration either in the Acts or anywhere in the Epistles. All took place within twelve years after Pentecost, in the period of transition characterized by God's special dealings with the Jews.


So, again, with the miraculous "gifts of healings," these were designed for the same period of apostolic testimony, whereas those gifts, the purpose of which was the ministry and unfolding of the Scriptures, were of a permanent character. The limitations of the gifts of healings as sign gifts are shown by the fact that Timothy, Trophimus, Gaius, and others were not healed of their physical infirmities. Yet these were certainly Spirit-filled men. Moreover, in the same period the supernatural power was imparted of raising the dead (Acts 9:40; 20:9, 10), all attempts at which since have been unsuccessful. Undeniably God does heal the sick in answer to prayer and such ministry as is enjoined in James 5:14, 15, but the distinction between that and the supernatural gifts temporarily bestowed in the churches in the times of the Apostles, is clear from the Scriptures themselves.

The Apostle lays it down as a general principle that "when that which is perfect is come, that which is in part shall be done away" (I Cor. 13:10). Wherever the principle holds good it is applicable. It will be applicable at the coming of the Lord, after the completion of the Church. It was primarily applicable when the sacred Volume consisting of the Scriptures of truth, the written Word of God, was complete. As the Word of God it stands perfect. With this communication of the full cycle of Divine truth, the temporary gifts, imparted as supernatural sips, were done away.

The professed possession of supernatural power is always attractive to the mind of man, and imparts a glamour to any so-called "Movement" which claims to use such powers and even performs supernatural deeds. Those, however, who are living in the light of God's Word, and know the fellowship with Him which the indwelling Spirit of God imparts through its pages, will ever test all things by its teachings, and will "prove the spirits, whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world," and even Satan "fashioneth himself into an angel of light."

The Care of the Churches

The New Testament gives a constant and uniform testimony of the mind of God concerning the provision and work of those to whom is committed the care of local churches. The various passages relating to this subject are not merely the records of facts; what is written is the Divine will for all churches, not only in apostolic times but throughout the present era. As in other matters, the Word of God not only is sufficient for all, it is binding upon all, and those who desire to be conformed to His will and to act in loyalty to Christ, will adhere to the teaching in subjection to Him.

The instruction given does not admit of human accretions. The devices of men, however specious and plausible, fail to accomplish the designs of the Lord, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures. The teaching, unvarying as it is throughout the canon of the New Testament and the apostolic ministry which it records, should have been heeded and followed throughout subsequent centuries, instead of being modified or adapted to suit human opinions and convenience. If we hope to receive the approval of the Head of the Church hereafter, let us submit to the claims of the Word of God, and follow it at all costs, in devotedness to Him whom we recognize and own as Lord.

Bishops in Every Church

We turn, then, to what is set forth in the Word of Truth. It requires no laborious scrutiny to observe from Acts 20, that elders are bishops (or overseers), that there are more than one exercising the care of a single church, and that they receive their function from the Holy Spirit. From Miletus the Apostle "sent to Ephesus, and called to him the elders of the church" (verse 17) obviously the elders of the church in that city (cp. Rev. 2:1). In his address he says, "Take heed unto yourselves and to all the flock in the which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops" [25] (verse 28, R.V.). Not only, then, are the elders bishops, but they are figuratively regarded as shepherds, for the local church is spoken of as a flock, and their duty is to "tend it." The word in the original denotes not simply "to feed," but to do all that devolves upon a shepherd. They are therefore to exercise pastoral care, acting together as pastors over the local company. [25] A.V. "overseers." The word "overseer" is a literal translation of episkopos, from whence also the word "bishop" is derived.

The case of the church at Ephesus is illustrative and not exceptional. In the churches previously formed in Lycaonia "elders in every church" had been "appointed"26 (14:23, R.V.). Again, the Epistle to the Philippians is addressed to the saints there "with the bishops and deacons"--bishops acting in one church. Later, in the island of Crete, Titus is enjoined to "set in order things that were wanting, and appoint elders in every city" (Tit. 1:5) never a single elder or bishop over one church, much less over a number.

26The word cheirotoneo, rendered "appointed" (A.V. "ordained"), is the same as that in 2 Cor. 8:19 (the only other place where it is found in the New Testament); at Corinth men were to be "chosen" to take a monetary gift to Judea. Here in Acts 14:23 a formal ecclesiastical ordination is not in view. The apostles chose men who were already evidently fitted for the work. The churches did not choose their leaders. The context makes that clear. Sheep do not choose their shepherds.

This passage, again, shows that an elder is a bishop; for, in describing the character requisite for an elder, the Apostle immediately says, "for the bishop must be blameless" (verse 7). [27] The postscript printed in the Authorized Version at the end of the Epistle, to the effect that it was "written to Titus, ordained the first bishop of the church of the Cretans," is false in two respects, to say nothing of the wrong implication that he was to be resident there. For, firstly, Titus was not a bishop, and, secondly, there was not "a church of the Cretins"; there were churches in Crete. [27] "The definite article here obviously does not point to a particular individual, but represents a type (cp. 1 Cor. 12:12). The passage clearly provides no ground for the functioning of a single bishop.

That a number of elders were exercising pastoral care of the church at Thessalonica, is clear from the exhortation to that church, "But we beseech you, brethren, to know them that labour among you, and are over you in the Lord, and admonish you; and to esteem them exceeding highly in love for their work's sake" (I Thess. 5:12, 13). This passage is very instructive. That the recognition of the elders is urged shows that the well-being of the church could not be maintained without them. On the other hand, it is clear that their authority was based, not on human appointment, whether of an individual or by the election of the church, but upon the relation of all to the Lord. When the qualifications of overseers had been put on record, to guide the saints in the recognition of those who had been put over them in the Lord, apostolic appointment became unnecessary. That the elders "are over" them (lit. "stand before," and so lead and care for "in the Lord') limits the scope of their authority to matters spiritual. See also Heb. 13:7, 17.

Tending the Kleros

Elders are to "tend the flock of God, exercising the oversight, not of constraint, but willingly, according unto God, nor yet for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind; neither as lording it over the charge allotted to you, but making yourselves examples to the flock" (I Pet. 5:2, 3). The three characteristics of church leaders are again intimated here, namely, that the same persons are elders (men of experience), bishops (exercising the oversight), and shepherds (exercising a pastoral care of the flock). It is highly significant, too, that the word kleros, from whence the word "clergy" is chiefly derived, and which is here rendered "charge allotted," stands not for the church leaders but for members who are cared for by them! How glaringly Christendom, owing to the force of unscriptural influences and the bias of human opinion and tradition, has reversed the situation! The medieval and modem ecclesiastical systems of clerisy in its various forms, so far from being founded upon the Word of God, are contraventions thereof.

The Rise of Clerisy

The course of departure from apostolic teaching and precept is easily traceable. Human pride and rivalry, a struggle for ascendancy and power, early produced a class of ecclesiastical officials, who obtained their position in a manner very different from what is set forth in Scripture. The case of Diotrephes (3 John 9) provides an illustration.

The method was adopted, too, of electing church officials by vote. Hence the popular or the strong man obtained the coveted position. Dependence on the Spirit of God and the recognition of the evidences of His operation gave place to officialism and formality. The evil spread gradually but surely, and eventually became general.

False teachers represented that the Christian faith was simply a development of Judaism. Hence church leaders came to be regarded as priests in contradistinction to the laity, a flagrant contradiction of apostolic doctrine, which declares that all believers are priests; they are "a holy priesthood" (I Pet. 2:5) 66a royal priesthood" (verse 9); Christ has made us "priests unto His God and Father" (Rev. 1:6).

We can hardly be surprised that church ecclesiastics were to the fore in furthering carnal ambition and in supporting and promulgating clericalism. Writing to the church at Ephesus in 109 A.D., Ignatius says, "We ought to look upon the bishop even as we do upon the Lord Himself." In his epistle to the church at Tralles (also in Asia), he says, "ye are subject to your bishop as to Jesus Christ." In his epistle to the Magnesians, he says, "I exhort you that ye study to do all things in a Divine concord; your bishops presiding in the place of God; your presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles." Again, to the church in Philadelphia, "Give diligence to be established in the doctrine of our Lord and the apostles, together with your most worthy bishop, and the well woven spiritual crown of your presbytery."

The marked departure from the principles of the New Testament and apostolic precept and practice has received candid admission by many. Dean Alford's comment on the perversion of Acts 20:17, 28 by Irenmus (who states that Paul called together the "bishops and elders (!), who were from Ephesus and from the rest of the adjoining states (!)") is as follows: "So early did interested and disingenuous interpretation begin to cloud the light which Scripture might have thrown on ecclesiastical questions." He points out, too, that verse 28 shows that elders and bishops were apostolically synonymous, and remarks that the A.V. "overseers" instead of "bishops" conceals the identification.

Again, on Phil. 1:1, he says, "The simple juxtaposition of the officers with the members of the church, and their being placed after those members, shows the absence of hierarchical views such as those in the epistles of the apostolic Fathers." Jerome, who died in A.D. 420, commenting on the Epistle to Titus, and with reference to the times of the Apostles, says, "elders were the same as bishops, but by degrees, that the plants of dissension might be rooted up, all responsibility was transferred to one person."

The Corrective Power

The remedy for evils is not to be found in human devices. To substitute clericalism for the principles and instruction of the Word of God was a gross departure from the faith. Nor did the humanly devised system remove the evil of dissension. It existed, and still exists, even in the greatest religious systems, notwithstanding an outward semblance of unification.

The various religious systems of Christendom are fast hastening to their appointed destruction. The anticlerical forces are already fulfilling Scripture. If we believe that the Bible is the Word of God, let us follow its teachings. Let us beware of professing one thing and following another. Let us obey God rather than men. Faithfulness to His truth may mean suffering here, but it means peace and joy withal, and an eternal reward hereafter. Let us recognize and honour the prerogatives of the Holy Spirit in the churches, and the principles inculcated by Him in the Holy Scriptures.

Introduction | Table of Contents | Chapter 12

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