The Office of Evangelist

Vanguard Presbytery: The Office of Evangelist

            Nothing has generated more feedback for Vanguard Presbytery than the announcement that we are going to have the office of evangelist. I am asked about this office everywhere I go. This article, therefore, is for the purpose of hopefully answering some of the many questions we receive.

            One of the mistakes I think many people have made about this office is to take up consideration of it apart from its Biblical context. The question of whether there are still evangelists in the Church today cannot be answered by an exegetical study of Ephesians 4:11 alone. Yet, here is the way that this question is dealt with too often. People say, “Well, God gave some temporary gifts to the Church and some permanent gifts to the same. Apostles, prophets, and evangelists were temporary. Pastors and teachers are permanent.” I would certainly agree for various reasons that apostles and prophets were temporary, but Ephesians 4:11 never says that. It also does not say that evangelists are temporary. Moreover, that verse does not say that pastors and teachers are permanent either. There is a lesson to be learned. We must be careful not to approach Scripture with a mind firmly closed to anything but our own presuppositions.

            Many of you know that I consider Dr. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones to be one of the greatest men of the twentieth century as well as one of the greatest ministers of all-time. I had the privilege of visiting him once at his London home a few years before he died. His books have had a great impact on my own ministry. One of the things that I learned from him is to always consider a question about the Scripture in terms of both the immediate and wider context. In the immediate context of Ephesians, there is nothing that says any of these gifts Christ gave to the Church were temporary in nature. So, that means we must consider this question in its wider context. We should start with the two first-named gifts—apostles and prophets.

            Here is the question we need to answer concerning apostles and prophets: Were they temporary or are they permanent?  Ephesians 2:20 gives us further information about apostles and prophets. That verse says, “having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the corner stone.” Geoffrey Wilson’s comments on this verse are worth considering. “The unique task assigned to the apostles and prophets proves that they can have no successors today, for clearly this foundation could only be laid once (cf I Cor 3:10, 11).”[1] Apostles and prophets were given to the Church for the laying of the foundation, especially with respect to God’s revelation in His Son. Apostles and prophets were gifts that ceased when the revelation of Scripture was completed. The books of the New Testament were recognized as part of the canon of Scripture because they were written either by an apostle or one who was commissioned by him. Thus, Matthew and John were apostles and their books are included for that reason. Neither Mark nor Luke were apostles, though. Yet, their books (Mark, Luke, Acts) were commissioned by the apostles—Mark by Peter, Luke-Acts by Paul. In its infancy, the Apostolic Church needed apostles and prophets to guide them into an accurate understanding of the Old Testament and to complete the revelation of God. Christ prayed for these men, the Apostles, in His High Priestly prayer in John 17:14—“I have given them Your word.” And He promised them that “when He, the Spirit of truth, comes, He will guide you into all the truth. . . and He will disclose to you what is to come” (John 16:14). Just as in the Old Testament “men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” (2 Peter 1:21), so also the New Testament was written by men who were moved by the Spirit as He reminded them what Christ taught and disclosed to them things to come. The argument is very simple. Apostles and prophets are no longer gifts to the Church today because the Scripture has been completed. The offices of apostles and prophets were temporary, not permanent.

            Yet, there are a couple of things we should note about the offices of both apostles and prophets. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 5:1— “Therefore I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and as a partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed.” Peter was an apostle and an elder. Every apostle was an elder, but not every elder was an apostle. Peter’s calling to the office of apostle was directly from Christ, as was the case for all the other apostles. As elders, though, the apostles had to fulfill the requirements for that office which are given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9. They were both apostles and elders.   

            Acts 13:1 says, “Now there were at Antioch, in the church that was there, prophets and teachers.” J. A. Alexander gives what he thinks is the most probable interpretation of this verse. He writes that “the two words are generic and specific terms, applied to the same persons, one denoting their divine authority, the other the precise way in which it was exercised.”[2] That is, prophets and teachers were not referring to two different groups of men, but to two different functions. They had the gifts of being both prophets and teachers—or, prophets and elders (because all pastors and teachers are elders). Once again, Wilson writes concerning prophets in Ephesians 4:11— “They were also extraordinarily endowed, ‘not only in the more special sense [as Agabus, Acts 11:28], but in the more general one of preachers and expounders, who spoke under the immediate impulse and influence of the Holy Spirit, and were thus to be distinguished from the teachers’ (Ellicott) [Cf, 2:20].”[3] There were some teachers who also had the gift of prophecy and received divine revelation under the immediate influence of the Holy Spirit. Those teachers, or elders, were also prophets. Thus, all prophets were elders, but not all elders were prophets.

            In 2 Timothy 4:5, Paul wrote to Timothy—“But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.” Timothy was like a son to Paul, but by this time he had become an elder and was ordained by the presbytery (1 Timothy 4:14). Paul’s words to Timothy are important for our consideration. Every elder, every minister, is also to do the work of an evangelist. Moreover, every evangelist is also an elder, except in that rare case of Philip who was a deacon. Yet, even Philip fulfilled the requirements of the office of a deacon and was full of the Spirit. Thus, we learn from the New Testament that every one of the offices listed in Ephesians 4:11 as gifts Christ gave to the Church required such officers to also be elders (or, in the case of Philip a deacon). An elder today should be both a pastor-teacher and an evangelist. The reality is that all elders have gifts that differ from one another and some will more readily gravitate to either the work of a teacher or the work of an evangelist. An apostle was an elder. A prophet was an elder. An evangelist is an elder. All elders are pastors and teachers.

            Another consideration is the Great Commission. What does the Great Commission give as the mission of the Church? There are two primary things—first, to bring people into the church through a credible profession of faith and their baptism which symbolizes their new life in Christ; second, to edify the saints. Lloyd-Jones used to say that the mission of the church is to evangelize the lost and to edify the saints. Here is the question I would ask of anyone who is suspicious or doubtful of the permanency of the office of an evangelist: Is there any less need of the evangelization of the lost today than there was during the time of the Apostles? And, again, on what basis can anyone assert that the office of an evangelist is no longer needed? How would someone prove that point from Scripture? As long as the world lasts and the Great Commission still governs the Church, there will be the need of the evangelism of the lost and the office of evangelists. I can easily understand why apostles and prophets are no longer needed, but I have never heard a cogent argument for why evangelists are no longer needed. I like the comments of Charles Hodge on Ephesians 4:11 in which he considered the arguments for evangelists either being a temporary office or a permanent office. Here are his comments on the office being permanent:

According to the other view, the evangelists were itinerant preachers. . . as Theodoret and other early writers describe them. They were properly missionaries sent to preach the Gospel where it had not been previously known. This is the commonly held view, in favor of which may be urged—1. The signification of the word, which in itself means nothing more than preacher of the Gospel. 2. Philip was an evangelist, but was in no sense a vicar of the apostles; and when Timothy was exhorted to do the work of an evangelist, the exhortation was simply to be a faithful preacher of the Gospel. Acts 21,8; Eph. 4, 11; and 2 Tim. 4, 5, are the only passages in which the word occurs, an in no one of them does the connection or any other consideration demand any other meaning than the one commonly assigned to it. 3. Euangelisthai and didaskein are both used to express the act of making known the Gospel where it had not been heard, and an instructor of those already Christians.[4]     

            Thus, Charles Hodge takes the opposite view of John Calvin concerning the permanency of the office of evangelist, which he says is the “commonly held view.” Though we are Calvinists, we should never follow any man blindly. Having read both Hodge and Calvin on Ephesians 4, Hodge’s comments are much more persuasive to me. Earlier today, I was expressing disagreement with Hodge on another point of theology to a friend. We all should be able to do that with our favorite authors. We should call no mere man our master. We should follow no man blindly. Here is the nub of the argument of Hodge: The two offices, evangelist and teachers, deal with two equally important, but different aspects of the ministry of the Church. Evangelists proclaim Christ where He is not already known. Pastors and teachers instruct those who are already Christians. Both are necessary and permanent responsibilities of the Church. Thus, both offices are permanent.

            Everyone who is for evangelism should also be in favor of Vanguard Presbytery having the office of evangelist. Vanguard is not endorsing some unscriptural practice by holding that the office of evangelist is still normative. Rather, we believe that the office is necessary in order to best proclaim Christ where He is not presently known. Those places may well be neighborhoods surrounding churches which preach the Word. We can be missionaries and evangelists in America and overseas. Someone might ask, “Well, then why doesn’t Vanguard Presbytery just emphasize the need of pastors-teachers to be evangelists, instead of having an office of evangelist?” We would answer: “For two reasons. First, Ephesians 4:11 clearly specifies that Christ gave evangelists to the Church as an office of evangelist just as He gave apostles, prophets, and pastors-teachers. No one could ever prove from Scripture that there is no longer a need of evangelists which is the real heart of the issue. Second, the Church has given lip service to the office of evangelist through statements in her books of polity and, yet, the office has fallen into disuse. For instance, the PCA BCO refers to evangelists in 5-3a (a mission church pastor), 8-6 (foreign missionaries), and 21-11 (interns), but no one I know can remember a time when anyone was ever ordained as an evangelist.” We do not need more lip service to the office of evangelist. We need the office of evangelist to be restored and properly used. We need evangelists to labor in bringing people to Christ, just as pastors and teachers labor to instruct those who are already Christians. The Church’s mission in both areas must be fulfilled according to Christ’s Great Commission.

            I love the work of evangelism. One reason I enjoy flying is because I get to talk to so many different people about Christ. But… my tendency is to focus on many other things before evangelism. I have these articles to write. I answer emails and telephone calls from people inquiring about Vanguard Presbytery. I have studied hard to prepare a Book of Church Order which will protect this new denomination from becoming hierarchical and liberal. I have the ministry to my own church members to maintain. Yet, the work of evangelism must continue. One person has one gift. Another person has a different gift. There must be both evangelists and pastors-teachers. To those who object to the office of evangelist, I would ask these questions: How has it worked out to deny the permanency of the office of evangelist? Are pastors and teachers generally able to fulfill the great demands of evangelism? Is the Church evangelizing enough, too much, or too little? What harm to the Church is done by retaining evangelists as a permanent office?

            Those of us starting this new denomination believe that evangelism is of such paramount importance that it is necessary for both the being and the well-being of the Church. The office of evangelist is not some novel, man-made position. It is a gift bestowed by the King and Head of the Church according to Ephesians 4:11. Our evangelists will not be preaching “another gospel”, but will preach the eternal gospel of Christ. These evangelists will be elders who have the responsibility of preaching Christ where he is not already known. How could that ever be wrong? If there is no harm, there is no foul which makes any objection to the office of evangelist a moot point.

Dewey Roberts, Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL       

[1] Geoffrey B Wilson, Ephesians (Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, Pennsylvania: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1978), 59.

[2] J. A. Alexander, A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles, Volume II (Edinburgh, Scotland and Carlisle, Pennsylvania, 1980), 2.

[3] Wilson, 88.

[4] Charles Hodge, Commentary on the Epistle to the Ephesians (Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, n.d.), 225.

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