The Glory of the Church

One passage to which God awoke me a few months back is found in the short by powerful letter of Ephesians. This little epistle, written near the end of Paul’s life, is packed with so much from the first verse until the last verse. It makes for one of my more favourite sections of Scripture.

The specific passage I am stirred about is found embedded in chapter 3. Within this section of the letter, Paul takes time to explain his specific ministry to the Gentiles, or the importance behind it. He had been given an amazing stewardship of God’s grace, which was to make known the mystery of Christ, or the mystery of the gospel. Actually, this mystery is referred four times in vs2-9.

The mystery of Christ was 1) made known by revelation, 2) it had not been made fully known in previous generations, and 3) it was now being revealed to the apostles and prophets of the new covenant.

And the revelation of that mystery was that the Gentiles were fellow heirs, members of the same body, partakers of the promises in Christ through the gospel. What fantastic news for planet earth! That, in Christ, we can become heirs, joined to the one body, and become partakers of the promises that are found in Christ. This isn’t just religious mumbo-jumbo, but a rich inheritance that we now have in Christ!

Paul goes on to share that he was made a minister (or servant) of this good news via the gift of God’s grace, given by God’s power, and he was to proclaim the unsearchable riches of Christ, continuing to bring light (or unveiling that revelation he has received) about the mystery that had been hidden for ages.

A fantastic ministry of which we all reap the benefits to this day!

But here is the passage that stirs me quite deeply. It’s found in vs10-11:

10so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realised in Christ Jesus our Lord

Did you catch that?! Maybe read it again slowly.

The manifold wisdom of God is going to be made known to the rulers and authorities in heavenly places. But through whom?

The church – The ekklesia. The body of Christ. The people of God.

That is outstanding news! That God would display and reveal His wisdom via His church.

I know we look around and think, ‘Huh? What?’ We believe we don’t see it. We believe this can’t be true.

But the thing is, this is true. This is connected to the revelation Paul is bringing and part of that revelation is not only that the Gentiles get to be included in this body, this ekklesia, but that this ekklesia, this church, is the main vehicle of displaying God’s wisdom. And our call is not only to display it to ourselves or humanity (thought that is also true), but to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. This is a far-reaching ministry we have.

Not only that, but Paul says this was God’s eternal purpose, but only now is it [fully] realised in Christ Jesus our Lord.

This was his plan from the beginning, or from eternity. This is why I am convinced that the ekklesia is true Israel and true Israel is the ekklesia. There is one body, one people in Christ – believing Jew and Gentile. And that was God’s eternal purpose from the beginning. And it would be through this one new humanity (see Ephesians 2:12-22) that God would display the glory of His manifold wisdom.

What do you do with these two verses?

Hope is stirred. Prophetic vision is stirred. Faith is stirred. Agape is stirred. This stirs deep inside to the greater thing that God is doing in this world, including the unseen realm.

Let us take up this charge, this exhortation, this reminder of Paul. Let us align our lives with the eternal purpose of God.

This Is Not What Church Is About

Those who know me will know that I have a deep desire and passion for the church to be what Jesus intended it to be. I cannot be moved from this. If you have seen what Jesus intended the church to truly be, then you won’t be easily satisfied with anything less, whatever form ‘church’ might take.

I believe that, at its foundation, church is relational. The reason? Because God is relational within the Trinity and with us. It’s is more than just a bunch of people in relationship. But, at its core, the church is called to emulate God Himself in being relational. If church is first and foremost about management, then the leadership will be come task masters and the people caught up in merely performing tasks, even if those tasks look ‘fun’. That is not healthy.

But remember, when I say the church is relational at its core, I do not mean that it is a social club. Sure, within the body of Christ, we make and grow friendships. But if it stops there, if the idea is mainly about ‘hanging out’ on a Sunday (on whenever) with some friends, then we have still missed the point. We have still not seen what Jesus is building.

The thing is that we are headed somewhere together, ultimately to see the kingdom rule of God come on earth as it is in heaven, to see the body of Christ reach full unity and maturity in the faith, and all the while being salt and light across our entire lives to the people of this God-created world in which we live.

Also, if we don’t see what Jesus Himself is building, then we will probably just end up building like the church down the street, or according to what we’ve read in a book, or what we’ve seen on television. It’s not that we cannot learn from others. Of course we can. But again, we are not called to note what a church with a few thousand are doing and then implement their programme so we, too, can reach their place of growth. In the end, it is about seeing what Jesus is building and listening to what God would want to do in our midst.

So, we can build social clubs and audience-oriented services, all in the name of being culturally relevant, which, by the way, I am for being relevant in culture. But if that is our foundation, it will ultimately be shakeable. And shakeable things will ultimately be removed (Hebrews 12:26-28). That is not a doomsday prophecy by any means, it’s just reality. And I’m positive some shaking will come to my life as well.

For your own viewing sake, below is a video parody put together by North Point Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, led by Andy Stanley. I believe this was a parody, thus, it is a bit of an exaggeration. Still, though it is a bit over-the-top, it is amazing how this does speak into many parts of the church. But this is not the foundation of what church is. This is not necessarily what Jesus had in mind. Again, remember, I’m not one against being culturally relevant. But view this parody and remember we are called to so much more as the body and bride of Jesus Himself. Let us see what Jesus is building and participate accordingly.

The Prophetic Body of Christ

The gift of prophecy is not some arbitrary gift given to the church so that we can sound super-spiritual and have goose-bump experiences. The gift of prophecy is given for a reason, for a purpose.

There is one major practical reason that prophecy is given to the church, which is stated this way by Paul:

On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation. (1 Corinthians 14:3)

Prophecy will bear fruit when it is spoken – fruit that will bring edification, encouragement-exhortation, and comfort. It might also challenge, but that challenge, if heeded as God’s word, will still stir these three characteristics in the life of the believer. It can cause a fog to clear, despair turn to hope, deep worry resolve to peace, and much more.

But, while this is a major outcome of Spirit-directed prophecies, there is still yet a greater reason as to why prophecy is still given to the church today. This might sound over simplified, but it breaks down into these 3 points:

  • As the very Word of God, Jesus was and is the great prophet of human history.
  • The Holy Spirit was sent in His stead to continue the work of Jesus, including His prophetic work.
  • The Holy Spirit is given to the church so that they may be all of Christ in the world today, even the prophetic Christ.

In a simplified manner, that is how it plays out. Jesus >> Holy Spirit >> Body of Christ.

Jesus is the proto-type of every ministry within the body of Christ, from prophecy to mercy to teaching to shepherding to giving to healings to whatever ministry might come forth. Though it might sound somewhat cheesy, we really are called to start with Jesus as to the great example of every ministry made possible to God’s people.

And this is the key to making sure His ministry would continue: Jesus promised to send another Parakletos in His name, even the Spirit of God. That was the plan way back when.

I have always loved these words of Jesus:

Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. (John 16:7)

It was to our advantage that Jesus went back to the Father? Huh?

Yes, for in doing so He could send the Spirit that could now indwell and empower the whole body of Christ, not just a few select individuals. This was the cry of Moses centuries before Christ stepped onto the scene and promised His Spirit:

Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, that the LORD would put his Spirit on them! (Numbers 11:29)

And, so, when the Spirit was poured out on all flesh – male and female, young and old – this was what the ‘special’ prophets had been longing for and what THE prophet had promised. Peter has a revelation himself at Pentecost that what they were viewing and hearing was a fulfilment of the words of the great prophet, Joel:

17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh,and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:17-18; from Joel 2:28-29)

The very Word-of-God-become-flesh promised to the give the very Spirit of God to His people. What a fantastic idea! For how could the body of Christ actually be Christ without His Spirit? How could we be Christ to one another and a hurting world if we did not have His indwelling and empowering Spirit? Well, we simply could not.

And, if the very Spirit of God was given by Christ to His church, would He expect anything less than for us to continue in all the varying ministries He Himself walked in? I cannot imagine such. The very Spirit of God who empowered the incarnate, fully human Son was also given to empower the current incarnate Christ in His fully human body, if you will. The hundreds of millions that make up Christ’s body today are Christ incarnate today. That’s exactly how He meant it. And Jesus knew that the best way to help us be Him in the world is to give us the same Spirit that empowered Him as a human man.

It truly is a marvellous plan.

So, in a much bigger sense, the gift of prophecy, while it is a blessing to us and we are strengthened by it, is given that we might continue the full work of Christ. And, again, every single ministry gift given has been given so that we might continue in the full work of Christ.

Thus, we find in this one of the main purposes of the Spirit of God being given to His church. It would not just be fine and dandy for Christ to charge us to continue His work without supplying and equipping us with His Spirit. We would have failed pretty miserably (though sometimes we do in the midst of such a provision). So, as the Father sent the Son, the Son now sends the Spirit. Quite a team.

This was to our advantage because, as a human-incarnate man, Jesus was only able to do so much by Himself. He touched many lives, but it was still limited as a human. But He knew that, as the exalted Christ, He could send His Spirit to empower literally billions down through the centuries to finish what He started.

This stirs me even now to complete His work, to catch the prophetic heart of Christ as I gather with the saints, have conversation with friends, and meet with the varying peoples that God brings into contact in my life. To have an ear attuned to what He might say, to speak it forth, and see it come as a kind of two-edge sword into the lives of people. This is a privilege.

But more than that one moment, we start to the get the sense that we are participating in something far larger than our tiny selves. We are walking out the very ministry of the Lord of heaven and earth. And, in doing so, we can be certain that we will see and taste the fruit of edification, encouragement, exhortation and comfort in the midst of prophecy. And that fruit will taste very sweet.

So, let us keep in mind that Christ has and always will desire that His body be a prophetic people. No gender barriers, no age barriers allowed, a true reality of the age of the Spirit. And we can, by the Spirit of God, speak forth the words of God that call people to be drawn in to the bigger purposes of God, the redemptive purposes of the kingdom of God. This stirs me deeply.

Why It All Matters

When I write or teach, I tend to talk a bunch of theology and doctrine while forgetting to consider many practical matters. And we all know that, theological talk (or jabber) without practically walking out the truth, this is not true biblical theology. Or we should know that.

So I’m aware of my tendencies. I can try and wax eloquent about certain things (I said try), but, in the end, I really want it to be a practical reality that affects our lives.

In the midst of this series on the Ephesians 4 ministry gifts, some might ask, ‘What’s the point? Why does it all matter?’

And the question is more directed at me, not the Scriptures.

Really, why does it matter? Is it really that important whether or not we believe apostles and prophets still exist today. Not to mention, if we want to lean towards such a belief, we’ve got a lot of Christianity standing against such a belief.

Well, let me start off by saying I do not believe this is an essential doctrine of the faith. I do not see this up there with things such as the divinity-humanity (yes, both) of Christ, monotheism and the Tri-unity of God at the same time, salvation by grace through faith alone, as well as a couple of others. This does not belong with those.

But, I do believe this whole thing comes down to a very important part of the praxis of our faith, what it means to live out our faith in a practical way in the earth.

It’s not just about whether one believes apostles and prophets still exist today. It comes down to what I have emphasised from the beginning: Jesus was the great apostle, prophet, evangelist, shepherd and teacher, and His desire is that His body, His representation on the earth, continue on in the ministries of the Christ. We are to be all of Christ in all of the earth.

The broken record is still turning, I know. But I cannot emphasise these things enough. And thankfully Jesus has sent the Spirit, the apostolic-prophetic-evangelistic-shepherding-teaching Spirit to indwell and empower God’s people to be all of Christ in all of the earth. That’s just how it is whether we like it or not.

I’m really not to bothered about titles. Well, matter of fact, I’m not sure we can find precedence that these five ministry gifts are to be considered as titles. They are ministries, meaning they are serving gifts. That is of utmost importance. They are given to the help equip and prepare the body of Christ for works of service themselves. And as they equip and prepare us, we will move towards unity and maturity, which is our goal. If you don’t believe me, re-read Ephesians 4:11-16. The mandate is quite clear.

I know plenty of people that get on with shepherding and teaching and evangelising, but have never been recognised in these ministries. I think Jesus is quite happy about that. He remembers what it was like to not be recognised by the established leadership of his day. But He was very faithful in being what He had been sent to do by the Father.

And so I suppose there are many apostles and prophets getting on with being apostolic and prophetic without any recognition. Matter of fact, I am pretty certain of it. And Jesus continues to smile upon that as well.

What He frowns upon are those self-proclaimed, self-titled men and women who don’t have any idea of what it truly means to lead (think first and foremost serve), no matter what ministry-gifting capacity they see themselves in. I think that might be worse than having a little bad doctrine.

So, this really does all matter. We really want to be all that Christ has called us to be. And so, if one is not interested in recognising present-day apostolic and prophetic ministries, I’m really not going to get too bent out of shape (as if one cares about my opinion). But, in the end, we must get on with being an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching community. That is our call as the body of Christ, since He, Himself, walked in those five ministries.

I suppose I do see a little difficulty in the body truly being apostolic and prophetic if we don’t have apostles and prophets equipping us to be such. They are gifted people given to help us. We should be willing to receive such gifts of grace.

But I also know the apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching Spirit indwells the body of Christ. So, of course, He will be our best teacher. Nevertheless, I do believe He wants to use those gifted in these five ministries.

So, if we want to split hairs in the end, if we want to categorise certain ministries as ceasing after a certain time period, after the canon was completed and passed along to us, I’m not going to fight with someone over this. Matter of fact, I have a good respect for those who have noble hearts to protect the apostolic faith handed down to us, which the Scripture so faithfully attests to. I share common ground here.

But, I will be passionate to argue that this truly matters in that we need to get on with being Christ in the earth. You, I, the entire body of Christ in every nation, culture and church background must get on with being all of Christ in all of the earth.

And, because it matters, it means we better get on with functioning as an apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, shepherding and teaching community. If we don’t do so, we will fall short. If we don’t do so, we will miss the mark that Paul points to in Ephesians 4:11-16. And we might just find ourselves waiting a little longer for Christ to come and consummate what He expected His body to continue on with.

Let us be challenged with why this really does matter.

You can click here for some thoughts on important characteristics of those functioning in these five ministries.

The Body of Christ Continuing the Ministry of Christ

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 the Ephesians passage above 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 and 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 and 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 and prophets still exist today (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 the apostolic commission of Acts 1:8 in which we were sent to the ends of the earth.

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 to 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 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 But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel:
17 “‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
and your old men shall dream dreams;
18 even on my male servants and female servants
in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. (Acts 2:16-18)

Peter has a revelation that, what Joel had prophesied long ago, it 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 more 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:

Would that all the LORD’s people were prophets, 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. 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

We 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 – bearers of God news. And I would venture to say that the entire body of Christ, though maybe not each individual gifted as an evangelist, has good news to share.

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 suppose we easily get off-base with what this gift really is about. 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 so composed the body, giving greater honour to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. (1 Corinthians 12:24-25)

1 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil 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 “Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin 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, especially the Scripture we are looking at 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 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 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, Christ gifts various individuals in these ministries, with these particular people helping us be better equipped and more effective in this 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.

Here I share why this all really does matter.