And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.~ Ephesians 4:11-16
We only thought this myth was once and for all crushed in the days of the Reformation. But sadly, it is still kicking. To some degree, this unbiblical mentality still exists in most every church today.
Part of what the reformers of the 15th and 16th centuries were fighting for was the “priesthood of all believers”. The Roman Catholic Church has systematically elevated the clergy to the point where there existed a huge chasm between church officers and church members. Over centuries the NT doctrine of the priesthood of all believers was effectively nullified and forgotten. Luther and others saw NT texts like this…
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood and made us a kingdom, priests to his God and Father…~ Revelation 1:5-6
And they saw the wicked effects of the pulpit / pew divide. It was as though the clergy were the clean ones and the laity were the unclean. Something had to be done and something was done. A reformation had begun… And yet, the reformation must continue. We have yet to fully comprehend and apply what we see in our text today. Until that happens, we must always be reforming.
Christ has given these gifts to the church. These office holders, having been appointed and given to local churches, are to be faithful in exercising their gifts. For what purpose? Why has Christ given these gifts to His church? Verse 12: “…to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ…” There it is in a single verse.
Generally speaking, all gifts are for the edification or the building up of the body of Christ. Specifically, these offices within the church are to equip the Saints for the work of the ministry. Now, there has been some confusion with regard to verse 12 and I want to clarify a few things.
First, the lovely King James Bible muddies the water a bit. “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ…” It gives us these three prepositional phrases all separated by commas, all beginning with the word “for”. The problem that has helped cultivate is that an argument can be made that each of those prepositional phrases is modifying the same thing, namely the various offices or gifts of Christ to the church. Thus, it is the responsibility of pastors to “equip the saints”, to do the “work of the ministry”, and to “edify the body of Christ”. While there is a sense in which this is true, of course, it places a breach between the church officers and the church members. It can then be argued that the church officers are the ones giving and the church members are the ones receiving. But that isn’t NT church life. — That isn’t New Testament Christianity. The pulpit / pew divide is a concept foreign to the pages of Scripture.
Certainly church officers are to be spending and being spent for the sake of the church. And yes, in some cases that is a full time, vocational calling. Yet, every member of the body of Christ is a minister. I’ll say it again, every member of the body of Christ is a minister. As much as your elders have received graces and gifts to pastor and equip you dear Saints, you have received gifts and graces with which you are to faithfully serve this body as well. And this is where reformation is still needed today.
As I alluded to the problem earlier, there is a great need today, even in healthy churches, for every member to own the fact that they are a minister. That means that every Christian hearing my voice right now has a ministry to fulfill in the body of Christ. I hear it regularly, different ones who will express their gratitude for the church and for the pastoral ministry and for all they’ve received from their time in a local church. But dear ones, hear me now, freely receiving, freely give. The equipping from the pulpit, the equipping in the living room with pastoral visits, the equipping of Bible studies and book studies, all of that is for the purpose of cultivating your ability to minister with the gifts and graces Christ has given you. Your elders aren’t super Christians and you lovely Christians aren’t dummies. We are fellow laborers. A kingdom of priests. All of us ministers.
It is all to make a name for Christ. To show forth His beauty and grace. To build one another up and usher one another to the gates of heaven.