Commenting on how we understand Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Rebecca McLaughlin writes: ‘we hear a call to care for strangers in need. But Jesus’s first audience heard more. They heard a story of love across racial, religious, and political difference, in which the moral hero was their sworn enemy’ (The Secular Creed, 2021: p.11).
To which we might add, ‘Yet how many in the wider community today are aware of the parable of the Good Samaritan let alone understand its significance for us?’ Even more importantly, how many know the Jesus of the historical Gospel accounts?
The key to everyone’s understanding lies in the ministry gifts that Paul the Apostle highlights in chapter 4 of his Letter to the Ephesians.
Having written of the unity of God’s people – there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (4:6) – he moves on to the theme of diversity. In their unity, God’s people are not monochrome but rather, to change the metaphor, can be likened to the instruments of the heavenly orchestra because of the variety of gifts he gives each one of us. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift, Paul says (4:7).
Having rescued his people through an act of extraordinary and undeserved grace (2:5, 8), God gives to all his people a grace or gift for the building up of the Christian community. Drawing from Psalm 68 which is associated with the Jewish Pentecost and the receiving and giving of the law though Moses to the people, Paul uses it as an analogy for Christ receiving the Spirit and now giving the gifts of the Spirit to God’s people. Furthermore, as Christ descended from heaven, taking on human form and dying the death we justly deserve, he has now ascended, being raised from the dead to heaven where he now holds supreme power at God’s right hand (Philippians 2:5-11).
From this position God in Christ now gives each one of his people back to the church as a gift. The declaratory gifts are essential for the growth of the church: The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,… Paul writes (4:11).
The apostles were a select group, called and sent by Jesus himself – men who had personally met with the risen Lord Jesus Christ and who were equipped by him to reveal and proclaim him to the nations. They would have a true understanding of the significance of his life, death and resurrection. Their unique ministry, together with that of the prophets, is foundational for the church (Ephesians 2:20).
The prophets are also one-of-a-kind in the Bible in that God has uniquely spoken through them. Thus says the Lord characterized their ministry. We therefore need to beware of all who bring new ideas claiming to be prophets.
In some circles much is made of the phrase, ‘apostolic succession’, applying it to bishops and sometimes to church-planters. It is said they stand in the succession of the apostles through the laying on of hands. But Paul is not suggesting this. The biblical way to speak of an apostolic succession is to relate it to the preaching and teaching that is consistent with what the apostles and prophets proclaimed and taught.
Paul next references evangelists (4:11). While all God’s people are called upon to play a part in testifying to their faith. God calls some to have a special ministry as evangelists – being gifted in evangelistic speaking or effective evangelistic equipping of God’s people.
From its inception Christianity has had a global vision, and key to this movement isn’t force of arms but a message. We often forget Jesus’ words, ‘the fields are white (ready) for harvest (John 4:35). With his reference to the gift of evangelists, Paul underlines God’s purpose to rescue men and women and build his church. Every congregation needs to pray for, identify and support evangelists amongst them.
And there is another gift, pastors and teachers. Because Paul omits the definite article before teachers he indicates that the gift of pastor and teacher are paired. A pastor is a teacher and a teacher a pastor. To teach God’s Word is to pastor God’s people. To be an effective Christian pastor, God’s Word needs to be explained and applied.
The pastor and teacher is given by God as a gift to guide and grow his people. The services for the ordination of ministers in the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer reflect these principles from Ephesians, applying them to ministers and bishops. They’re not super-holy people; rather, they are gifted as pastors and teachers.
Paul explains God’s purpose in giving these declaratory gifts to his people: To equip the saints (literally, the holy ones) for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (4:13).
God is committed to building his church, not just in number but also in maturity. And this is achieved primarily through the ministry of his Word. Evangelists have the task of reaching the wider community. Pastors and teachers are to equip God’s people so that we can all play a part in ministries to one another that promote our unity in Christ and our growth in knowing him. God wants us to become a healthy and mature body of people in our walk together with Christ.
Furthermore, he doesn’t want us to be fickle in our faith, tossed to and fro by every new teaching that arises, new teaching that might at first appear biblical, but which in fact takes us in a new direction that is not biblically-grounded – as happens in churches that are carried along by the culture.
In a world where progressive voices are demanding attention, how much more do we need to grow in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Essential to our growth and our voice in the wider community are the declaratory ministries of God’s Word. The ministries of evangelists and pastors and teachers are essential. We may pray for the ministers of our church, but are we also praying for evangelists in our number?
A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.