By Berry Kercheville
We Christians have complained for quite some time that religious people take liberties with the way Jesus designed his church. When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, he was emphatic about following the pattern he had preached in every church. Notice his words: “I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church” (1 Cor. 4:16–18). From these words it is clear that the design of the local body was to be consistent throughout all the Lord’s churches. Instead, we see those who claim to follow Christ creating churches to their liking, based on either their desires or their traditions.
However, we need to be careful that after we have condemned others, we do not find ourselves doing the same thing. Too often we have spent more time on what the church ought not be rather than on God’s design for what it should be. From the time I first studied Ephesians 4:11-16, I was troubled by Paul’s pattern of the functioning and growth of the body when compared to what is typically practiced in local churches. Look at the text and see what you think.
“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 ESV)
- The primary work of evangelists, shepherds and teachers is to train Christians so that Christians are capable of using their equipped abilities to build up the body (verses 12, 16). How many evangelists, shepherds and teachers are actually training members to function effectively so that the body grows and builds itself up from within?
- The goal for the body is maturity. Paul defines maturity as growing to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” He goes on to break down maturity at three different levels. The first is maturity in knowledge: “no longer children tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine.” In my experience, a large percentage of those who have been Christians for many years are still unable to effectively deal with the errors in denominational arguments even on first principle issues such as baptism or the Holy Spirit. Why not? Because most have not been equipped or have seen the need to be equipped on subjects that are settled in their own minds. After all, if we are not interacting with lost souls, why should we know these things?
- The goal of maturity is also the ability to “speak the truth in love” (verse 15). It is not enough to “think” the truth; maturity is the ability to articulate the meaning of a text in such a way that a novice would understand the explanation. We have a habit in our Bible classes of allowing members to give “shorthand” answers with “insider language” that would completely befuddle a nonbeliever or new Christian. There is also a bad habit of allowing a few in a class to make most of the comments. In so doing, others are never given the opportunity to practice speaking the truth. Further, teachers are usually not training members to word their explanations in view of how a nonbeliever would hear them. There should also be training in how to speak in love, to answer gently and patiently. Bible classes should be training sessions.
- The third goal of maturity is to use one’s equipping to function with the rest of the body (verse 16). Too often members rely heavily on evangelists and shepherds to do service that other parts of the body are quite capable of fulfilling. In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul commanded all Christians to, “admonish the idle, encourage the faint-hearted, and help the weak.” In Romans 12:13, Paul commanded all Christians to, “Contribute to the needs of the saints and seek to show hospitality.” The apostles modeled this principle in Acts 6:2 when they said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables.” And yet, that is exactly what many Christians expect when they believe that evangelists and shepherds should be doing the lion’s share of the above admonitions while neglecting the teaching of the word to outsiders. An evangelist or a shepherd is one member who has a specific role of teaching, equipping, and shepherding souls. No one member can do it all. That is why the body is to be equipped.
- Finally, the teaching of the apostles and prophets is the means to bring “all” the saints to maturity (verses 11-12). Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:14-17 that the scriptures “are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus,” and all scripture is profitable for making the man of God “complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Therefore, when evangelists, shepherds and teachers use the word of God to equip saints, all scripture is required to make the man of God complete. All scripture includes Leviticus, Isaiah, Zechariah, Zephaniah and any other book that might not be our favorite. Are we equipping saints with all scripture?
If you see what I see in this passage, there are significant changes needing to be made. We must always remind ourselves, this is God’s church; it isn’t ours. You and I must not be in the business of following traditional patterns or redesigning it to fit our desires.