Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Wallabies v All-Blacks

A robust conversation (check out the comments posted to these links) regarding Ephesians 4 is going on Down Under. Alan Hirsh and Michael Frost have stirred things up with their book The Shaping Of Things To Come (so significant that it is already being referred to as TSOTTC for short). I've only skim-read it so far (it is on my Amazon wish-list), but I know that Hirsh's thinking has in part been influenced by us at St Thomas' (though they reference us as St George's throughout). I think Hirsh and Frost coined the term APEPT - to refer to apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, while avoiding some of the baggage of a wide range of positions that comes with the term "five-fold ministry". We also tend to refer to our own "neutral" term - the Pentagon - as our understanding of Ephesians 4 is part of a wider approach to discipleship in a C21 context, LifeShapes, that uses shapes of increasing number of sides as iconic links to biblical principles.

Steve Taylor, over in New Zealand (whose book The Out Of Bounds Church? is also on my Amazon wish-list) finds the APEPT model one of the more problematic emphases in the emerging church scene. He seems to understand the passage in Ephesians 4 to be talking about a leadership model. As there are other leadership models to be found in other letters Paul wrote to the early churches, Steve argues that Paul is proposing different leadership structures/models in different contexts, and that it would therefore be wrong to try to impose any one of those models on every contemporary context: why give more weight to one New Testament model than any other?

In my view, Steve misses the point here. Contrary to many positions on the passage, Ephesians 4 isn't addressing leadership, but every member of the body of Christ - "each one of us". Therefore when Paul uses completely different terms to describe leadership in other passages (such as elders and deacons) this does not give us different models for the same thing: the terms used are different because Paul is writing about different things!

This passage is undeniably contentious at present (some deny the continuing existence of apostles and prophets, in my opinion on spurious interpretive grounds; some claim these five gifts are positions of authority; some question the discreet nature of these gifts given that there are lists of other gifts in other parts of the New Testament, in my opinion failing to recognise the differences - including context, nature, and specific giver within the Trinity). But the fact that it is being discussed so much in so many different contexts suggest to me that it is something that God wants us to rediscover.

For now, at least, I believe:
5. that everyone is in a fundamental way either an apostle (one sent out to pioneer new things), prophet (one who speaks out God's specific - as opposed to general revealed - will for people or peoples, in ways that encourage and build-up), evangelist (one who shares the good news of the gospel), pastor (one who protects, heals, guides the flock and the lost sheep) or teacher (one who feeds people from God's word, who holds out the kingdom of heaven).
5. that this fundamental nature is of creation order - i.e. how we have been made - awaiting redemption - so Jesus liberates people from the enemy and gives them as gifts to his body, and to the world through his body. (Though I think most of my colleagues would see these gifts more as being redemption order.)
5. that Jesus perfectly fulfils all five roles, and distributes them to his body as he wills.
5. that while we each have a fundamental gift (or, "base ministry") to exercise, Jesus also calls us into seasons of exercising each of the other gifts ("phase ministry") as part of the process of the body being built up, and of us as individuals becoming more roundedly (is that a word?) Christ-like.
5. and that a primary role of those who are called to exercise leadership with the church is to help every member of the body discover the gift that Jesus has made them to be, and to develop in their ability to exercise that gift.

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