THE FIVE-FOLD DEBATE
by Bill Burns
P. O. Box 1148
Kremmling, Colorado 80459
The church has been laboring to bring forth the new man child which represents the restoration of apostolic government. Whenever God brings forth a "new thing," Satan stands up to devour the work of the Spirit so that God's purpose will not come to pass.
One of Satan's main devices is to bring confusion into the Body of Christ. His plan is to negate the work of the Holy Spirit by confusing the issues and thereby bring disagreement, which will ultimately bring division. Division will fragment the Body of Christ, and then the different factions will end up fighting one another, destroying the unity of the Spirit, thus diminishing God's purpose.
We can already see this process taking place regarding the Father's efforts to restore apostolic order to the church. Apostolic order operating through the five-fold ministry (Ephesians 4:11) has the potential to restore apostolic power to the Body of Christ. A church in order according to divine government will bring forth the power that the present day church so desperately needs.
To offset the re-establishing of apostolic order, Satan has been promoting the "Great Five-Fold Debate." Pastors are paranoid because they are being told that they really aren't supposed to be leading the flock. The emerging prophets have been hurt because they don't have a platform in the local assembly.
Some believe that a plurality of elders should oversee the flock, and some believe in the "set man" principle. And then, we have some who call themselves apostles and others bishops; some insist on the term elders while others are overseers. Some want to change the title of pastor to shepherd, and most really don't know what to do.
If we are really honest, we must acknowledge the present confusion regarding the function of the five-fold ministry. I am not really sure what the term "five-fold" means. If it means that the five offices given by Christ (Ephesians 4:11) are to equip the sheepfold, then how do bishops, elders, and overseers fit into this scenario? And, if we really want to add more confusion, we can read 1Corinthians 12:28 and see that the apostle Paul changes the five-fold to a three-fold and added some more "giftings" to the equation.
As you can see, we now have a very large can of worms, so to speak. Up until now I have had no desire to mess around in this can of worms because things can get slimy. However, if we don't dump this can upside down and sort the worms out, we are not going to fulfill God's purposes, and the devil will continue to mess us up.
Before I dump this can upside down, please allow me to say that I do not consider myself to have "absolute truth" concerning the five-fold ministry. I believe that the unveiling of the five-fold ministry will come as a result of progressive revelation until the one perfect spiritual man is formed in the likeness of Christ.
If this is to happen, we must stop bickering and start listening to each other. We must stop being offended and begin to seek corporate revelation until we are fully persuaded by the witness of the Most Holy Spirit that we have present truth. We must earnestly seek the Father's heart concerning this matter, and we must not allow Satan to devour this new man child.
With that said, I will now dump this can of worms out and offer my nickel's worth of understanding about this subject. My prayer is that I don't add to the confusion. For some time now I have been seeking the Master for revelation concerning this subject, and I believe that He has given me some revelation, which I will pass on for your consideration.
Elders -- Many teach that elders and overseers mean the same thing, same title, but this simply isn't so. The term elder (presbuteros) means an aged person and is not an office. However, an elder (aged person) could hold an office. For instance, Peter who was an apostle (office) called himself an elder (1 Peter 5:1).
An elder is one who is considered to be mature in the faith (not necessarily advanced in years), full of wisdom and the Holy Spirit. The term "elder" is a catch-all term that could include those who hold church offices of responsibility or it could include those who operate in the gifts of the Spirit and helps or administrations (1 Corinthians 13:28).
1Timothy 5:17 denotes a difference in types of elders -- "Let the elders who rule well be counted worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in the word and doctrine." Some would say, "But didn't Paul tell Titus to appoint elders in every city (Titus 1:5)?"
First, we must understand that Jesus gave (called) some to be in the five-fold ministry, so when Paul said to appoint he meant to identify those called (by gifting) and set them before the congregation and acknowledge God's appointed ones and set them in the place of God's gifting.
Now, allow me to carry this to the next step by asking a question. Is it possible that Paul was telling Titus to go and appoint elders to be overseers? This is most likely, which we will see as we continue.
Overseers -- Whereas the term elder means an aged one, an overseer (episkopos) is one set to watch over the flock as an inspector. The overseer has responsibility to shepherd (feed and care for) the flock. Acts 20:28 "Therefore take heed to yourselves and to all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood." Now we have introduced the term shepherd, which we will get to later. Let's take the next step which will identify these overseers.
Bishops -- The term bishop (episkope) means essentially the same thing as overseer. It means "oversight." The apostle Paul writes in Philippians 1:1, "Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." 1Timothy chapter 3 and Titus 1:5-9 are the only places that qualifications for an office is fully expounded, and it is the office of a bishop. 1Timothy 3:2 also tells us that a bishop must be able to teach.
Now, in order that we may understand where we are going, we must introduce the term "set man."
Set Man -- We know that the Old Testament establishes patterns as examples to us New Testament believers to help us understand spiritual principles. 1 Corinthians 10:11, "Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come."
The question is -- in the New Testament who is the set man? So, all through the Old Testament God gave (set) a man as a leader over the people. This man had authority over the people, but also had responsibility for the people. Moses was one example of this. Moses appointed elders to minister with him, but Moses was the "set man."
Who is the set man in the New Testament? Is it the pastor, apostle, prophet, etc.? Since we only have one office fully defined in the New Testament (other than deacon), we must assume it is the bishop. But, now we have another question -- who is the bishop? Well, he is the set man, but who is qualified to be a bishop (overseer) as identified by the Holy Spirit?
There is only one place in the New Testament where office order is established, and that is in 1Corinthians 12:28, "And God has appointed these in the church: first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, after that miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, varieties of tongues." Paul identifies three offices -- apostles, prophets and teachers that could be set men or a set man in the church. 1Corinthians 12:18, "But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased."
But, what about the five-fold? The apostle completely left out the pastor and evangelist. Why? Well, the evangelist is a traveling preacher, and so he wouldn't be set in a local congregation because he would be gone most of the time.
And, what about the pastor? Okay, let's read Ephesians 4:11, but this time very closely. "And He gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers." Notice it did not say some pastors and some teachers. A pastor/teacher will be a shepherd that qualifies under 1 Corinthians 12:18 as teachers.
Shepherds -- The word pastor (poimen) is "shepherd" and "feeder." A pastor who is also a teacher then can be a set man in the office of a bishop. A shepherd is one who feeds his sheep (teaches the word) and cares for the sheep. It is possible, however, to have those who only teach, or others who only extend pastoral care in the five-fold, but they will not be bishops (set men).
The word teacher could mean one who instructs the flock in the word of God and also cares for the flock through pastoral counsel. Most of those we call pastors today are really bishops because most of them are teachers, or we could call them shepherds by definition.
I hope at this point we can say we
have sorted the worms out? Before we put them back in the can
where titles are lost (they really aren't that important anyway),
let's look at the bottom line. There are three offices that
qualify as a set man (bishop):
1. An apostle who is able to teach.
2. A prophet who is able to teach.
3. The pastor/teacher who feeds or instructs the flock.
These three are appointed by God (1Corinthians 12:28), and if they are able to instruct and care for the sheep, then they will be set by God over a church as the authority of the Most High. They will facilitate and utilize those who operate in various offices and giftings for the work of the ministry. Ephesians 4:12-13, "For the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ."
Not all apostles or prophets or pastors will be bishops (set men). The term bishop (episkopos) means overseer and also superintendent. The set man is one who feeds (instructs) and supervises (cares for) the sheep.
Authority is never given by God apart from responsibility. Those who are held responsible are accountable to God who appointed them. James 3:1, "My brethren, let not many of you become teachers, knowing that we shall receive a stricter judgment."
It has not been my intention to try to fully define the function of each office in the five-fold ministry or how these offices can flow together to the extent that one man may function in more than one office. In fact, it would take a complete book to examine the possibilities. So, I am now going to put all of the worms back in the can and label the can.
Now, let's see....what shall we
label this can? Hmmmm...I think I shall label it "bond
servants" and that title will include all of those "called"
by the Most High.