The Edification of the Body of Christ: Part 1

Ephesians 4:11‑16  •  3 min. read  •  grade level: 12
Apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers, such, as we have seen, are the gifts of an ascended Christ. But it is important to take notice that they are gifts, not offices. The confusion of these two things has led to the greatest disorder, and the widest departure from God’s thoughts. In the epistles to the Ephesians and Corinthians, where we have the fullest teaching with respect to gift, office is not even named. The most complete instruction concerning office is contained in the first epistle to Timothy, where the subject is the proper ordering and administration of the house of God. This harmonizes precisely with the character of the truth contained in these various letters, and shows how completely distinct gift and office are from one another. Gift is the provision made by an ascended Christ for the building up of His body, the church. Official character and responsibility, on the one hand, are associated with the regular ordering of the church as administered by man; and as soon as that order ceased to exist, office had no further place.
The only officers named in Scripture are elders (also called overseers or bishops) and deacons. Both these were ordained by apostles, or apostolic delegates, and exercised their office in the assembly of the city to which they belonged. This assembly consisted of all believers in the city, who were gathered together as one body. Since no such assembly is now to be found, or is indeed possible—since the church, as to its outward order, has become a ruinous heap, no more presenting even a semblance of its divinely-instituted oneness—it is clear that there can no longer be any officers similar to those named in Scripture. Nay, even if there could be a restoration of church unity, and an assembly which could, in the Scripture sense, be styled the assembly of any particular town, it would still be impossible to have officers, inasmuch as there is no longer any scriptural mode of ordaining them. Man may invent substitutes in his sectarian gatherings; but they are not, and cannot be, the officers spoken of in the Word of God. They are mere arrangements of human convenience, without any scriptural sanction or authority. The use of the same names as those given to the officers of the apostolic church is simply misleading, and the claim to appoint such officers, in whatever way, is at once a denial of the church’s ruin, and a usurpation, however unintended, of apostolic authority.
This will make it clear that the distinction between gift and office is one of the very deepest importance to the church’s welfare; for had gift been in any way dependent upon office, the gift must have ceased as soon as the church fell into ruins. But as it is, though office has ceased through the failure and disorder into which the church has fallen, gift, the grace bestowed by an ascended Christ, is just as free as ever. Amidst the wildest confusion, amidst the grossest corruption, amidst the infinite sub-division of that which ought to have retained and exhibited its divine unity, the Lord can still freely bestow His gifts, and has done so, in matchless grace, through every age of the melancholy history of the church on earth.
(To be continued)