Thursday, June 30, 2016

What Is APEST?

[This is the second in a series. If you haven't read the first please do so before continuing. It is short.]

APEST is an acronym for the gifts listed in Ephesians 4:11: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Shepherd, Teacher.

My views on this topic are heavily influenced by Neil Cole's book Primal Fire, especially Chapter 6. He lists seven characteristics that distinguish the Ephesians passage from the others mentioned in my previous post:

1. The source of the gifts in Ephesians is Jesus rather than the Holy Spirit.
2. The gifts mentioned in Ephesians are people rather than abilities.
3. All the gifts mentioned in the other passages have diverse and unique effects that they cause, but the gifts in Ephesians have a singular and unified effect: They equip the saints to do the work of service.
4. The recipient of the gifts listed in Ephesians is the church rather than individual believers.
5. The gifts mentioned in Ephesians are said to measure up to Christ and are given to bring the church to the full measure of Christ. We believe this makes the list comprehensive.
6. The APEST gifts are more like a calling (vocation) than the other gifts, which emphasize individual service and placement. They are roles to be filled in a person's life rather than a special ability to add to one's life.
7. The intent of the APEST gifts is the equipping of all the saints so that everyone grows to represent Christ completely. Therefore, we assume, there must be a comprehensive nature to them. (Primal Fire, p. 89)

So these gifts (APEST) are mature saints that equip less mature saints for servanthood. Maturity, individually as well as corporately, is the goal. So are there identifiable stages or phases? Cole continues, "There are three phases to our participation in Ephesians 4:1-6. We have a calling (4:1) that grants us a ministry (4:12), but not all will mature to become equippers (4:12). We all need equippers, but not everyone will become one." (ibid., p. 91)

He has this to say about our spiritual development: "Our maturity in Christ can typically be seen in three phases of development, which the apostle John depicts as children, young men (or sons), and fathers (1 John 2:12-14). We might also view these phases as a gender-neutral progression of roles: believer, disciple, equipper." He then includes this graph:

(ibid., p. 92)

Combining his ideas with those of Wolfgang Simpson and Alan Hirsch (ibid., p. 84) I have come up with this graph:

My understanding is that every Christian needs to be apostolic, prophetic, evangelistic, caring (pastoral), and didactic. (Although I don't have time to develop it here I believe that Scripture would bear this out.) These do not come naturally anymore than a child being potty trained. For example, if you attend a liberal arts college there are basic courses everyone must take regardless of your major. So it is in the spiritual realm. Christians should learn certain skills.

As we mature we will gravitate toward a ministry corresponding to one of these five. In 1 Corinthians 12:28 we see a list of ministries, one of which is prophet. Verse 29 points out that not all Christians are prophets. However, in 14:1 Paul says that we should all prophesy. What gives? Prophesying is at the first level, something every Christian can learn how to do. A prophet is at the second level. Philip was an evangelist. His daughters were prophetesses. These are legitimate ministries in and of themselves without the need to perform the equipping role.

As apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers mature, they can become gifts to the church as equippers. The 411 prefix to these roles on my graph refer to Ephesians 4:11. (Much more could be said here but I refer you back to Neil's book.)

I believe we can see the phases in Paul's life. Paul spent time in the church in Antioch. I believe he learned the basics there. Later he was sent out into ministry with Barnabas as an apostle. Later in his life he began equipping full-scale in a school in Ephesus.

I encourage you to buy and read Neil's book, Primal Fire. I am so sold on it that I am offering a money-back guarantee. If you will notify me that you have bought this book on my recommendation I will refund your money if you are not satisfied.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Are You Sure You Understand Spiritual Gifts?

From my perspective there are two major mistakes Christians make when reading Scripture. The first is taking scriptures out of their context. Someone once said that taking a text out of context can be used as a pretext for anything. Consider these three Scriptures: “Judas went out and hanged himself”; “Go and do thou likewise”; “What thou doeth do quickly.” Do you see the problem or did you already follow these instructions? Another example is when well-meaning people quote Philippians 4:13 as support for their belief that they can accomplish anything they want, even to the winning of sporting events. If they had only read it in context, Philippians 4:10-13, they would see that they have misunderstood the passage.

The second major mistake is totally relying on English translations. This can sometimes be ameliorated by reading several different translations but what if most of them make the same mistake? Too often different Greek words are translated by the same English word thereby obscuring their meaning. My favorite passage to demonstrate this is John 21:15-17. In this passage, according to most translations, Jesus asks Peter the same question three times—do you love Me—and Peter give the same response three times—I love You. Yet the third time it says Peter was grieved by the third question. Why? One would have to assume that Peter is grieved at being asked the same question all three times. But making that assumption would be in error. There are two different Greek words involved that are both translated as “love” in most translations. Jesus begins with a stronger word for love and Peter responds with a weaker word. Although these may not fully express all the nuances of the two words I will use the words “love” and “like.”

Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: You know that I like You.
Jesus: Peter, do you love me?
Peter: You know that I like You.
Jesus: Peter, do you like me?
Peter was grieved that the third time He asked, “Do you like Me?”
Peter: Lord, You know that I like You.
See the difference?

Now in applying this to spiritual gifts, too many Christians find various lists of gifts (Romans 12:6-8; 1 Corinthians 12:8-10, 28; Ephesians 4:11; and 1 Peter 4:10-11) and proceed to compile them into one aggregate list. This violates both principles mentioned above: the lists are ripped out of their contexts and no consideration is given to the fact that several different Greek words (Strong’s numbers 5486, 4152, 1325, 1390, etc.) are used in these passages but are all translated the same as “give” or “gift.” Therefore, I believe that each passage should be studied individually to determine how they should apply to our lives, not lumped into one big list. After all, we are talking about four different epistles, written to four different groups of Christians, addressing four different sets of issues.

I want to focus especially on Ephesians 4. I will do that in my next post called What Is APEST?

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Foundation of the Church

Recently, on Facebook, I saw a discussion about the foundation of the church. In Ephesians 2:19-20 Paul says, “Consequently, y’all are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God's people and members of God's household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone [NIV with “y’all” added to reflect second person plural].” Since the foundation was/is built by the apostles and prophets, is this something entirely past or do we still need apostles and prophets to lay the foundation today? There were responses on both sides of the question.

In 1 Corinthians 3:10-12 Paul says, “By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ [NIV].” Note that in the last sentence Paul says, “For no one can lay…” indicating a present reality. He then goes on to say, “…the one already laid…” indicating past tense. As this passage points out Jesus Christ is the proper foundation of the church. The apostles and prophets of the first century clearly laid this foundation under the leadership of the Holy Spirit. So is there a present need for apostles and prophets to lay the foundation?

In Romans 15:20 Paul says, “It has always been my ambition to preach the gospel where Christ was not known, so that I would not be building on someone else's foundation [NIV].” This shows that there is a present need for the foundation (Jesus) to be laid by apostles and prophets in each and every place among each and every people group where it has not yet been laid. It will not be a different foundation than that laid in the first century but the same one in a different place in a different time among different people. It is easy to see where this would apply to many areas where people have currently not heard the gospel. But does it apply in the United States today as well? I would say so because there are people groups in this country who have either not heard the gospel or who have only heard a perversion of it. So to construct a household of God among them, a proper foundation must first be laid.