M5-CH12-14 - Church polity - Apostles and prophets

SERMON TOPIC: M5-CH12-14 - Church polity - Apostles and prophets

Speaker: Gavin Paynter

Language: ENGLISH

Date: 30 October 2020


There are still some Charismatic churches who propagate the teaching that the end-time church should be led by apostles and prophets (rather than the deacon and elder / pastor model). This was a central teaching of the heretical Latter Day Rain movement.

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In the late 1940’s some admirers of the controversial William Branham in Western Canada (not Branham himself) started what would become known as the Latter Rain Movement

They thought that this “new wave” of the Spirit was the “latter rain” referred to in Joel 2:23, “Be glad then, you children of Zion, and rejoice in the LORD your God: for he has given you the former rain faithfully, and he will cause to come down for you the rain, the former rain, and the latter rain in the first month.” (KJV

They interpreted the “latter rain” as an end-times outpouring of the Holy Spirit which would be greater than the “former rain” (the Day of Pentecost). Not even the original apostles, they believed, had witnessed such a movement of the Holy Spirit


However, they believed that God was restoring the ministries of apostle and prophet in the present day. These ideas form part of what is called the “prophetic movement” and “New Apostolic Reformation”. 1

They felt that the church should be divided on geographical, not denominational, lines. Their expectation was that in the coming “last days,” the various Christian denominations would dissolve, and the true Church would coalesce into city-wide churches under the leadership of these newly restored apostles and prophets. 1

1 SOURCE : https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Latter_Rain_(post%E2%80%93 World_War_II_movement


In contrast, “classical Pentecostals understood the fivefold ministry 1 not as offices or authority designated to any particular person, but as functions available to the entire Spirit-filled congregation, been giving at the discretion of the Holy Spirit.” 2

Eph 4:11-12 (NIV) So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up

1 Some see it as a fourfold ministry with the pastor / teacher being combined. 2 Shane Jack Clifton, An Analysis of the Developing Ecclesiology of the Assemblies of God in Australia, [PhD thesis, Australian Catholic University, 2005], p. 150


E.g. Peter and John had the ministries of apostle and prophet but referred to themselves as “elders”

1 Pet 5:1 (ESV) So I exhort the elders [presbyterous] among you, as a fellow elder [sympresbyteros] and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed:

2 John 1:1 (ESV) The elder [presbyteros] to the elect lady and her children, whom I love in truth, and not only I, but also all who know the truth

3 John 1:1 (ESV) The elder [presbyteros] to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth


There are still some Charismatic churches who propagate the teaching that the end-time church should be led by apostles and prophets (rather than the deacon and elder / pastor model). This was a central teaching of the heretical Latter Day Rain movement

While these teachings later gained inroads into Charismatic circles, the Assemblies of God US deemed the Latter Rain movement to contain heresy from the very outset

The 1949 General Council of the A/G, in Seattle, Washington, adopted a resolution disapproving of the doctrines

The teachings were also rejected by other classical Pentecostal denominations



Eph 2:19-20 speaks of the members of God’s household, as being “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”. This is referring to the establishment of the church. Once the cornerstone and foundations are laid, we build on that – we do not put another foundation upon an existing one. Thus we believe that Jesus and the original apostles constituted the foundation which the church builds on

Referring to “The problematic teaching that present-day offices of apostles and prophets should govern church ministry at all levels” the A/G US website says:

The aorist participle in [Eph 2] verse 20 is best translated “having been built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone”—a past occurrence. The reference to apostles and prophets in Ephesians 3:5 speaks of their role in recording the inspired Scriptures as a past occurrence. 1

Eph 3:4-5 (NIV) … the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to men in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets

1 https:// ag.org/Beliefs/Position-Papers/Revival-Endtime-Revival--Spirit-Led-and-Spirit-Controlled


They continue to say that “The leadership of the local church, according to the Pastoral Epistles, is in the hands of elders / presbyters and deacons.” 1

While rejecting the continuing offices of apostles and prophets, they hold that “the ministry functions still continue.” 1

Prophets in the New Testament are never described as holding an officially recognized position… We affirm that there are, and ought to be, apostolic-and prophetic-type ministries in the Church, without individuals being identified as filling such an office. 1

1 Ibid


In summary: The AG does not recognize titles or offices of “apostle” and “prophet”. 1

It does, however, believe there are those in the church who “exercise the ministry function of apostles and prophets”. 1

Apostolic functions relate to evangelizing previously unreached areas or people groups, while prophetic functions “occur when believers speak under the anointing of the Spirit to strengthen, encourage, or comfort”. 1

The AG believes in the 4 ministry gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/ teachers but notes that there are no biblical instructions for the appointment of apostles and prophets today. 1

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assemblies_of_God_USA


In the South African A/G, by the 1960’s James (aka Jim) Mullan (d. 1987) was the leader of what were called the Group assemblies. He taught that besides the leadership role of elders and deacons in the local assembly, the apostolic founder of the church also had a part to play in the leadership (as Paul did with the churches he planted)

Nicholas Bhengu (1909-1985), founder of the Africa Back to God Crusade (now AOG-BTG), held similar views to James Mullan. Both men still maintained an “apostolic authority” over the churches they planted


J. Mullan

N. Bhengu

Fred Mullan (1903-1981), the founder of Fairview Assembly, was for years the general chairman of the A/G SA, and also the spokesperson for the Independent assemblies. Later these assemblies, with their ideas of church government more influenced by Fred, remained autonomous but affiliated to the FIAM (later the AGF).1

Fred was among those who opposed his brother’s teaching on apostles. He believed rather in the autonomy of each assembly and that the church government should reside solely with the local oversight of elders and deacons, rather than having any accountability to the apostolic founder of the church. 1

1 SOURCE: https://agfbrakpan.com/aog-in-sa & “From Africa’s Soil” - Peter Watt


Fred Mullan

Due to the misuse of the term “apostle” in certain circles, the Independent assemblies were reticent to use the term

Even James Mullan felt that the term “missionary” was probably more appropriate “because of the possibility of being confused with certain false cults using the word ‘apostle’”. 1 He taught that an “apostle” and “missionary” were equivalent ministries, stating that:

… apostles of the ascended Christ were missionaries in the true sense of the word. We all believe in missionaries and mission work, yet Eph 4:11 is the only scripture for “missionaries”. The word “missionary” as derived from the Latin, is the equivalent of “apostle” as derived from Greek. 1


1 https://agfbrakpan.com/ministry-archives.aspx?mId=739



The term “apostle” designates function rather than status

The Greek word “apostolos” denoted an envoy, ambassador, or messenger commissioned to carry out the instructions of the commissioning agent. Some examples are:


The Twelve: Peter, John, James, Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, James - son of Alpheus, Thomas, Simon, Jude Thaddeus, Matthias (Mark 3:13–19, Matt 10:1–4, Luke 6:12–16, Acts 1:13)

Paul (1 Cor 9:1), Barnabas (Acts 14:14), Timothy (1 Thess 1:1), Silas (1 Thess 1:1), Apollos (1 Cor 4:9), Andronicus (Rom 16:7

Women: Junia (Rom 16:7


There are also false apostles

1 Cor 11:13 (NIV) For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ

Those claiming to be apostles need to be tested:

Rev 2:2b (NIV) I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false

What is the criteria to test an apostle?

Signs, wonders and miracles

2 Cor 12:12 (NIV) The things that mark an apostle—signs, wonders and miracles—were done among you with great perseverance


Church-planting: Modern missionaries still fulfil an apostolic role in that they are church planters and that they are “messengers” proclaiming the gospel in foreign lands and areas where the gospel is unknown

Acts 14:21-23 (NIV) They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith


2 Tim 1:11-12 (NIV) And of this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher. That is why I am suffering as I am


A physical eyewitness of the resurrected Christ

Acts 1:22 (NIV) “For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.”

1 Cor 9:1 (NIV) Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?

1 Cor 15:4–8 (NIV) … that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures… Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born

In support of his belief that the apostolic ministry was still valid today, James Mullan claimed that this qualification was only required for the “apostles of the Lamb” (i.e. Jesus’ 12 apostles) and not “apostles of the ascended Christ”


He believed that the ministry of apostle was valid today, but different from “the twelve apostles of the Lamb.”

Rev 21:14 (NIV) The wall of the city had twelve foundations, and on them were the names of the twelve apostles of the Lamb

He referred to the second type as “apostles of the ascended Christ” (referring to Ephesians 4:11), and even classified the apostle Paul in this group

In contrast, Fred Mullan believed that the ministry of apostles and prophets ceased to exist after the first generation of NT believers. In support he cited Eph 2:20 which spoke of “the foundation of the apostles and prophets”, taking this to mean that they were foundational ministries only. 1

1 Ibid


False apostles, prophets and teachers often claim what they have received is a “new” revelation, superior to the Apostolic Age

But Paul cautions us that the gospel they preached (i.e. what we find in the New Testament) shouldn’t change

Rom 16:17-18 (NIV) I urge you, brothers and sisters, to watch out for those who cause divisions and put obstacles in your way that are contrary to the teaching you have learned. Keep away from them. For such people are not serving our Lord Christ, but their own appetites. By smooth talk and flattery they deceive the minds of naive people. [cf. Gal 1:8]



A prophet is not a title, nor is it an office in the church – it is one of the fivefold ministries

“Prophecy is a continuing gift of the Holy Spirit that is broadly distributed as the Spirit wills throughout Pentecostal churches”. 1

It is a gift that must be sought after:

1 Cor 14:1 (NIV) Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assemblies_of_God_USA



Men: Elijah (1 & 2 Ki), Elisha (2 Ki), Nathan (2 Sam 7:2), Micaiah (1 Ki 22) Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, Malachi, etc

Women: Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Ki 22:14-19), Isaiah’s wife (Isa 7:3)


Men: Jesus (Matt 24), Agabus (Acts 11:27–28), John (Revelation), Paul (1 & 2 Thess), Zechariah (Luke 1:67ff

Women: Anna (Luke 2:36-38), Philip’s 4 daughters (Acts 21:8-9), Mary (Luke 1:46ff), Elizabeth (Luke 1:41ff


The Bible does not say that the apostles and prophets were built upon the church but that the church was built upon the apostles and prophets. This is an important distinction. The church did not bestow apostolic and prophetic authority upon certain people. It was the Holy Spirit who chose certain people to receive and deliver the truth of God. The church could never authorize a prophet - they could merely recognize a prophet. Neither the congregation of Israel, during the time of the Old Testament, nor the church, during the New Testament era, ever ordained anyone to the prophetic ministry. This was the job of God alone. 1

Jer 1:5 (NKJV) “… Before you were born I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.”

1 https:// www.blueletterbible.org/faq/don_stewart/don_stewart_389.cfm


Like apostles, the Bible tells us to test prophets

1 John 4:1 (NIV) Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world

Here are the marks of a false prophet:

Predictive prophecy that proves false

Deut 18:21-22 (ESV) And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him


Prophecy that departs from biblical truth

Deut 13:1-3 (NIV) If a prophet … appears among you and announces to you a sign or wonder, and if the sign or wonder spoken of takes place, and the prophet says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer …

Modern false prophets often claim what they have received is a “new” revelation, superior to the Apostolic Age. Paul cautions us that the gospel they preached shouldn’t change

Gal 1:8 (NIV) But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let them be under God’s curse! [cf. Rom 16:17-18]


All speak well of them

Luke 6:22-26 (NIV) “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, because great is your reward in heaven. For that is how their ancestors treated the prophets … Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets.”


They are deceptive

Our Lord Jesus himself warned us:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.” (Matt 7:15 ESV)

Jesus said that in the last days “false messiahs and false prophets will appear and perform great signs and wonders to deceive, if possible, even the elect.” (Matt 24:24, NIV


False prophets tell you what you want to hear, they prophesy only good

1 Kings 22:7-8 (NIV) But Jehoshaphat asked, “Is there no longer a prophet of the Lord here whom we can inquire of?” The king of Israel answered Jehoshaphat, “There is still one prophet through whom we can inquire of the Lord, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me, but always bad. He is Micaiah …”

Ahab’s false prophets spoke of victory for Israel when in reality Israel would be defeated and Ahab would be killed


You can determine a false prophet by their lifestyle

Matt 7:15-23 (NIV) “Watch out for false prophets … By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit… Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”


Despite the “Latter Rain” prophets supposedly being greater than their “Early Rain” prophets, their admitted success rate at prophesying accurately is a lot lower than the Biblical counterparts, which was 100%

In a taped interview between Bob Jones (not to be confused with his namesake at the Bob Jones University) and Mike Bickle, we are told that:

Unlike OT prophets, NT prophets are often wrong. They may be 90% wrong (you might as well be guessing then)

60% accuracy is about the best they can expect. The Neo-Prophetic Movement prophecies have never been more than 60% accurate. Bob Jones himself expected to be only about two-thirds accurate. 1

1 dtl.org/shield/latter-rain-1.htm



Church polity (church government) refers to how a church’s leadership is structured. While there are many variations and nuances found within individual churches (and these are too numerous to list), essentially all are variations of one of the following: episcopal, presbyterian, and congregational. 1

Don’t be confused by the fact that there are denominations known by each of these three names

Every church is either independent with no higher authority outside of that local church, or it is part of a larger group or denomination with leaders who exert control from outside the church. 1

1 https:// www.gotquestions.org/church-polity.html


The main types of regional church governance are:





Episcopal governance is a very hierarchical structure in church governance in which the chief local authorities are called bishops

In some systems, bishops may be subject to bishops holding a higher office (variously called archbishops, metropolitans, or patriarchs, depending upon the tradition). They also meet in councils or synods. 1

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Episcopal_polity


Examples of Episcopal polity are found in the Catholic Church, Episcopalian / Anglican, Eastern Orthodox

In the Catholic church, the cardinals act as an advisory panel to the pope. The bishop and archbishop are on the same level, but the archbishop has a larger area that they are responsible for

















Holy See / Vatican


Roman Catholic Church hierarchy

Church of England (part of Anglican Communion) ranks

Often associated with Episcopal polity is the idea of Apostolic Succession, which is the claim that bishops derive their authority from an unbroken, apostolic succession from the Twelve Apostles of Jesus

Churches claiming some form of Apostolic Succession include the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Church of the East and the Anglican Communion

E.g. Catholics claim Apostolic Succession back to Peter, who they maintain was the first pope

Most Protestants deny the need for this type of continuity and question the validity of the historical claims used to justify it


Roman Catholics also teach the Primacy of Rome whereby the hold that all bishops are to be subject to the Bishop of Rome (i.e. the pope)

Luther’s rejection of the primacy of the Pope led to the start of the Protestant Reformation, during which numerous Protestant sects broke away from the Catholic Church. The Church of England also broke away from the Catholic Church at this time, although for reasons different from Martin Luther and the Protestants. 1

Most Pentecostals teach that the only head of the church is Christ (Col 1:18) and that “the sole guarantor of apostolic faith, which includes apostolic life, is the Holy Spirit.” 2

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papal_primacy 2 The Oxford Companion to Christian Thought


In Presbyterian polity each local church is governed by a body of elected elders. The presbytery is a body of church elders and ministers, representing all the local congregations of a district. Presbyteries can be grouped into a synod, and presbyteries and synods nationwide often join together in a general assembly




General Assembly









This type of governance was developed in Geneva under John Calvin and was introduced to Scotland by John Knox. It is strongly associated with the Reformed and Presbyterian churches. In contrast to the Episcopal model:

There is always plurality of leadership – elders in a church (rather than a priest), presbyters over churches (rather than a bishop)

Bishop and elder are viewed as synonymous terms

A bishop holds the highest office of the church (there is no Patriarch or Pope over bishops)

The Presbyterian system makes no claim to Apostolic Succession or to any kind of continuing tradition passed down across the centuries


The pastor’s authority in Presbyterian polity is an authority shared with all the elders and exercised jointly through the Session and the other courts of the church. Whether a church has elders and pastors as two different offices (like most Reformed churches), or teaching elders (i.e. pastors) and ruling elders as different designations within one office (as in most Presbyterian churches), the net result is more or less the same. At the local level, the authority to receive members into the congregation, exercise discipline, and establish rules for the government, worship, and theological integrity of the church rests with the board of elders (usually called the Session, or in Reformed polity, the Consistory). 1

1 https:// www.thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevin-deyoung/what-is-the-nature-of-pastoral-authority-a-presbyterian-perspective


In congregationalist polity each congregation is independent or autonomous, self-supporting, and governed by its own members. E.g. Congregational, Baptist, Lutheran, Anabaptist, Quakers, non-denominational

Some churches band into loose voluntary associations with other congregations that share similar beliefs


Pastor / elders & deacons

Loose association

Pastor / elders & deacons

Some Methodist churches use what is known as Connexional polity. Unlike the Episcopal, very “top-down” hierarchical structure, this is a “bottom-up” structure

E.g. in the United Methodist Church, local churches elect delegates to different conferences, from which delegates are elected to the highest decision-making body, the worldwide General conference, which is half lay and half clergy. 1 Bishops are elected by the lay and clergy delegates to the jurisdictional and central conferences, which meet every four years following regular sessions of the General Conference. Any active ordained United Methodist elder in good standing is eligible to be elected a bishop. 2

1 https:// www.quora.com/How-do-Catholics-and-Methodists-differ 2 umc.org/what-we-believe/ask-the-umc-how-are-bishops-chosen-in-the-united-methodist-church


The Assemblies of God US is defined in its constitution as a “cooperative fellowship” of “churches and credentialed ministers”

The fellowship’s polity is a hybrid of presbyterian and congregational models. This tension between local independence and national authority is seen in the A/G’s historical reluctance to refer to itself as a denomination, preferring the terms fellowship and movement. 1

The A/G has, however, elements of congregational polity, which are limited by the powers of the districts and General Council to license and discipline ordained ministers. 1

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assemblies_of_God_USA


What of local church governance? Is the pastor the head of the church?

We confess the Lord Jesus Christ and no other, as head of the Church. 1 The support Scriptures are:

Col 1:18 (NASB) He [Christ] is also head of the body, the church…

Eph 5:23 (ESV) For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body…

1 https://agfbrakpan.com/statement-of-faith.aspx


What about priests? This is a term we should avoid

There is no separate office of priest, as was practiced in the Old Covenant, because we are a kingdom of priests. 1

1 Pet 2:9 (ESV) But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood…

1 Pet 2:5 (ESV) you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ

Rev 1:6 (NASB) and He has made us to be a kingdom, priests to His God and Father… [cf. Rev 5:10]

1 https://agfbrakpan.com/statement-of-faith.aspx


What about fathers and popes?

In the Catholic church, the head of a local congregation is called a parish priest or “Father”

The English word “pope” comes from the Latin “papa”, which in turn is derived from the Greek “pappas” meaning “father”. The Catholic pope is sometimes referred to as “Holy Father”. 1

We distance ourselves from any title meaning “father”

Matt 23:9 (NIV) “And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven.”

1 According to Wikipedia in the early centuries of Christianity, the title of pope “was applied, especially in the east, to all bishops and other senior clergy, and later became reserved in the west to the Bishop of Rome, a reservation made official only in the 11th century.” https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pope


A rector is a cleric who functions as an administrative leader in some Christian denominations. 1

In the Roman Catholic Church, a rector is a person who holds the office of presiding over an ecclesiastical institution. The institution may be a particular building—like a church … or it may be an organization, such as a parish, a mission, a seminary, a hospital, etc. 1

A vicar is also a cleric but functions as an assistant and representative of an administrative leader. 1

In English-speaking countries the term curate is used to describe clergy who are assistants to the parish priest. 1

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rector_(ecclesiastical) 1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Curate


In some denominations, “The Reverend” is a title or form of address placed before the names of some clergy and ministers. The term comes from the Latin reverendus, originally used in Latin documents in medieval Europe. It derives from the verb revereri (“to respect; to revere”), meaning “[one who is] to be revered/must be respected”

The Reverend is therefore equivalent to The Honourable or The Venerable. It is paired with a modifier or noun for some offices in some religious traditions: Anglican archbishops and most Roman Catholic bishops are usually styled The Most Reverend (reverendissimus); other Anglican bishops and some Roman Catholic bishops are styled The Right Reverend. 1

1 https:// en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Reverend


We believe that there are only two officers in a local New Testament church namely elders and deacons. 1

Phil 1:1 (NIV) Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers (Greek: episkopois) and deacons (Greek: diakonois)…

Polycarp (69-155 AD), the disciple of the apostle John, speaks of only two officers in the early church

Wherefore, it is needful to abstain from all these things, being subject to the presbyters and deacons, as unto God and Christ. 2

1 https://agfbrakpan.com/statement-of-faith.aspx 2 Epistle of Polycarp to the Philippians, Ch. 5. The duties of deacons, youths, and virgins


Likewise Clement of Rome (c.35 – 99 AD) confirms the Biblical practice of the apostles appointing only 2 officers:

The Apostles received the Gospel for us from the Lord Jesus Christ… Having therefore received a charge, and having been fully assured through the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ and confirmed in the word of God with full assurance of the Holy Ghost, they went forth with the glad tidings that the kingdom of God should come. So preaching everywhere in country and town, they appointed their firstfruits, when they had proved them by the Spirit, to be bishops and deacons unto them that should believe. 1

1 1 Clement 42:1-4


The Didache (1st century AD) speaks of only 2 offices:

Appoint, therefore, for yourselves, bishops and deacons worthy of the Lord, men meek, and not lovers of money, and truthful and proved; for they also render to you the service of prophets and teachers. 1

In fact, Ignatius is the only known early Christian writer who refers to a single bishop in each city (or diocese), assisted by both presbyters (elders) and deacons. 2 Other writings of this period mention either bishops or presbyters, or use the title interchangeably

1 Didache 15:1 2 Letter to the Magnesians 2, 6:1 “Take care to do all things in harmony with God, with the bishop presiding in the place of God, and with the presbyters in the place of the council of the apostles, and with the deacons… entrusted with the business of Jesus Christ…”


As they reflect an ecclesiology that was clearly a later development, the writings attributed to Ignatius are believed by some to be fraudulent, written in an attempt to justify the idea of a single bishop per city by getting the unwitting endorsement of Ignatius. 1

The belief that all bishops should offer allegiance to the bishop of Rome (the Pope) is an even later development

1 There are 15 books attributed to Ignatius of which 8 are clearly forgeries. 7 are considered by some to be genuine, while others believe all to be forgeries. E.g. Philip Schaff writes, “The whole story of Ignatius is more legendary than real, and his writings are subject to grave suspicion of fraudulent interpolation. We have three different versions of the Ignatian Epistles, but only one of them can be genuine; either the smaller Greek version, or the lately discovered Syriac. In the latter, which contains only three epistles, most of the passages on the episcopate are wanting…” (History of the Christian Church, Vol 2, ch 4


Titles for leaders were descriptive of the function, not the position. The basic definitions of the leadership titles are:

Deacon (diakonos): One who renders service to another. The word just means servant and is the same word that is translated “minister”

Elder (presbuteros): Elder or senior, older and more advanced in years. This term refers to those whose age and experience have brought them wisdom

Pastor (poimen): A shepherd, the feeder, protector, and ruler of a flock of men

Bishop (episkopos): An overseer, guardian or inspector. A bishop is a man charged with the duty of seeing that things to be done by others are done rightly


So why do we say there are only two officers?

What about bishops? While the term “bishop” is a Biblical word, it is simply the older English term in the KJV rendered in modern English versions as “overseer” – which is the equivalent of an elder i.e. not a separate office

1 Tim 3:1 (KJV) … if a man desire the office of a bishop [Greek: episkopé], he desireth a good work

(NIV) … Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task…

(ESV) … If anyone aspires to the office of overseer

(NASB) … if any man aspires to the office of overseer

(NLT) … If someone aspires to be an elder


What about pastors?

The Greek word for pastor is “poimen” and simply means shepherd or overseer. The terms pastor, elder and deacon describe ministries and are not meant to be titles

An elder, bishop (overseer) and pastor are one-and-the-same ministry. In the NT the terms “elder” and “pastor” are used interchangeably. Likewise the earliest Apostolic Father, Clement of Rome, uses the terms ”bishops” and ”elders” (presbyters) interchangeably

Some churches use the term “pastor” to designate a full-time elder, “teaching elder” or “ruling elder”. 2


Some churches adopt a system whereby a single “lead elder” (or pastor) has a board of deacons. But the NT church had a plurality of elders within each congregation


The three terms “poimen” (shepherd / pastor), “episkopos” (bishop / overseer) and “presbuteros” (elder) are all used of the same person in Titus 1:5-7, Acts 20:17-18,28 and 1 Peter 5:1-2

Yet in many churches, a pastor is seen as a notch higher than an elder, while a bishop is again regarded as higher than a pastor

Methodists, Episcopalians, Anglicans, Lutherans and Catholics recognize bishops in roles above the congregational level

Catholics have added positions like archbishops (a bishop over a larger city) and cardinals (an advisory panel for the Pope). The head of a local church is called a parish priest, Father, Reverend or Pastor (in the US)


Some Protestants (in particular Charismatics) have adopted further offices like senior pastor and associate pastor, while some have started using bishop as an office more senior than an elder or pastor

The A/G US position is that the word “elders” refers “to the office of pastor, bishop, or overseer.” 1

1 https:// ag.org/Beliefs/Position-Papers/Qualifications-and-Responsibilities-of-Deacons-and-Trustees


Writing in the 5th century, Jerome admits that bishops and elders are actually equivalents and that the early churches were ruled by a plurality of elders. A single bishop was a later development to counteract heresy and to try ensure doctrinal consistency in churches

The presbyter is the same as the bishop, and before parties had been raised up in religion by the provocations of Satan, the churches were governed by the Senate of the presbyters. But as each one sought to appropriate to himself those whom he had baptized, instead of leading them to Christ, it was appointed that one of the presbyters, elected by his colleagues, should be set over all the others, and have chief supervision over the general well-being of the community… 1

1 Comm. Titus 1.7


He makes it clear that there is no scriptural precedent for the episcopal system, but that it was later development

… it is fitting that the bishops, on their side, do not forget that if they are set over the presbyters, it is the result of tradition, and not by the fact of a particular institution by the Lord. 1

Admittedly the same can be said of some modern Protestant churches. Having all decision making and power invested in a single pastor (or ruling elder) has no Scriptural precedent. In many Charismatic churches (in particular megachurches) the single “movie star” pastor has similar power to a bishop in an Episcopal system, yet without being under any authority themselves

1 Ibid


It is sad commentary in the church today that we have many celebrities but very few servants. There are many who want to “exercise authority” (Matthew 20:25), but few who want to take the towel and basin and wash feet. 1

The rewards believers will receive at the Bema Judgment are called crowns. The Crown of Glory is given to Christian leaders who serve well and in humility. (1 Pet 5:4

1 www.gotquestions.org/servant-leadership.html



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Scripture quotations taken from the NASB: New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation Used by permission. ( Lockman.org

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