In response to my last blog, a pastor from Asia wrote me and asked why I believe that Ephesians 2:20 is not referring to the Old and New Testament respectively but the actual gifts of the apostle and prophets and their role in the church today. This is an elaboration of my reply to him:
Have you ever wondered, thought, let your imagination drift toward what God did before the beginning? C.S Lewis suggested that the three in one God was involved in a glorious dance, a harmony of oneness. This dance is so magnificent, I suggest, that Paul, when he went to the third heaven, was not able to describe its wondrous beauty.
The purpose of the blog is not to discuss the Trinity but to draw the wonder of a relational God into our conversation. God is not unipersonal, meaning there is not only one of Him, without the three. If that were the case, He might well have been a deity of laws, rules and impersonal justice. Rather, this glorious God of harmonious relationships, robed all of His creation around the affection of these relationships.
I say that because I believe these are pivotal starting points on any matter under discussion. There is a temptation to take texts like these [Eph 2:20] and interpret them purely on the basis of principles and rules. This they are not. They are truths robed around people, gifts and relationships.
Ephesians 2:20 (New International Version)
20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone
The notion that this Eph 2:20 text is referring to the OT and NT is the position held by the conservative evangelicals. It does suit their agenda, which is that these offices / grace gifts ended at the end of the 'apostolic age'. Their position is that there are no apostles today. There are no prophets today. In fact, a chaplain at one of these Christian colleges said to me, that when we say, "the Lord spoke to me", we are drifting towards heresy - we already have the bible.
I obviously know that that is not your position. Now I certainly believe that we need to be an all Bible people. The revelation of God is seen as we mine both portions of the scriptural texts. We soak ourselves in the mystery of the Old Testament story and then sit and marvel reading the New Testament encounters. What is so apparent is that we do need the actual realities of these two grace gifts in the church today. Look at these texts. They give us an inkling that foundations are not just the scripture.
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.
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 he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God. [given to apostles via the ascension gifts]
· The Old Testament was referred to in the New, as “the Law and the Prophets” [For example Matt 17:12, 11:13, 22:40, Luke 16:16, 24:14, Jn 1:45, Acts 13:15]. This may well suggest that Paul was not referring in the text to the Old Testament but to actual prophets given as gifts to these new churches. Of course the New Testament was not yet written and we also know that it was not only written by apostles. Luke was a physician, Mark was Peter’s traveling companion and we are not certain who wrote Hebrews.
· The ongoing challenge of the New Testament, esp. when we look at the Acts of the apostles - 'is this book prescriptive or descriptive?' May I suggest we find both in the workings of the Spirit. The early church did not have the scriptures [NT]. They only had the gifts. These gifts helped them on their journeys... in person, in partnership. When one looks at every account of a local church mentioned in scripture, there is always an apostle mentioned in partnership [for example Phil 1:5, 1 Cor 3:4 – 9, Col 1:1, ] these relationships were real, affectionate, personal and true. Paul would write to these churches with such knowledge of their journey. He mentioned people by name, their challenges by detail and their required responses with personal wisdom.
· The foundation that is laid by these gifts has to do with their job description, the role they play in the churches. Now the apostle's role is so much easier to define as there is so much to measure it by. They are architects / engineers. [ Cor 3:10, Heb 3:1 – 6 where Jesus is the first apostolic gift to the church]They take the blueprint of the text and apply it in each church with wisdom and sensitivity - as the epistles clearly indicate. Each church recorded in the text showed a wonderful 'partnership' between the local elders / community and one or more apostles. The elders are the highest human authority in those churches. Churches do not need coaches, mentors, presidents, team leaders. They need apostles who will journey with them in prayer , love, visiting, collaboration, in instruction. I loved that there was no territorialism, [us and them], just whatever is best for that community. I can write heaps more about this but that is not really your question.
· Now the role of the prophets is more intriguing. Little is said beyond the texts that you have mentioned. What contributions do the prophets bring to each church that are foundational to their existence? Well here are some thoughts: Prophets obviously equip the saints [Eph 4 is important to explore what New Testament prophets are called to as opposed to their Old Testament companions]... they do ensure that the church is living both in the today and tomorrow [already and the not yet]... they continuously reveal the Father's heart to the church... they do 'unblock the wells'... they catalyze the priesthood to engage in the gifts... they play a pivotal discerning role in the work of the enemy... they help in hearing the voice of the Father in identifying and releasing leaders... Prophets can pick up any drift towards heresy or idolatry...The role that prophets play is different and appears to be less frequently needed by the local churches. However, when churches never have the prophets in, they tend to drift towards either a highly cerebral journey without power and Holy Spirit presence, or they tend to lose the sense of the 'nowness' of the spiritual journey. The gifts also tend to dry up, when not honored. As a result, the priesthood drifts to be seen more as volunteerism than power players.
There is always more to say but we can allow the conversation to continue…