“Equipping” Ministry In Ephesians 4? -- By: T. Daid Gordon
JETS 37:1 (March 1994) p. 69
“Equipping” Ministry In Ephesians 4?
*T. David Gordon is associate professor of New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, 130 Essex Street, South Hamilton, MA 01982.
As a minister and an academician, I examine religious slogans the way cultural analysis examine bumper stickers. They tell us what is on people’s minds and what they tend to think about what is on their minds. Two of the religious slogans I have heard frequently in the last decade or so are “equipping the saints” and “lay ministry,” each of which ordinarily occurs in tandem with a reference to Eph 4:11–12. As I have examined these slogans, I have discovered that what is behind them is a belief that the major “ministry” of the Church is to be performed by the saints themselves and that only a smaller, “equipping” ministry is to be performed by those who are ordained as distinct from other saints.
As is ordinarily the case with any error, there is an element of truth in this one. Believers are indeed called to be saints and to live distinctly holy lives in the world, thus functioning as salt and light. Further, they are called to serve one another in love, even as Christ loved them. They are to exhibit his mercy in their conduct toward others. Such acts of charity and mercy may properly be called “service” or “ministry,” and in Greek the one word diakonia could be employed to describe any service of any sort. The error does not reside in reminding Christians of their perpetual responsibility to live Christlike lives. Rather, the error consists in reducing the function of the ordained ministry to “equipping” saints for service.
Since Eph 4:11–12 is so often cited as alleged justification of the above viewpoint, what follows is an attempt to demonstrate that this passage, correctly understood, teaches no such thing at all. I realize this may not persuade all of those who promote the “equipping” viewpoint, since their view may never have been exegetically motivated. Ephesians 4:11–12 (in several recent translations) was simply a convenient prooftext for what they wished to believe anyway. But I am not so cynical as to believe that there are no practicing Bible-believers in the evangelical world. I still believe they are out there, and I continue to meet them with some regularity. Such individuals do not wish to grasp and twist the Scriptures to suit their own purposes. They sincerely wish to discover what the mind of the Holy Spirit is as revealed in Holy Scripture. For such individuals I believe that what follows is sufficient to convince them of his mind on this ...
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