As I have been proposing in these recent Blogs, Jesus announced to his bewildered disciples that: “I will build my church” … but then didn’t give them any algorithm of what their role was in that, per se, so that we have to extrapolate from the rest of the New Testament documents exactly how that church emerged and would be built, and what its role is in the gospel enterprise. For instance, one might look at Jesus’ prayer in the 17th chapter of John, and imagine how that prayer would be answered in some kind of communal form. Elsewhere in apostolic writings we learn that it is God’s purpose that all of us be formed into the image of Christ. How does that happen? How do all of us, sometimes weird and broken and unpredictable folk, come to be those who are robust and authentic New Creation persons, who are not humanly explainable?

I come again and again to the fourth chapter of Ephesians, which gives some of the most provocative clues as to how the colonies of Christ’s new humanity are to be formed. It simply states that Christ gives, to such communities, four specific gifts, so that every believer will become mature and fully equipped to fulfill that for which Christ has called them. Note: all four are essential.

Now: how do those gifts manifest themselves in such communities / colonies? Well, for starts, there may be some person(s) who emerges from within the community, who is commonly accepted as one who is uniquely gifted in helping the rest, by one of those gifts—or … it may be that the expression of those essential components / gifts is a communal project. Like, get a half-dozen believers together with scriptures and let them work out how they will equip themselves and each other in these component gifts, and be accountable to one another for them.

Specifically, I want to begin with the last mentioned: the teaching-shepherd gift. In the Greek this appears to be a hyphenated, or composite designation. Like the others, it is not defined, but obviously is the gift that equips the community in the teachings of Christ / the word of Christ. Participants in the colony of God’s new creation must have a good grasp on the message: its data, its promises, its demands, and how it expresses itself in the colony / community of God’s new humanity—maybe its praxis.

This gift, in turn, informs the other three gifts: apostles, prophets, and evangelists. And there is reciprocity here—the other three gifts must be dynamically informed by that word of Christ and by the teaching-shepherd. If what the teaching-shepherd is doing to form the community in the word of Christ does not produce evangelists, prophets, and apostles, … then it is essentially irrelevant to the building of the church. The four gifts are symbiotic; they are inter-animating, and interdependent. This is an inescapable factor in the formation of the church, whether it is accomplished by gifted individuals, or by the colony gathered around scripture, … or in some isolated situations is a do-it-yourself project. (Being designated a ‘church professional’ or ‘clergy’ doesn’t guarantee the realization of such gifted-ness in the community, alas!)

Resources: So, if you are tracking with me here, you may ask: what are the resources that you would recommend to assist us? Let me give you several that are my own personal favorites: 1) An English Standard Version Student Study Bible (ESV)—an accurate translation with helpful study and footnotes (and available on Kindle); 2) The one volume New Bible Commentary (brief and helpful expositions of texts, etc.); and 3) The one volume New Bible Dictionary (look up words and concepts that seem strange). Then there are always the resources of Wikipedia and Google, which are generally pretty good. (What I am proposing here: the dynamic presence of these four gifts and the maturity they are designed to produce, may well render much that goes on in so many ‘church institutions’ irrelevant to the mission of God in their present self-understanding!) … Next time: the gift of apostle.

About rthenderson

Sixty years a pastor-teacher within the Presbyterian Church. Author of several books, the latest of which are a trilogy on missional ecclesiology: ENCHANTED COMMUNITY: JOURNEY INTO THE MYSTERY OF THE CHURCH, then, REFOUNDING THE CHURCH FROM THE UNDERSIDE, then THE CHURCH AND THE RELENTLESS DARKNESS. Previous to this trilogy was A DOOR OF HOPE: SPIRITUAL CONFLICT IN PASTORAL MINISTRY, and SUBVERSIVE JESUS, RADICAL FAITH. I am a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, a graduate of Davidson College, then of Columbia and Westminster Theological Seminaries.
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