FORGET NONE OF HIS BENEFITS
volume 17, number 37, September 20, 2018
“And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” -Ephesians 4:11
Does the Office of Evangelist Still Exist Today?
I am often asked this question and the issue is somewhat controversial in today’s evangelical and Reformed church world. Most Reformed and Presbyterian denominations (including my own, the PCA) do not recognize the Office of Evangelist. To be fair, the PCA does allow ordained Teaching Elders to serve as evangelists on foreign mission fields or in what we call destitute regions (where there are no PCA congregations in close proximity to a particular church plant). And the evangelist, for a period of twelve months, may be given the authority to ordain church officers, receive and dismiss church members, and organize churches (PCA Book of Church Order, 8-6).
Before answering this question, let’s first take a brief look at the Biblical data. The Greek noun euaggelistas (literally messenger of good news), from which we get our transliterated word evangelist appears only three times in the New Testament-Acts 21:8, “On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him”; Ephesians 4:11, which is noted above; and in 2 Timothy 4:5 where Paul exhorts young Timothy to do the work of an evangelist.
What are the reasons some say that the Office of Evangelist no longer exists? First of all, some rightly point out that in only one usage (Ephesians 4:11) do we have a clear statement of the Office of Evangelist. In the other two instances (Acts 21:8, 2 Timothy 4:5) the use of evangelist is not clear. Does it mean a man using the gift of evangelist or does it refer to the office, as it clearly does in Ephesians 4:11? So, as their argument goes, there is not a whole lot of information in the New Testament to confirm the Office of Evangelist. And some go further by saying the Office of Evangelist has ceased to exist just like the Offices of Apostle and Prophet, because these were revelatory offices (used by God during the time the Holy Spirit was writing what we call the New Testament) and thus are no longer needed. After all, they argue, Phillip the evangelist, went down to Samaria and was proclaiming Christ to the people there, and was performing signs, including casting out demons (Acts 8:4-7). This seems to be John Calvin’s reason for saying that neither the offices of apostle, prophet, or evangelist exist today, that we no longer need signs and wonders to authenticate the work of the Spirit. He says that only pastor and teacher are ordinary offices in the church. Calvin, however, also says that God may raise up these offices of apostle, prophet, and evangelist as needed in the life of the church.
Secondly, the Apostle Paul gives clear guidelines on the qualifications for both elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:5-9), but gives no such guidelines concerning evangelists. Therefore, so some say, this proves that God never intended for the Office of Evangelist to last beyond the Apostolic age.
However, I am not buying the arguments against the Office of Evangelist. I concur with John Calvin and so many others that the Offices of Apostle and Prophet no longer exist because these were truly revelatory in nature. We have the Canon of Scripture. Therefore Apostles and Prophets are now unnecessary. Having said this, however, I also with Calvin want to leave the door open for the possibility of men possessing the gift of Apostle or Prophet with a small “a” or small “p”. There have been men in the life of the church whom God has raised up for certain times to lead the church out of darkness. These men do not, of course, add to Scripture by their words, but they are great leaders. One only has to think of Martin Luther and John Calvin as two examples of such. We could perhaps say that Martyn Lloyd-Jones in the latter part of the Twentieth century and R.C. Sproul in the Twenty-first century also fit this description.
So, I believe the Office of Evangelist exists today and the very fact that the church has generally not acknowledged, received, or implemented this office goes a long way in explaining the lethargy, sterility, and deadness of so many of our Reformed and evangelical churches in the Twenty-first century.
So, why do I believe the Office of Evangelist exists today? The fact that the word evangelist is used only three times in the New Testament in no way mitigates the existence of the office. A lack of usage of the word is a poor argument to refute the office. The Greek word for propitiation is also used only three times in the New Testament (Romans 3:25, 1 Jn.2:2, 4:10) and no one dismisses this word and the glorious doctrine of Christ’s atonement which it states.
The fact that no qualifications for the Office of Evangelist are stated in the New Testament, while they are listed for the Offices of Elder and Deacon, is no reason to dismiss the existence of the office today. This is an argument from silence and is not valid. The New Testament, for example, does not teach tithing but most Christian leaders today believe the Bible commands tithing (Malachi 3:10). The doctrine is a carry over from the Old Testament. The Ten Commandments are not listed in the New Testament yet we all know they are viable today.
To go further on the issue of no qualifications listed for the Office of Evangelist, we should remember that Paul’s qualifications in 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are addressing the shepherding and discipling or teaching responsibilities of elders and the mercy ministry and logistical responsibilities of deacons. Paul does not mention evangelists in his lists because they are not germane to the topic he is addressing.
The context of Ephesians 4:11 is also vital to prove the continued existence of the Office of Evangelist. Paul says that the church is established on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). Paul goes further to state that the mystery of the gospel, the unfathomable riches of Christ, is to be preached to those living in darkness (Ephesians 3:5-7). Who does this great work? Those Paul later calls evangelists are the ones to oversee this vital work in the church.
The argument that the Office of Evangelist should be included with the Office of Apostle and Prophet as no longer in effect because they are revelatory offices is not valid either. The fact that Philip cast out demons does not prove the Office of Evangelist was revelatory. We know that false prophets were able to cast out demons and perform many miracles (Matthew 7:22,23). So casting out demons does not prove anything here in one way or the other.
Finally, the very context of Paul’s declaration in Ephesians 4:11 makes clear the two-fold purpose of evangelists and pastor-teachers-1)to equip the saints for service in the church, 2)and to build up or edify the body of Christ. These three offices, Evangelist, Pastor-Teacher or Elder, and Deacon are all needed.
Refusing to acknowledge and deploy the Office of Evangelist in today’s church has had devastating consequences. We can only wonder what would happen if we likewise abandoned the office of Elder and Deacon. Peter Jones’ recent article on how the Revoice Conference will lead us more and more into the ancient Roman world of paganism is poignant and hard hitting. And what is Peter Jones’ remedy? We must preach the gospel and call people everywhere to repent. Evangelists are uniquely gifted and called by God to be the spearpoint of the church in going to the lost world and proclaiming the unfathomable riches of Christ to lost sinners, but we have largely taken the spear out of their hands. Churches regularly ignore or keep under wraps men and women in their churches with evangelistic gifts. This is very troubling and amazing to me. Yes, every Christian and every pastor is to evangelize, but there are men in the church, whom God has gifted and called to go to the streets, to lost sinners everywhere, and urge them to repent of their sins and to believe on Christ. We need gifted men in the Office of Evangelist and we need gifted men and women who are evangelists to serve under the Evangelist to lead the evangelistic ministry of our churches.
While I do not have much confidence that Presbyterian and Reformed churches will amend their polity to include the Office of Evangelist, I nonetheless, believe we should wholeheartedly embrace the principle of the Office and encourage men to aspire to the office (1 Timothy 3:1) and to stir up or kindle afresh the gift God has bestowed on us (2 Timothy 1:6).
1. Institutes of the Christian Religion, John Calvin, Book IV, Chapter 3, Section 4.
2. Slouching To Ancient Rome, <theaquilareport.com> September 4, 2018