“And He gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;”
“Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that He was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection… that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship…“
“…and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist… and the same man had four daughters, virgins, which did prophesy.”
Order of Contents
With self-proclaimed ‘apostles’, ‘prophets’ and ‘evangelists’ making great claims today, the sincere Christian is left to wonder whether such persons have any binding power upon his or her conscience. Thus, the question of whether the offices of apostles, prophets and evangelists continue through the Christian Church is of the utmost, practical importance.
As will be seen clearly from the resources below, the modern claimants to these authoritative offices resemble very little the nature, qualifications and functions of the Biblical offices themselves.
The best, succinct, but detailed, place to start for the discerning inquirer is the several pages of the Southern Presbyterian Thomas Smyth: ‘Of the Extraordinary Officers of the Church’ being Questions 68-76 of An Ecclesiastical Catechism of the Presbyterian Church (1841).
The most obvious reason why these special offices ceased with the direct appointment and laying on of hands by the apostles (as they are described as being conferred by, and limited to, in the New Testament, with their attendant extraordinary gifts: 2 Tim. 1:6; Acts 9:16-18; 13:2-4; 8:16-17; 19:5-7; 1 Tim. 4:14; etc.) is that, as Christ is Head and King of his Church and appoints and regulates its government through his Word, the New Testament does not give directions or authorize how these extraordinary offices should be continued through succession in the continuing Christian Church, whereas it does for elders (pastors, teachers & ruling elders) and deacons (2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Tim. 3; Titus 1:5-8; Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4:14; etc.).
In our day of hyper-lay-evangelism, it will sound strange to many, or most, that historic, reformed Christianity has nearly universally regarded the New Testament office of evangelist as having ceased. Persons who held the office of evangelist in Scripture include: Stephen, Philip, Barnabas, Timothy, John Mark, Titus, Silas & Luke. The office had qualifications and powers shared by none today, namely:
Being directly appointed by an apostle with a miraculous gift for the purpose (2 Tim. 1:6; Acts 6:8; 8:13; Acts 8:39-40; 14:3), being accountable directly to the apostles (2 Tim. 4:9,11,21; Acts 17:15-16; Titus 3:12), working with them (2 Cor. 1:1; Acts 20:4; Rom. 16:21; 2 Cor. 1:19; Col. 1:1; Phil. 1:1; 1 Thess. 1:1; 2 Thess. 1:1; Acts 15:22), fulfilling their delegated designs and work ‘and even acted as their substitutes’ (Calvin, 19:22; 1 Cor. 4:17; Phil. 2:19; 1 Thess. 3:2), receiving special revelations of God (Acts 8:26-27), and having Holy-Spirit-infused power, from the authority of the apostles, to ordain elders in the growing early Church (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4-5) where no presbyteries of elders (1 Tim. 4:14) had yet been established;
This authority and these qualifications and special gifts for the office no person wields today, not having received these things from the apostles (there being no apostles today as apsotles had to be first-hand witnesses of Christ’s physical resurrection (Acts 1:21-22,25; Acts 9:3-5), the last witness to this, Scripture states, was Paul (1 Cor. 15:8).
While there are no extraordinary, New Testament evangelists today (in the wisdom of God), yet the commission of Christ to the apostles as representatives of the Church (Mt. 18:18-20) descends upon the whole Church through them in its respective powers and capacities.
Thus ordinary Church members, in fulfillment of the Great Commission, are to live a life brimming full of Jesus Christ and have Him upon their lips wherever they go and in whatever they do (Acts 8:1, ‘gospelizing’ in the Greek; Col. 3:17), and yet preaching remains solely an authoritative, public, heralding of the gospel limited to the office of minister (as that is all to whom the Word prescribes it to the continuing Christian Church, and no others) and are to preach the gospel to every creature (Mk 16:15).
The argument that the office of evangelist ‘is permanent and not confined to the apostolic period’ because ‘the gifts and functions of evangelism are necessary until the end of the age’ (O.P.C., B.C.O., ch. 7), does not hold, as:
– the primary, distinctive gift of authority and function of the office of evangelist, to ordain elders in the early Church (Acts 14:23; 1 Tim. 4-5) before the establishment of presbyteries (which took over that authority and function), was necessary to the times but is no longer so. The mission field can be, and should be, in contact with presbyteries who are able to ordain elders for them, and provide them oversight, which was formerly the job of Biblical evangelists.
Accordingly, Calvin says, ‘The office I nevertheless call extraordinary, because it has no place in churches duly constituted.’ (Institutes, Book 4, ch. 3, sections 4-5)
– all of the gifts and functions of the New Testament office of evangelist do not continue till the end of the age and only holding to some of the gifts and functions of the office would not have qualified a person for the New Testament office. The New Testament knows of no other office of evangelist besides the one delineated in its pages.
– the ordinary gifts and functions of the Biblical evangelist (as: seeking to win unbelievers, preaching to them, laboring out of bounds of a pastoral charge, making communications and executing regional endeavors, teaching abroad, etc.) are also all powers and responsibilities of pastors who are not inherently tied to the local congregation, but are members of the regional presbytery and the universal visible Church at large. Hence these ordinary gifts and functions are to be exercised by the office that Christ has made continual provision for by presbyterial ordination through the ages.
– If the ordinary gifts and functions of the extraordinary offices implied their continuation, then the distinct offices of apostle and prophet should continue in the Church as well, with their ordinary functions. Yet:
– One would then be hard-pressed to differentiate how an ordinary, contemporary office of apostle is different from a continuing, ordinary office of evangelist, they being only really distinguished by their extraordinary authority and functions.
– The ordinary functions of the preaching and teaching of the apostles and prophets do not necessitate the continuance of separate offices, but are included in the office of minister, and continue in that Christ-ordained, ordinary ministry. There is no difference between these cases and that of the office of evangelist.
– As the higher offices include all of the authority, gifts and functions of the lower offices (see Gillespie, Bayne, etc.), and if one removes all of the extraordinary authority, gifts, calling and functions of the Biblical office of evangelist, one is left precisely with the authority, gifts, calling and functions of the office of minister, and no more. As an office is defined by a specific and unique authority, gifting, calling and functions, an ordinary ‘evangelist’ and a minister, are, by definition, the same office.
Hence, this is why historically reformed denominations such as the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), which inherited its form of government from the Second Reformation of Scotland, simply commissions ministers upon an evangelistic task, though the NT office of evangelist forms no distinct, permanent, office in its government.
When the modern Church comes to reform itself according to the Word of God in these matters, as it did in the Reformation, it will see unprecedented fruitfulness in evangelism, with the blessing of God.
Be sure also to see our resources on the cessation of the charismatic gifts, which are very pertinent to the question.
May these resources be instructive to you and a tremendous blessing to the health and purity of Christ’s Church, and the salvation of the lost.
On All 3 Extraordinary Offices
See also the resources on the cessation of the charismatic gifts generally, which contain much relevant info.
Institutes, Book 4, ch. 3, sections 4-5 d. 1564 3 pp.
Vermigli, Peter Martyr – Common Places, Part 4, Ch. 1, ‘Of the catholic Church; Of Sundry Ministers of the Church’ 1576 See the table of contents to his Common Places
Hemmingsen, Niels – pp. 136-138 of Commentary on eph. 4:11
Hemmingsen (1513-1600) was a Lutheran.
Gerhard, Johann – Theological Places, vol. 6, Locus 23
Gerhard (1582-1637) was a Lutheran.
“I hold the third opinion [that NT prophets were extraordinary] with Gerhard… and diverse others…” – Gillespie
Baynes, Paul – pp. 255-7 of Commentary on Eph. 4:11 d. 1617
Gillespie, George – Ch. 7: ‘Of Prophets and Evangelists: in what Sense their Work and Vocation might be Called Extraordinary, and in what Sense Ordinary’ in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions
Gillespie takes ‘prophets and evangelists’ as having both extraordinary and ordinary aspects and functions. The offices are not ordinary to the continuing Christian church, but upon extraordinary occasions, ecclesiastical assemblies may commission persons for the ordinary work of ‘evangelists’ as messengers to make communications with other assemblies.
Yet Gillespie does not see the office of evangelist has having a permanent place in the church or that there is warrant for them having a distinct ordination, and what he describes as their continuing functions takes place in historically reformed denominations already, such as the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing), which, from the Second Reformation in Scotland, never inherited an office of the NT evangelist.
On further details of his understanding of prophets, see ch. 5 blow under ‘Prophets’. See also our section on Scottish Continuationism?
Owen, John – ‘Of Gifts and Offices Extraordinary; and First of Offices’ in A Discourse of Spiritual Gifts in Works, vol. 4, pp. 438 ff.
Poole, Matthew – Commentary on Eph. 4:11
Smyth, Thomas – ‘Of the Extraordinary Officers of the Church’ being Questions 68-76 and pp. 37-40 of An Ecclesiastical Catechism of the Presbyterian Church
Smyth was a Southern Presbyterian minister in Charleston, South Carolina.
Eadie, John – Commentary on Eph. 4:11
Eadie was a professor in the Scottish Secession Church.
Hodge, Charles – Commentary on Eph. 4:11
Hodge, J. Aspinwall – Ch. 3, ‘of the Officers of the Church’ in What is Presbyterian Law, as Defined by the Church Courts?, pp. 41-44 1882
Stewart, Angus – ‘Apostles, Prophets and Evangelists’ 10 paragraphs
Aretius, Benedict – Ch. 62, ‘Of ecclesiastical Offices’ being pp. 183-186 of Common Places of the Christian Religion Methodically Explicated (Geneva, 1589; Bern, 1604)
“The officers which Christ hath appointed for the edification of his church, and the perfecting of the saints, are, some extraordinary, as apostles, evangelists, and prophets, which are ceased. Others ordinary and perpetual, as pastors, teachers, and other church-governors, and deacons.”
“In the New Testament and time of the Evangel, He has used the ministry of the Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors, and Doctors in administration of the word: The Eldership for good order, and administration of the discipline: The Deaconship to have the cure of the ecclesiastical goods.
Some of their ecclesiastical functions are ordinary, and some extraordinary or temporary. There be three extraordinary functions: the office of the Apostle, the Evangelist, and of the Prophet, which are not perpetual, and now have ceased in the kirk of God, except when it pleased God extraordinarily for a time to stir some of them up again.”
Samuel Rutherford, Due Right of Presbyteries 1646
Part 1, p. 452
“4. What the apostles do as apostles agrees only to apostles, and can be done by none but apostles, or by evangelists having their power by special warrantable commission from them, as what a man does as a man, what a pastor does as a pastor, a deacon as a deacon, a prophet as a prophet, can be done by none but by a man only, a pastor only, a deacon only…
5. …and what any one apostle does as an apostle by the amplitude of a transcendent power, every apostle does it completely, and wholly his alone as without help of another apostle; Peter works a miracle, especially any one apostle, as Paul, his alone might ordain Timothy an evangelist.”
Part 1, p. 483
“Answer: 1. Some parcels of these epistles are written to Timothy and Titus as evangelists, such as none may now do but they only (2 Tim. 4:4; Tit. 1:3; 2 Tim. 1:5) and some other things which they gave in charge to elders.
2. Some things are written to them as Christians, as 1 Tim. 1:19; Tit. 3:3 and finaliter, or objectively, all is written for the Church’s good; but
3. the bulk of the epistle is written to them as elders, and is a rule of perpetual government, and especially, 1 Tim. 5:22; 2 Tim. 2:2, for these and the like they were to do with the presbytery, as is clear, 1 Tim. 4:14.”
The Divine Right of Church Government, Part 2 1646/54
“Jesus Christ our Mediator hath ordained and set in his Church (besides the apostles and other extraordinary officers that are now ceased) pastors and teachers, as also ruling elders, as the subject of the keys for all ordinary ecclesiastical administrations.
Commentary on Eph. 4:11
“The officers which Christ gave to his church were of two sorts—extraordinary ones advanced to a higher office in the church: such were apostles, prophets, and evangelists.
The apostles were chief. These Christ immediately called, furnished them with extraordinary gifts and the power of working miracles, and with infallibility in delivering his truth; and, they having been the witnesses of his miracles and doctrine, he sent them forth to spread the gospel and to plant and govern churches.
The prophets seem to have been such as expounded the writings of the Old Testament, and foretold things to come.
The evangelists were ordained persons (2 Tim. 1:6 ), whom the apostles took for their companions in travel (Gal. 2:1 ), and sent them out to settle and establish such churches as the apostles themselves had planted (Acts. 19:22 ), and, not being fixed to any particular place, they were to continue till recalled, 2 Tim. 4:9.
And then there are ordinary ministers, employed in a lower and narrower sphere; as pastors and teachers…”
See especially Kayser.
Lightfoot, John – pp. 125-128 of Commentary on Acts in Works, vol. 8
Barrington, John Shute – Essay 2, Part 1, ‘on the Apostles’ †1734 139 pp. in Theological Works, vol. 2
Kuyper, Abraham – ‘Apostles To-Day?’ in The Work of the Holy Spirit, pp. 158-163
Kayser, Phillip – pp. 44-45 of The Canon of Scripture: Biblical Presuppositions 2010 Be sure to also see footnote #78
Jones, Peter – ‘1 Cor. 15:8, Paul the Last Apostle’ 1984 32 pp. in Tyndale Bulletin36 (1985) 3-34
See also our section on the cessation of prophecy.
Rutherford, Samuel – pp. 248-255 of Ch. 16, ‘Where also the Question about Public Prophesying of such Gifted Men as are not in Office, is Discussed Against the Tenet of Separatists’ in A Peaceable and Temperate Plea 1642
Gillespie, George – Ch. 5: ‘Whether these Prophets and Prophesyings in the Primitive Church, 1 Cor. 14; 12:28; Eph. 4:11; were extraordinary and not so to continue; or whether they are precedents for the preaching or prophesying of such as are neither ordained ministers nor probationers for the ministry’ in A Treatise of Miscellany Questions
Gillespie is arguing against the Independants who claimed that their practice of unordained lay-preaching was warranted from the ‘prophets’ and ‘prophesying’ of the NT,, which they took to include gifted, non-ordained lay-persons.
In the midst of the discussion, Gillespie expresses his belief that the NT prophets were extraordinary and inspired, and that at the Reformation and afterwards such persons, whom he in part names in a list, were raised up with gifts greater than that of ordinary pastors. He does not express though, that ‘prophet’ is a continuing office in the church or ordinary thereto, or fallible. As Gillespie regards the phenomenon as extraordinary and ceased in most periods of the church, his view is very different than that of most Continuationists. Gillespie, while using the NT verses of ‘prophets’ as proof-texts for cessationism in other parts of his writings, wonders here whether these Scriptures may bear the additional nuance of including the non-inspired, modern, Reformation ‘prophets’ that Gillespie cites:
“and upon what Scripture can we pitch for such extraordinary prophets, if not upon those Scriptures…?”
Gillespie’s implicit premise seems to be: Finding the accounts of the Reformation ‘prophets’ to be self-evidently true, he seeks Scriptural warrant for them, for it would be strange for God to give ‘prophets’ to his continuing Church, and yet for Scripture not to mention such at all. Therefore, perhaps this modern phenomenon may be grounded in these specific Scriptures?
See also our section on Scottish Continuationism?
See also the Introduction at the top of this page as well as the general articles by Smyth, Owen and others above.
Dabney, Robert – pp. 250-254 of ‘Prelacy a Blunder’ in Discussions, vol. 2
Prelacy has sometimes taken the ‘charismata’ to be a gifting and anointing of the Holy Spirit conferred by the laying on of hands in ordination, in order to justify apostolic succession, etc.
Dabney, on the contrary, shows that it certainly does not mean this, but is to be taken for the extraordinary spiritual giftings of the Holy Spirit, conveyed by the laying on of the apostles hands, which hence has ceased with the apostles. He also discusses the unique nature of the Biblical evangelists. His discussion is important and very insightful.
Schwertley, Brian – ‘Evangelist’ 6 paragraphs
Smyth, vol. 2
John Brown of Haddington, Letters on the Constitution, Government, and Discipline, of the Christian Church, pp. 73-74 d. 1787
[The quote below is significant in that it shows that Brown, a mid-1700’s Scottish Secession Church professor, understood evangelists to have been able, of themselves, to ordain elders, and that Titus, as an evangelist, was to do such.
This is in contrast to a modern theory of ‘evangelist’ that such were simply presbyters who had a unique evangelistic function, but did not have the authority to ordain elders of themselves. This theory, based on the silence of Scripture and as it is contrary to Brown, representing the older viewpoint, below, held that Titus did not actually ordain the elders, but rather that a presbytery did.]
“Ordination appears to have been performed by apostles, by evangelists, and by a presbytery, Acts 6:6, and 14:23; Tit. 1:5; 1 Tim. 5:22, and 4:14: but never by private Christians. Could these [private Christians] ordain their pastors or other ecclesiastic officers, to what purpose did Paul leave Titus at Crete to ordain elders in every city? Or why did he write never a word about ordination to the people, in any of his epistles, but to their rulers?”