Vanguard Presbytery: Are Evangelists Functionaries or Offices?
At the 1975 RTS Winter Theological Institute, I was able to listen to a discussion between Dr. G. Aiken Taylor, editor of The Presbyterian Journal, and one of my professors, Paul Fowler. I had worked with Dr. Taylor the previous summer in starting a new PCA church in Asheville, NC, Trinity Presbyterian Church. Mr. Fowler wanted to meet Dr. Taylor so I made the introductions. At one point, Dr,. Taylor made the statement, “There is a problem in Presbyterianism.” Fowler chimed in, “Yes, we have a problem with evangelism.” Then Taylor responded, “Yes, yes, but we have a greater problem. We have a problem with the Holy Spirit.” In my opinion, both men were right. Presbyterians have a problem with the Holy Spirit and they have a problem with evangelism. We will never attain to the unity of the faith (Ephesians 4:13) until we become more Scriptural in both of those areas. I am coming back this week to the matter of evangelists because I have received a few objections or questions about what I have written thus far. As Paul wrote: “To write the same things again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard to you” (Phil. 3:1b). My only desire is for Vanguard Presbytery and the new denomination to do things according to the Scripture.
An objection a few people have to what I have written about the office of an evangelist is that they say an evangelist is a function of the eldership, but not an office. Thus, they say that the office of evangelist was temporary, but the functions of an evangelist in the office of elder are permanent. Here is what Webster’s New Collegiate Dictionary gives as the first two definitions of the word ‘function’: “1: professional or official position: OCCUPATION 2: the action for which a person or thing is specially fitted or used or for which a thing exists.” With Webster’s dictionary as a guide, I answer the question “Are evangelists functionaries or offices?” with a resounding yes. Evangelists are functionaries because they are offices. An evangelist is an official position, both an office and an occupation, because it is the action for which some people are specially fitted through the gifts that God has given them. In other words, referring to an evangelist as a function of the eldership, but not an office is misleading. The definition of function clarifies that it is an official position or occupation. If it is an official position, the person serving in that position has an office. Function is more than a mere duty or responsibility. It is an office. We agree that all officers and all Christians are duty bound to evangelize. But, we say more than that. We say that evangelists are permanent because the necessity of evangelism is permanent.
The real question is this: Has the function or office of an evangelist ceased or is it still with us today? If someone says that evangelists are a function of the eldership, then I agree with them because that means that the office of evangelist is still with us today. The Orthodox Presbyterian Church BCO 5.2 says: “It is proper to speak of such a publicly recognized function as an office, and to designate men by such scriptural titles of office and calling as evangelist, pastor, teacher, bishop, elder, or deacon.” The function that is publicly recognized is an office. One of those functions recognized in the OPC is the calling as an evangelist. Calling evangelists a function of the eldership, but not an office is a distinction without a difference. It is a non-sequitur.
The question is not this: Is Vanguard Presbytery establishing a new office that is outside of Scripture? Evangelists are clearly taught in the New Testament even if the word is only used three times. Deacons are referenced in the New Testament only in two places, Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13. I do not think anyone would deny the office of deacons because there are only a couple of places where it is mentioned, though. The only thing Vanguard Presbytery is saying is that the office of evangelist is still with us today. The OPC, the 1867 PCUS BCO, and most other Presbyterian books of polity also refer to evangelists. The PCUS BCO of 1867 said that the office of evangelist is permanent because the Great Commission is permanent. Vanguard Presbytery is
1.Q. Does Ephesians 4:11 teach that there are four gifts or four offices?
A. “And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers.” There is no doubt that those offices were given. That makes them gifts. But they were offices as well. First, apostles were clearly ordained and commissioned by Christ Himself—cf. Matthew 10:1-15; Mark 3:13-19; Luke 6:14-16. Second, pastors and teachers are obviously elders and 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9 speak about the requirements for this office. So, at least two of the offices mentioned are clearly identified in Scripture as offices—not merely functions and not merely gifts. There is no Scriptural justification to identify the other two listed gifts—prophets and evangelists— as anything other than offices. So, this verse teaches that the gifts Christ gave to the Church were four different offices.
2. Q. Are pastors and teachers different offices?
A. Four times, Paul refers to giving “some as.” In 1 Corinthians 12: 28, 29, Paul lists the offices as apostles, prophets, and teachers. In those verses, both evangelists and pastors are left out. We should not make too much of that. Scripture is various in such ways because it is a book of life. Scripture is not intended to be a theological manual or a detailed book of ecclesiastical polity. The arguments by Calvin and others for an office of a teacher (or, doctor of theology) in distinction of the office of a pastor are among the most unsatisfying that I have read from him and others. If Paul was referring to 5 gifts Christ gave in Ephesians 4:11, then I believe he would have used the phrase “some as” five times. Grammatically, separating pastors and teachers into two distinct offices just cannot be supported from the text.
3. Q. Did Calvin believe that evangelists were temporary?
A. Actually, Calvin’s comments on that subject are inconclusive. In his commentary on Ephesians 4, Calvin says the gift of evangelists was a temporary gift. In The Institutes of the Christian Religion, Calvin took a somewhat different view as revealed by the following quotes:
Those who preside over the government of the church in accordance with Christ’s institution are called by Paul as follows: first apostles, then prophets, thirdly evangelists, fourthly pastors, and finally teachers [Eph. 4:11]. Of these only the last two have an ordinary office in the church; the Lord raised up the first three at the beginning of his Kingdom, and now and again revives them as the need of the times demands. (Volume 2, Book 4, Chapter 3, section 4, page 1056).
“Evangelists” I take to be those who, although lower in rank than apostles, were next to them in office and functioned in their place. Such were Luke, Timothy, Titus, and others like them; perhaps also the seventy disciples, whom Christ appointed in the second place after the apostles [Luke 10:1]. (Ibid., p. 1057).
Still, I do not deny that the Lord has sometimes at a later period raised up apostles, or at least evangelists in their place, as has happened in our own day. For there was need for such persons to lead the church back from the rebellion of Antichrist. Nevertheless, I call this office “extraordinary,” because in duly constituted churches it has no place. (Ibid.).
But if we group evangelists and apostles together, we shall then have two pairs that somehow correspond with each other. (Ibid., p. 1058). [NOTE: In his commentary on Ephesians 4:11, Calvin groups prophets with both pastors and teachers. In the Institutes, he groups teachers with prophets and pastors with apostles].
These are things we learn about Calvin’s views: (1). apostles and evangelists are related because both are sent out to establish the church where Christ is not already known; (2). Calvin does not deny that there are evangelists today, but he does think that they are “extraordinary.” (3). Calvin thinks there is no need of evangelists in well-ordered churches, but that God can raise them up where they are needed such as during the Reformation. That is the crux of the issue, though, is it not? Is the whole world evangelized? Are there well-ordered churches everywhere? With all due respect to the great Reformer, I believe his view was somewhat myopic. Yet, we must recognize that even Calvin acknowledged that God can still raise up evangelists today and did so in his own day.
4. Q. Is there not a danger in setting up an office in the church that is not found in Scripture?
A. Certainly, we would be offering “strange fire” if we tried to establish an office without Scriptural foundation. Most denominations do that very thing when they have various program coordinators who rule by “fiat authority” without any recourse by the denomination. In this instance concerning evangelists, there is no danger in setting up an office without a Scriptural basis. The office of evangelist is clearly listed in Ephesians 4:11. The only question about that office is this: Is it temporary or permanent? Calvin says it is an extraordinary office that can be revived by the Lord when needed. Many say the office of evangelist was temporary. Some say it is a permanent office (for example, Charles Hodge). There is a danger on both sides of this issues. We are commanded neither to add to the Scripture nor take away from it.
5. Q. Are you breaking with the reformed tradition by holding to the office of evangelist?
A. First, having evangelists is not against the Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 25, “Of the Church.” Section 4 of that chapter says: “And particular churches are more or less pure, according as the doctrine of the gospel is taught and embraced, ordinances administered, and public worship performed more or less purely.” Second, we have already shown that some reformed pastors and teachers—notably Calvin and Hodge—either stated that evangelists can be raised up again or are still permanent offices in the church. Third, the great touchstone of truth is Scripture—not reformed tradition or the views of various reformed ministers. I have yet to read any Scriptural reason why the office of evangelist expired with the end of the Apostolic Age.
6. Q. Which offices have expired and which are permanent, and why?
A. In my understanding of Scripture, the offices of apostles and prophets have expired primarily because they were revelatory offices necessary for the laying of the foundation of the Church with Christ being the chief cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). When Scripture was completed, those offices were no longer needed. But, the non-revelatory offices that correspond to apostles and prophets still remain—evangelists and pastors-teachers. In order to fulfill the Great Commission, the Church must evangelize the lost wherever they are (evangelists) and build up the saints who have been gathered into churches (pastors and teachers). Both of those responsibilities in fulfillment of the Great Commission are permanent and necessitate those two offices to be permanent also.
7. Q. What passage of Scripture would show the qualifications for the office of an evangelist?
A. The passages which show what the requirement of elders are would be determinative here. That is the way the Church has always examined evangelists. All apostles were also elders (1 Peter 5:1). In fact, the apostles held all four offices at the same time. They were also prophets, evangelists, and pastors-teachers. A prophet was also an evangelist and a pastor-teacher. An evangelist was also a pastor-teacher. All of the offices were also elders. For instance, Timothy is told: “Do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:5). So, the requirements of the elder must be met by the evangelist along with the gifts and the calling to go out into the highways and byways to seek the lost. The evangelist has no other authority in the church than that joint authority as an ordained elder.
8. Q. Since we no longer have apostles to ordain and commission evangelists nor do we have miracle workers, can we still have evangelists?
A. First, the only passage that can support the idea that the apostles commissioned evangelists is Acts 6:1-7. There is nothing in that passage which says those seven men were evangelists, though Philip (and perhaps Stephen) are later recognized as evangelists. The task that needed to be taken care of was the serving of food to the Hellenistic Jewish widows. While there is some disagreement on this point, most commentators take Acts 6 as the establishment of the diaconate because the word ‘deacon’ means someone who ministers. These seven men ministered to the widows who were being neglected. If someone interprets Acts 6 as a reason that the office of evangelist has ceased, it seems that passage would argue even more that the office of deacon was temporary. In fact the first elders and deacons were ordained by the apostles. Surely, no one would deny that elders and deacons are permanent offices in the Church since there are no longer apostles, would they?
9. Q. What are the responsibilities of an evangelist?
a. Evangelists in Vanguard Presbytery and this new denomination will simply take the gospel to any place where sinners need to be converted. They will not be given some unscriptural title or responsibilities. They will not have extraordinary powers of healings or miracles. They will not proclaim new revelation. They will not write new Scriptures. They will not have a different message to preach. They will be men who are gifted in evangelism and have a great heart to see sinners won to the Lord. They will serve as church planters, campus ministers, chaplains in the military, missionaries, and itinerant evangelists. In fact, they will be doing the things that most every Presbyterian book of polity says should be done. Both the PCUS BCO of 1867 and the OPC BCO state that evangelists can be referred to as serving in an office.
When the PCA was formed in 1973, there were five different groups that had worked together for the birthing of that new denomination. One of those organizations was Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship (PEF)—now Reformed Evangelistic Fellowship (REF). The PCA was birthed in an evangelistic environment. PEF had evangelists, even as REF has them today. In the 1980’s, a strange phenomena happened in this country. For over two centuries it had been the practice of almost all churches throughout this country to hold evangelistic services every year. Suddenly, that practice came to a screeching halt. American Christianity had been decidedly in favor of praying for and laboring for revivals. Then, it almost completely ended. A whole generation has grown up since then that does not know what an evangelistic service is or what a week of evangelistic meetings is. There was never any question about the legitimacy or permanency of evangelists in the 1970’s when the PCA was started. It was normal. There were people who were especially gifted to preach to congregations. William Hill and Ben Wilkinson were two such men. I was ordained one week and Ben Wilkinson came to my congregation for evangelistic services the next week. Those were the days, my friend… How I long for such days again. Dewey Roberts, Pastor at Cornerstone Presbyterian Church in Destin, FL