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Apostolic Practice, by Vinson Synan


Nothing has stirred more interest in Pentecostal-charismatic circles in recent years than the restoration of the “fivefold ministries” Paul mentioned in Ephesians 4:11-13: “It was [Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (NIV). Although most Pentecostals refer to these as “fivefold,” others see them as “fourfold,” combining the ministries of pastor and teacher into one. These “ascension gifts,” as they are called in traditional churches, were given to the Church after Jesus ascended to the Father to extend, guide and mature the Church.

We can assume that, at the time Paul wrote, the New Testament church had a clear understanding of what these offices required, how they operated and who filled them. However, with the passing of time, the role and operation of these ministries in the everyday life of the church became less clear.

Thus, for centuries, the offices of pastor and teacher have been familiar ministries in all churches. However, only since the middle of the nineteenth century, with the success of Charles Finney and other “professional” evangelists of that day, has the office of evangelist gained a popular understanding and acceptance.

The offices of apostle and prophet have been more elusive for modern Christians. Many have accepted a belief developed throughout the centuries that the age of the apostles and prophets ended around 96 AD, about the time John, the last apostle, died. Another belief, first stated by St. Augustine (and later retracted), has been widely accepted along with this. It holds that, with the completion of the canon of Scripture, the Lord withdrew miraculous gifts of the Spirit such as tongues, prophecy and healing.

Over time, as the bishops consolidated their power in the church, the office of apostle was almost forgotten. By the second century, apostles and prophets were seen as nothing more than traveling medicine men with little or no influence or authority. In the Didache (11:3) the following rules were laid down for itinerant “apostles and prophets”: “Now, as regards apostles and prophets, act strictly according to the precept of the Gospel. Upon his arrival every apostle must be welcomed as the Lord; but he must not stay except one day. In case of necessity, however, he may stay the next day also; but if he stays three days, he is a false prophet. At his departure the apostle must receive nothing except food to last till the next night’s lodging; but if he asks for money, he is a false prophet.”

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Category: Ministry

About the Author: Vinson Synan, Ph.D., is Visiting Professor of Church History and Dean Emeritus of Regent University’s School of Divinity in Virginia Beach, VA. Dr. Synan has over ten years of pastoral experience and is the author of several books including The Holiness-Pentecostal Tradition: Charismatic Movements in the Twentieth Century, The Century Of The Holy Spirit 100 Years Of Pentecostal And Charismatic Renewal, 1901-2001, Global Renewal Christianity: Europe and North America Spirit Empowered Movements: Past, Present, and Future, and The Twentieth-Century Pentecostal Explosion: The Exciting Growth of Pentecostal Churches and Charismatic Renewal Movements. Dr. Synan has been a leader bringing Christians together in the gospel of Jesus Christ through such efforts as founding the Society for Pentecostal Studies and participating in the Pentecostal and Charismatic Churches of North America (PCCNA) Task Force. www.regent.edu/acad/schdiv/faculty_staff/synan.shtml

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