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What Is A New Testament Church?: Part 3. Contextual Ministry


What Is A New Testament Church?

Part 3. Contextual Ministry

September 4, 2007
Ron and Karen Schwartz

The New Testament Church recognized both the appointment of church offices and the endowment of gifts. Men appoint men to an office. A gift however, is the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in a person. It is the Holy Spirit’s use of a believer for a divine purpose.

“Gift” Versus “Office”

Consider the two following scriptures:

1 Timothy 3:1 KJV
This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

The Greek word for “office” is episkope (ep-is-kop-ay'). It means “inspection and therefore (by implication), superintendence or overseer.” We find in the epistles of both Timothy and Titus that the church office was an appointment to a position of oversight that was given by men. We also find that the First Century Christians recognized the endowment of gifts as described in the following scripture:

Ephesians 4:7-11 KJV
7 But unto every one of us is given grace according to the measure of the gift of Christ.
8 Wherefore he saith, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men.
9(Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?
10 He that descended is the same also that ascended up far above all heavens, that he might fill all things.)
11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;

The gifting of ministry is a sovereign act of the Holy Spirit, and since it is the endowment of the Holy Spirit, it must have precedence over any office(s) that men create. The First Century Christians gave respect to those appointed to church offices, but they gave precedence and deference to those who were spiritually gifted. The New Testament church did not tolerate a church “officer” taking authority over the spiritually gifted. Consider the following passage from John’s letter:

3 John 9-10 KJV
9 I wrote unto the church: but Diotrephes, who loveth to have the preeminence among them, receiveth us not.
10 Wherefore, if I come, I will remember his deeds which he doeth, prating
(i.e., gossiping) against us with malicious words: and not content therewith, neither doth he himself receive the brethren, and forbiddeth them that would, and casteth them out of the church.

Here we find an example of a church leader appointed to an office taking control and dominance over those who were spiritually endowed. Unlike contemporary Christianity, the New Testament Church placed a great deal of emphasis on the sovereignty of the Holy Spirit. Christians were taught that the Holy Spirit is the enabler and leader of each believer, and by extension, the congregation. Believers respected the principle nature of the Holy Spirit in one another. They were taught to yield to the manifestation of a spiritual gift and thereby concede to the leadership of the Holy Spirit as when Paul wrote of the prophets: “Let the prophets speak two or three, and let the other judge. If any thing be revealed to another that sitteth by, let the first hold his peace (1 Corinthians 14:29-30).

The practice of the New Testament church was vastly different from its contemporary counterpart. “Appointed” church offices took a back seat to the manifestation of the Spirit, while those who were spiritually gifted were both encouraged and allowed to express their spiritual gifts. Today, however, the reverse is true. In our contemporary church model, “appointed” church offices (i.e., men who are appointed to a position of authority) are often expected to be plenipotentiary leaders who take precedence over the spiritually gifted. The spiritually gifted are often viewed and treated as troublemakers and renegades.

Derailing The Spiritually Gifted

When men are “appointed” to positions of authority, then authority becomes (at least one of) their objective(s). Artificial authority (i.e. authority appointed by men) becomes another ingredient added to a recipe. It changes the flavor.

By nature, people given authority by other people will gravitate toward plenipotentiary leadership. Therefore any other form of authority becomes problematic. Even the manifestation of Holy Spirit functioning in a demonstrative manner (which is a form of leadership) presents a threat.

In contrast, people who are truly endowed with spiritual gifts do not pursue authority. The goal of the spiritually gifted is to merely relieve their spirit of the burden that the spiritual gift imposes as it endeavors to be manifested.

Usually, those who are appointed to positions of authority come from the ranks of the spiritually gifted. This is because quite often the spiritually gifted are expected to take positions of authority. It is clever trick invented by Satan to derail the spiritually gifted. It derails the spiritually gifted by changing their objective from “operating in the gift” to “operating in the authority,” from “being a servant” to” being in control,” and from “waiting on the spirit” to “having a program.”

In contemporary Christianity, spiritually gifted individuals are encouraged to attend Bible College and then find a church to pastor. This is a derailing of the spiritual objective for their lives. The goal of the Holy Spirit is not to send the spiritually gifted away from the body of Christians of which they are a part but to manifest Himself through each person. Instead, institutional churches are barren of the spiritually gifted because the gifted are either encouraged to leave to find a church of their own to pastor or asked to leave when they become problematic.

The contemporary church is derailed, primarily because its leaders are. They have allowed their appointed positions to give them a place in the church that God never intended. Appointed church leaders were to have authority over that which belongs to men, not that which belongs to God.

An example of the appointment of men to church offices and the purpose for doing so is found in the Book of Acts:

Acts 6:1-5 KJV
1 And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.
2 Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.
3 Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.
4 But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the word.
5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch.

It was the responsibility of the church (not God) to see that the “daily ministration” of goods such as food and money was distributed equitably. They needed men to be “appointed” to positions to “oversee” this facet of ministry. Whenever a material or physical need was identified, men would be “appointed” to address it. But this did not give them credentials to exert authority over the spiritual affairs of the church. In the New Testament church, it is God’s responsibility to see that the spiritual needs of His people are met.

Derailing occurs because appointed church leaders believe that their appointed ministries supercede the gifts of God.

Derailing also occurs because people tend to gravitate toward a dependency on the flesh. People tend toward “self”-righteousness, “self”-intellect, “self”-sufficiency and “self”-control. The more fleshly people are, the more flesh they want. The more spiritual they are, the more Spirit they want. Therefore, institutional Christians tend to gravitate toward institutional-style ministries and churches. Leaving things to the invisible and spontaneous Holy Spirit goes against the grain. That is why the pull of Old Testament structure is so strong. The Old Testament was dependent on the intellect, strength, and (self) righteousness of men.

The draw of the Old Testament can become self-perpetuating. As a church begins to grow cold, it becomes more and more institutional. The more institutional it becomes, the colder it grows. It becomes a vicious circle drawing a church further and further into the institutional replacement of the Holy Spirit.

New Testament Ministry

The ministry of the Old Testament was static, or predictable. All male Levites were priests. Those born of Aaron’s lineage were temple priests, and out of them, one was chosen to be the High Priest. Who they were and what they did was both predictable and scheduled. In contrast, the ministry of the New Testament is dynamic. It is designed to be contextual. That is to say, the Holy Spirit working through an individual adapts to the context of a particular situation. Paul describes the adaptability of the Spirit when he writes:

1 Corinthians 9:19-22 KJV
19 For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more.
20 And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law;
21 To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.
22 To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.

Here Paul describes how the nature of New Testament ministry changes to adapt to the context of both his environment and audience.

Intuitively, all Christians know this. All Christian mothers and fathers realize that they are both pastors and teachers to their families. All Christians understand that they are evangelists to their lost friends. Jesus confirmed this by the great commission when He charged all believers to, “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15).” Christians routinely act as teachers to each other. Every New Testament believer has acted in the capacity of one or more of the listed five-fold ministries of Ephesians 4.

This is because, in the New Testament, every believer is a temple, having the Spirit of God, and is therefore capable of providing ministry to people. Each believer is meant to adapt to the context of their environment and audiences, drawing from the spiritual gifts that are made available to them by the Holy Spirit and ministering to those who are in need.

Jesus modeled this for us. To the woman at the well, Jesus acted in the capacity of an evangelist: “Jesus answered [her], "Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life (John 4:13).” To the Pharisees, He spoke with the rebuke of a prophet: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell (Matt 23:27-33)?” To His disciples, He was an apostle establishing the church: “And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it (Matt 16:18).” To the inquisitive soul, He was a teacher: “The same [Nicodemus] came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God (John 3:2).” And to children of God, He was/is a pastor: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not (Matt 23:37)!”

The problem with institutional churches is that they have reverted back to an Old Testament style of ministry where ministry was static (unchanging) and exercised by only a small portion of God’s people (Levites). The spontaneity and adaptability of the Spirit is lost in most churches. However, once out of the church setting (away from the Old Testament-style ministers), many Christians revert back to New Testament ministry and once again become the adaptable, spontaneous, and contextual ministers in whom the Spirit can operate. Once again, they take advantage of the spiritual gifts and evangelize their friends, they pastor and teach their children, and, as an apostle, they establish the church of their own family.

Many people point to scriptures like James 3:1 (“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation” - the word “master” being the same Greek word translated “teacher” in the description of the five-fold ministry found in Ephesians 4) to suggest that there is, in fact, a small cadre of men who are chosen for ministry just as in the Old Testament. But they are incorrect.

This scripture alludes to a Jewish custom of discipling. A Jewish rabbi (i.e., master or teacher) would gather to himself a group of disciples whom he would teach. Jesus did this and was often referred to as “rabbi,” “teacher,” and “master.” Disciples would essentially live with and serve their “master (or teacher).” Many rabbis who became saved would keep their Jewish customs and become rabbis of the New Testament. Even many Gentiles adopted this custom of discipling for New Testament believers. But adopting a custom does not make something a New Testament institution. It is merely a custom.

Even today, many Christians are mentored by others. This is a form of the rabbi/disciple custom of Judaism. But this does NOT mean that the disciples are not ministers as well. It only means that they have chosen to be mentored by a modern day equivalent of a rabbi. In the context of a church, there are many people who mentor others. The mentoring relationship does not make one a minister while the other is not, but rather the mentor is a minister to ministers. However, institutional Christianity has taken the custom of the mentor/disciple and turned it into an institution - known as a pastor and his congregation. And like the Levitical priesthood, today’s pastors have a static (unchanging) job over their congregations.

The New Testament ministry is meant to be dynamic and contextual. Like salt sprinkled on food, God has His people everywhere [i.e., “Ye are the salt of the earth (Matt 5:13)”], in every social setting, and in every environment. They are fully endorsed as His ambassadors to represent Him [i.e., “Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:20)”]. They are to be “springs of living” and temples full of God’s power. Does this describe the institutional style of Christianity we see today? No.

We don’t see this style of Christianity because churches have institutionalized the ministry. It no longer is the dynamic and spontaneous empowerment of the Holy Spirit, but an appointed office. It is academia, a degree in “Divinity,” or some other certification of men. For Christianity to become what it once was, Christians must come to understand that they are to function in ministry according to the context of their environment and to once again believe that they are fully endued with the power of God to do so. God has called no one to sit in a church pew: all His people are called to act on His behalf. When Jesus said, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost (Matt 28:19),” as part of the Great Commission, He was not just commissioning the eleven disciples but all who would follow Him. Preaching, teaching, and even baptism is not a right reserved exclusively to those in appointed offices (i.e. institutionalized pastors) but to every believer.

In a New Testament church, there will be leaders. This does not mean, as is the case today, that once the church assembles everyone who is not a “recognized” leader must put his ministry away. In a New Testament church, it is the gift that is recognized and heeded, not the person. Scriptures like James 3:1 (“My brethren, be not many masters, knowing that we shall receive the greater condemnation”), or Hebrews 13:17 (“Obey them that have the rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you”) is not describing or endorsing an institutional minister who is over everyone in a church but those who disciple and mentor others. Anyone discipling another should consider everything they do with the utmost gravity. And this especially applies to parents.

We must be careful NOT to institutionalize these scriptures to mean that all Christians, even those who are spiritually mature, are to lay down their gifts and ministries when in the presence of an institutional minister. Such behavior quenches the Spirit and is the reason we do not see more of the manifest presence of God today.


In a New Testament church, a believer does not need to be appointed to a church office in order to minister. ALL MATURE CHRISTIANS are to be regarded as elders and speak with the SAME authority as those appointed to church offices. Why, then, have church offices at all? The practice in the New Testament church was to appoint spiritually mature individuals to handle the business and physical affairs of the church. That is why all the qualifications for a church office in Titus and Timothy deal with the honesty and integrity of a man, NOT his spiritual endowment.

In the New Testament, ALL Christians are, literally, ministers. They aren’t just called ministers (as is popularly done in most institutional churches): they truly are. If a believer does not minister to others, it is because they have reverted back to the Old Testament in the service of God where only an elite few were actual ministers. A mother may not express herself much in a meeting where other “leaders” tend to be more visible, but it does not take away from her ministry to her family. Her ministry in the “context” of her family is no different than that of the leaders of a church. They are both pastors. The people at her assembly who are acting in the capacity of pastor by mentoring and discipling the spiritually young do not take precedence over her ministry to her family. Therefore, in any assembly, there are multiple and overlapping “contexts” of ministry.

A person speaking prophetically may minister to the whole group, while a mature Christian may be discipling only one or more believers. Unless the group is comprised of only new believers (as were some churches in the New Testament), there should not be a case of a single person mentoring everyone. In an assembly, there should be husbands and wives who minister (at least) in the context of their own homes. Care must be taken that no one exerts the context of his own ministry to usurp the ministry context of others. The context of every believer’s ministry must be respected, and in addition, true New Testament ministry will never strip another believer of his ministry. That is the action of men, not the Holy Spirit.

In the New Testament, every believer should feel the confidence to act on behalf of God. It is not God who wants you to set your ministry aside but men who struggle for power and control. You are the temple of the living God and a well of life-giving water. Just remember the words of Jesus:

Matthew 5:14-16 KJV
14 Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid.
15 Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house.
16 Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.



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