Equipping the Saints

There can be no doubt for the honest exegete of Scripture that the New Testament text makes an undeniable link between faith and works. True faith, biblical faith produces good works. Those works are observed through a variety of diverse gifts. They vary from giving to serving to discernment or critical thinking. They can be seen in Christians who are involved with widows and orphans and in Christians who teach and in Christians who are out witnessing to the truth of the gospel. They are administrators, coordinators, and teachers. These good works are also observed as godly living, living that is holy and reflective of a life that has been radically changed by the power of the Holy Spirit. Good works encompasses how we think, how we behave, and how we serve the body and finally, how we engage the pagan culture.

 

The purpose of the text of Scripture is to reveal to the Christian the God who created and redeemed him. In the process of that revelation, we come to understand that God has a purpose for our existence and presence in the world, or better, in this life. Contained in the revelation of Scripture is that purpose: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” Why the teaching, the reproof, the correction, and the training? That the man of God, every Christian, may be complete, equipped for every good work. The reason Christians have been gifted the Scriptures is so that we can become that which God has purposed: spiritually mature and therefore, useful for every good work! Unless the pastor and elders see themselves as vehicles by which this single purpose is to be executed, they see themselves wrongly.

 

And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Eph. 4:11-14

 

The structure of this text is really very interesting. Christ gave for the purpose of equipping. Hoehner tells us “The personal pronoun (he), αὐτός, is emphatic.” This links it with the previous verse. What He, Jesus Christ, has done is that he has given us gifts and he has done so for a very clear purpose: for equipping. The key to understanding the purpose of these gifts is found in the use of the prepositions πρός (for) and the εἰς (for)…εἰς that follows. Hoehner writes, The progression indicates, therefore, that he gave gifted people for the immediate purpose of preparing all the saints with the goal of preparing them for the work of the ministry, which in turn has the final goal of building up the body of Christ. This eliminates the distinction between clergy and laity, a distinction with little, if any, support in the NT.

 

The Greek word καταρτισμός is what we call a hapex legomenon. That is, it appears only 1x in the NT. The root for this word is αρτιζω. This word appears 19x in the New Testament. Its range of meaning varies from adequate, qualified, perform, to end, complete, finish, ready, and prepared. The verb used most frequently from this root in the NT is καταριζω. It means to be put in order, restore, to prepare for a purpose. It is used to describe “mending nets,” of Christ’s body having been “prepared” for the incarnation, of spiritual restoration for the sinning brother in Gal. 6:1, and of vessels prepared for destruction in Rom. 9:22. The word is used in the benediction of Hebrews where the writer prays that God would equip them with all good things for the purpose of doing God’s will.

 

The gifts that Christ has given to the church are given for the purpose then of preparing the saints. The preposition πρός in this context carries the sense of striving or aiming for something. The aim of the gifts is the preparing of the saints unto the work of the ministry, unto the building up of the body of Christ. The best depicted in a flow chart:

 

Here we see, in a process flow, what Paul is teaching the believers in Ephesus. The ministry gifts, such as pastors, were given, are given for the purpose of preparing and equipping the body of Christ so that the body of Christ is able to engage in the work of the ministry. And as the body of Christ executes the work of the ministry, the body is being built up. The Greek word for “building up” is οἰκοδομή (oikodome). It carries the idea of spiritual strengthening. Contrary to modern psychologized versions of Christianity which are all produced by a selfie-feel-good culture, this verse does not mean to make people feel good about themselves or to feel better about their problems. What comes clearly into view here is the spiritual growth and strengthening of the body of Christ.

 

The body of Christ remains in the earth for a specific purpose: Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” The body of Christ is to go and make disciples without ethical exception or distinction. The ethnic differences of the human race are not a consideration where Christian faith and the gospel are concerned. Notice that Jesus never said to go and make all nations better nations by engaging in political activities designed to baptize civil governments with Christian ethics. Those are not the words of Jesus. Second, Jesus commanded the church to baptize those disciples. Third, we are to teach those disciples to observe all that Jesus commanded us. Bound up in this we see that the body of Christ has a clear mission and in order to carry out that mission, the body must be prepared, readied, equipped for the cause. Hence, the purpose for the gifts of the apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers, and evangelists. So, here is the question: do you feel like your church is preparing you to serve the body and engage the unbelieving comunity? These are the central works of ministry in which the body must be engaged.

 

The question for the elders and pastors is similar: are you seriously preparing your people to engage in the work of the ministry? Are you focused like a laser beam on helping your local body minister to itself and to the community in which it resides? If all you are doing is a quick hit sermon on Sunday mornings, an unsupervised Sunday School system for the most part, and a quick fly over on Wednesdays, then my guess is that you are more likely checking the box than you are actually doing anything that resembles meaningful training and preparation. And as a result, your people are likely ignorant of basic doctrines, how to study the bible, Jewish and Christian history, the great creeds and confessions and their significance, how to minister to one another’s deepest spiritual needs, and finally, they are likely very intimidated by the hostility of a godless culture to the point that they rarely, if ever, confront anyone with the Christian message.

 

Carl Trueman, in his book, The Real Scandal of the Evangelical Mind, writes, “It is likely that the coming cultural storms will be best weathered by evangelical organizations and institutions with more precisely defined doctrinal statements, particularly statements that are close to, or identical with, historic creeds and confessions.” If the body of Christ is going to continue to be relevant, it cannot mimic the intellectual sloth of the culture. We will have to gird up the loins of our minds and challenge one another as well as the unbelieving community in which we live. But this will take courageous leaders who are more interested in training and equipping the body than they are in the size of the body or the actual content of that body. To be sure this is hard work. This requires both energy and risk. It requires that leaders engender more intense care for God’s truth within their respective communities. This means they must show little regard for those who might wish to ignore, silence, or outright reject God’s, regardless of the giving or the status or the influence such people might have within that community. What does this look like when executed well in 2017? That is a hard question because I see very few churches who are actually executing it well. But I do have some thoughts.

 

Sermons have to be direct and clear. There can be no ignoring elephants in the room. When something like racism comes up, the issue has to be treated with all individuals in mind and from a purely Christian perspective. When issues like the charismatic movement comes up, the false gospel and false prophets should be called out by name and the community should be instructed to steer clear of their materials. It is not impolite to warn your family that there are “home invaders” on their property and they should dial 911 immediately. When issues like Calvinism or reformed theology come up, doctrines like sovereignty, predestination, and so forth, the leader has to be clear, he has to be direct, he has to be honest, and he must do all he can to persuade people to change their mindset and embrace what he knows and is convinced in his conscience is the truth. He cannot allow his knowledge that some people in the community hate the doctrines of grace and might leave if he is outed for affirming them. That cannot be a thought that exists in his mind. And if it does, he must swallow hard and find the courage to tell the truth, no matter what the consequences are. I am reminded of Luther as he stood before Cajetan. Luther thundered, “I am interested in the truth!” So should we be.

 

Teachers must be subjected to the highest standards. No man should teach in the church who has not been through intense training on basic matters. Teachers should be trained on how to handle the text, how to put together lessons, how to creatively execute on those lessons, how to make sure the lessons are engaging. Teachers should be managed. Teachers should sign a pledge never to intentionally and publicly affirm beliefs that are material in nature and contrary to the leadership of the community. If the leaders are cessationist for example or reformed, etc., teachers who disagree should respectfully avoid publicly teaching to the contrary. Teachers who disagree with basic views of leadership and the subsequent direction of leadership should either be asked to resign or resign of their own initiative. If not, they should be replaced. Teachers should receive on-going training on doctrine and on managing their own community. The communication between teachers and staff should be a matter of routine, structured, formal. It should be the duty of the teacher to structure their community in way that people within that community are engaged with one another. The teacher must also stay connected to the lives of those within his community. The old here Sunday and gone until the next Sunday has to end.

 

The community should take advantage of online training. Every church should have a seminary or university type portal designed to train the community. There should be home-grown courses in that site that take Christians deeper into biblical doctrine. The church has to take education much more seriously than she has in the past few years, decades even. This online portal should be aggressively managed so that it has a process built in to remain current with sermons and other areas of focus in the church. It should be real-time capable.

 

The reason Christ gave gifts of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to the church is for equipping the saints, not checking the sermon/teaching box. There is a lot more to training people than checking the box that we preached about or taught about a certain subject. We must be more deliberate and intentional in how we train people to be better thinkers so that they are better prepared for the work of the ministry, for the spiritual strengthening of the body, so that the body can continually engage and challenge the culture with the Christian gospel.

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