APEPT is theological shorthand for what is often called the five-fold ministry or the five-fold gifting. The five ministries are Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers – APEPT. The five-fold ministry is referenced in a few new testament sources, including 1 Corinthians and Romans, but the clearest outline is from Ephesians 4:11-16.
11 And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, 13 till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; 14 that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, 15 but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ— 16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.
That’s a 164-word sentence, giving us a list of the five ministries (the what) and a comprehensive explanation of their context (the how and why). Based on the how and why, my answer to the question, what aspects of the five-fold ministry are still active, must be: all of them. All of them must still be active, because the reason for which they were ordained hasn’t been completed.
Paul is quite clear that the five-fold ministry exists until “…we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” Would any Christian honestly argue that we possess this level of unity today? Or that we have ever possessed it? Has the church ever been full of “perfect (men), to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”? If the reason the five-fold ministry was given hasn’t been completed, why should the ministry itself have stopped?
Who gets to Control What?
One of the main motivations, as I see it, for believing that some, or all, of the APEPT giftings are no longer active is that the modern institutional church has grabbed hold of some of the names of the giftings and made them into official titles, while at the same time rejecting outright some of the other roles. Evangelists, pastors and teachers are three roles the modern churches have no problem with. Apostles and prophets have been consigned to history – those guys are long gone, as far as most modern churches are concerned. Why is this?
Control is the answer, plain and simple.
Evangelists, pastors and teachers are roles the church structure and institutions can control. They can say clearly who does and doesn’t have the right to use one of these titles. Bible colleges and degrees and job descriptions are all used to define these three roles and dole out the titles as the institutional churches decide. Of course, we don’t often call them evangelists these days. No, now we tend to call them missionaries.
Apostles and prophets however have always been roles outside the established structure. Under the Old Covenant, prophets always stood apart. They were rarely priests or kings and rarely wielded direct power over God’s people. Instead God picked them according to his own plan.
Apostles also occupy an outsider position. An apostle is literally one who is sent, and Paul’s words above make it clear that they are sent by God (typically in the person of Jesus himself), though the New Testament authors show that sometimes God’s sending comes through others (eg. the prophets and teachers at Antioch being commanded by the word of the Lord to send Paul and Barnabas – Acts 13:2&3). So, being ordained and sent by Jesus himself, apostles are problematic for institutions, if those institutions want to control them. Apostles answer only to God and the authority for their ministry comes only from God.
Isn’t this the modern era?
At this point you might ask, what’s the problem? We still have pastors and teachers (they’re everywhere); we have missionaries who are doing the work of evangelists and some of the work that apostles used to do; and prophets? Well we don’t need them anymore, because we’ve got the Bible.
That last one is the most common argument I’ve found against prophets. It’s a weirdly academic response – as if to say, “the church doesn’t need to hear from God, we can read all about him in a book”. Am I the only one or does that really just sound a bit lame? The God who led the Israelites as a pillar of flame; who shook the mountain and moved the sun in its course just to make a point; the Father God who raised His faithful Son from the dead after three days; apparently that God has folded up shop and gone home, but don’t worry, He’s left a book behind. Sorry, no more imminent presence of the Creator, but you can read about how cool He used to be.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there are Christians who are so in love with the “magic show” that they forget the power and majesty of the Scriptures. It’s possible to be so lost in seeking the presence of God, that we forget His purposes and His Kingdom. But it is no wiser to throw out prophecy for fear that it might be abused, than it is to dismiss the Bible because we fear it might be abused. Is there any Christian who hasn’t heard a piece of scripture thrown around out of context to justify some truly un-Godly behaviour? Scripture and prophecy both can be abused.
It’s still control
Again, the problem here is control. Institutional churches are often trying to keep abuses and excesses of doctrine under control. But only God can do that – every institution of man that tries to take on that job is destined to fail. And in trying to prevent abuses, many institutional churches commit equally egregious mistakes as the ones they hope to correct.
Gifts not Jobs
The five-fold ministry gifts are not titles or job descriptions. The five-fold ministry is a set of gifts that God gives, but they are not gifts to the individuals; they are for the Body. If God gives it to someone to be a teacher or a pastor, an apostle, a prophet or an evangelist, that is not a special title awarded to them; it is a gift God gives the body through them. It’s neither about the individual nor for them.
These gifts are given by God to and are for the purpose of building unity within the Body of Christ, under his headship (Eph 4:15). They are also for edifying each individual Christian, until we are all built up into the full image of our Saviour. Since these purposes are not yet complete, I can see no reason why the gifts themselves should have been revoked. Moreover, I can’t find a scripture that tells me to expect them to be revoked or completed at any time this side of the Lord’s return. In 1 Corinthians, Paul even tells us to expect prophecy to remain until a time when we all see the Lord face-to-face (1Cor 13:9-12).
Of course, all of this still ignores the herd of theological elephants in the room – why would we need prophets today if the Holy Spirit dwells with each of us? How can the gift of apostleship be active, when the twelve apostles died in the first century (or thereabouts)? If missionaries and evangelists aren’t the same thing, then what’s the difference? These are all fair questions and I will tackle them as best I can in the next article – Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists, Pastors & Teachers: What, When, Where, Why, Who?