The ministry originally coincided with the apostolate; as the church was at first identical with the congregation of Jerusalem. No other officers are mentioned in the Gospels and the first five chapters of the Acts. But when the believers began to number thousands, the apostles could not possibly perform all the functions of teaching, conducting worship, and administering discipline; they were obliged to create new offices for the ordinary wants of the congregations, while they devoted themselves to the general supervision and the further extension of the gospel. Thus arose gradually, out of the needs of the Christian church, though partly at the suggestion of the existing organization of the Jewish synagogue, the various general and congregational offices in the church. As these all have their common root in the apostolate, so they partake also, in different degrees, of its divine origin, authority, privileges, and responsibilities.
We notice first, those offices which were not limited to any one congregation, but extended over the whole church, or at least over a great part of it. These are apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Paul mentions them together in this order. But the prophecy was a gift and function rather than an office, and the evangelists were temporary officers charged with a particular mission under the direction of the apostles. All three are usually regarded as extraordinary officers and confined to the apostolic age; but from time to time God raises extraordinary missionaries (as Patrick, Columba, Boniface, Ansgar), divines (as Augustin, Anselm, Thomas Aquinas, Luther, Melancthon, Calvin), and revival preachers (as Bernard, Knox, Baxter, Wesley, Whitefield), who may well be called apostles, prophets, and evangelists of their age and nation.
1. Apostles. These were originally twelve in number, answering to the twelve tribes of Israel. In place of the traitor, Judas, Matthias was chosen by lot, between the ascension and Pentecost. After the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, Paul was added as the thirteenth by the direct call of the exalted Saviour. He was the independent apostle of the Gentiles, and afterward gathered several subordinate helpers around him. Besides these there were apostolic men, like Barnabas, and James the brother of the Lord, whose standing and influence were almost equal to that of the proper apostles. The Twelve (excepting Matthias, who, however, was an eye-witness of the resurrection) and Paul were called directly by Christ, without human intervention, to be his representatives on earth, the inspired organs of the Holy Spirit, the founders and pillars of the whole church. Their office was universal, and their writings are to this day the unerring rule of faith and practice for all Christendom. But they never exercised their divine authority in arbitrary and despotic style. They always paid tender regard to the rights, freedom, and dignity of the immortal souls under their care. In every believer, even in a poor slave like Onesimus, they recognized a member of the same body with themselves, a partaker of their redemption, a beloved brother in Christ. Their government of the church was a labor of meekness and love, of self-denial and unreserved devotion to the eternal welfare of the people. Peter, the prince of the apostles, humbly calls himself a |fellow-presbyter,| and raises his prophetic warning against the hierarchical spirit which so easily takes hold of church dignitaries and alienates them from the people.
2. Prophets. These were inspired and inspiring teachers and preachers of the mysteries of God. They appear to have had special influence on the choice of officers, designating the persons who were pointed out to them by the Spirit of God in their prayer and fasting, as peculiarly fitted for missionary labor or any other service in the church. Of the prophets the book of Acts names Agabus, Barnabas, Symeon, Lucius, Manaen, and Saul of Tarsus, Judas and Silas. The gift of prophecy in the wider sense dwelt in all the apostles, pre-eminently in John, the seer of the new covenant and author of the Revelation. It was a function rather than an office.
3. Evangelists, itinerant preachers, delegates, and fellow-laborers of the apostles -- such men as Mark, Luke, Timothy, Titus, Silas, Epaphras, Trophimus, and Apollos. They may be compared to modern missionaries. They were apostolic commissioners for a special work. |It is the conception of a later age which represents Timothy as bishop of Ephesus, and Titus as bishop of Crete. St. Paul's own language implies that the position which they held was temporary. In both cases their term of office is drawing to a close when the apostle writes.|