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Fivefold Ministry is a Christian belief that the five gifts referred to in the Bible in the Ephesians chapter four verse eleven, are current today. These are: Apostle, Prophet, Evangelist, Pastor and Teacher.

Adherents of this ecclesiology especially claim the presence of the charismatic gifts, often called "signs and wonders," and the accompanying role of apostle and prophet.[1]


Historical background

The Cessation doctrines

According to the Christian New Testament, there were various supernatural manifestations in the early church. The book of Acts describes the apostles and other believers healing the sick, performing miracles, having supernatural knowledge, receiving visions and other prophetic revelations, and supernaturally speaking in foreign languages. One of Paul's epistles, I Corinthians 12 lists various spiritual gifts (charismata) of a supernatural nature present in the church. I Corinthians 14 addresses problems with misuse of spiritual gifts and instructions on how to use them properly in a church meeting. Romans 12 lists several spiritual gifts including prophecy, and other gifts that seem less spectacular in nature.

The Greek word translated 'spiritual gifts', charismata is closely related to the Greek word for grace, charis. It is from this word that 'Charismatic' derives its name. Charismatics believe in the ongoing operation of the gifts of the spirit. Pentecostals hold to the same belief. Typically, "Pentecostal" is used to describe movements that had their origin in the Azusa Street revival in the first decade of the 20th century, and "Charismatic" is used to describe movements that had their roots in the Charismatic renewal of the 1960's and '70's in which members of mainline denominations began to believe in the baptism with the Holy Spirit and continuance of spiritual gifts.

An opposing view to the charismatic position is called cessationism. A cessationist believes that all or some of the spiritual gifts (typically the spectacular ones) ceased at some point in the past. A typical cesssationist view is that these spiritual gifts ceased at the death of the last apostle. Another view is that they ceased at some point when the church reached a certain state of doctrinal maturity or gained strong influence in society.

Persistence of Charismatic Gifts

The historical evidence indicates that the existence of spiritual gifts was widely accepted in the church certainly well into the second century. The Didache, estimated to have been written in the very late first or early second century, makes reference to prophets who spoke by the Spirit traveling from church to church. Ireneaus, late in the second century, wrote of the brethren with gifts of tongues, foreknowledge, and various other supernatural gifts in his own day. Justin Martyr argued in his Dialogue with Trypho that prophets were not found among the Jews, but that the church had prophets. The Shepherd of Hermas was a popular book among Christians, read in some churches, in the second century. This book purports to contain revelation, and has a section describing the operation of prophecy in the church.

The Impact of the Reformation & Restoration Movements

There have been many restoration movements over the centuries. Often these are splinter groups of existing church bodies with small groups meeting in private homes. The Baptist Churches, The Congregational Churches, The Quakers, The Methodist Churches and the Plymouth Brethren Assemblies are notable examples.

The Evangelical Revivals which swept the UK and America over the last 300 years produced a growth in independent Evangelical churches - the free-church movement, now known as Evangelicalism. Pioneer Christians in America, now free of a state imposed orthodoxy began the quest for a return to New Testament practice and faith. The outgrowth of this took a number of diverse directions. In the UK and later in America there became an interest in the "gifts of the spirit", along with various groups of general and independent Baptists, and began hybrid theologies with Pentecostal influences.

The work of finishing the reformation in the context of religious freedom found in America has long been a dream of many who have come to this country, beginning with the earliest pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. The shapes, forms, and expressions of this freedom and this question have led free Americans to a diverse set of answers. This diversity is often scorned and scoffed by critics of restoration who prefer the settled State-Churches from Europe's Middle Ages.

All branches of Charismatic Christianity embrace the prophetic as a gift already and many are moving toward full acceptance of the role of both prophet and apostle within the community of faith. The African-American church has been notably pro-active in this regard for a number of years. Kansas City Fellowship was the feature article of a Christianity Today cover-story on the subject a few years ago as a result of this debate entering into the mainstream in American Evangelicalism. The internationally renowned church leader John Wimber had been a particularly strong advocate of recognizing the role of prophet in the local Church. Wimber himself has often been considered an Apostolic figure by those in Charismatic groups.

Current controversies

The Charismatic movement

In American revivalism and free-church movements, a return of both roles was seen in religious practice. Pentecostal, charismatic, "full-gospel", discipleship, home-church, restoration, and Messianic Jewish/Hebrew Christian movements all expressed degrees of the fivefold ministry.

The use of the term "apostle" (note the lower-case "a") is used to refer to a person or persons, who under the authority of a mother church, is authorized to plant new churches, and to administer their oversight. This view recognizes the uniqueness and authority of the original 12 Apostles of the New Testament Church, and the nature of their specific role as foundational to the Christian Church and Christian Faith. While all Christians have been given the gift of prophecy, the prophet's focus is lead the Church in this area, and to serve under the authority of pastors and apostles. This division of authority can be seen in the hierarchical structure of the Black Church in America, whose titles differ from other denominations, which were traditionally considered White.

Charismatics use the "worldview" analogy to illustrate the offices of the fivefold ministry.

-The Evangelist: evangelizing -The Pastor: his "flock" (congegration) -The Apostle: the Church at large, and where God is directing it. -The Prophet: "what God is saying," and seeing the whole body walking in prophecy. -The Teacher: teaching the Bible and helping the Church to better understand it.

The Ecclesiological debate

Some cessationalist groups oppose the fivefold ministry for the following reasons.


(1) Apostles had to have had a personal post resurrection interview with Christ. Since clearly none fulfill this criteria, there are no Apostles in this sense today.

(2) The Prophetic gift was used to bridge the gap until the formation and completion of the NT. Because the NT scriptures are complete there is no more need for the direct revelations from God.

Rebuttals to the Objections

Rebuttal to #1: Apostles had to have had a personal post resurrection interview with Christ. Since clearly none fulfill this criteria, there are no Apostles in this sense today.

The argument that in order to be an apostle, one had to have seen the Lord personally rests on a rather weak basis. In I Corinthians 9, Paul asks "Am I not an apostle? Am I not free? Have I not seen the Lord?" Here, Paul is building a case for his right to earn a living from his ministry labors, a right he refuses to exercise on the Corinthians. It would seem rather unlikely that Paul is arguing that in order to be an apostle, one has to be free, and one has to have seen the Lord. Church tradition holds that John was imprisoned on Patmos. When John was no longer free, would he case to have been an apostle? Was Paul no longer an apostle in prison? If one of the apostles had been sold as a slave, would he have lost his apostleship? It is hard to argue that Paul was arguing that freedom is a prerequisite for apostleship. Rather, the fact that Paul was free and not a slave supports his argument that he was entitled to earn a living from his ministry. The fact that he had seen the Lord was a further qualification that should entitle him to 'live of the Gospel.'

Paul did write in I Corinthians 15 that the Lord appeared to the 12, and then all the apostles, and last of all to him also, as one born out of due time. Does this mean that there would be no more apostles after Paul? No. I Thessalonians 1:1 and 2:6 indicate that Silas and Timothy, Paul's co-workers, were apostles as well. Acts 14:4,14 call both Saul (Paul) and Barnabas 'apostles.' Furthermore, 'one born out of due time' is a translation of a word that refers to a premature baby, a born too early, not too late.

Notice that Paul saw the Lord after the ascension of Christ, not before the ascension. If one allows for supernatural spiritual gifts, then the requirement to see the Lord does not preclude the existence of modern-day apostles. Many people throughout history and to this very day have reported seeing Christ in supernatural manifestations. Paul is not alone in this. If a modern apostle has to see the Lord to receive his apostleship, the Lord could appear to someone to day.

The Webster’s definition of Apostle would include anyone who was a Christian and set up churches, etc. 1: one sent on a mission: as a: one of an authoritative New Testament group sent out to preach the gospel and made up especially of Christ's 12 original disciples and Paul b: the first prominent Christian missionary to a region or group. In the Roman army, an Apostle was a military officer that enforced Roman cultural standards and practices in cities that the Romans had recently conquered. The popular Charismatic view is that Apostles are leaders with "Heaven's blueprint for the Church."

Rebuttal to #2: The Prophetic gift was used to bridge the gap until the formation and completion of the NT. Because the NT scriptures are complete there is no more need for the direct revelations from God.

Only the Old Testament Prophets were used specifically for writing the Word of God. The Prophet as assigned by Jesus were to edify or build up the church (Ephesians 4)

Not all Prophets foretold events nor wrote about them. Prophets are best known for revelations which are closer insights to writings then others obtain.

Supporters of the Fivefold ministry argue that Paul would not have mentioned Prophets as one of the five gifts, if it was not applicable to them. Since none of the books in the New Testament were written by prophets and Ephesians does not mention anything about prophets being a thing of the past, supporters would argue this point doesn't make sense.

(The Apostle John, who wrote five books of the New Testament, most assuredly was a prophet; one has but to read Revelation and compare to either the clarifications of prophecy by Paul or to Old Testament prophets like Daniel or Isaiah to confirm the authenticity of John's Revelation. Therefore, it would be inaccurate to assert that no prophets wrote the New Testament.)


Critics of the Termination doctrine would point out the following:

Paul's Apostleship

(1) Paul was not one of the original 12, never claimed to have personally known Jesus, and simply reported to have had a vision. Yet he called himself an Apostle.

It is argued that Paul "qualifies" in this definition of Apostle because he had a "Vision of Christ" but many regard this argument as disingenuous because anyone who is charismatic can have a vision of Christ. It must then be assumed that all future "visions of Christ" for 2000 years into perpetuity are "false visions".

Paul's apostleship was acquired through no other means than a "vision". Paul's own apostleship leaves him outside the group of 500.

Other Apostles

It is also clear from the New Testament that not all Apostles were mentioned and restricted to the list of the 12 original disciples. Since, detractors say, Paul was not one himself, there would be no need to examine anyone for "signs of an Apostle" 2Co 12:12.

Other Apostles mentioned:

Barnabas - Acts 14:14

Silas - 2 Thess. 1:1, 2:6

Andronicus - Rom. 16:7

Junia - Rom.16:7


Some claim that since 500 saw the resurrection, all the Apostles mentioned in the New Testament came exclusively from this group of 500. However this claim would be countered by the fact that in Rom.16:7 Paul notes his fellow Apostles Andronicus and Junia were "converted" BEFORE Paul. Andronicus is a distinctly Greco-Roman name found in the royal household at least indicating the possibility of Gentile ethnicity.

The term "Apostle"

The term Apostle (ἀπόστολος) simply means "a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders" - (Thayers) And was the application of a common Greek term to what many call today "Church planters" or "Missionaries". The priority of the original 12 are left untouched by this application as they were as the 12 Patriarchs among the Tribes of Israel and are inscribed on the walls of the New Jerusalem [Rev 21:14] in the same way the names of the Patriarchs were inscribed on the Breastplate of the High Priest.

Anyone claiming to be a "Prophet" was considered a "False prophet" only. This was based on the text in Zechariah:

Zec 13:2 And it shall come to pass in that day, saith the LORD of hosts, that I will cut off the names of the idols out of the land, and they shall no more be remembered: and also I will cause the prophets and the unclean spirit to pass out of the land. Zec 13:3 And it shall come to pass, that when any shall yet prophesy, then his father and his mother that begat him shall say unto him, Thou salt not live; for thou speakest lies in the name of the LORD: and his father and his mother that begat him shall thrust him through when he prophesieth. Zec 13:4 And it shall come to pass in that day, that the prophets shall be ashamed every one of his vision, when he hath prophesied; neither shall they wear a rough garment to deceive: Zec 13:5 But he shall say, I am no prophet, I am an husbandman; for man taught me to keep cattle from my youth.

The above text was the basis among the Rabbinical Academy for discrediting any future prophetic activity, including what would become the New Testament movement.

"Apostles" of the Rabbinical "Synagogue" system were a known and accepted practice and title of that day. Thus, employing the term "Apostle" to describe missionaries of the messianic persuasion would not have been as controversial.

In the New Testament, the term "Apostles" occurs in 59 verses. 27% of the total time mentioned it is phrased together "Apostles and Prophets". In Acts 15:32 it is stated Judas and Silas while called "Apostles" were simultaneously called "Prophets", thus indicating the terms may have been either used in close association with one another or possibly even nearly but not quite inter-changeably.

The Canon

Canonization theology or canon law is the outgrowth of the Roman Councils on Theology commissioned by the Roman Caesar Constantine often referred to as the Ecumenical councils. The degree to which these councils are accepted as authoritative depend on the particular denomination of Christianity under discussion.

Using the standard rules of hermeneutics known among theologians as the Grammatical-Historical-Contextual, it would be impossible to place any reference in any part of the scriptures to the Canon, as neither existed at the time of their writing. Thus the only reference one could make for it would be as a prophecy.

It is claimed by critics of the fivefold ministry concept that the Roman Canon was referred to indirectly in passages like the following:

1Co 13:8 Charity never faileth: but whether there be prophecies, they shall fail; whether there be tongues, they shall cease; whether there be knowledge, it shall vanish away. 1Co 13:9 For we know in part, and we prophesy in part. 1Co 13:10 But when that which is perfect is come, then that which is in part shall be done away.

... or ...

Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; Eph 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Eph 4:13 Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ:

In the first text, the phrase "when that which is perfect is come" is here used to refer to the Roman Councils completing the New Testament Canon. Thus since the canon has been agreed on, the charismatic gifts such as "prophecies" and "knowledge" have "passed away". However it is noted by critics, in the following text...

1Co 13:12 For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.

Restorations argue Paul, the Apostle with the very "revelation" penned in the New Testament canon itself, claims "we see through a glass, darkly" speaking of himself. He then defines within the text what he means by the term "Perfect": "but then shall I know even as also I am known". Restorations would point out that this appears to many to be a clear reference to a state of perfection beyond a collection of 27 books. Furthermore, Paul includes himself participating in that future state of perfection and unless one assumes he was sitting around in heaven waiting for the Romans to vote on the canon so he could read it, this is a highly improbable scenario of intended meaning.

This is a misapplication of scripture. The Darkness and Imperfection are references to the corruptible flesh and are classic allusions to differences between the reality of the flesh and the reality of the spirit.

Among those who accept this interpretation, there are still historical discrepancies in what actually happened in history. As the prophetic did not actually ever "cease", it was simply censored, punished by law, and expunged. Savonarola is but one example.

In the Second text, critics of the 5 fold ministry concept use the phrase "Till we all come in the unity of the faith" to refer to the Roman Canon compiled by the Ecumenical councils. Thus "Apostles and Prophets" have no need to exist anymore and are thus discontinued. Restorationists would point out however, if one simply notes the full text, the terms "Apostles" and "Prophets" are mentioned along with "Evangelists", "Pastors" and "Teachers". Thus one must arbitrarily break the continuity of the text and "cherry pick" the two terms "Apostles" and "Prophets" out from among the rest in order to make this work.

"Cessation" absent from all texts

Restorationists assert there is no clear statement in any three bodies of literature indicating the prophetic comes to an end. Quite the contrary. In all three bodies of literature, instructions are given for its continued practice.


Num 12:6 And he said, Hear now my words: If there be a prophet among you, I the LORD will make myself known unto him in a vision, and will speak unto him in a dream.

Joel 3:1 And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions:

New Testament

1Co 14:39 Wherefore, brethren, covet to prophesy...

1Co 14:31 For ye may all prophesy one by one, that all may learn, and all may be comforted.

Rev 19:10 for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.


Quran 2:87 "We gave Moses the Book and followed him up with a succession of messengers; We gave Jesus the son of Mary Clear (Signs) and strengthened him with the Holy Spirit. Is it that whenever there comes to you a messenger with what ye yourselves desire not, ye are puffed up with pride?- Some ye called impostors, and others ye slay!"


Restorationists see these arguments as based on innuendo and insinuations. It is also observed that they arbitrarily and conveniently place the time of "cessation" at the end of their own movements. In the case of Rabbinical Judaism, Christianity was a false religion precisely because it still claimed prophetic activity, whereas the Rabbis of the Academy had already been teaching prophets had died for centuries.

Double Standards For Prophets

Advocates of the Fivefold ministry concept would also point out the following in response to the standard objections concerning idealized standards for the prophetic:

a. The standard for Prophetic accuracy is no different than the standards for teaching accuracy. There are no teachers who are infallible and inerrant today. Thus, does that mean that the gift, office, role, function of teacher has therefore "ceased"? This argument cannot be used without invoking a clear double standard.

b. The Torah requirement for capital punishment commonly invoked against the prophetic, refers not to the prophet's accuracy of prediction, but of teaching worship another god at that. The term "prophet" is equally applied in scripture to anyone who holds themselves to be a "messenger" of any kind, be it through teaching or prophetic messages. Thus once again, this Torah law would be equally applicable to both Prophet, Priest or Pastor.

Note: Deu 13:2 And the sign or the wonder come to pass, whereof he spake unto thee, saying, Let us go after other gods, Deu 13:5 And that prophet, or that dreamer of dreams, shall be put to death; because he hath spoken to turn you away from the LORD your God,

This penalty is invoked even if the prophetic word is accurate. This is not a textual requirement to be "100% accurate" as is often claimed. This text as Torah Law in Israel was applicable to anyone.... even if they were "prophets".

The actual penalty for "missing" a prophecy under Torah?

Deu 18:22 When a prophet speaketh in the name of the LORD, if the thing follow not, nor come to pass, that is the thing which the LORD hath not spoken, but the prophet hath spoken it presumptuously: thou shalt not be afraid of him.

Restorationists point out that obviously, if one learning to be a prophet were killed upon missing a prophesy while in this process of learning, then there would be no prophets. And restorationists would say that is the real agenda or "goal" of this kind of teaching. How many "Bishops" or "Preachers" would be left, if that standard was applied to missing a "teaching"? 1 Sa.10:5,10, 19:20, Isa. 8:16 [And there was "training" or "discipleship" among the prophets]

c. "Accuracy" is often subjective as most of the Biblical prophets were castigated during their own day as "false prophets". General accuracy as defined by pattern recognition was all that was required as the specific details of even Biblically recorded prophecies will often vary slightly between what was prophesied and what actually occurred, but they were still considered "accurate".

A survey[2] in 1996 indicated Charismatic belief to be as follows:

Baptists = 37% Church of Christ = 34% 7th Day Adventists = 4% Lutheran = 17% Presbyterian = 17% Catholic = 27%

And these denominations are reported to represent the lowest approval rating, yet still clearly numbering in the millions globally. While all Charismatics endorse the "gifts of the Holy Spirit" by definition, which in most cases include prophecy, the ecclesiological definition of the term "prophet" is still being debated. Officially sanctioning the role of "prophet" creates a number of Church government issues which must be resolved for these organizations. The "fivefold ministry" model is one solution based on New Testament practice which is being proposed.

The church councils

For sacerdotal organizations, this model presents many historic challenges which may never be resolved. Per example many Presbyterians will follow the Council decisions through the council of Orange. Restorationists point out that according to even the earliest councils, the very Protestant Churches that cite them (Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Independent Evangelical) are themselves condemned as "heretics".


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