Paul returns to the practical lessons at hand, saying, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers” (Eph 4:11). He begins with the church’s leadership. Before he addresses the body as a whole, he wants us to understand our leaders’ role.
The first and perhaps most obvious point I can make is that the church’s leadership is by Christ’s sovereign choice and divine appointment. He gave the apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherds and teachers. While these positions are vocations which men willingly enter—Peter said, “Not under compulsion, but willingly” (1Pe 5:2)—God leads men into these roles.
That begs the question, how will a man know when God is calling him to become an evangelist or pastor? It’s not complicated. First, the man will have a willingness to do it. Second, he’ll have the gifts required to do it—namely, to teach. Third, God will provide him with opportunities to do it. His calling will become self-evident. He’ll know it, and those around him will know it.
What about apostles and prophets? Occasionally, we see people claiming to be apostles or prophets. I’ve noticed more and more churches with Apostle So-and-So on their signs out front. Are men still appointed to be apostles and prophets today? First, we need to define these roles.
Earlier in Ephesians, Paul said God used the apostles and prophets to build the church’s foundation. See Ephesians 2:20. That’s a significant clue. Once a builder lays the foundation, he doesn’t continue expanding that foundation. Instead, he builds on top of it. He builds up from it.
Another vital clue is how the apostles, in particular, were chosen. When the early church was looking to replace Judas Iscariot, Peter suggested these qualifications. He said:
“One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us—one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1:21, 22)
First, an apostle needed to be chosen by Christ himself. Second, he needed to be a witness to the resurrection. Both qualifications exclude anyone living in modern times. Even if one makes the argument that Christ could reappear to someone today as he did to Paul after his ascension, we would still need to explain why another apostle is necessary since the church’s foundation has already been laid.
Furthermore, we see that the apostles of the New Testament possessed miraculous gifts to confirm the message they preached. For instance, Hebrews 2 says:
It was declared at first by the Lord, and it was attested to us by those who heard, while God also bore witness by signs and wonders and various miracles and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will. (Hebrews 2:3, 4)
Even if we use the word apostle in a generic sense—the word can mean messenger—every known apostle in the New Testament had miraculous abilities. Barnabas, for example, is called an apostle. He wasn’t one of the twelve or thirteen apostles, but God still gave him signs and wonders to be done by his hands (Ac 14:3). We don’t find a single mention of apostles within the book of Acts after Acts 16. It appears the apostles served an essential role in the foundation of the church, but their particular calling was not perpetuated.