Why the ‘Founding of the Church’ Is Different from the ‘Founded Church’: James Bannerman on the Uniqueness of the Early Church

pillarsAnd 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,
— Ephesians 4:11–12 —

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesian church, he says that the exalted Lord has given gifts to the church (4:7–11). These gifts, he lists, are apostles, prophets, evangelists, and shepherd-teachers. (The last two words describing one office). From these four “word workers”—i.e., men who preach the word—the church is equipped to build itself up in love (4:12–16). Yet, what are these four offices and how do they work in the history of the church?

Answering that question, James Bannerman writes a chapter in the second volume of his The Church of Christ that masterfully shows the unique role of the apostles, prophets, and evangelists. Like last’s weeks look at Ebenezer Henderson’s ‘Divine Inspiration‘, with its look at spiritual gifts, here is another old book worthy of our reading.

What follows is an introduction to these three offices. Tomorrow, we’ll return to see what he says about each office and how they work to lay the foundation of the church. For those looking for a better understanding of why the miraculous, sign gifts do not continue today, I cannot commend Bannerman and Henderson’s works highly enough.

On the Origination of the Church

Bannerman first considers the genesis of the church. He begins,

In discussing the question of the kind of Church Government delineated and appointed in Scripture, it is a matter of some importance to fix the date when the Christian Church was formally organized or set up. It is plain that this is a question of considerable moment in the discussion; for, by a mistake as to the date of its formal establishment, we may be led to confound the extraordinary circumstances of its transition state with the ordinary circumstances of its normal and permanent condition. (214)

From this introductory question, Bannerman goes on to posits that the church in its institutional formation began after Christ’s resurrection. To be sure, the people of God, who he calls a church, were extant before the time of Christ, but the church in its formal membership did not come into existence until Christ was raised and the Holy Spirit was sent. Bannerman explains why this is and show us how the church was founded in the days of apostles and prophets (cf. Ephesians 2:20). Continue reading