“So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner for Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles– assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” (Eph 2:19-3:5)
Many have proposed that the “apostles and prophets” in Ephesians 2:20 refer to the Scriptures written by the Apostles and the Old Testament prophets. However, only seven verses later we have a solid indication of what was really on Paul’s mind in writing this passage. He refers to his own time saying “now” after God sent his Holy Spirit to us and not “the sons of men in other generations”. The “prophets” of 3:5 are clearly not Old Testament prophets. Commentators have long been divided on this verse likely because the implications are quite large even though the context is obvious. In Ephesians 4:11 just a little further on in Paul’s same frame of mind, we learn that God gives to the Church the “apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, shepherds and teachers to equip the saints.” There is also an order of necessity to these gifts for the Church: “first apostles, second prophets…” (1 Cor. 12:28).
The importance of understanding the meaning here is great, because it is the foundation of our churches. It cannot be taken for granted! If we don’t get it right, the whole structure is at risk. From the earliest times the overseer, otherwise known as a “bishop”, was the person who watched over the Christians in a given city or region. Its roots are found in the Apostle Paul’s instructions to Timothy. This practice lasted in one form or another through the middle ages until the Protestant reformation. Eventually corruption had set in, and politics began to rule the clergy within the Catholic Church. The Protestant movement, disillusioned with the priestly office, decided to change it to a pastoral office and reformation figures such as John Calvin and Huldrych Zwingli are known to have propagated this. To this day the contemporary, mainline evangelical church has put the pastor in charge, yet it has resulted in one of the most stressful, fatiguing, and upsetting vocations. What is perhaps not surprising is the rise in pastors leaving the profession—perhaps more so than people leaving any other profession. We need to return to biblical Christianity. The foundation of the Church is laid by apostles and prophets. While the implications may be many, it means no less than a visionary and prophetic foundation that is looking further, much further than itself. A church without such a foundation is a near-sighted church that cannot see past its own interests. The pastor gets burned out and the church croaks like Sardis (Rev. 3:1) because “where there is no prophetic vision, the people cast off restraint” (Prov. 29:18) and become loose, absolved, naked, and faithless.
The foundation is not laid by those with management gifts, administration gifts, evangelistic gifts, or teaching gifts, etc. It is laid by those with prophetic gifts. This shows us the importance, and our dire need, of the Holy Spirit without whom we cannot sustain a proper and holy vision, much less a living church. We use the letter of God’s word for correction, reproof, and training, but we build and serve in a new way—by the Holy Spirit!
But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
And 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, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)