The Extraordinary Office of Evangelist

Extraordinary Office of Evangelist

James Bannerman
The Church of Christ
IV.ii.2, pp. 748-764.

In handling the subject of the office-bearers—extraordinary and ordinary—appointed for the New Testament Church, at the outset, there are two passages of Scripture that may be especially referred to as throwing light upon the question:

The Apostle Paul, speaking of the provision made for the Church by the ascended Saviour, says: “And He gave some apostles, and some prophets, and some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12). In this statement by the apostle we have plainly an intimation of the staff of officers, ordinary and extraordinary, appointed by Christ, for the work of establishing, organizing, building up, and ministering to the Christian Church. That the enumeration of office-bearers is not complete, appears from the fact that no mention is made of the deacon, of the institution of whose office we have an express account in the Acts of the Apostles, and who is admitted by all parties, Romanist and Protestant, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, and Congregationalist, to be an ordinary and standing office-bearer in the ecclesiastical society. In the passage now referred to, however, we have a list of office-bearers, which, although not exhaustive, yet includes the majority of those invested with formal office in the apostolic Church.

When speaking of “spiritual gifts” in the Church of his day, the same apostle tells us: “To one is given by the Spirit the word of wisdom; to another the word of knowledge by the same Spirit; to another faith by the same Spirit; to another the gifts of healing by the same Spirit; to another the working of miracles; to another prophecy; to another discernment of spirits; to another divers kinds of tongues; to another the interpretation of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:8-10). And further on in the same chapter we are told: “God hath set some in the Church, first, apostles; secondarily, prophets; thirdly, teachers; after that miracles; then gifts of healings, helps, governments, diversities of tongues. Are all apostles? are all prophets? are all teachers? are all workers of miracles? have all the gifts of healing? do all speak with tongues? do all interpret?” (vv. 28-30).  Now in this passage we have an enumeration, not of the offices, but of the gifts that prevailed in the primitive Church.

In writing to the Ephesians, the apostle ranks and enumerates the office-bearers according to their formal offices; in writing to the Corinthians, he classifies them according to their special gifts.

Distinction between formal office and special gift.

There is a most important distinction to be marked between a formal office and a special gift or endowment. One man might receive and exercise many gifts, while at the same time he held and exercised no more than one office in the Church. The different and many gifts—χαρισματα—of miracles, of healing, of tongues, of discernment of spirits, etc., which abounded in the apostolic Church, might in some cases meet in the person of one individual, and be all exercised by him, while at the same time, as a formal office-bearer in the Christian society, he was invested only with one office. In dealing with the question of the form of polity of the New Testament Church, we must take special care not to confound the different χαρισματα, or gifts, enumerated in the Epistle to the Corinthians with the distinct offices enumerated in the Epistle to the Ephesians, or to assume that because the same individual exercised different endowments or powers for the edification of the Church, he therefore is to be held as invested with different offices, ordinary or extraordinary, in the Christian society. It is with the offices, and not with the gifts of the apostolic Church, that we have at present to do,—the former, or the offices, marking out the form or constitution of the ecclesiastical society; the latter, or the gifts, only marking out the endowments conferred on the persons belonging to it.

Ordinary vs. Extraordinary.

Referring, then, to the enumeration of office-bearers in the Epistle to the Ephesians, we find that there are five mentioned as pertaining to the apostolic Church. Three of these we believe to have been special and extraordinary, and two to have been ordinary and permanent office-bearers. We have apostles, prophets, evangelists, belonging to the special emergency and need of the Christian Church at the time; and we have pastors and teachers belonging to the ordinary and permanent equipment of the ecclesiastical body. We have already dealt at some length with the question of the extraordinary office of the apostleship: we shall now proceed to consider the offices of prophets and evangelists. There seems to be warrant from Scripture, as in the instance of apostles, to say that these offices were special and extraordinary.

. . .

Evangelists.

But next let us inquire into the case of the third class of office-bearers mentioned in the list given by the apostle in his Epistle to the Ephesians. In that list we have, first, apostles, who undoubtedly were extraordinary office-bearers; and second, prophets, who were also a temporary order in the Christian Church. After these we find mentioned evangelists; and the question that arises is, whether or not the nature of their office and functions constitutes them fixed and standing officers in the ecclesiastical body. There seems to be reason from Scripture to assert that they, like the apostles and prophets, were extraordinary office-bearers in the primitive Church. The discussion in connection with the order of evangelists is a somewhat important and fundamental one in attempting to determine the form and polity of the Christian society in apostolic times.

Our information in regard to the order of evangelists, and the nature of the duties attached to their office, is mainly to be gathered from what Scripture has enabled us to learn in connection with Timothy and Titus, the fellow-labourers of Paul in his evangelistic journeys. To Timothy the name of evangelist is expressly given, and in such a manner as to prove that it was an office distinct from other offices in the early Church, and that it belonged to him as his peculiar function (2 Tim. 4:5). And although the same title is nowhere expressly appropriated to Titus in Scripture, yet the duties he discharged, and the manner in which he is spoken of, leave no doubt that he belonged to the same order, and laboured in the same office as Timothy. There are several others mentioned in the sacred volume that are plainly to be classed in the same rank of ecclesiastical office-bearers, although of their history and labours less is known. But the narrative of the Acts and the Epistles of Paul afford sufficient materials, in the references we find there to Timothy and Titus, for judging of the order of evangelist, separated as it was from the extraordinary offices of apostles and prophets on the one side, and from the permanent and standing office of pastor on the other.

It is hardly necessary to say that by evangelists, in the sense of ecclesiastical office-bearers, is not meant the inspired historians of our Lord’s life in the Gospels. They are exhibited to us in the Scripture narrative rather as the attendants upon the Apostles in their journeys, and their assistants in planting and establishing the Churches, acting under them as their delegates, and carrying out their instructions.

If the contributions of one Church were to be carried to another to supply its more urgent need, it was an evangelist that was selected as the messenger of the Church (1 Cor. 16:3; 2 Cor. 8:4-23; Phil. 2:25; 4:18). If an inspired letter was to be conveyed to the Christian community to whom an apostle had addressed it, an evangelist was the bearer of the precious record (1 Cor. 16:10; 2 Cor. 7:6-8; Eph. 6:21f). If an apostle had converted many to the faith of Christ in one particular locality, and hastened led on to other labours and triumphs, an evangelist was left behind to organize the infant Church (1 Tim. 1:3f; 2 Tim. 4:9-13; Tit. 1:5; 3:12). If, in the absence of an apostle, contentions had arisen, or false doctrine had found entrance within a Christian society which he had founded, the apostolic method of applying a remedy was by the errand of an evangelist (1 Cor. 4:17; 2 Cor. 7:6-15; Col. 1:7, cf. 4:12f). We know from him who was not behind the chiefest of the Apostles, that he counted it as his special mission, “not to baptize, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17); or, in other words, that he held it to be a higher department of the apostolic office to convert sinners to Christ, and to edify His people, than to establish and arrange the outward government and ordinances of grace of a standing visible Church. And accordingly, in the ardour of his zeal that Christ might be preached, he himself passed on to declare the Gospel in other regions, “not building on another man’s foundation,” and left behind Timothy, or Titus, or some other evangelist, to organize the outward polity of the Church, to which he had been the means of communicating the gift, more precious still, of inward life.

As an apostle, Paul felt that he had higher work on hand than the arrangement of the external polity of the Church or the regulation of its outward affairs; and therefore he gave commission to his assistants from time to time, as occasion demanded it, in their capacity of evangelists, to complete the organization of the infant Churches he had planted, to superintend the settlement of regular pastors and office-bearers among them, to rectify the disorders of their discipline, or their departures from sound doctrine, and to do his occasional errands of affection or authority in those Christian societies where his bodily presence was denied. Such, generally, in so far as we can gather from the inspired record, seems to have been the work and duty of the evangelist, as these are more especially delineated in the references to the history of Timothy and Titus. And the question is: Were these evangelists the standing and permanent, or the occasional and extraordinary office-bearers of the Christian Church?

Permanent or an extraordinary & temporary office?

Those controversialists [i.e. Episcopalians] who assert the formal and permanent character of the office vested in the persons of Timothy and Titus, in order to make out this conclusion, endeavour to prove that they sustained a fixed and standing relation, each to a particular Church, as the bishop or overseer of it. It is asserted that Timothy held the permanent position of diocesan bishop in the Church at Ephesus, and that Titus stood in a similar relation to the Church at Crete. The question, then, comes very much to this: Was the office that these evangelists sustained of a special kind, being simply a commission from the Apostles to exercise, at Ephesus and Crete, certain powers given them for a particular purpose? or, Was that office of a permanent kind, implying a fixed and ordinary relationship to these Churches? We shall find in Scripture abundant reason to conclude that the position of Timothy and Titus was not a fixed and permanent one, and that their relation and powers in reference to the Ephesian and Cretan Churches were special and extraordinary.

In entering upon the argument, it is hardly necessary to say that the subscriptions at the close of the apostolic letters addressed to Timothy and Titus, which speak of them as “bishops,” are of no authority at all, being, as is now universally admitted, uninspired additions of a much later date than the Epistles. Confining ourselves to Scripture evidence, let us take the case of Timothy first, and inquire into the nature of his connection with the Church at Ephesus.

Timothy the Evangelist at Ephesus.

1. Timothy not at Ephesus, yet a fully organized church.

1st, At the date of Paul’s address to the elders of the Church at Ephesus, whom he summoned to meet him at Miletus, mentioned in the twentieth chapter of the Acts, it is evident that Timothy had no place or office in connection with that Church. “Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers…” (Acts 20:28). The absence of all reference to him by Paul, and the whole tenor of the apostle’s address to the elders as the proper bishops or overseers of the Church there, sufficiently establish these two points: first, that at that time Timothy was not at Ephesus, having no connection of an official kind with the Church at that place; and second, that there was a Church there fully organized and complete without him.

2. Timothy at Ephesus.

2d, The first, and indeed the only, express intimation in Scripture of the presence of Timothy at Ephesus, is contained in the first epistle addressed to him by Paul, in a passage which shows that he was present there only for a special purpose, and not in consequence of any fixed connection with the Church of an official kind. It appears that Paul, and Timothy as his attendant, had been labouring at Ephesus together, when the apostle had occasion to leave it for Macedonia. In his parting charge given at Miletus to the elders of Ephesus, Paul had forewarned them: “After my departure shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29-30). Whether this warning was given before or after the date of Paul’s leaving Timothy at Ephesus, has been disputed, and it is not of material consequence to the argument. It is undoubted, that about that time dangers of false doctrine assailed the Church at Ephesus; and, to counteract the danger, Timothy was left there by the apostle.

This was the special reason of Timothy’s presence at Ephesus, and not his fixed relation to the Church there. “As I besought thee,” says Paul in his letter to Timothy, “to abide still at Ephesus, when I went into Macedonia, that thou mightest charge some that they teach no other doctrine, neither give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which minister questions, rather than godly edifying which is in faith: so do” (1 Tim. 1:3-4). The object of Timothy’s being left by the apostle at Ephesus was not that he might enter upon a permanent connection of an official kind with the Ephesian Church, but simply in order that he might accomplish the specific end of meeting the crisis occasioned by the disorders among the Ephesian converts.

3. Timothy’s commission was temporary.

3d, The commission granted to Timothy for this special object was plainly intended to be a temporary, and not a permanent one. The words of the apostle already quoted seem obviously to imply this. “I besought thee to abide still at Ephesus,” is not like the language of an apostle conferring a permanent appointment, or referring to a fixed connection between Timothy and the Church of the Ephesians, but the very opposite, implying, as it clearly does, a mere temporary residence and duty there. It was a commission granted by Paul to Timothy as his delegate for certain specific purposes during his absence; and was to come to an end, either when the apostle once more personally resumed the work at Ephesus, or when the occasion which demanded the intervention of the evangelist had passed away, and he should be sent on a similar errand to other Churches.

That Paul had the expectation of returning to Ephesus and relieving Timothy from his special superintendence there, is manifest from such language as we find in the first epistle: “These things write I unto thee, hoping to come unto thee shortly: but if I tarry long, that thou mightest know how to behave thyself in the house of God.” “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.” (1 Tim. 3:14f; 4:13). That Timothy, after this, actually left Ephesus to undertake other duty, seems capable of proof from the second epistle addressed to him. Writing in that epistle from Rome, Paul enjoins upon Timothy: “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me;” and again: “Do thy diligence to come before winter” (1 Tim. 4:9, 21). And we cannot doubt that the command of the apostle was obeyed, and that Timothy actually proceeded to Rome.

That his presence at Rome was required, not for any personal attendance on Paul, at that time a prisoner in bonds, but for the service of the Church, is rendered probable,

1. in the first place, by the Christian disinterestedness of the apostle, who would have been the last man to have asked from Timothy the sacrifice of public duty for the sake of his own private and personal gratification. But this is made all but certain by the reason which Paul gives for requesting the presence of Timothy at Rome,—namely, that the other companions of his missionary labours were absent; and also by the request to bring Mark along with him to Rome, because he was profitable for the ministerial work. “Do thy diligence to come shortly unto me: for Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, and is departed unto Thessalonica; Crescens unto Galatia; Titus to Dalmatia. Only Luke is with me. Take Mark, and bring him with thee: for he is profitable to me for the ministry.” (2 Tim. 4:9-11).

2. Add to this, that by implication at least, if not by positive assertion, it may be pretty satisfactorily proved that Timothy was not even at Ephesus when the second epistle was addressed to him, summoning him to Rome. In the twelfth verse of the fourth chapter, Paul gives a piece of information not consistent with the idea that Timothy was at Ephesus at the time: “And Tychicus,” says the apostle, “have I sent to Ephesus.” And the conclusion is confirmed by the subsequent verse, which seems to take for granted that Timothy was actually at that moment at Troas: “The cloak which I left at Troas with Carpus, when thou comest, bring with thee.” So strong and clear is the evidence, that when Timothy was left behind by Paul at Ephesus, his stay was no more than temporary, and his connection with the Church there not a permanent office in it, but the reverse.

Titus the Evangelist at Crete.

But let us next take the case of Titus, and inquire whether his commission to Crete gave him a permanent connection with the Church there, or rather was of a special and extraordinary nature. In this instance also, it can be made out no less clearly than in the instance of Timothy, that the purpose of the evangelist’s presence in this particular field of labour, and his actual stay there, were both of a temporary kind.

1. Titus’ purpose at Crete was special, not permanent.

First, The object of Titus’ presence in the Church at Crete was of a special kind, and not requiring or implying a permanent connection with it. The Apostle Paul had himself been labouring there, and had laid the foundation of a Christian society; but, acting upon the general principle, which he seems to have adopted, of preaching the Gospel himself, and handing over to his assistants the task of arranging the ecclesiastical polity of the society he had called into spiritual life, he appoints Titus for this object. “For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain (καταστησης, constitute, or settle) elders in every city as I appointed thee” (Tit. 1:5). [1] The nature of the object to be accomplished implies that the commission was a special and temporary one, involving no fixed or official relationship on the part of Titus to Crete. The evangelist was left in the island to complete the work begun, but left unfinished by the apostle; and this no more involved, on the part of Titus, a permanent connection with the Church of Crete than it did on the part of Paul.

2. Titus left Crete.

Second, That the stay of Titus in Crete was no more than temporary, and that he soon left it, is sufficiently proved in the same epistle. Paul evidently contemplated, at the time he wrote to Titus, relieving him immediately from his duties at Crete by sending another of the apostle’s companions and fellow-labourers in his place; and Titus is told that, on the arrival of this substitute, he was himself forthwith to join Paul: “When I shall send Artemas unto thee, or Tychicus, be diligent to come unto me to Nicopolis; for I have determined there to winter” (Tit. 3:12). That Titus actually left Crete and joined Paul at Nicopolis, we cannot doubt; and there is no evidence whatever in Scripture that he ever returned to Crete, to resume the duties from which the apostle thus relieved him; on the contrary, our latest information regarding Titus, contained in the Second Epistle to Timothy, which is almost universally held to be the last in date of the Pastoral Epistles, shows him engaged in labour in Dalmatia (2 Tim. 4:10).

Both as regards Timothy and Titus, then, there seems sufficient ground in Scripture for saying that the commission which they bore in connection with Ephesus and Crete respectively was a special one; that the object of their presence in these Churches involved no fixed or permanent relationship to them; and that their actual residence in these places was but short, and not, so far as we know from Scripture, at any time resumed.

The Evangelists’ relation to the Apostles.

But besides the special lines of proof already referred to with respect to Timothy and Titus, there is one general kind of Scripture evidence of much weight in the argument in support of the extraordinary character of their office as evangelists, and against its involving any standing or permanent connection with any particular Church. I refer to the evidence arising out of the relation which they sustained to the Apostle Paul,—a relation incompatible with the notion of their holding or exercising the functions of any fixed office in any one ecclesiastical society.

Timothy and Titus were, in their character as evangelists, the almost constant attendants upon the apostle, and his companions in his missionary journeys,—were at his side, and ready to do his errands among the Churches, when he could not himself be present, or to complete the work which he had begun, but could not personally overtake. In the wide range of duty which his apostolic labours embraced, and in “the burden which came upon him daily, the care of all the Churches” (2 Cor. 11:28), Paul had no means of supplying the necessary limitation of his own exertions, and his own often unavoidable absence from the scene, where guidance and counsel were especially required, except by delegating to others his powers, in so far as the occasion demanded. And there was a little band whose hearts the Lord had touched, and who were drawn to the apostle by the power of that strong personal attachment, and love, and admiration, which the character of Paul was so fitted to call forth among the young, who followed him as the companions of his ministry and labours, and were at hand to bear his special commissions to whatever new quarter called for his interposition, or needed his peculiar care,—his representatives to the Churches in organizing their polity, in rectifying their disorders, in conveying to them his apostolic instructions, and in carrying out his apostolic decisions.

As the companions or delegates of Paul, we find the names of not a few who seem to have received the office of evangelist under his commission; as, for example, “Tychicus, a beloved brother, and faithful minister in the Lord;” “Epaphroditus, my brother and companion in labour;” “Mark, who is profitable to me for the ministry;” “Luke, who only is with me.” But conspicuous in that little circle of youthful and zealous labourers are Timothy and Titus, both in their personal attendance on the apostle, and in the frequency with which they bore his commission as his representatives to the Churches. We find Timothy the companion of Paul at Rome during his first imprisonment there; we find his name honourably linked to that of the apostle in his letters to the Churches of Corinth, of Thessalonica, of Philippi, and of Colosse, and to Philemon; he is spoken of in the Epistle to the Romans as Paul’s fellow-worker at Corinth; we find Paul rejoicing over his recent deliverance from imprisonment in the Epistle to the Hebrews; we see him the joint labourer with Paul in the Church at Ephesus, and left behind with special instructions to complete the work of the apostle, who had departed; and we witness him summoned by the apostle to Rome toward the close of his life, and in the near prospect of his martyrdom (Rom. 16:21; 1 Cor 16:10; 2 Cor. 1:1, 19; Phil. 2:19; 1 Thes. 3:2; Heb. 13:23; 1 Tim. 1:2, etc.; 2 Tim. 1:2, etc.). In like manner we find Titus the very frequent attendant on the apostle, and the bearer of his commission to the Church. At Troas, Paul “found no rest in his spirit, because he found not Titus his brother;” at Philippi he was joined with the apostle in his active labours there; to Corinth he was sent on a special mission in connection with the collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem; in Crete he was left behind by Paul to complete what the apostle’s hands had not been able to overtake; and from Rome we find Paul sending him on a special mission to Dalmatia (2 Cor. 2:13; 7:6, 13-14; 8:6-23; 12:18; Gal. 2:1; Tit. 1:5, etc.; 2 Tim. 4:10).

Conclusion.

These labourers, ever at Paul’s side, and ever ready to carry his instructions to distant Churches, were not, and could not be, attached to any particular Church as holding a fixed and permanent office among its members. Their office was extraordinary; their commission had its origin and its close in apostolic times; the position of the evangelists, like the positions of the apostle and the prophet, must be reckoned among those provisional arrangements of the primitive Church, which formed the transition to its permanent and settled condition. There is no evidence from Scripture that the office of evangelist was a fixed and standing office in the Christian society; on the contrary, there is every evidence that it was extraordinary and temporary.



[1] “But it may be thought that he gives too much power to Titus, when he bids him appoint ministers for all the churches. That would be almost royal power. Besides, this method takes away from each church the right of choosing, and from the College of Pastors the power of judging; and thus the sacred administration of the Church would be almost wholly profaned. The answer is easy. He does not give permission to Titus, that he alone may do everything in this matter, and may place over the churches those whom he thinks fit to appoint to be bishops; but only bids him preside, as moderator, at the elections, which is quite necessary. This mode of expression is very common. In the same manner, a consul, or regent, or dictator is said to have created consuls, on account of having presided over the public assembly in electing them. Thus also Luke relates that Paul and Barnabas ordained elders in every church (Acts 14:23). Not that they alone, in an authoritative manner, appointed pastors which the churches had neither approved nor known; but that they ordained fit men, who had been chosen or desired by the people.” (John Calvin, com. Titus 1:5).

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