Just What Is The Ephesians 4 Model For A Healthy Congregation Anyway?

Today I happened to come across a website for a new church organization, called COG America, an organization that claims to be “an organization of Church of God pastors, elders, and ministers committed to practicing the Ephesians 4 model for a healthy congregation.”  Intrigued, as I have never heard of a specific “Ephesians 4” model being practiced in the Church of God (which happens to be my “denomination,” if one would call it that), I decided to investigate their page further.

The Ephesians 4 Model

Under their page titled “Ephesians 4,” the COG America had the following things to say [1]:

1. Minister’s job description (Ephesians 4:12)

  1. Prepare the members for the work of ministry.
  2. Educate the members in the faith.

2. Goal for the minister and his congregation (Ephesians 4:13) to become like Christ.

3. Check list for a healthy congregation (Ephesians 4:14-16)

  1. Members understand doctrine.
  2. Members discern error and deceit.
  3. Members effectively discuss the truth.
  4. Members contribute to strengthen the congregation.

4. How the pastor evaluates himself?

  1. Do the members in my congregation understand the doctrines?
  2. Do the members discern false teachings? Do I speak up about it?
  3. Do the members answer questions truthfully and effectively?
  4. Do the members have an opportunity to contribute and encourage?

I am assuming that because this webpage was “page 0” of their webpage, that it was the first thing they came up with in creating this church organization.  It is my intention today to examine what is said above about the Ephesians 4 model of a healthy church congregation and compare this particular conception with the other notable biblical passages that deal with the way church congregations are to be run to see if this model is a completely biblical model or if it is missing part of the context important in congregational health.

Ephesians 4:11-16 reads as follows:  “And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the statue of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ–from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love.”

That’s a lot to take in, admittedly, but it’s not clear just what is meant by a specific Ephesians 4 model of a healthy congregation in the description given.  Let us therefore try to divide the passage into parts.  First, Ephesians 4 provides a set of “offices” that the brethren of the Church of God are to fall into.  These do not appear to be designed in any particular hierarchy, nor are these positions titles (for example, to speak from this passage of the “rank” of evangelist or prophet would be an absurdity).  Instead, it appears as if these are job descriptions that each Christian is to share in doing as they have been given gifts by God–whether that is “teaching” others how to apply scripture, or serving in evangelism to spread the Gospel to the world at large, or engaging in the work of prophecy in expounding upon the word of God and discerning the signs of the times.  In short, this particular division of the duties of the Church of God into functions appears similar to Paul’s commentary on gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11, showing that a diversity of gifts and offices springs from the same God under the guidance and authority of our elder brother, Jesus Christ.

Section 1 of the “Ephesians 4” model of a healthy congregation assumes that it is only the ministry that is involved in the tasks listed in Ephesians 4:12, but as we have seen these “offices” or duties are much broader than merely the ministry, possibly extending well into the ranks of deacons and even ordinary members who have the ability and opportunity to “teach” others from scripture.  That said, the responsibilities listed above on the web page are not entirely correct as stated.  While Ephesians 4:12 does state that these people who serve the brethren are to equip the saints for the work of ministry (so they can serve and teach as well), the other responsibility shown is not “to educate members in the faith,” but is actually “for the edifying of the body of Christ,” which means the building up of members in their capabilities and spiritual gifts so that they reach spiritual maturity and are no longer immature and threatened by heretical doctrines, which would include a faulty understanding of this passage, no doubt.  This is similar to what Paul said in 1 Corinthians 14:20:  “Brethren, do not be children in understanding; however, in malice be babes, but in understanding be mature.”

Section 2 above states that it is the goal of the minister and his congregation “to become like Christ,” which is undoubtedly true, but not complete.  After all, in Colossians 2:2-3 Paul says of his concern for the brethren there and in Laodicea “that their hearts may be encouraged, being knot together in love, and attaining to all riches of the full assurance of understanding to the knowledge of the mystery of God, both of the Father and of Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  This matches what Christ himself said of the responsibilities of Christians to “be perfect [mature], just as your Father in heaven is perfect” in Matthew 5:48.  To become like Christ is to seek full understanding of the Bible as well as the development of the character of God and Jesus Christ as well as the perfect oneness (unity in Ephesians 4:13) that the two of them share with each other (John 17:11).  It is ironic that ministers forming a new church, presumably after leaving their previous church, would consider a healthy congregation one that is striving to develop the “unity of faith” given their inability to be united.  This is especially ironic in light of the questions raised by the last two sections of this supposed Ephesians 4 model.

Section 3 provides a “checklist” for a healthy congregation based on Ephesians 4:14-16, but again there seems to be an incomplete conception of these verses, and a corresponding reliance on “buzz words” rather than a deep understanding of what the verse is really talking about.  For example, there is far more than merely an “understanding” of doctrine that is expected of congregations, but “the knowledge of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.”  This sort of understanding is more than head knowledge but is a deep appreciation and application of the truths of scripture across the entire span of one’s life and behavior.  That’s a tall order for anyone.

Likewise, what is expected of brethren is more than merely “discerning error and deceit” but being sufficiently mature not to be carried away by heresies (or by false accusations of heresy) and of developing the discernment capable to thwart the trickery of men and the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, which would include the efforts of men to organize a new church while being paid by another religious organization.  Hopefully all of the members of this new church organization have this sort of discernment to be able to recognize and discern the lies of people who would make false accusations under the cover of false identities, as Paul warns against here.  We would hope that the members of such a church organization would be safe from the threat of deceitful plotting or anything underhanded or unethical.

Likewise, the third aspect of brethren being able to “effectively discuss the truth” seems entirely milquetoast in discussing the soaring rhetoric of Paul’s expectation for brethren to participate in “speaking the truth in love” so that they “may grow up in all things into Him who is the head–Christ.”  This is more than just talking about the truth–this is living the truth to such an extent that brethren are transformed into the image and likeness of God through obedience and diligent study and application of the scripture.  This is truly an awesome calling, one that is far more deep than merely “discussing the truth.”

In a similar vein, the responsibility of brethren is far more than merely to “contribute to strengthen the congregation,” but the far more profound calling to be “joined and knit together…according to the effective working by which every part does its share” so that each member of the congregation “causes growth in the body for the edifying of itself in love.”  Far more than merely helping to strengthen the congregation, brethren are supposed to build each other in up in love, to show the sort of unity within the congregation (and Church of God as a whole) of joints fitting together perfectly in harmony that the muscles of one’s body shows.  For the members to “do their share” as this passage commands, there would have to be no hindrance from the ministry in the development of and practice of the gifts that members have been given–whether those gifts include writing, speaking, or whatever other service.  Are the ministers here humble and secure enough as to allow brethren the full opportunities to develop their God-given talents with their full blessing and support?  Let it be so!

The fourth section of this Ephesians 4 model shows a set of four questions that a pastor is to ask himself.  However, while these questions are certainly important to ask, it fails to answer a broader question, and that is to whom or to what standard is the pastor accountable?  If a pastor thinks that they are fulfilling their mandate, what check is there to counteract the tendency of people to be right and wise and good in their own eyes?  After all, the Bible speaks very strongly against the ministers of congregations seeking the preeminence and in preventing other ministers from visiting their congregation from the “Home Office” (3 John :9-10) because of their own lusts for power.  There appears to be no outside accountability, either to the membership at large or to any sort of authority above to ensure that ministers are doing their jobs.  This would seem to be the essence of a Presbyterian model, despite the church’s explicit claim not to be following a congregationalist model [2].

Conclusion

Having examined the particular setup of the “Ephesians 4 model” and finding the explanation provided wanting, it is worthwhile to briefly examine some of the other scriptures that deal with the responsibilities of ministers, since it is only in context of the entire scripture that we can make any kind of definitive statements of doctrine.  We are forbidden from taking scriptures out of context in order to twist them to suit our own wishes.  For example, Hebrews 5:12-14 envisions ordinary members to grow into the ability of becoming “teachers” (Ephesians 4:11) themselves, once they have demonstrated maturity in being able to handle the scriptures.  Likewise, both the Sinai Covenant (Exodus 19:6) and Renewed Covenant (1 Peter 2:9-10) show that Israel and the Church of God are to be a kingdom of priests and a holy nation, with leadership responsibilities being developed within the ordinary membership, which would seem to prevent a rigid and permanent division between clergy and laity from developing.  Jesus Christ, after all, clearly stated that leaders within the Church were to be the servants of the ordinary membership rather than their lords (Matthew 20:25-28).  To fully obey the “Ephesians 4” mandate of a healthy congregation, ministers would have to be servants of the brethren and seek to fully develop the capabilities of the brethren of congregations for positions of leadership responsibility.

[1] http://cogamerica.org/page0/page0.html

[2] http://cogamerica.org/page10/page10.html under question 4, which reads:  “4. Are you promoting a form of congregationalism?

No. Merriam-Webster dictionary defines congregationalism “of or relating to church government placing final authority in the assembly of the local congregation.” In the Ephesians 4 model, the pastor is responsible for overseeing the congregation in accordance with specific scriptural guidelines. The members, also, have specific responsibilities in personal spiritual growth and congregational maturity. When pastors and members work together according to Ephesians 4 guidelines, everyone understands how to contribute to the well-being of the church.”

The difference with a pure congregationalist model would be that this model outlined by the COG America places the final authority in the minister of a congregation rather than in a congregational assembly, which would seem to make it a Presbyterian polity (see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Presbyterian_church_governance), if one wishes to split hairs.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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