My goal in this post is to interact faithfully with Scripture, for that is our authority in determining doctrine.
We are trying to determine who the leaders of the NT church are.
One main passage on spiritual gifts is Ephesians 4:11-16. In that passage, you could say that apostles and prophets and evangelists have a “leading” function in that they are to equip the rest of the saints for the work of the ministry, but there is no verse that describes their role in the church as being in charge of doctrine, or their function of shepherding or teaching. That is given to the “elder” or the “overseer.” The exception, of course, is apostleship, but that office has clearly died out (see later).
“Elder” and “overseer” are specifically described as being leaders in the church. It is “elders” who are to rule (1 Tim 5:17). It is “overseers” who must be able to teach to be overseers (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9). It is “elders” who are to teach and preach, some more than others (1 Tim 5:17). According to Scripture, elders and overseers are responsible for teaching, preaching, and ruling the church.
Perhaps you could say that “pastor-teacher” is a spiritual gift, and “elder” and “overseer” are two titles for the office that someone with that gift would hold.
And you can tell that “elder” and “overseer” are the same office based on a simple comparison of passages. For example, Paul “called the elders of the church to come to him” (Acts 20:17); minutes later, he told the exact same group of men that the Holy Spirit had “made [them] overseers” (Acts 20:28). Paul reminded Titus that he had left him in Crete partly “to appoint elders in every town” (Titus 1:5); he then said that such men were to be “above reproach,” and grounded that instruction with the words, “for an overseer… must be above reproach” (Titus 1:7). There is no possible way to interpret these verses other than to say that Paul used the terms “elder” and “overseer” to describe the exact same office.
The term “pastor” is used only one in Ephesians 4:11, together with “teacher” (both of which terms seem to describing one gift; I won’t get into a defence of that here, as we’re not exploring Greek right now). But it seems like “pastor” and “teacher” are describing the same gift. And since every overseer must be able to teach to be qualified to be an overseer (1 Tim 3:2; Titus 1:9), and since it is elders who preach and teach (1 Tim 5:17), it looks like “pastor” is a third term to describe the same office as “elder” and “overseer.” Further support for this is in Acts 20, the same passage that proves that “elder” and “overseer” are synonymous: in verse 28, where Paul also calls these men “overseers,” he charges them “to care for the church of God.” The term “care for” is a cognate of the Greek noun translated “pastor,” and means to “shepherd,” just like “pastor” does. So overseers are identical to pastors, and since overseers are also identical to elders, clearly the three terms are synonymous.
How about prophets and evangelists? Well, God gave no qualifications given for such, nor are Timothy and Titus instructed to name such in their churches. Instead, Paul told Titus to select elders in each church (Titus 1:5). God, through Paul, placed priority on elders, and secondly on deacons (see the second list of qualifications in 1 Timothy 3). Therefore, elders are the most important office of the church - the sine qua non of biblical churches. They are the leaders of the church that God has put in place, not prophets or evangelists.
But how about apostles? For Scripture describes them and their office; they were clearly extremely important in the life of the church. Is that office still for today? That topic deserves a full-length post, which I will do next week.
*Update on 8-2-19: Here is the post on apostleship.