After He ascended into heaven our Lord instituted in the church various offices (Eph. 4:8-11). He instituted these offices that those who serve in them might represent Him, and serve His church in their offices. Though He remains the only Head and King of the church, these offices are necessary for the well-being of the church.
There has been much controversy about the number and nature of these offices. Without entering into that controversy, we believe that the offices that remain in the church are three, the offices of elder, deacon and minister.
We say “remain” because there have been other, temporary offices; apostle, prophet, evangelist, etc. These offices, which involved bringing the inspired and infallible Word of God (Acts 21:10-11, Hebrews 2:3-4, II Peter 3:15-16), are no longer necessary, since we now have the completed Scriptures (II Peter 1:19-21).
That it is only the offices of ruling elder, deacon, and minister that remain is clear, since these are the only offices mentioned in the later epistles of Paul (I Timothy and Titus, especially) where he is giving instruction to the successors of the Apostles. This is further confirmed by the fact that these epistles have to do with “proper behavior in the church” (Timothy 3:15) and with “setting things in order in the church” (Titus 1:5).
Nor are we concerned to argue the point that both the ministers and ruling elders are identified as elders in the NT. The fact of the matter is that these three offices have distinct duties and are viewed as separate offices in the NT (I Timothy 3 and 4).
What does concern us is the fact that these offices are neglected and forgotten in the church today. Few churches have all three offices, and where the offices are present one often finds deacons doing the work of elders or vice versa, or ministers doing the work of all three. Likewise, in many cases the offices have become nothing more than honorary positions, and those who are chosen to them are chosen not on the basis of spiritual qualifications, but of prominence or wealth.
This can only be to the detriment of the church, if Christ has instituted them for the church. Indeed, insofar as the offices are representative of Christ, their absence in the church means that at least in some ways Christ Himself is not present among the people of God, as He ought to be.
We believe (this is another reason we find three offices in the NT) that these offices are aspects of Christ’s three-fold offices of prophet, priest and king. This is very evident in the offices of ruling elder and minister. It is hard not to see that those two are extensions of Christ’s kingly and prophetic offices. But the office of deacon, properly understood, is, we believe, an extension of Christ’s priestly office, or at least of some aspects of that office (this we hope to show in a forthcoming article).
If that is true, then the offices are that much more important to the church, and may not be neglected as they are today. It is our hope and prayer that they may be restored to their proper place and function.