Three years ago, I was attending the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in Washington D.C. I attended a presentation by Harold Hoehner on the topic of spiritual gifting vs. office. In response, I wrote a blog series describing and interacting with Hoehner’s view. (“Gifting vs. Office,” “Gifting vs. Office 2,” “Gifting vs. Office 3,” and “Gifting vs. Office 4.”) (By the way, I don’t like the term “office” when used in connection with the church. But, Hoehner used the term, so I used it in my series.) It’s interesting to see how some of my views and terminology has changed over the last three years. Here is that series:
This is the first series of posts inspired by papers or conversations at the Evangelical Theological Society meeting this year. One of the first presentations that I heard was Harold W. Hoehner’s “Can a Woman be a Pastor-Teacher?” (If you can find this paper online, please let me know.) Apart from the provocative title, the content provided many opportunities for discussion. Hoehner’s premise was that we must not confuse spiritual gifting with office. Now, while I do not like the term “office”, I will use it for this discussion. His conclusion was that pastoring and teaching are both spiritual gifts, not offices. Since the Holy Spirit gifts different believers with different gifts, He may – and probably does – endow women with the gift of pastoring-teaching.
This series will center around the differences between gifting by the Spirit and office within the church. Is there a difference? Should someone holding a certain office always have certain gifts? Should someone with certain gifts always hold a certain office? If you think of other questions, please add them in the comments.
In Hoehner’s presentation at ETS (“Can a Woman Be a Pastor-Teacher”), he made a distinction between gifting by the Holy Spirit and holding an office in the church (Remember, I do not like the term “office”, but I’m using it here because Dr. Hoehner used it in his presentation.)
Hoehner suggested that an office can be recognized in Scripture when there are qualifications for holding that office. Therefore, he sees three distinct offices:
- Apostle (qualifications given in Acts 1:15-26)
- Elder/Bishop-overseer (qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9)
- Deacon (possibly deaconess) (qualifications given in 1 Timothy 3:8-13)
Hoehner did not like to use the term “pastor” for the office of elder/bishop, because he says that “pastoring” is a Spiritual gift, not an office. However, it is interesting to note that he sees “apostle” as both an office and a gift, and “deacon” as an office and a gift (since “deacon” acutally means “servant”).
Are these “offices” in the church? Are there other “offices”? Is there a better term than “office”?
At ETS this year, Harold Hoehner presented a paper titled “Can a Woman be a Pastor-Teacher?” He argued that there is a difference between gifting and office. Scripture designates an “office” (Remember, I do not like that term. I am using it because Hoehner used it.) by listing qualifications for the office. He recognizes apostle, elder/bishop, and deacon (possibly deaconness) as scriptural offices.
On the other hand, Hoehner argued that gifts are not given based on qualifications. Instead, gifts are given by the Holy Spirit to all believers. He recognizes all of items listed in Eph 4:11, 1 Cor 12, and Romans 12 to be spiritual gifts. Any believer may exercise his or her spiritual gift as sovereignly endowed by the Holy Spirit. According to Hoehner, Eph 4:11 lists individuals who are exercising their spiritual gifts, not offices. Therefore, any believer may have the gifting to operate as an apostle (not as the office of an apostle though), a prophet, an evangelist, or a pastor-teacher (not as the office of an elder/bishop though).
Is Hoehner correct that there is a difference between gifting and office? Could any believer possess any spiritual gifts? Is there any scriptural evidence that some categories of believers (women, for instance) will never be granted certain spiritual gifts (pastoring/teaching, for instance)?
So far, I have attempted to explain Harold Hoehner’s view as he presented it in this paper given at ETS: “Can a Woman be a Pastor-Teacher?” Here is his argument in summary:
- Many misunderstandings (his estimate was 95%, I think) about women in ministry are caused by a blurring of the distinctions between spiritual gifts and offices.
- Scripture gives qualifications for offices. Qualifications are given for apostles, elder/ bishops, and deacons/deaconesses.
- Scripture does not give qualifications for gifts. Gifts are given according to the will of God through the Holy Spirit.
- Since there are no qualifications given for the list in Ephesians 4:11 (apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor-teachers), pastor-teachers are individuals endowed with spiritual gifts, not offices.
- Therefore, even if women cannot hold a certain office, they can be pastor-teachers if they are so gifted.
To be honest, I have no desire to discuss women in ministry. Instead, I would like to discuss his distinction between spiritual gifts and offices.
First, my understanding of spiritual gifts seems to differ slightly from Hoehner’s understanding. Spiritual gifts are given by the Holy Spirit, through believers, for the benefit of others (1 Cor. 12:7). Scripture does not indicate that believers are endowed with gifts for life, or that believers can recognize their particular gifts. The “name” of the gifts (i.e. serving, leading, teaching), seem to come from the benefit given to others. In other words, someone has the gift of teaching because what the Spirit does through them teaches others. It is possible that the Spirit could use the exact same actions/words to encourage others at the same time. Therefore, the gift is recognized as teaching for group 1, while it is recognized as encouragment for group 2. Yet, the Spirit is working through the same person’s words.
If this view is correct, then we should not emphasize that a person is “exercising” a certain spiritual gift. The person does not control whether or not, or how, the Spirit decides to work through them. Instead, as Peter says, the person should speak and/or act according to the will of God, and allow the Spirit to use those words/actions as He chooses.
I do recognize that there are people within Scripture that are called “teachers,” “prophets,” “servants,” etc. However, in my view, this is the recognition of others that these are the primary ways that the Spirit works through those individuals. Thus, for one known as a “teacher,” the Spirit normally uses that person’s words to teach others; therefore, other people recognize this and refer to him/her as a “teacher.”
This is illustrated in 1 Cor. 12-14. In 1 Cor. 12:29, Paul asks the question, “Are all prophets?”, expecting a negative answer: No, all are not prophets. Thus, Paul recognizes that, for certain believers, the Spirit regularly uses their words as words of prophecy. But, the Spirit does not normally work this way through everyone. Then, in 1 Cor. 14:31, Paul states, “For you can all prophesy one by one, so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” In this verse, Paul recognizes that, even though the Spirit may not normally use someone’s words as prophecy, that potential is always there, because the Spirit chooses how He will endow gifts according to His will.
I realize that this may seem pedantic. However, I think the distinction is important. Which is important: 1) I should teach others, or 2) I should speak as the Spirit leads me, even if no one “learns” from my words. I am not responsible for how others receive my words or actions; however, I am responsible for obeying God is everything that I do and say.