Is the Five-Fold Ministry False Teaching?

HomeFalse TeachingsIs the Five-Fold Ministry False Teaching?

I’m often asked to assess what others teach. I do not do this lightly, but it is necessary. Before reading this page, or any of the pages about specific people, I recommend that you read What is a False Teacher?, which explains what the Bible says about false teachers, and why I would bother to research who they are and what they say. You may also want to check out a list of Bible Teachers I Can Recommend.

I regularly get questions about those who call themselves ‘apostles’ or ‘prophets.’ My opinion is irrelevant, of course. The important question is whether anyone today should use those terms for themselves. In this article, I focus on the ‘apostle’ part of the five-fold ministry, to clear up the questions about modern-day apostles.

The idea comes from Scripture

The idea of the five-fold ministry comes directly from Ephesians 4:11 where Paul lists 5 (or four) kinds of roles that equip Christians for service. Here’s the verse, with some of its context:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

That’s good stuff. Here are the 5:

I say there might be four because many scholars suggest that pastor and teacher should be combined as pastor/teacher. The number isn’t really important for our discussion. The question is whether the five-fold ministry, as expressed today, matches what we see in the New Testament. Keep in mind that there’s some variety of belief within those who teach about this, and that not everyone sees things in exactly the same way.

Is it for today?

Is the ‘five-fold ministry’ only found in the first-century church, or is it something that should be emulated and repeated today? It’s my belief that the five-fold ministry, as expressed by Paul in Ephesians 4, is a thing of the past. When I say that, I don’t mean that it’s no longer needed. I mean that it’s a historical thing, like Jesus’ birth and death and resurrection. Those are obviously still relevant today, but they don’t need to be repeated. To be clear: the New Testament doesn’t talk about apostles and prophets in the way that five-fold folks do, and that raises a red flag.

The idea is that today’s church has these 5 ‘offices’ or roles, and that all 5 are needed to today. If this were true, then each church could have their own apostles and prophets. That isn’t what we find in the New Testament. Instead, ‘apostles and prophets’ refer to specific people who laid the foundation of the church… and that foundation is the same for every church, rather than being localized.

This passage is in Ephesians 4. Let’s go back a bit to Ephesians 2 and see another place where Paul mentions apostles and prophets:

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Note this phrase: “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets.” The NIV (a fine translation) doesn’t quite capture what the Greek says. The NASB, a stricter word-for-word translation, expresses it more fully. They both express the meaning, but “having been built” is more precise than “built.” In context, Paul was saying that the Christians in Ephesus had been made one with the Jews because of Jesus, who made the two groups one. BOTH were built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets and “in Him the whole building is joined together.”

The key is that the apostles and prophets were the foundation for both. The prophets for the Jews weren’t modern-day prophets, but Jewish prophets who warned Israel to return to God. The apostles weren’t modern-day prophets, but the apostles of Jesus… those who personally encountered Him while He ministered in Israel, who saw Him do what He did. THAT is the foundation on which the church has been built. Just as Jesus died and rose again and doesn’t need to repeat the process, so the work done by the apostles and prophets has been completed. The foundation of the church has been laid.

The biblical definition of an apostle

How do we know this? Let’s look at what happened after Judas betrayed Jesus and killed himself. The twelve had become eleven. They needed to choose a replacement for Judas, and here are the requirements, from Acts 1:17-22:

Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.

THAT is an apostle. They couldn’t replace Judas with just any old believer. They had to choose someone who could personally testify that they had witnessed Jesus in action. Paul wrote specifically in 1 Corinthians 15 about the ones to whom Jesus appeared:

Last of all to Paul. Now, Paul mentions several times that he’s not a typical apostle. Why? Because he didn’t follow Jesus when He was alive and ministering in Israel. The other apostles did. So, if Paul persecuted the church at that time, how could he be considered an apostle? It’s because He personally encountered Jesus after His resurrection, and was SENT (the meaning of the word ‘apostle’) to minister to the Gentiles by Jesus Himself.

For verification: Luke, the writer of Acts, called Paul an apostle. Paul called himself an apostle in his writings, which Peter said were Scripture. The one common denominator in both the regular apostles and Paul, the atypical apostle, was that they saw Jesus alive after He had been killed and had been sent to teach others what He taught.

The foundation has already been laid

The church – everyone who has been born again, throughout all of history, all over the world – has been built on the foundation of the Old Testament prophets and the New Testament apostles. We have all we need for life and godliness in the Scriptures, in the one true gospel that was handed down once for all. Modern-day apostles and prophets can’t add to the gospel, or improve on it. We need no continuing revelation, which is the basis for the five-fold ministry.

While there are lots of people who believe in the five-fold ministry that otherwise have orthodox theology, they can’t substantiate their position from Scripture. Instead – in my experience, and in the experiences of many others – those who consider themselves to be modern-day apostles and prophets both teach contrary to Scripture and go far beyond Scripture when they teach. For those reasons, I can never recommend an ‘apostle’ or ‘prophet’ as someone who can be trusted to handle Scripture responsibly.


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20 responses to “Is the Five-Fold Ministry False Teaching?”

  1. ray mantho says:

    excellent! spent hrs trying to convince my adult niece to beware of false teaching like 5 fold stuff-and now pray she will read your article. bless Uall ray

  2. Linda Clark says:

    Perfectly stated…

  3. Craig Mark says:

    I agree. It is finished. The foundation has been laid. Cannot add anything “new”.

  4. Pete says:

    Appreciate this article on the fivefold ministry,clears up a lot of confusion concerning prophets and apostles,let God’s word be true.

  5. Justin Rubio says:

    I don’t agree with you. Apostles can exist and our needed. I agree that they may not look and act like first century apostles but they are needed today to plant and nurture churches as Paul did in Ephesus. Prophets prophesize, evangelist gather, pastors care for the flock and teachers teach. It’s really that a
    Simple. Apostles go to new locations to help lay the foundation of a new Church. They are equally important and equal in thier roles.

    • Tony says:

      Justin:

      You don’t agree with me? I’m okay with that. In fact, I think it’s awesome. As we talk about our positions, one or both of us might learn something valuable. I’m sure you would agree that whatever we believe should be based in Scripture, and not in our own opinions or traditions. Am I right?

      When we read “apostle” in the Bible, what do we learn? What does it say, what word(s) are used, and so on? If by “apostle” you mean one thing and I mean another, it makes sense that we might not see eye to eye. Let’s look at an example from Scripture… this is from Romans 1:

      Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God…

      Paul – a servant of Christ Jesus, like you and I – was called to be an apostle. Not everybody could be an apostle, right? In the article above, I’ve pointed out that an apostle has to be someone who was with Jesus the whole time He was ministering on earth. Why? Because they had to have PERSONALLY WITNESSED the resurrected Jesus… or they couldn’t testify to seeing Him. Paul being an apostle was an exception, as he had spent time with Jesus on earth after His resurrection. You haven’t. I haven’t. While anybody can plant a church, nobody on earth today can be an apostle.

      Do you have Scriptures to share with me? If so, thanks… I look forward to reading your response!

  6. Terrance McKinney says:

    I’ve became a part of the five fold ministry since 2015 under a female apostle which is also not biblical but now that I’ve found out the Truth about it compared to scripture I’m in process of leaving and finding a church that honors the bible

  7. Tala says:

    If “personally witnessed” is a prerequisite for an apostle then doesn’t that statement disqualifies all testimonies of those who personally witnessed God move in their life? I am not going into the modalism but for simplicity sake, miraculous things happen now as they did back then. There’s someone who has to testify these, the one who witnessed it. The offices don’t interest me as it sometimes elevate humans above God’s miraculous abilities, but I wouldn’t toss the five fold offices out also.

    For scripture reference, Hebrews 13:5 I will never leave you nor forsake you.

    By the way,I applaud your boldness in calling out the false prophets. I also sense the grace to humble ourselves that even this site could also have mistakes. We aren’t flawless 😍

    • Tony says:

      Tala:

      I’m sorry to have confused you. “Personally witnessed” is the biblical standard for an apostle. That doesn’t disqualify anyone from anything except rightly calling themselves an apostle. They either personally witnessed Jesus alive on earth or they didn’t. However: all who follow Jesus are called to testify about the reasons for our hope. This would, of course, include any testimony about miraculous events.

      The question is about authority. Those who use titles like Bishop or Prophet or Apostle do so for primarily one of two reasons:

      • They believe that that is their role in the Kingdom, or
      • They believe it adds to their credibility.

      Who are we to argue with an apostle? We’re just regular Christians, not apostles… right? That’s the view many people take, and that’s one reason some take such titles. We should be skeptical of anyone who claims more authority than anyone else. We don’t have any authority or credibility of our own. Our only authority or credibility comes from what God has revealed in His word, and our faithfulness in repeating it. Where what we say matches what God has said, we’re in good standing. Where what we say does not, it becomes obvious that we lack authority and credibility. You might find this article interesting, where I answer the question about my own credibility. Let me know what you think!

  8. Anointedsword says:

    Yet, Apostle and prophets are in scripture.

    • Tony says:

      Yes, Scripture talks a lot about apostles and prophets. It also talks about high priests a lot… yet Christians have no need of a high priest other than Jesus. In your opinion, what is the role of an apostle in the church today? What is the role of prophecy in the church today? As mentioned in the article, not everybody sees things the same way. As best I can tell, the biblical description of an apostle is one who was personally sent – that’s what the word meand – by Jesus Himself, during His earthly ministry, who could testify as an eyewitness to His resurrection. If that’s what the Bible means by “apostle,” then nobody alive today fits the definition.

      I’m open to other interpretations. What do you think?

  9. Andrea says:

    Hello,

    I love your cite and the truth that you bring which absolutely proves that narrow is the way to righteousness and broad is the way to destruction when many follow a way definitely does not make it right (many Protestants do not know that the Five Fold Ministry teachings stem from Catholicism first brought out in 1832–which is another reason why it is false). Yet, I would like to add that you are so right about the Apostles can not be new because of the qualifications of an Apostle which Apostle Paul was the last one that was given approval by Apostle Peter and NO Apostle after him can do that so of the Apostles as you stated we do still need what they gave and that is we still get it through their foundation that they already laid, but of the Prophets, you are not the only one that I have heard say that there can no longer be Prophets for they are of the past, but of that it is NOT True, for every other role besides the Apostles do go for today, so a person can be a Prophet of today’s time which the Bible does back that, for the qualifications of a Prophet stand for today as well.

  10. Marsha Twigg says:

    Hi Tony,

    I also must respectfully disagree.
    Please show me chapter and verse where it says apostles need to have personally witnessed Jesus resurrected?

    Also, based on your explanation, if the five fold wasn’t necessary anymore we would have no gifts distributed either, nor would we have any leadership or organisation in the Body. The Church would have fallen quickly without leadership or organisation. Such is the way of humans. God gave the organisational structure for his people, just as he gave structure to humankind for all of our existence.

    However I do agree that the problem is real for power and authority to go to peoples heads. That is why God chooses these people, not people choosing people. That is why we are told to test the Spirit. God has given us everything we need to follow him in an active living way, just as he has done for all time.

    God didn’t stop speaking when Jesus ascended. He speaks everyday and will press upon your mind the right way and the discernment in all things. The challenge is learning to listen.

    • Tony says:

      Marsha:

      Thanks for writing! I hope you don’t mind if we continue to disagree for a bit. I hope you’ll take the time to check out the Bible verses in question… both chapter and verse.

      The Greek word that we translate “apostle” is apostolos. It means “a delegate, messenger, one sent forth with orders.” In the New Testament we see that an apostle wasn’t just any old believer, or even just any old elder or deacon. In Acts 1, the already-apostles are mentioned by name… eleven of them. Judas, of course, was no longer part of the group. They felt the need to replace Judas, and here’s what verses 21 and 22 say:

      Therefore it is necessary to choose one of the men who have been with us the whole time the Lord Jesus was living among us, beginning from John’s baptism to the time when Jesus was taken up from us. For one of these must become a witness with us of his resurrection.

      Why did they say this? Why wouldn’t they simply grab any old person to be an apostle? Because their standard – their limitation – for who was and was not an apostle was that they had to have been part of the group from John’s baptism until Jesus’ ascension… they had to be a personal eyewitness of His resurrection. If you weren’t there the whole time, you couldn’t possibly be an apostle… and then you had to be chosen. There were a whole bunch of people who fit the criteria, but only Matthias was chosen to be an apostle.

      This plain and simple fact is why some, at that time, argued that Paul wasn’t an apostle. They argued that because Paul wasn’t around from John’s baptism until Jesus’ ascension, he couldn’t be an apostle. Paul defended himself against accusations that he wasn’t an apostle by pointing to the fact that he personally encountered the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, and that Jesus Himself personally commissioned him. While it would be nice to have more apostles, the biblical standard is clear. It’s easy to SAY you’re an apostle, but nobody today can back it up. Having been a pastor, I understand the idea that we might feel personally called and personally sent, but we can’t go beyond what Scripture tells us.

      The Holy Spirit gives spiritual gifts, and He’s as active today as He ever was. I’m not sure why you might think we need apostles for that. As you said, God speaks today… but anyone who claims to have heard God speak but then contradicts what He has already said in Scripture must be seen as false.

      Does that make sense?

  11. Stan Counsell says:

    Tony, might I humbly add that the “foundation” of the apostles and prophets is singular? It is done, finished, complete…no need whatsoever for additions.
    If plural, then anyone can claim they “saw” Jesus and that He “commissioned” them to said offices. Ergo, they could/can today add or delete parts of the Word of God…thereby causing confusion, conflicts, and give rise to numerous false beliefs.

  12. Marsha says:

    Hi Tony,

    Thankyou for the reply, although it seems I can’t reply directly to my original thread.
    First let me thank you for the correction. I’ve been looking at this Scripture for a while without managing to settle the issue. In commenting originally I took a stance with an open mind, trusting God to impart whatever direction or correction needed from a fellow brother.

    I’ve looked at the Scriptures and references in question. I would agree now that the ‘office’ of the apostle can’t be held anymore.
    I’d like to propose a deeper understanding of the Scripture- looking at the translations and entire chapter and book context, as it is a very wordy complex chapter.

    In the opening verses 1-6 Paul calls the reader to live their lives in a manner that fits the calling – that of one to preserve the bond and gift of the Holy Spirit. For it is only through the one single hope of Christ that the reader was called.

    Verses 7-8 state that in our answering the call to Christ (by believing and spreading the Good News), as a reward he (the Holy Spirt) has given gifts as he (Holy Spirit) deems appropriate and to what degree. These gifts then are those of the office, but rather then titles, they appear to be gifts of ‘talent packages’ for lack of a better word. So we not not have apostles anymore but we still have gifts in the Holy Spirit as HS sees fit to provide such as healing, prophecy, miracles etc.

    As for a time frame. The following verses clearly state this will occur until “we reach unity in faith.. and become mature.. and attain the full measure of Christ”, which we know won’t happen until the end of the age when the full measure of the gentiles are reached.

    I look forward to hearing back from you, whether for correction or in agreement.

    • Tony says:

      Marsha:

      I appreciate your open mind! In chapter 3 of Ephesians, Paul writes about ‘the mystery.’ That is, that God has made Gentiles heirs to the promise along with Israel. He wanted them to grasp the extent of God’s love so the Christians in Ephesus would be united as one Body. Chapter 4 begins with a “then,” which is like a “therefore.” Why did Paul call the reader to live lives in a worthy manner? Because of what came before, in chapter 3… apparently there was some division in Ephesus, and Paul wrote to correct that. In vv4-6, he makes it clear to the two groups (Jews and Gentiles) that they are now one. There’s one God, one faith, one baptism. This continues the thought from chapter 3 very clearly. Verse 7 is a counterpoint: while following Jesus makes us one, we’re not all alike. We’re given grace differently. He doesn’t explain the details, but only points it out. God determines how much and what kind of grace we receive. FOR THIS REASON “the Lord’s holy people” might fill different roles in the Kingdom. Some, Paul wrote, are apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors, and some teachers.

      This isn’t about spiritual gifts per se, but about being called or equipped for different purposes. What are these different roles all for? To equip God’s people for service by building us up until we reach unity, and have the knowledge we need to be mature… that is, to be like Jesus. This passage isn’t about spiritual gifts, and the list of “offices” isn’t about offices. The whole section is about unity between believers, without regard to one’s station in life or gifts or maturity level or role in the Kingdom. We can learn more from the passage than the main point, but the main point is unity… each part exists to substantiate Paul’s call to unity.

      Yes, we do have spiritual gifts today… all of us. Our gifts are given primarily to build up the body, as we see in 1 Corinthians 12. That’s another passage that speaks to spiritual unity in spite of what makes us different. We are like different body parts, but we’re all equally important to the Kingdom. This passage too isn’t exactly about spiritual gifts, but about unity.

      I’m pretty sure we’re just about on the same page, Marsha. The reason for my writing in detail is to suggest that a thorough interpretation of the passage, as you’ve suggested, requires that we understand the greater context. The context of the passage about apostles isn’t gifts or roles, but unity. The Jews were there first, but are no more important than the Gentiles. The apostles were there first, but were no more important than the teachers… or those who were being taught. To really understand the passage, we have to see WHY the passage was written. Paul wrote this not to explain about ‘offices,’ but to say that the offices didn’t make any person more important than anyone else. This is echoed strongly in his letter about body parts.

      What are your thoughts?

      PS: I hadn’t removed or ignored your message… I simply hadn’t gotten to addressing it yet. I’ve been swamped creating an app for a ministry I’m involved with, and it often takes a day or two (or three) to get to comments. Thank you for waiting!

  13. Stan Counsell says:

    Hi Tony, I appreciate your kindness towards Marsha. In particular, your mentioning that, “Paul wrote this not to explain about ‘offices’, but to say that the offices didn’t make any person more important than anyone else.”
    When in ministerial studies, one prof said (my words, here) to the class, “Our names are not ‘Pastor John Doe’ for pastor is not on our birth certificate. Rather it’s John Doe, a pastor of _____. Putting ‘Pastor’ first can cause some, over time, to think they are in an elite class, called by God alone, better than another person. Would we call another John Doe in church, ‘Janitor Doe’ or ‘Gardener Jane’? We serve each other, no one is above another and exalted by the church.”
    Our Lord fought those fleshly urges of his disciples who elbowed each other as to who was the greatest disciple on earth or in His coming Kingdom.
    Of some note, Paul never addressed himself as “the Apostle Paul” nor the other epistle writers. Titles might be overcoming humility now…super-expensive homes, cars, clothing, vacations that the average congregant can’t afford. We seminarians were urged to live as equals to all. I’ll never forget that dose of humility in that class.

    • Tony says:

      Stan:

      You make a great point! When I was first starting out in youth ministry, I didn’t want the title “Youth Pastor.” I preferred “Minister to Youth,” as that was my role. It just seemed more in line with serving, which is what I was called to do. It’s also a ‘call to action,’ reminding me (and the rest of the church) what we were trying to accomplish.

  14. Stan Counsell says:

    A note to Justin: Yes, I agree, the early church had Paul and the disciples going forth and sharing the Good News, and prophets had their place in the body of Christ. The Early Church was in its infancy with its foundation being set however false apostles and prophets abounded as predicted, spreading their additions and subtractions to the firmly established doctrines of said apostles of Jesus Christ.
    But infancy isn’t now, all know God’s established foundation of truth; we have the writings of them and need no alterations by those that are self-proclaimed. We must never get caught up in titles.
    Today, missionaries and outreach ministries go forth and preach, disciple, comfort, present the written and digital bibles (in their language).
    They pioneer churches, minister to the poor, provide clothing, food, and medical care. These brave servants of Christ often risk their lives, are even imprisoned. They are doing the same work of the 1st century apostles but the title is not an issue to them. They are missionaries with discernment, not grasping at titles that elevate them to others.
    The 1st century apostles were not interested in titles, didn’t crown themselves, they were called by Jesus. These current 5-folders mask themselves in the wool of sheep but inwardly add or delete from God’s Word when it fits their style of Christianity just like the Mormons with their declared “apostles”.
    Let’s graciously put titles aside and rejoice that godly men, women, and outreaches are spreading the Good News throughout the world.

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