While the times in which we live may be unprecedented, the attitudes in the human heart are not. Jesus, upon ascending into heaven, left the work of discipling all nations in the hands of fallible, but hopeful, spirit-led human beings. Jesus left the reputation of himself and of a loving God in the hands of broken mortals.
While we may (and should be) shocked at the behaviors of those who claim the name of Christ, God most certainly is not. An omnipotent God is never shocked at the way we drag his reputation through the mud and work our own will, by doing things our own way, all with a thin Jesus-veneer.
In fact, God is so aware of who we are and how we behave that he had a pre-emptive strategy: Jesus gave gifts to his people to deal just with these issues – APEST.
The five-fold ministry described in Ephesians 4:11 as a gift from Jesus to the body of believers was meant to address the very heart-issues we see playing out on the national social stage. All five functions were meant to champion certain aspects of God’s over-arching will for us. They were also meant to challenge a distorted focus on any one function. All functions are equally needed and they exist in state of inherent tension. The inherent tensions were meant to provide a process of checks-and-balances over one another.
For example, there is an inherent tension between the evangelistic function of communicating in a way that is relevant to the culture and the prophetic/teacher functions that are concerned with truth. The teacher function cares about the truth provided in the Word of God (logos) while the prophetic cares about truth spoken from the mouth of God to a believer through the Holy Spirit (rhema).
Yet, there is tension between these truth functions and the evangelistic function that reminds us that truth cannot set anyone free if people can’t hear it or understand it. The evangelistic also reminds us that Jesus himself is the truth and Jesus sets people free. These three ways of knowing and experiencing truth act as a check-and-balance with one another. All are equally valid according to Ephesians 4. It is valuing all equally that defines maturity in the Kingdom.
Maturity in the body comes from embracing the inherent tensions within APEST and allowing them to bring balance, wholeness and holiness.
But polarization is possible when one has no value for other parts of the five-fold functions – usually rejecting those particular functions which hold an inherent ‘check’ to one’s personal gift mix. An echo chamber becomes possible when a person refuses to hear the voice of Jesus in the concerns of others. It is each believer’s God-given role to speak up on behalf of certain functions of 5Q. Many who are assigned the label of ‘dissenters’ and ‘trouble-makers’ are merely giving voice to an under-represented function of APEST.
The truth is that we ostracize them instead of listening for the truth in what they have to say. We dismiss what they have to say because of a perceived immature delivery and we miss the voice of Jesus speaking to us through them.
This is extremely problematic because we are called, as the people of Jesus, to represent him in his fullness. It is a non-negotiable that all the functions of APEST are present in the body of Christ. Otherwise, we are not Jesus’ body and we more like a zombie with limbs and organs missing.
This is what the church looks like without the full expression of APEST: a zombie.
Seriously. How is the world supposed to look at that and believe we have the words of life?
The five gifts of APEST are Jesus’ answer to social polarization and our social-media echo chambers. Do issues of social justice belong only to the liberals and progressives? Do issues of personal responsibility and walking in personal righteousness belong only to the conservatives? Is not the very foundation of the throne of God justice and righteousness (Psalm 89:14; 97:2)? Are not justice and righteousness so much the heart of God’s that he sent his son, Jesus, to provide for both for all people? As people of the Kingdom should not we be about both, contending for God’s will done in God’s way? Both issues of social justice and personal righteousness are the concern of the prophetic function, whether progressive or conservative.
The shepherding function is concerned with our hearts towards one another and how we honor one another, whether face to face or on the internet. The evangelistic function wonders how our actions are reflecting upon the reputation of Christ. The teacher function calls us to make disciples of the Kingdom, and not of political platforms. While the apostolic function asks how we change and become the church we are called of Jesus to be in the midst of all this.
To be clear, the degree to which we are personally and organizationally vulnerable to polarization is directly correlated to the degree which we have personally or organizationally jettisoned one or more of the five-fold gifts. Don’t be a zombie body of Jesus. We are called to nothing less than the full expression of 5Q in our world.
And our world is desperate for a full body of Christ.