A: This is a great and important question. I know many people who have asked this question. It is good to be able to address it for mutual edification. Hopefully we can bring clarity to spiritual gifts and the purpose of the body.
Before diving in, it is important to state that we agree whole-heartedly and without qualification that every spiritual gift which is given by the Lord is valid and important.
There is very little agreement in the professing Church as to what, exactly, the gifts of the Spirit are. Debate swirls around which gifts are still around today. This is not territory that we would like to explore in this particular question. However, whatever gifts the Spirit gives to His followers today are all valid and important. This is the major point of agreement.
The Apostle Paul makes this point clear enough in 1 Corinthians 12:14-26. On this basis alone, it is perfectly reasonable for anyone to raise questions and/or objections who thinks we, or anyone else, elevates one spiritual gift above the rest as most important.
However, we do not believe that we elevate the spiritual gift of evangelism. For one major reason: evangelism is not a gift of the Spirit. Therefore, this is a category mistake. We do not elevate evangelism above "other gifts of the Spirit" because that would mean we view evangelism as a spiritual gift. But we don't. Because it isn't.
As already stated, there is disagreement as to what the gifts of the Spirit really are. There is disagreement on the number of gifts (see these different tests as an example of the disparity). There are some groups that combine gifts (are "helps" and "service" the same or are they two different gifts? How about "administration" and "leadership"?) that others would separate. Some groups define gifts differently (is prophecy a revelatory gift, or a proclamatory gift, or both?). Even more than this, many argue over the validity of certain gifts such as tongues and miracles for the modern Church.
The most straight-forward lists of spiritual gifts are found in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12. Others point to passages like 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 to include celibacy as a gift.
You'll be hard pressed to find a passage that states evangelism as a gift. No matter how far you extend your parameters. Some claim that this gift is clearly listed in Ephesians 4:11. But look closely:
And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers...
(Ephesians 4:11, NASB)
In order to view these as spiritual gifts we must read something into the text. We must assume that each of these roles are filled by people who are spiritually gifted with the gift that corresponds to the role. What I mean is this: since some believe "apostle" is a spiritual gift, then those with the gift serve this office; likewise for prophesy and prophets, evangelism and evangelists, shepherding and pastors, and teaching and teachers.
Some even look back to Ephesians 4:7 to see that Christ gave these things listed in 4:11 as special gifts of grace. This can easily be interpreted as spiritual gifts.
This is where the main area of disagreement is. It is the crux interpretum for our discussion. We believe and teach that the items listed in Ephesians 4:11 are not spiritual gifts in the same sense that shepherding, teaching, and tongues are. Instead, we believe that these are gifts to the Church. Not gifts to the individual. They are officers in God's design for governing the Body of Christ.
As officers, the individuals are gifts given to the Church to maintain unity. To equip the body of Christ for works of service (see Ephesians 4:12-16). It should be relatively uncontroversial that not everyone with the gift of shepherding is called to the office of Pastor! It is also true that many who fill the office of Pastor are not spiritually gifted as shepherds. To equate the office with a similarly themed gift is an interpretive and logical mistake.
Unlike prophesy, shepherding and teaching, evangelism is nowhere listed as a gift of the Spirit. The assumption that the office in Ephesians 4:11 of Evangelist as being based on a person having the gift of evangelism a dangerous one. It builds upon a non-existent foundation.
Evangelism is never listed as a spiritual gift. Anyone who believes that it is a gift does so with no textual support.
To understand the purpose of the overseers given by Christ in Ephesians 4:11, we must properly understand the purpose of the Body. Only with this understanding can we truly answer why Fourth Year Ministries is not exalting evangelism above God's intended place revealed through His Word and Son.
The Apostle Peter gives some explicit instruction for the exercise of spiritual gifts. It is crucial that we hear loud and clear the purpose for this instruction. It is tied to the purpose of the Body in general:
As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 4:10-11)
The Body of Christ is to properly steward their special spiritual gift so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.
This is where so many people are mistaken in their understanding of spiritual gifts and the teaching on the Body. They stop too soon. They focus on the individual parts. They emphasize the gifts themselves. Doing so detracts from the more important understanding of the unified Body. That's the major point of the metaphor!
Before discussing the importance of the individual parts, Paul emphasized the unity of the whole Body in 1 Corinthians 12:4-13. He returns to this theme in 1 Corinthians 12:27. Paul emphasizes this unity again in Romans 12:4-5.
Perhaps even more importantly, Paul emphasizes the truth that Christ is the "head of the body" in Colossians 1:18 and 2:19. Also in Ephesians 5:23.
A pile of hands, a pile of feet, and a pile of tongues would be unproductive in doing anything that a whole body could do.
If you think this is crass, how else would you explain the reality that often those who speak in tongues are completely segregated from the rest of the body of Christ? This is just one example. But it should help you see the reality that this is not healthy or helpful.
When we contemplate a "body" we must understand that there is unity of purpose when everything is working properly. Direction for the body comes from the head. When my head wants to go somewhere, it organizes the members of my body into unified action toward that purpose. Of course, each member of my body serves a different function. But they all work towards the same goal. The same purpose. My toes act in conjunction with my feet, with my legs and torso, my arms, hands, and fingers. Even though they all do something different they bring my whole body toward the intended goal.
Here's where the rubber really meets the road: what is the unity of purpose to which the Body is called? Is glorifying God through Christ not tied to proclaiming His excellencies who has called us out of darkness into marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9-10)? Is this not evangelism?
God has redeemed His people to be a testimony to the world. This is the overarching theme of the Scriptures. When God saved you, He called you to enter into His work. This will climax on the Day of Christ Jesus, when every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).
It is because of this reality that God is going to gain glory through Christ. Isn't that what Peter said in 1 Peter 4:10-11? So, we ought to work out our salvation in fear and trembling because it is God who is at work in us, both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).
God has given us unity in purpose and calling. Read Philippians 1:5-6, 11, 27-28; 2:2. Look for the emphasis on unity of spirit, mind, and purpose in the gospel leading up to the Day of Christ. This is described as the life worthy of our calling. To follow Him and allow Him to work in and through us for the praise and glory of His name. It is for this reason that He has gifted His people. We ought to use those gifts toward this end.
If this is true, then evangelism is not a gift. It is the purpose for each gift! As stewards of the manifest glory of God, each has been given a gift to be employed in the Body, under the headship of Christ, for the purpose of glorifying God through Christ to the world.
Everything that we do, whether eating or drinking, serving or speaking, is to be done for the glory of God (e.g. Romans 11:36).
And if this is true, then the officers listed in Ephesians 4:11 make even more sense. We have a faith that is revealed from the living God. So there were revelatory offices of Apostles and Prophets that received this faith once and for all (Jude 1:3). It is to this faith that we cling. And this faith is the foundation for everything that we do (Ephesians 2:19-22).
Upon this foundation are built both external Offices (Evangelists) and internal Offices (Pastors and Teachers). These work in unity to equip the saints through discipleship training and leading the Body out into the world to proclaim the good news of the gospel. None is more important than the other. All are needed in maintaining unity and growing in maturity and love (see again Ephesians 4:12-16). Both are required to successfully participate in the two main tasks of the church.
When the revelatory foundation is removed by ignoring Apostles and Prophets (which we have in the written Scriptures), we are building upon no foundation. When the external office of Evangelist is ignored, we forget the purpose of our unity which is to proclaim God's glory to the ends of the earth and to every creature under heaven. When the internal offices are ignored (Pastors and Teachers), we have people who are ill-prepared to obey everything Christ commanded (see Matthew 28:18-20) because they have never been taught what that means.
In conclusion, we are the Body of Christ. We exist to glorify God. We take our marching orders from the Head, who is Christ. He has commanded that we fulfill the Great Commission:
And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)
In order to fulfill this commission, our Lord and Master has gifted each individually for their part. Christ has given officers to govern and oversee His body. To ensure that we are equipped and growing in maturity and love. In this way, each member is important in fulfilling the overall purpose and mission of the Church to evangelize the whole world for the glory of God through His Christ.
To view evangelism as a gift is to misunderstand the entire purpose of the gifts. This error leads to confusion and disunity amongst the Body. When we separate our spiritual gifts from their intended purpose, we fail to exercise them in love (obedience) for our God (see 1 John 5:3) and for our brothers and sisters. Our gifts become about us. Not about His glory. We tend to clump ourselves together with those who are similarly gifted because we appreciate each other.
Instead, you have been gifted by God to glorify Him in the Church and in the world. Everything you have been entrusted with in this life, including your spiritual gift(s), are to be stewarded with the singular purpose of glorifying God through Christ. We exist to proclaim His glory to the world. You and your gift (if you are truly a member of the Body) are no exception.
Jesus prayed for the unity of His followers in John 17. What He prayed for helps illustrate the truth of my claims above:
"I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me." (John 17:20-23)
May we be unified with our God so that the whole world may know!