"And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ:Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ:That we [henceforth] be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, [and] cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, [even] Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love" (Ephesians 4:11-16).
Ephesians 4:11-16 absolutely rules out the idea that the gifts of apostle and prophet have "ceased." Or do you believe that we've "all come in the unity of faith?" Or "in the knowledge of the Son of God?" Or "the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ?"
In light of this passage, then, how do we properly understand these gifts in the Body of Christ?
First, these are functions, not "offices" or titles. These gifts are not capital "A" apostles, ot capital "P" Prophets. These are men given to the Body of Christ for its maturing, its edification, its education. In fact, even Paul never referred to himself with the title "Apostle." He begins all his epistles simply, "Paul, an apostle..." So the folks running around saying I'm "Apostle so and so," or "I'm Prophet this and that," is, to say the least, in error.
Second, The "apostles" of the Lord were obviously unique in that they were "with Jesus" during His Earthly ministry -- although Paul was an exception, sort of...He was, however, given the message he preached directly by Jesus - "But I certify you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught [it], but by the revelation of Jesus Christ...To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood: Neither went I up to Jerusalem to them which were apostles before me; but I went into Arabia, and returned again unto Damascus.Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and abode with him fifteen days. But other of the apostles saw I none, save James the Lord's brother" (Galatians 1:11-12, 16-19). When Paul went to Seminary for three years, it was in the Arabian Desert, and his instructor was Jesus Christ Himself!
In this sense, the first apostles were exceptional, unique, and different, in that they became the foundation on which the whole Church was to be built. Certainly they operated with a special anointing under direct inspiration to acheive such a task. At the same time, others are called "apostles" in that they are the "sent ones" of the Church. They are charged with a specific message or mission, and are sent out to complete it. The "apostles of the church" serve the same role in preaching the Gospel in mew fields, and establishing the church on the frontiers. In other words, today's "missionaries" function in the role of "apostles" in the biblical sense.
Prophets were charged primarily with the task of forthtelling the message of God, more so than "foretelling" future events. Prophets are confrontational in pointing out the sin of God's people, and of the surrounding culture of which they are a part. They exhort and reprove. And usually, they are not well liked. Speaking truth to power can be...problematic for them -- and the people they confront. I know some preachers who try to "pastor" churches though they really have a prophetic anointing -- which explains why they can't stay at a church for more than 2 years without being fired or finding a way to leave.
Obviously, Evangelists are still a functional gifting in the Church today -- though often we confuse the "Revivalist" with an evangelist. The evangelist wins souls. His primary task is to "recruit," to reach out, to bring the lost to Christ and saving faith. While we all are to "do the work of the evangelist," these folks are particularly gifted, equipped and anointed for such a task.
Pastors/Shepherds lead, feed and protect the flock. That's their calling, and their task. Often, prophets or evangelists try to be pastors -- which isn't necessarily a bad thing if they've got supportive staffs who compliment his gifts. But if he is the single pastor of a small church, it won't take long for him, or the congregation, to see it isn't what he's suited for in ministry.
Teachers are always needed in the church to educate the people. There are those within the ministry who are called to this task specifically -- whether in the local church setting, or in parachurch ministries, or in colleges an seminaries.
These ministry gifts not only DO, but MUST, exist if the church is to carry out its great commission. Often, the reason the church fails to carry out its primary task is due at least in part to ignorance of misunderstanding of these essential functional ministries in the Body of Christ.
A simple (though not entirely perfect) understanding of these functions is:
Apostles govern the Body (particularly new works, church plants, etc.)
Prophets guide the Body
Evangelists gather the Body (from among the lost)
Pastors gaurd the Body
Teachers grow the Body
Just my take.