The Reformation period churches of the sixteenth century that settled this country during the period of the Renaissance (14th -17th centuries) were very different in organization, spirit, and theological ideas from those loosely organized Christ gatherings (ekklēsiai; incorrectly translated "church") of the middle first century. We have detailed information about only one of those early gatherings—the gathering around Christ at Corinth (1 and 2 Corinthians), but the light cast on the character of nascent Christianity in those letters is enough to produce a jarring recognition of a graphic difference from the Reformation era churches. The gathering at Corinth under Paul's ministry (Rom 15:14-16) was a free-wheeling spirit-led group. By the sixteenth century what in the early period was an informal gathering became an organized creedal institution, for which the designation "church" is entirely appropriate.
One example of the difference is reflected in 1 Cor 12:4-11. Paul discusses varieties of "gifts," which are given by the Spirit of God "for the common good." Hence these charismatic abilities bestowed by God's Spirit are aimed at ennobling and enabling the entire gathering. At the end of the chapter Paul lists a few specific "offices" or recognized functions of leadership (1 Cor12:27-28). These offices consist of apostles, prophets, teachers, [workers of] miracles, gifts of healings, helps, administrations, and [speakers in various1] kinds of tongues. The people who are gifted with these abilities are not chosen by the gathering to perform services in these areas, rather God has appointed them through the Spirit (1 Cor 12:28). Oddly we find no mention in this passage of deacons (1 Tim 3:8), pastors (Eph 4:11), bishops (1 Tim 3:1), evangelists (Eph 4:11), elders (Tit 1:5), or preachers (1 Tim 2:7). These functions came along later, once the charismatic-spirit of the earliest groups dimmed. Later the churches established qualifications for certain offices and began to select their leaders on the basis of secular qualifications (1 Tim 3:1-13). A cursory glance over the list reveals several official functionaries that are lacking in many churches of the modern era, such as an official who works miracles or [speaks in various] tongues or one who utters prophecy (compare 1 Cor 14:1-25).
One of the early positions, whom God appointed through the Spirit, was that of someone gifted to give "helps," or as it is usually translated "helper" (1 Cor 12:28). The word antilēmpseis translated "helper" appears only here in the New Testament. As to its function, it is listed ahead of administrators and [speakers in various] kinds of tongues and follows immediately after healers. In other words a Spirit-gifted Helper was not regarded as a minor "volunteer" functionary, but such a person was selected specifically to play a significant role in the community—to judge by its association with the other spiritual gifts. For example, the first converts of Achaia (the household of Stephanus) are singled out as "devoting themselves to the service of the saints" (1 Cor 16:15-18) and they deserved to be recognized for their service.
What exactly might the function of Helpers have been? "Perhaps it is similar to the final three items in the list of Rom 12:8 (service, giving to the needs of others, doing acts of mercy)."2 Hence some in the Christ gathering at Corinth ministered to the physical and spiritual needs of others in the community,3 and those who possessed this gift had a seat at the table right up there with apostles and prophets or those who performed miracles.
We read of the appointment of elders (Acts 14:23), apostles (Acts 1:21-26), deacons (1 Tim 3:8-13), and preachers (1 Tim 2:7); why shouldn't "helpers" also be recognized as an official function in the church, particularly since Paul insisted that God had appointed them to an official position in the Corinthian gathering?
This analysis subtly raises another question: if the Spirit ever actually charismatically gifted Helpers or [workers of] miracles, why did it stop? Lord knows, we could use a few scientifically confirmable miracles today!
Charles W. Hedrick
Missouri State University
1For the superior ability of interpreting tongues over ecstatic speech, see Pau1's comments in 1 Cor 14:5-6, 13, 18-19, 26-28.
2Gordon Fee, First Epistle to the Corinthians, 621.