Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Helpers—an overlooked “Church Office.”

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
Professor Emeritus
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.


Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

A great educational essay. I don't remember either hearing about or reading about the inspired "Helper" in the early Christian communities. I recall reading a number of times that certain early Christians would sell themselves into slavery to help others, but I'm uncertain of the century. I wonder if they could be considered in the inspired "Helper" category. I know that many churches commission laymen to take the Eucharist to the homes and visit the sick.

As to why the work of the Spirit, miracles, e.g., as found in Corinth stopped, perhaps it wasn't a Holy Spirit but a human spirit. Jesus was an inspiring human. I would propose that human inspiration always has a shelf-life.

Inspiration is now more or less associated, I think, with the nature of the universe as an object of the exploration of medical science, for example. The receptive nature of the universe inspires as new set of miracles.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Kerrymiller74 said...


It was great seeing you at the Fitness Center today, and wow this was right on our conversation, but also what I told the new volunteers today. Keep on writing brother!

Kerry Miller

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Gene,
Can you say a little ore about your last paragraph? For example, are there any published scientific studies into human inspiration?

Charles Hedrick said...

Good Morning Kerry,
Thanks for posting a comment. I was impressed that the nature of your work and your extracurricular activities make you a very busy fellow.

Anonymous said...

Hi Charlie,

Surfing the net, didn't find "scientific" studies per se, but there's a lot of well thought through stuff that mixes leadership and inspiration, particularly in organizational settings: for example, at the
National Research Council Canada:

Inspirational Leadership is about energizing and creating a sense of direction and purpose for employees and excitement and momentum for change. It involves energizing individuals to strive towards a compelling vision of the future by embracing and embodying NRC's values in all aspects of their work. It includes offering clarity around goals and objectives and ensuring that those who are led work collaboratively towards a shared purpose. It also includes the provision of the required resources and motivational support employees need to grow and the empowerment and accountability to take responsibility for their own success.

1. Promotes respect, dignity, integrity
2. Empowers growth
3. Encourages shared group vision and coop
4. Models passion for the business
5. Inspires commitment to success
6. Remains open to transformation/change

This sounds to me like principles derived from social and industrial psychology!

Intriguing to consider what model of leader inspiration Jesus might have followed.

Gene Stecher
Chambersburg, Pa.

Jim said...


The comments on inspiration inspired me to comment on the subject. First, synonyms for inspire: stimulate, motivate, encourage, influence, rouse, move, stir, energize, incite.

Humans can be inspired by a wide range of things, e.g. certainly other humans, ideas, beliefs, nature, experiences, events. This is the nature of the human mind. Notice too that humans are inspired over a wide range of good, evil, benefit, harm, etc. Of particular interest is the human ability to be inspired by ideas whether they be true or false. The human mind is mind boggling!


Steve R said...

When we worship Him, we are in fact worshipping and bowing to the divine qualities in him such as Selfless Love, Forbearance, Justice and Compassion. guarantor