Sunday, May 22, 2022

The Essential Deacon

Two major Christian denominations view deacons as being ministers of the third order, below bishops governing a diocese, and below priests responsible for a local church. Nonconformist churches generally regard a deacon as one not formally trained in the faith, but given the task of caring for the non-spiritual needs of the flock; this especially in the proper distribution of welfare for the needy. It may be derived from the example of Acts 6:1-5 when compared with the qualifications required of deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13.

In Acts 6 those chosen by the congregation and approved by the apostles were not named deacons in the context, but the similarity between what was recorded in Acts and what is required of deacons in Timothy and Titus is hard to miss. Though the event recorded in Acts 6 was a unique situation, it provides us with a principle that should be applied in every local church.

W.E. Vine points out that “diakonos, whence Eng. deacon, primarily denotes a servant ... it occurs in the N.T. of domestic servants ... the civil ruler ... of Christ ... [and] of the followers of Christ.” The contexts of references in 1 Timothy and Titus show that in them Paul is zeroing in on those to be recognized by the church to serve.

Why are Deacons So Important?

Let us answer that by asking another question: What is essential to the testimony, life and growth of a Christian congregation? It is surely the word of God, expressed as the apostles’ teaching in Acts 2:42, encompassing the “many things” Christ had promised to reveal to his disciples; that in which the infant church diligently “continued”. This was the word which was in process of being “once for all delivered to the saints”. The apostles were giving themselves prayerfully to its ministry.

This priority was being threatened by the intrusion of a very important matter: the fair distribution of the bounty of the saints to those in need. Now remember that the number of those converted was very large, and such was the spontaneous enthusiasm of those who owned houses and lands that they often sold them and laid the proceeds at the apostles’ feet. This made for huge logistical problems, and daily distribution to those in need became an occasion for complaints. Some of the Grecian Jews among them said their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. But when the apostles spoke of “serving tables”, they were not thinking merely of a need to find people willing to wear aprons and ladle out bowls of soup. If we want to be literal, there was a desperate need to find those able to handle mathematical tables. Today, we might buy computers for the apostles. The congregation found seven reliable “calculators” to administer the largess and eliminate complaints. The result? “The word of God spread and the number of disciples increased greatly.”

The inspired Word is complete; the apostles are no longer with us. Most churches are much smaller than the first gathering at Jerusalem. Do they need to recognize men, not part of a hierarchy, who are commissioned to teach the scriptures? All acknowledge they do, but many subscribe to one-man pastoral care. Those who seek to follow more closely to a New Testament pattern recognize the need for more than one man to teach the Bible; in other words, resident “elders”.

Should You be a Deacon?

Spiritual age and maturity is required in elders, men not newly come to the faith who are able and willing to teach it faithfully. Obviously they will consult each other when corporate difficulties arise, but their authority does not come from belonging to a board and it is not their mandate to have a finger in every form of service needed in a church. Apart from teaching the congregation, much of their time and energy will be spent in one-to-one encouraging, counseling and, when necessary, correcting false teaching. Deacons care for other congregational needs.

How blessed is the church in which both elders and deacons work together. I have observed a tendency to discount the deacon's role in the churches with which I have been associated; so had C.F. Hogg*, who wrote, “What are usually called ‘Oversight Meetings’ are in practice meetings of deacons, for so far as my observation goes, they are devoted almost exclusively to those interests of the churches that properly fall to ‘deacons’ to do. The work of an elder, or overseer (bishop) is properly individual and spiritual. To such work there cannot be appointment by the saints, for theirs is a charge committed to them directly by God (Acts 20:28, cf. 1 Cor. 12:8-11).*

True deacons are men holding to the mystery of faith with a good conscience, the same faith as that which elders are required to teach. They are men that have first been proved worthy of our confidence and prayerful support; definitely not 3rd class saints.

— Colin Anderson, “Don’t Discount the Deacons”, June 2016

* 200 Bible Questions Explained by C.F. Hogg, published by Pickering and Inglis.

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