The Capranica

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Location: Hemet, California, United States

Co-Pastor of First Baptist Church of San Jacinto, California

Thursday, October 13, 2005

Deacons: A Biblical Approach

Ecclesiology seems to be a subject "up for grabs" among many congregations. This post and a number to follow will examine one particular aspcet of ecclesiastical structure, that of Deacons. This very embattled and much belittled leadership position in the local church deserves a fresh consideration. For two thousand years, the Church of Jesus Christ has wrestled with the subject of the purpose and nature behind the ministry of deacons, without much consensus. Within Baptist life, Charles Deweese notes that, “Deacons have been described in Baptist writings for well over 350 years,”[1] and once more, without an overall consensus as to function or form. Deacons have appeared to be involved in an unlimited number of ministries throughout church history. Deweese describes their ministry thus: The authority given to deacons was for positive and practical purposes – namely, to serve as church officers, to assist in limited administrative functions, to care for a church’s treasury, to make adequate provisions for the Lord’s table, to ensure that the minister’s needs were cared for, to minister to the sick, to stimulate responsible stewardship by encouraging voluntary contributions, and to be general servants of God, the church and the needy. . . . in America in the latter half of the eighteenth century, the role of deacons as caretakers of the temporal or secular affairs of the church began to assume a priority that it had never had before. The involvement of deacons in administrative, managerial, and business functions became more pronounced.[2] It has been my pleasure to consider the subject of deacons and read several works which attempt to come to an agreeable conclusion as to what the role, form and function of deacons is to be within the Church and especially within the work of Baptist churches. However, to my dismay, very little of the literature devoted specifically to the subject of deacons has dealt with the text of Scripture as its primary source. For example, Deweese says in his preface, “The New Testament provides a clear reason for the appearance of deacons. . . . While the primary purposes of this book are to portray deacon trends of the past and present. . . the beginning point is the Bible. Here lies the standard by which all deacon life must be evaluated.”[3] While I agree with Deweese’s statement in general and appreciate his treatment of diaconal ministry throughout church history, he devotes only one and three quarters of a page (out of eighty-five pages in the book) to the Scriptural basis behind the work of deacons. Likewise, little exegetical material can be found in Robert Naylor’s popular treatment of Baptist deacon ministry,[4] or in the more recently published works by Robert Sheffield.[5] Out of eight specialized books on deacons consulted for the present study, only one attempted to provide a significant treatment and exegesis of the major passages in the New Testament regarding deacons.[6] It appears to me, that if one actually believes that the Bible is the beginning and the end for faith and practice, more attention to the biblical data should be given when examining the role of deacons. Protestantism for centuries has rejected the idea that history is a valid and authoritative means to determine theological belief and ecclesiastical application. I have found it to be less than appealing to read works on how a particular church conducts deacon ministry, without their having first given significant attention to the proper understanding of the related biblical texts. Some may immediately argue that there is little actual material in the New Testament regarding deacon ministry. While such an argument may be true,[7] it still does not allow for a cursory treatment of the texts that do address diaconal ministry and is no excuse for passing over such texts in order to focus upon the practical aspects of a deacon’s work. Therefore, I begin with the presupposition that the Bible is a sufficient source of information concerning who deacons are and what their primary role is to be within the overall ministry of a local church. While I have not found the material in the specialized books on deacons to be unbiblical in every regard, the majority of them do not allow their application of deacon ministry to flow from the text of Scripture as much as from personal experience or church history. The general purpose of this post (and those to follow) is to give primary attention to the biblical nature of deacon ministry and draw some initial conclusions from the pages of Scripture as to the role, form and function of a biblical deacon ministry. [1] Charles W. Deweese, The Emerging Role of Deacons (Nashville: Broadman, 1979) 23. [2] Ibid., 39 40. [3] Ibid., 9. [4] Robert Naylor, The Baptist Deacon (Nashville: Broadman, 1955). [5] Robert Sheffield, The Ministry of Baptist Deacons (Nashville: Convention Press, 1990); Robert Sheffield, Deacons as Leaders (Nashville: Convention Press, 1991). [6]Alexander Strauch, The New Testament Deacon (Littleton: Lewis and Roth, 1992). [7] Only two passages in the New Testament directly speak of an official body of deacons: Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:9-15. Acts 6:1-6 is debated as to its relation to the role of deacons and will be considered later in this paper. Romans 16:1 is often sighted in regard to women deacons, but the reference cannot dogmatically be used to indicate that Phoebe was an official deacon.


Blogger Truth-Matters said...

I glad to see that someone is writing about this topic. There is a enormous amount of confusion surrounding the issues of what deacons are, what do they do, and do they have authority. Some are so afraid of addressing this topic, even to the point avoiding the texts that instruct us in what a "deacon" is. I just wanted to say thank you ahead of time, and I am desirous to read more of your posts.

10/19/2005 12:02:00 AM  

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