What Is This Business About Deacons?
First of all, it should be emphasized that elders are essential as an assembly matures and God raises up men with a shepherd's heart for the sheep. These should be recognized as leaders of God's people and allowed to make decisions for the flock. A scriptural assembly is not a pure democracy with all having an equal voice in decisions affecting God's people. It is fitting that the most godly, mature, spiritual men lead God's people. Because of this the apostles "appointed elders in every church" (Acts 14:23 NKJ). Not to have elders in an assembly is to be "lacking" (Titus 1:5).
There was no clergy-laity system with the elders divided into "teaching" and "ruling" elders. All elders were on the same footing and all were expected to exercise their gifts and to be "able to teach" (I Tim. 3:2). A full-time worker while working with an assembly to build it up would be viewed as one of the elders, not as a minister over them (cf. I Peter 5:1). The local elders were expected to earn their own living. The worker was supported by gifts from various churches and individuals (Phil. 4:15-16). Peter recognized the tremendous need of churches to have godly elders (I Peter 5:1-4).
pians 1:1 and I Timothy 3 we would not even be aware that such an office existed. In these passages because the office is mentioned alongside that of an elder it is obvious that at least in some of the assemblies deacons existed.
First, we need to define
our terms. The Greek word diakonos is defined as a
"servant of someone," a "helper" or a
"deacon as an official of the church" (p. 183,
Arndt and Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New
Testament and Other Early Christian Literature).
The verb form diakonew is translated "to wait on
someone," "to serve," "to care
for," "to help," and "to serve as a
deacon." The term "deacon" then is
not a tranlation of the original but a
transliteration. The Greek word was imported into
the English language and had become a part of
ecclesiastical language in the Church of England.
The Greek noun doulos is translated a "slave" and emphasizes the relationship to the master and owner. The noun diakonos focuses upon the activity of serving another. While the English word "minister" does have in its origin the thought of "servant," today it is used often to denote an office, such as the minister of a department of government or the minister of a church. The word in itself carries no such connotation.
Acts 6 is often used as giving the origin of the office of deacon. But this may be saying too much. The seven are never called deacons, although they were certainly appointed to relieve the elders of some of the mundane details of church life. In so far as they were helpers of the elders they were servants of the church. At least one might suggest that their work as helping the elders was typical of those who later were called "servants" or "deacons"of the church.
The work and appointment
arose out of a current need. Hence the Scripture is
vague about the duties of deacons. The needs of
churches vary according to the local situation. In
fact, in the beginning of an assembly there may be no
special needs that require such an appointment.
However, as time goes on and a fellowship grows, a
building may be acquired. This will require
maintenance and care. The elders will need helpers
now to relieve them of such duties. They need to
give themselves to the Word and to prayer, to the
spiritual needs of the flock.
However, to limit the work
of these servants or deacons to helping the widows or
sickly is not wise. Scripture nowhere delineates
the precise duties of "deacons." They are
helpers to the elders. Let the elders then, with
the consent of the congregation, appoint godly men to
assist them in the details of church life as the need
arises. Such men should prove themselves first by
their godly, consistent lives (I Tim. 3:8-12).
Faith- fulness in these lesser responsibilities
will qualify them for greater work later (I Tim.
3:13). Stephen served the church faithfully,
exercised his spiritual gifts and was a powerful witness
for the Lord Jesus (Acts 6). May all
"deacons" follow his example.