Deacons: servants or rulers?

 David W. Cloud,  Way of Life Literature, 1701 Harns Rd., Oak Harbor, WA 98277.  http://wayoflife.org/~dcloud.  (360) 675-8311 (voice), 240-8347 (fax). fbns@whidbey.net (e-mail)

 


– The following is an updated edition of an article first published in O Timothy magazine in 1986 --

"For all practical ends, we had as well be without deacons as to have those who are ignorant, incompetent, or unfaithful. They are not only useless, but positively hurtful to the churches. They cannot but inflict the most serious injuries." --R.B.C. Howell



INTRODUCTION

The New Testament Greek word for deacon, diakonos, simply means "servant." Consider the following definition by W.E. Vine:

"Diakonos ... primarily denotes a servant, whether as doing servile work, or as an attendant rendering free service, without particular reference to its character. The word is probably connected with the verb ‘dioko,’ to hasten after, pursue (perhaps originally said of a runner). It occurs in the New Testament of--
"Domestic servants (Jn. 2:5,9)
"The civil ruler (Rom. 13:4)
"Christ (Rom. 15:8; Gal. 2:17)
"The followers of Christ in relation to their Lord (Jn. 12:26; Eph. 6:21; Col. 1:7; 4:7)
"The followers of Christ in relation to one another (Matt. 20:26; 23:11; Mk. 9:35; 10:43)" (W.E. Vine).

For practical purposes, we can say that the term "deacon" is used in the New Testament in two primary ways in reference to the church:

First, "Diakonos" (the Greek word translated "deacon," "servant," "minister") is used to refer to CHRISTIAN WORKERS IN GENERAL.

Consider the following passages in which diakonos is used in this way:

"Who then is Paul, and who is Apollos, but MINISTERS by whom ye believed..." (1 Cor. 3:5).
"I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a SERVANT of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Rom. 16:1).
"Who also hath made us able MINISTERS of the new testament..." (2 Cor. 3:6).
"But in all things approving ourselves as the MINISTERS of God..." (2 Cor. 6:4).
"Are they MINISTERS of Christ? ... I am more..." (2 Cor. 11:23).
"Whereof I was made a MINISTER..." (Eph. 3:7).
" ... the gospel ... whereof I Paul am made a MINISTER" (Col. 1:23).
"Epaphras, who is one of you, a SERVANT of Christ, saluteth you..." (Col. 4:12).
"... Timotheus, our brother, and MINISTER of God..." (1 Thess. 3:2).
"If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good MINISTER of Jesus Christ..." (1 Tim. 4:6).

In all of the above references, the Greek word "diakonos" is used; and in each case the reference is to Gospel preachers and Christian workers in general. In this sense, we see that the Apostle Paul, Timothy, Epaphras, and other preachers were called "deacons."

In this general sense, every Christian is to be a deacon, because every Christian is to be a servant of Christ, a minister of the Gospel to a lost world of men, a humble worker in the church.

Secondly, "Diakonos" is also used to refer to A CERTAIN OFFICE IN THE LOCAL CHURCH.

The work of a deacon, in the general sense of being a servant to Christ and the church, is that of every Christian; but there is also "the office of a deacon" spoken of in the New Testament. This office has definite and high standards and only properly qualified and chosen Christians are to assume it. This is the most common meaning of the term "deacon" among churches today.

"...to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Phil. 1:1).
"For they that have used THE OFFICE OF A DEACON well..." (1 Tim. 3:13).

CAN WOMEN BE DEACONS?

The office of a deacon in the church is limited to men, though the example of Phebe in Romans 16:1 illustrates how women can be deacons in a general sense, not in the sense of holding a formal office, but in the sense of being servants to the church and being ministers of Christ. Only men, though, can hold the office of deacon. Some have interpreted 1 Timothy 3:11 to refer to female deacons rather than to the wives of male deacons, but this is untenable. The very next verse, says, "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Tim. 3:12). Obviously, this describes a man.

This standard is consistent with the New Testament instruction which forbids women to hold positions of leadership over men in the church or home (1 Tim. 2:11-14; 1 Cor. 14:34-35). Though the office of a deacon is not a position of authority like that of the pastor, the deacons are to be men of high spiritual stature and almost always are looked upon by the church members and by outsiders as spiritual leaders. By nature of their spiritual maturity, they are also naturally called upon to counsel with the pastors about decisions pertaining to the assembly.

Let me hasten to add that while women cannot teach men or usurp authority over men (1 Tim. 2:12), they are very important to the ministry of the Word of God and to church work. Many women accompanied the apostles in the upper room after the resurrection (Acts 1:12-14). Paul refers to the women who labored with him in the gospel (Phil. 4:3). The elder women are to teach the younger women (Titus 2:3,4). By comparing 2 Timothy 3:15 with 2 Timothy 1:5, we see that the preacher Timothy was grounded in the Word of God in his youth by his godly mother and grandmother. As mentioned already, Phebe assisted Paul and represented the Cenchrean church in a ministry to the church at Rome (Rom. 16:1-2). The church was instructed to "assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you." This illustrates what the Apostle Paul thought about women in the work of the Lord.

WHAT ARE THE DUTIES OF A DEACON?

The office of a deacon is reserved for men who become servants of the church and of the pastor in a special sense beyond that required and expected of every Christian. In Acts 6:1-4, though the actual term "deacon" is not used, certainly we can see a biblical pattern here for the work of deacons. Notice that certain qualified men were chosen when a definite need arose, and their primary function was to allow the pastors to be free to carry on the spiritual ministry of the Word of God and prayer.

Of course, the deacons can do any work assigned by the pastor and the church; but their duties are normally associated with things like finances, property, and social projects (such as care for widows). The biblical pattern is for the deacons to care for such things while the pastors are free to dedicate their attention, strength, and time to the pastoral ministry.

From the example in Acts chapter six, we can give the following definition to the term "deacon": "Deacons are men who are selected to be in a special position of servitude to the pastor, continually watchful and helpful in any way necessary to free the pastor for his God-given duties."

THE DEACON’S AUTHORITY

In a word, the deacon has no authority. Nowhere in the New Testament are deacons described as rulers in the church, and nowhere are they seen ruling over the pastors. Deacons are not rulers! The Bible speaks of ruling elders (and pastors and bishops) (1 Tim. 5:17), but one will search in vain for a reference to ruling deacons! The following comments by Baptist historian Thomas Armitage are helpful:

"This election created a new office in the Church, but not a new order in the ministry, as that term is now technically used. Alford warns his readers (on Acts 6) ‘Not to imagine that we have here the institution of an ecclesiastical order so named’--deacons. In modern parlance they were ‘laymen’ before their election. and they remained so after. The reason given for the creation of their office was, that the Apostles might be relieved from those duties which interfered with their full ‘ministry of the Word.’ One set of ministers was not created to help another to do the same work, but duties that were not ministerial or pastoral were separated from those that were, and given into other hands. So that the deaconship was not probationary to the eldership, nor have we any evidence that in the first century any deacon became an elder. … The instructions given to the deacon in the Epistles, show the functions of his office to have been the same in the latter period of the Apostolic Age that they were when the office was created; and it nowhere appears that they exercised the pastoral or ministerial office. Even in matters relating to the relief of the poor they were not supreme. When Paul and Barnabas brought relief to the poor saints at Jerusalem, they delivered the gift to the ‘elders’ and not to the deacons: and no deacons assisted in the call, deliberations, or decisions of the advisory Council at Jerusalem. Paul’s associations there were all with the elders and not the deacons of the Church, showing that the deacons held no rank in the pastoral office" (Thomas Armitage, A History of the Baptists, 1890).

Of course, there are times when the deacons or other men in the church must assume control. One such occasion would be in the absence of a pastor. Another occasion in which the deacons or other men in the church would assume control is when a pastor has sinned or failed so seriously as to be disciplined or expelled. Even in such cases, the deacons or others involved in guiding the church during crises must remember that their authority is only temporary. When the church again has a God-called, qualified pastor, the deacons and any others involved in ruling during the crisis must relinquish the leadership of the church to him.

The terms "pastor," "elder," and "bishop" are used interchangeably in the New Testament and refer to the same office. The three different words are used to describe the three aspects of his office—shepherding (pastoring), instructing, and leading. A pastor (or church planting missionary) is the only officer in the church who has Bible authority to exercise oversight. He is called the bishop, which means overseer. The elders in the church at Ephesus were also called the overseers (compare Acts 20:17 with 20:28). In the New Testament, no other church officer is ever given this title. Deacons are never referred to as overseers, rulers, or leaders. A church must never set up overseers over the overseers!

Anytime a committee or trustees or board of deacons or some other group of men set themselves up over the pastor(s) in authority, rather than placing themselves in submission under the God-assigned position of the pastors, the men involved are sinning and are in rebellion to the Word of God.

Of course, if a pastor is living in unrepentant sin or false teaching, the deacons and/or other mature men in the church must exercise biblical discipline to whatever extent the situation requires. This in an abnormal occasion, and as soon as the problem is settled and a qualified man is again in the position of pastor, the final reins of authority and oversight must be given into his hands.

"There is not one word in the Bible that gives a deacon authority. It is an office of servitude and should be exercised in humility, with a clear conscience and with heavenly wisdom. The only reason deacons have been given authority in the local church is because the people refused to abide by the Word of God.

"There is only one authority in the local church, and that is the pastor. His voice is to be heard and respected as having the watchcare for the souls of the people in the church. His authority is to be respected in all matters and is to be obeyed. ...

"When a deacon is chosen out of the local body ... it becomes obligatory on your part to remember that he has no authority. You can give him none, for surely God has given him none. When a faction, division or split occurs and a deacon is leading it, you can be sure of one thing--God is not in it. Remember the words of James on wisdom and I believe much heartache and sorrow can be eliminated (James 3:13-18).

"There is no command from God to have deacons in the local church. If, however, they are instituted, there are restrictions placed upon them. It would be well to abide by God’s restricting Word." (R.E. Rhoades, What Is Wrong With Our Churches?)

WHAT SHOULD A CHURCH DO IF PASTORAL AUTHORITY HAS BEEN ABUSED, OR IF THE PASTOR HAS FAILED IN HIS MINISTRY?

While considering the deacon’s authority, it would be well to discuss the discipline of a pastor or the selection of a new pastor. The deacons often assume guidance of the church in such cases.

1. Be exceedingly careful about accepting or giving an accusation against a pastor.

"Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses" (1 Tim. 5:19).

There are always disgruntled people around that Satan will try to use to destroy the pastor’s ministry. Murmuring against a pastor, or fault-finding and gossiping behind his back is evil and will be judged by God if not repented of. "Grudge not one against another, brethren, lest ye be condemned: behold, the judge standeth before the door" (James 5:9). No action should ever be taken against a pastor except upon the testimony of at least two reputable, godly witnesses.

2. Attempt correction and restoration; if this fails, the erring pastor must be dismissed from the church just as in the case of any other unrepentant member.

1 Corinthians chapter five and Titus 3:10-11 apply to anyone in the church, including a leader. In addition, there is the instruction of 1 Timothy 5:19-21.

We should also note that while any sin can be forgiven if confessed and forsaken, there are types of sin that permanently disqualified a man from certain offices in the church. Examples would be adultery, divorce, or polygamy, which render the man incapable of fulfilling the qualifications as a pastor or deacon.

3. Do not usurp or replace God’s order of pastoral authority and oversight in the church.

There is a normal tendency for a church to want to set up a human system of checks and balances on the pastor’s authority after experiencing a failure or abuse of such.

For example, the deacons sometimes take control of the church on a permanent basis and retain ultimate authority over the pastor. Sometimes the strongest families in the church assume control; sometimes in a blatant, public manner; but more often in a subtle, "behind the scenes" manner. In other cases, the biggest financial givers and businessmen will take control of church affairs, ruling over the pastor and congregation, either publicly or from behind the scenes.

Why this is wrong

1. Only God can call a man to be the pastor of a church (Acts 20:28; Eph. 4:11). Christians have no authority to call a pastor, really. God must call; the church’s job is to recognize God’s call and God’s man. That is what biblical ordination is. It is the recognition of God’s gifts and calling upon a man (Acts 13:1-4).

2. Only pastors are spoken of as overseers of the church. Nowhere in the New Testament are deacons or unordained men called the rulers of the church, and nowhere is there an example of such men assuming a position of oversight. What we have said earlier bears repeating. Pastors are to be the rulers, and the rulers are not to have overseers!

To usurp pastoral authority in a church is a very evil thing

1. It is the sin of Korah (Num. 16).
2. It is the sin of Aaron and Miriam (Num. 12).
3. It is the sin of a rebellious wife (1 Pet. 3:1-5).
4. It is the sin of a rebellious child (Prov. 30:17).
5. It is the sin of a rebellious servant (1 Pet. 2:18).

For any group of men, families, or people in the church to attempt to exercise control over the pastor (or pastors) is as wicked as the rebellions listed above. Rebellion and usurpation of authority is a very serious matter before God, and one toward which He exercises especially harsh judgment. 1 Timothy 5:24-25 reminds us that judgment does not always come in this life. Some sins follow the Christian beyond the grave before they are settled. A group of deacons, for example, might rule the pastor for many years with out any obvious judgment being brought upon them, but they will no doubt face this rebellion at the judgment seat of Christ.

A church must be like a wife in the matter of relating to the pastor

It is not an easy matter to submit to pastoral authority. The pastor or pastors are never perfect men. They have sins and faults, like all other men. They make mistakes. They are immature in some ways and must grow in Christ, as other Christians must. Submitting to pastoral authority is never a simple matter. The following comparison between a church submitting to pastoral authority and a wife submitting to a husband can help:

1. The woman is responsible before God to marry only the man she knows to be God’s will for her life--a saved, spiritual man who will lead their family in the will of God and for the glory of God. Likewise, a church must be careful only to select pastors who are qualified by God’s New Testament standards. The church must wait to be thoroughly convinced, after earnest prayer and seeking of God’s mind that they have found the exact man for that church at that particular time. Hastiness in the selection of a pastor is as disastrous for a congregation as it is for a woman in the selection of a husband.

2. After the wedding, the woman is to be under the authority of her husband. This is God’s explicit command (Eph. 5:22-24; Col. 3:18; Titus 2:5; 1 Pet. 2:1-6). What if the husband makes mistakes? No doubt, he will! But what if his leadership and love are not perfect? No doubt it will not be! Even so, she is to submit to him as unto Christ. Just so, a church is to submit to its pastor, though he will no doubt make mistakes and no doubt be imperfect in many ways.

3. The wife is to refuse to follow her husband only in matters in which he is clearly commanding her to disobey the Bible. In such cases, the wife must obey the higher authority--God and His Word. Likewise, the only occasion in which a church can properly refuse to follow a pastor is when he is attempting to lead in direct contradiction to clear Scripture teaching. In such cases, the church MUST refuse to follow. God does not demand blind submission to pastoral authority. His authority to lead is tied up in his fidelity to Scripture. Hebrews 13:7 says, "Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God…" It is by the Word of God that the pastor rules over the flock. The instruction of God to the church is to "prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thess. 5:21). When the Bible is preached by pastors, it is to be tested by the hearers (1 Cor. 14:29).

4. The wife is to keep herself right with God and thereby have spiritual power. A wife is not left in a position of powerlessness; she can walk with God. Is it not true that the "king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth it whithersoever he will" (Prov. 21:1)? If a king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord, so is a husband’s! The wife can have an effective prayer life and thereby bring God’s rich blessing upon the family and help her man be what he should be. Likewise, church members can keep themselves right with God and in a position whereby God can and will bless and help their pastor because of their lives and prayers. A pastor’s life is usually reflected in his church, and a church’s life is usually reflected in its pastor. Yea, it has often been observed that a congregation is given the pastor they deserve!

HOW MANY DEACONS ARE NEEDED IN A CHURCH?

Actually, the Bible nowhere says a church must have deacons. In the church at Jerusalem, deacons were not chosen until a distinct need arose. When Paul instructed Titus about how to set in order the things that were lacking in the churches of Crete, he required the ordination of pastors, but he did not mention deacons (Titus 1:5-9). Only, therefore, when a church has a definite need for deacons should they be appointed, and then only when qualified men are available (1 Timothy 3). The size and particular need of the church determine how many deacons are selected. Pastors of small congregations often worry that they do not have qualified men to ordain as deacons. This should not be a worry. Only when there is sufficient need, and only when there are qualified men should the pastor be concerned about ordaining deacons. Better no deacons than the wrong deacons!

HOW ARE DEACONS CHOSEN?

The Scripture really does not give an absolute method which every church is bound to follow in selecting deacons. The standards God requires for deacons are clearly given, and these must never be ignored or slighted; but the actual method of selection can vary from church to church.

Following are some methods used in various churches:

1. Some churches have the congregation (after being taught God’s standards for deacons and the biblical view of the deacon’s work) put forth names of possible deacons. The pastor modifies the list according to his approval. The church then votes on the deacons from the pastor’s approved list. This is similar to the example of Acts 6:1-4, which is a good biblical guideline.

2. In some churches the pastor directly selects the deacons as need arises.

3. In some churches the pastor selects a list of names of men he would approve as deacons, then submits this list to the church for a vote.

4. In some assemblies the first deacons are selected by the pastor and the church. Thereafter, new deacons are chosen by the pastor and the deacons without further church vote.

GOD’S STANDARDS FOR DEACONS

The most important thing in selection of deacons is to abide by the qualifications God has given. The church that carefully considers these divine standards while selecting its deacons will enjoy God’s best blessing upon the deacons’ ministry and will bypass much of the trouble and confusion that is caused by unqualified men.

1 TIMOTHY 3:8-12

1. THE DEACON MUST BE BORN AGAIN

"Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9).

The new birth is the first requirement for anything having to do with God’s church. It is a prerequisite to baptism and church membership (Acts 2:41-42). The Apostle Paul warned, "For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature." (Gal. 6:15) Unless and until a person is born again supernaturally from above and receives forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and the indwelling Holy Spirit, all religious rituals and duties are in vain. Baptism, church attendance, the Lord’s Supper, Bible reading, prayer, doing good to others, fasting, trying to keep the laws of God, holding church offices--none of these, nor all of them combined can do a man any eternal good until he is washed from his sins and receives new life from God through repentance and personal faith in Jesus Christ.

"Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour" (Titus 3:5-6).

We also know that Bible salvation evidences itself in a new life. "Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new" (2 Cor. 5:17).

The deacon must one must be who holds "the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience." The mystery of the faith is the truth of the Gospel. The holy, eternal Son of God came into this world, born of a virgin, lived a sinless life, died for the sins of man, was buried, rose from the dead the third day, ascended back up to heaven, and is now offering eternal salvation to all who will come to Him eternal salvation (see 1 Cor. 15:1-4; Col. 1:25-29; Rom. 16:25-26; 1 Tim. 3:16).

There are multitudes who profess to believe these great truths of the Christian faith, but they do not hold this profession with a pure conscience. Profession is not necessarily possession. They are unconverted hypocrites. "They profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate" (Titus 1:16). Only when one truly possesses Christ and His eternal redemption can he have a pure conscience before God.

"Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us. For if the blood of bulls and of goats, and the ashes of an heifer sprinkling the unclean, sanctifieth to the purifying of the flesh: How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, PURGE YOUR CONSCIENCE from dead works to serve the living God?" (Heb. 9:12-14).

The first requirement, then, is that the deacons be saved men. No man should even be considered for the office until he gives clear testimony and evidence that he is born again.

2. THE DEACON MUST HAVE AN EXEMPLARY SPIRITUAL LIFE AND TESTIMONY

"Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre" (1 Tim. 3:8).

The deacon’s own personal spiritual life must be above reproach that he might be an example to and have the respect of the rest of the church.

"Grave" refers to that seriousness of life and purpose, that carefulness in spiritual matters, which commands the respect of others.

"Not doubletongued" refers to integrity, honesty, openness, trustworthiness.

"Not given to much wine" refers to a man who is not controlled by wine. For many Bible reasons, we believe this standard requires that the deacon be a man who abstains from alcoholic beverages. Many passages of Scripture warn of the dangers of alcohol. Consider Proverbs 20:1; 23:29-35; 31:3-5; Isaiah 5:22; 28:7; Hosea 4:11; Habakkuk 2:5. A man with a beer or a glass of wine in his hand is ignoring these warnings. Even Old Testament priests and kings were required to abstain from intoxicating drinks (see Lev. 10:8-11; Prov. 31:4-5), and we believe the same requirement is expected of New Testament church leaders.

"Not greedy of filthy lucre" requires that the deacon be a man who is not covetous, not greedy of personal gain, not worldly-minded regarding money and possessions.

3. THE DEACON MUST BE SOUND IN THE NEW TESTAMENT FAITH

"Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Tim. 3:9).

The deacon must be an outstanding example in his knowledge of and commitment to the Christian faith. This refers to the doctrines of the New Testament. Deacons, then, are not to be ignorant or novice Christians.

4. THE DEACON MUST BE MATURE AND PROVEN

"And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless" (1 Tim. 3:10).

God requires that the pastor and the deacon demonstrate their zeal and faithfulness to Christ and the work of the church PRIOR TO ordination. God’s way is for men to be proven BEFORE they are placed into a special position in the church, not BY being placed into a position! Some churches attempt to prove men by placing them into responsible positions and hoping they will make it. That is backwards and unscriptural. The unproven man should work alongside a mature man and be discipled and trained by that man; and if he demonstrates his faithfulness and qualification and calling, THEN he can be placed into a position. Proving must precede ordination.

5. THE DEACON MUST HAVE A SPIRITUAL WIFE

"Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things" (1 Tim. 3:11).

For the following two reasons we contend that this verse applies to the wives of deacons and not to women deacons. This has been mentioned earlier, but it bears repeating. First, those who hold the office of a deacon are to be men. This is clear from the requirement of 1 Timothy 3:12—"Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well." We also have seen the example of Acts 6:1-6 in this. Only men were chosen to fill this position in the church at Jerusalem.

Women definitely can and should be deacons in the general sense of being servants and ministers in the church in the manifold ways Scripture allows them to do so, but "the office of a deacon" is reserved for men. The verses before and following 1 Timothy 3:11 all refer to men. Verse eleven simply continues God’s requirements for the men who fill the office of a deacon, and teaches that their wives must be regenerated, spiritual women.

The same qualifications are given for the wives of both pastors and deacons. The man’s wife is a very important part of his life and ministry, and her spiritual condition will greatly affect the man and his work. Unspiritual wives of pastors or deacons can pollute the spiritual condition of the entire congregation. Consider the four words Paul uses to describe the qualified pastor or deacon’s wife:

THE WIFE MUST BE GRAVE

"It speaks of that combination of gravity and dignity which invites the reverence of others" (W.E. Vine). The wife of the deacon is to be the type of Christian lady who lives her life with a godly seriousness of purpose. Her life is the kind that causes others to respect her spiritually and morally. This does not mean, of course, that she has no sense of humor. It is referring to a serious-minded, dignified, grave manner of life, not a depressed personality. Spirit-filled women have many types of personalities, but one thing they all have in common is a spiritual dignity that causes others to look upon them with respect. The spiritual "gravity" of the qualified pastor or deacon’s wife causes other women to accept her teaching (Titus 2:2-4) and to seek her counsel. It is very important for the spiritual health of the congregation that women like this are behind the pastors and deacons.

THE WIFE MUST NOT BE A SLANDERER

The Greek word used for "slander" in 1 Timothy 3:11 is used elsewhere of the Devil. The word means "accuser." In Revelation 12:10 the Devil is said to be the accuser of the brethren. He loves to say evil things about people with a malicious goal of hurting them. Slandering refers to gossiping, backbiting, and other hurtful conversation, especially that which is untruthful and mean-spirited. Please note that it is not gossiping for godly pastors’ and deacons’ wives to discuss the spiritual welfare of people in a godly manner so that help can be given to them and others can be protected from possible harm. Gossip and slander involve deception, untruth, and an injurious attitude and purpose. To "speak the truth in love" is not gossip (Eph. 4:15). To admonish or reprove people is not gossip (Rom. 15:14; Eph. 5:11). To discuss and report spiritual and moral problems is not gossip (1 Cor. 1:11; 5:1). All of these are legitimate aspects of a spiritual life and ministry. Slander, though, is forbidden. The deacon’s wife must be a woman who is especially careful about her conversation and attitude toward people. Otherwise she can easily hurt her church and ruin her husband’s ministry with her tongue.

THE WIFE MUST BE SOBER

To be "sober" in this context means to be in control of one’s mind and life with the goal of pleasing God and fulfilling His will. It refers to one who is not controlled by evil influences, such as the drunken person is controlled by alcohol. This would also include many other things: drugs (except for proper medical purposes); unspiritual music such as rock and roll, country/western, and most modern pop music; unwholesome radio or television programs, such as the wicked and vain "soap operas" that dwell on and glorify lying, adultery, drunkenness, etc; unwholesome "romance" novels; or any other influence which would draw one’s mind away from conscious fellowship with Christ and the things of our holy God. God’s Word requires that the deacon’s wife be in control of herself; be sober.

THE WIFE MUST BE FAITHFUL IN ALL THINGS

In a word, this is God’s standard for the wife of a church officer. She must be a faithful Christian woman in all aspects of her life, in her home, in her ministry, in the church, toward the lost.

The deacon’s wife should be a strong help in his ministry and life, and this will be true only if she is the kind of Christian woman described in these qualifications. Otherwise, she will be a great hindrance to the church of Jesus Christ.

We return now to the deacon’s qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:12:

6. THE DEACON MUST HAVE THE RIGHT KIND OF FAMILY LIFE

"Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well" (1 Tim. 3:12).

Notice that God requires that the deacon be a man who rules his household "well." He must be a godly, biblical father and husband with a good family life. There is no requirement here of perfection. Who, then, would qualify! God simply gives us a reasonable standard for the church officer. He must be doing a good job in his home. There is where the "real man" can be found. This is where he lets down the guard and the pretense and is what he really is. If a man cannot guide his own home properly, he has no business trying to guide an entire church.

Any serious problems in the home should be worked out before a man is considered for a church office. Every man faces various kinds of problems in his relationship with wife and children. Every man has problems in his own life which must be healed and worked out by the Spirit of God before he can be the kind of leader in his home he is to be. We can praise God that in Christ all spiritual and moral problems can be healed. Indeed, we read that "his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue" (2 Pet. 1:3). The power for healing, forgiving and growing is the heritage of every true Christian. Thus, there is always the possibility of working out problems in the home and developing the kind of family life demanded by God. The Bible makes it plain, though, that until the man has a godly home he is not qualified for church office. He must rule his family "well."

ACTS 6 AND 2 CORINTHIANS 8

Some additional standards for deacons and for those who handle church finances are listed in Acts chapter six and 2 Corinthians chapter eight.

7. THE DEACON MUST HAVE AN HONEST REPUTATION

"... look ye out ... men of honest report ..." (Acts 6:3).

Not only must the deacon be an honest man, he must have an honest report. This speaks of his reputation in the church and the community.

8. THE DEACON MUST BE WISE IN A SPIRITUAL AND PRACTICAL SENSE

"... look ye out ... men ... full of ... wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business" (Acts 6:3).

The necessity of the above two qualifications is not difficult to see, and should require no additional comment.

9. THE DEACON MUST BE A MAN OF FAITH

"And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith..." (Acts 6:5).

Many financial decisions and other practical matters handled by the deacons must be made before God through much prayer and BY FAITH rather than sight. The deacons, then, must be more than good businessmen. They must have personal faith in God and understand the spiritual aspects of God’s financial and church program. Churches have often been hindered from supporting missionaries or doing other things God was directing them to do simply because some men involved were not men of faith.

We witnessed something a few years ago that illustrates the importance of this. At a preacher’s fellowship, I was introduced to a pastor who was interested in our missionary work. His church was only a couple of years old and had just moved into a new building for which they owed a large debt. He was working a regular secular job not was supported by the church. In fact, he had placed a mortgage on his house to help finance the church building. He told me that he would like to have me visit his church and speak, but under the circumstances, they could not possibly support us financially. I decided to go anyway and I arrived the next Sunday morning to preach and tell about the Lord’s work in South Asia. Before the service, the pastor took me aside and said, "Brother, God has spoken to me this week that we should support you. I don’t know how we will do it, but I believe we must. For now, we want to promise you $25 monthly support, and we will trust the Lord for that amount."

That was almost twenty years ago, and they have never missed a month. In fact, they quadrupled the original monthly amount. They obeyed God by faith, and He enabled them beyond their visible means. In the years since, God has blessed them beyond their expectations. Their congregation has doubled and doubled again in size. Their building has more than doubled. The church is able to support its pastor full time as well as several assistants. They support many missionaries and have given hundreds of thousands of dollars to missions. This isn’t surprising, though. Didn’t the Lord promise, "Give, and it shall be given unto you"? (Luke 6:38). Of course, but it requires faith to believe and act on this promise.

Let me give another example. In the early 1990s, the Bethel Baptist Church of London, Ontario, was meeting in a storefront building and though they had a growing building fund, they saw no reasonable possibility of purchasing their own property because of the high value of real estate. Pastor Wilbert Unger had a burden to start a printing ministry to send out the Word of God and sound Bible teaching via the printed page across this needy world. He approached the congregation about using a large portion of the building fund to establish a print shop and to hire a printer. The people agreed, and the project was completed. From the Bethel Baptist print shop, hundreds of thousands of books and Scriptures and magazines in many languages have since been distributed to the glory of God. What about the church’s building? Within one year of their decision to use the building fund to print the Word of God, the Lord opened the door for them to get into their own lovely building, and they are paying less for the mortgage than they were for rent in the storefront!

I will give one other example. When the Tri-County Baptist Church in Katy, Texas, was just starting out in the late ‘70s, they were meeting in a storefront building and were saving toward the purchase of their own property. Eventually they obtained some acreage outside of town and had $10,000 in the bank toward a building fund. At that time they received a letter from a missionary they supported, requesting help to put the roof on a missionary church. The missionary congregation had poured the foundation and put up the walls, but they needed help to finish the roof before the rainy season began. It did not seem reasonable for Tri-County Baptist to use their building fund to help this missionary church with its building when Tri-County did not have its own building, yet this is exactly how the Lord led Pastor Rick Shrader. His men agreed wholeheartedly, and the church sent its entire building fund to the mission field! God richly blessed this sacrificial step of faith, as He always does, and within one year, Tri-County had its own beautiful building debt free!

What if there had been men involved in the above decisions that were not men of faith and evangelistic burden--unspiritual, worldly-minded deacons, for example? They would no doubt have discouraged the idea of helping missionaries by faith, saying it would not be wise or reasonable "under their circumstances." Rather than praying and ascertaining the will of God in the matter, they would have complained. If men who lack faith and spiritual burden are appointed as officers, the people will be discouraged about following God by faith, just as the children of Israel were discouraged by the ten cowardly, faithless spies (Numbers 13-14).

10. THE DEACON MUST BE FAITHFUL, TRUSTWORTHY

"And we have sent with them our brother, whom we have oftentimes proved diligent in many things..." (2 Cor. 8:22).

The deacon must be the kind of man who can be depended upon to be faithful, no matter what task is before him, a man oftentimes proven diligent in many things! Again, note the fact that men must be proven before they are placed in positions of responsibility.

11. THE DEACON MUST BE EVANGELISTIC

"And we have sent with him the brother, whose praise is in the gospel..." (2 Cor. 8:18).

Men lacking evangelistic burden should not be allowed any part in handling God’s money or in deacon work, since they will not understand or care about the most important use of money in this present church age, which is soul winning and world evangelism.

Note that in 2 Corinthians 8:18 the brother chosen to carry the money was one whose praise was in the Gospel. He was not just an honest man; he was spiritual. He was not just a man who had wisdom about financial and other practical matters; he was evangelistic. He was one who was busy in personal Gospel work. The same thing is mentioned in Acts 6:3, where we are told that the first deacons were men "full of the Holy Spirit." Stephen, one of the first deacons, was stoned because of his bold witnessing. This is the kind of man we must have if the church business is to be handled properly under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Men cannot be expected to be concerned about using church funds and resources for aggressive evangelism and mission work if they do not have an evangelistic burden of their own. They cannot be expected to encourage the church to give by faith and lead by their examples if they themselves do not have such faith.

Summary on the Deacon’s Qualifications

A good brief summary of the qualifications of a deacon are given in the book The Deaconship by R.B.C. Howell:

"Whether the qualifications of a brother render him eligible to the Deaconship, is, in the first place, determined by the character of his CONJUGAL [FAMILY] RELATIONSHIPS ... in the second place, to be determined by his GENERAL REPUTATION ... The third qualification respects the RELIGIOUS CHARACTER of the candidate. ... They must, in the fourth place, be men of SOUND SCRIPTURAL PRINCIPLES ... in the sixth place, in INTELLECTUAL CAPACITY ... `full of wisdom’ ... in the sixth and last place ... EFFICIENCY AND FIDELITY to his sacred office."

HOW LONG SHOULD DEACONS SERVE?

Since the Bible does not say how long deacons should serve, each church must decide for itself. Some churches have definite terms for deacons, such as two or three years. Other churches ordain deacons for life-long terms. There are advantages in both customs. The limited period allows the ordination of better men when such become available and allows opportunity to prove the men who are chosen. The unlimited term "tends to secure a higher regard for the office itself and greater usefulness on the part of those who fill it." (Edward T. Hiscox, Principles and Practices for Baptist Churches, 1980 edition, p. 113.)

THE DEACON’S REWARD

"For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1 Tim. 3:13).

The first reward mentioned is "a good degree." The good degree or a good standing refers to two things, at least. It refers to a good standing before men in this life, and it refers to a good standing at the judgment seat of Christ in the next life.

The second reward mentioned is "great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." A good deacon makes special progress in spiritual growth, power, and zeal. This is God’s blessing upon his life for his faithful work in the church.

AVOIDING PROBLEMS BETWEEN PASTOR AND DEACONS

Following are some simple suggestions which can help pastors maintain a harmonious relationship with the deacons. Many of these are from Hugh Pyle’s book, What Every Preacher Should Know (Sword of the Lord Publishers, P.O. Box 1099, Murfreesboro, TN 37133).

1. Patiently teach the church the biblical role of a deacon and his requirements before the Lord.

2. Be very careful in the appointment of deacons. Prayerful, cautious selection of the deacons takes care of most problems right from the beginning. We must take special care to ascertain that the prospective deacon meets God’s requirements.

3. The pastor must be a humble, spiritual leader.

"Be a humble man, yourself. You can be spiritual, firm, consecrated, courageous, and still be a man of humility. Walk humbly before God. When your men see and realize that you truly walk with God, they will respect you and be less likely to cross you. ‘Except ... it die, it abideth alone’ (John 12:24). Die to yourself, crucify the flesh, and it will not matter too much whether some deacon disagrees with you or says something offensive. ‘The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life...’ (Matt. 20:28).

"Don’t be touchy, pouty, or easily offended. As much as lieth in you live peaceably with all men, including the deacons. Be patient with the men. Some of them may not have had the training, background and spiritual teaching that you have had. On the other hand, some of your men may have had more business training, financial knowledge and practical business dealings than you have had and you may learn some things from these men that will truly help you. Don’t be too proud to learn from your deacons and other men in the church.

"Be honest, but do not necessarily be too frank or candid. Some brutally frank people become tactless and cruel. Don’t always say all that you know or certainly not all that you think. [‘A fool uttereth all his mind: but a wise man keepeth it in till afterwards’ (Prov. 29:11).]

"Don’t be evasive and deceitful, however. Have firm convictions, but do not become bullheaded. Be flexible, under God, and don’t be afraid to admit when you have been mistaken or impulsive.

"Your deacons, although they are not to rule you, are nevertheless not just to be ‘flunkies’ either ... the spiritual qualifications of 1 Timothy chapter three would certainly indicate that there is more to the office of a deacon than that. You need men of sound spiritual sense to take some of the responsibility and burden for the material and financial needs of the church organization. Dr. Harvey Springer said, ‘My deacons have helped me out of trouble a hundred times for every one they have made for me’" (Pyle).

4. If you are a young pastor, or just starting out, you must tread softly.

"You must win the respect and confidence of men who may be older and in some cases more mature than you are. You may inherit a board of deacons that you will have to live with for awhile until the people are taught and until the congregation grows, not only numerically but spiritually" (Pyle).

5. If a pastor comes into a church and inherits some unscriptural or unruly deacons, he must proceed with much prayer and wisdom.

First, it is wise and ethical to tell the deacons and church plainly BEFORE ACCEPTING THE PASTORATE your convictions regarding pastor/deacon relationships, deacon qualifications, and church government. If the people do not indicate their willingness to submit to the Bible in these matters, a man should proceed only with great, great caution. In fact, this writer can envision no circumstance under which he would accept the pastorate of such a church. It is usually far better to start a new church than attempt to turn around a church that is committed to error.

There might be an occasion when God will definitely lead a man to become the pastor of such a church with the goal of patiently straightening things out. Wisdom dictates great caution! Only God can "teach old dogs new tricks," or change a church steeped in unscriptural traditions of government. We would add that it is a rare event even for God!

Secondly, it is far better to require and obtain the resignations of unqualified deacons prior to accepting the pastorate. In fact it is a pastor’s responsibility to do just this. To allow men to continue in the office of deacon whose lives do not meet the divine standards of the Bible is to be unfaithful to the Word of God. It is the pastor’s business to uphold God’s standards, and if a church will not allow this, the pastor should leave.

Some would argue that for the sake of church harmony, a man should accept the pastorate of such a church without causing trouble over the deacon matter, at least for some time. To do this, though, is not only disobedience in the face of God’s written standards for church officers, but puts the pastor into a situation in which his ability to lead the church is severely hindered by the presence of unqualified men as deacons. Pastors, in such situations, are continually frustrated in their work. Also, by not forcing the issue of deacon’s qualifications at the very beginning, the pastor is giving the church the message that he is willing to hedge somewhat in matters of divine standards. They will hear this message of action much more clearly than any pious professions he makes about love for the truth.

Thirdly, be patient and begin to teach the deacons and the church biblical relationships between church, pastor, and deacons.

Fourthly, look much to God for help and blessing in such a situation until problems are corrected. Remember God’s promises in Psalm 32:8-9; 145:18-19.

6. Keep the advice of Ecclesiastes 7:20-22 in mind at all times.

"For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not. Also take no heed unto all words that are spoken; lest thou hear thy servant curse thee: For oftentimes also thine own heart knoweth that thou thyself likewise hast cursed others."

We must never forget that though saved, we are still sinners. Even the pastor and deacon have the old, rebellious, corrupt nature. We shouldn’t be surprised that, from time to time, those under our authority become dissatisfied with our leading. This includes wife, child, deacon, and church member. The pastor must remind himself that he "likewise hast cursed others." We all get dissatisfied with other people from time to time. The advice of Ecclesiastes 7:20-22 is very wise and important for leaders to keep in mind.

It is not reasonable to expect that those God has placed under our supervision will never feel or express any sign of rebellion and criticism. We still have a rebel nature that must be controlled by the power of the indwelling Spirit of God, but who walks at every moment in the fullness of the Holy Spirit? Who never sins? Who makes only wise and proper decisions? Who never rebels or complains? It would be unwise to expect perfect, constant submission from our people. It won’t happen!

Let us be wise, prayerful, vigilant, humble, and patient at all times, but especially in times when our decisions are rejected and our authority despised. Look to God for wisdom and help. Wait on Him; follow His leading without fear. He will solve the problem, for it is His work and His church; and He will be faithful to instruct you as about part in the solution (and in the problem!).

THE DISCIPLINE OF A DEACON

What steps should be taken in correcting a deacon?

"If a lay member is delinquent he is subjected to discipline, and either reformed or excluded. A pastor who is unfaithful is readily removed, and if he is heterodox [false in doctrine] or disorderly, he is deposed, probably excommunicated. But if a man is a deacon, no matter whether he is faithful or unfaithful, he remains in office during life, unless he pleases to change his residence, or is expelled from fellowship for immorality! Who ever heard of a deacon being deposed, or even impeached, for lack of fidelity in his office? I never did! Why is this? Has none of them never materially erred? This cannot be supposed. Does it not go far to prove that there is some thing on this point exceedingly wrong, and singularly unguarded? The church, I answer, has the same remedy here that she has in all other cases. ... Does the unfaithfulness of these officers result from slothful indifference? Then they must be admonished. If it is voluntary and continued, and neither instruction from the pastor nor admonition from the church can procure reformation, they must be impeached, and, by a regular vote, removed. The same power that makes an officer, is always competent, when he proves himself unworthy or unfaithful, to displace him" (R.B.C. Howell, quoted by Davis W. Huckabee, The Constitution of the Church, Challenge Press, Little Rock, AR).



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