From the book, The Memoir of David King - Ministry in the Church of Christ.

 

Deacons (pages 281-288).

"To all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." - Phil. i:1.

The word deacon is found in the New Testament only in Phil. i. and 1 Tim. iii: five occurrences in all. It comes from the Greek diakonos an attendant, servant, or minister. The verb diakoneo signifies to wait upon, to serve. A deacon, then, is one who serves, a servant.

Though in the English New Testament we have deacon only five times, there are some thirty occurrences of diakonos in the original. There is no good reason for rendering the few texts in question differently from the larger number. The term is applied - 1. To the Saviour Himself - Rom. xv:8; Gal. ii:17. 2. To the apostles - Matt. xx:26; 1 Cor. iii:5: 2 Cor. iii:6; vi:4. 3. To Evangelists - Eph. vi:21: Col. i:17; 1 Tim. iv:6. 4. To any faithful servant of the Lord - John xii:26. 5. To magistrates - Rom. xiii:4. 6. To servants at feasts, etc. - Matt. xxi:13; John ii:5, 9.

In its generic sense, then, it represents a servant, without regard to rank or quality of service. Jesus, Paul, and Phúbe are designated by the one term; which applies alike to preachers, magistrates, and waiters.

But, in addition to the foregoing numerous applications of diakonos in its primary signification, it is, most certainly, used in an appropriated and more limited sense, and thus designates a particular class of ministrants appertaining to the Church of Christ. This is clear from the following texts -

"Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Phillipi, with the bishops and deacons." Phil. i:1.

"Likewise must the deacons be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre; holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. 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.iii:8-13.

"And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them." Acts vi:1-6.

From the first of these three passages we learn that the deacons of the Philippian Church were distinguished from the members in general, and also from the bishops, and that, therefore, the word is not there used in its wide or generic sense, but is appropriated to designate certain persons to whom there had been committed some special service. The second passage shows that there was an office in the church filled by persons to whom this term, in its appropriated and limited sense, was applied, and for that said office certain qualifications and testing were imperatively demanded. The third cited portion indicates the duties they were required to engage in. They were to wait upon the secular affairs of the Church. Nothing of preaching or teaching appertained to their office. They were not to be excluded from ministering in word and doctrine, nor did their office disqualify them for the eldership; but in teaching, preaching, or ruling, they could not act by virtue of their standing as deacons. We also see, that they were specially elected for their work, and duly ordained to the same.

But "Extremes beget extremes!" Hence while, on the one hand, some have perverted a few texts, to make the deacon a clergyman - a priest in embryo - others deny the office altogether. Plymouth-brethrenism rushes off to the last extreme. Beverly says, that,

"Any believing man or woman, who serves the Lord and His people, is a deacon or minister. Paul was in this sense a deacon. - 1 Thess. iii:2, Phúbe was a deacon - Rom. xvi:1; Apollos was a deacon - 1 Cor. iii:5. All those who were in service to the Lord in the church at Philippi were deacons - Phil. i:1. And indeed if we may imitate the translators of the English Bible, and coin the deaconís office out of the verb diakoneo, then all believers have received the gift to exercise the deaconís office one to another, and Paul tells us there are diversities of deaconís offices. - 1 Cor. xii:5."

The same writer undertakes to show that the seven holy men whose election is recorded, Acts vi, were not chosen to any permanent office, that they were never called deacons, that if theirs was the deaconís office, then that office must have ceased before the death of the apostles, as it had reference to peculiar local circumstances.

But we submit that the circumstances, in their leading features, were not peculiar, but will continue to exist while the Lordís intimation, that the poor we always have with us, is applicable. The apostles, as the first evangelists, planted the church in Jerusalem and, consequently, had charge in the department in question; which in due time - hastened perhaps by peculiar circumstances - they transferred to men chosen by the church. True, the term deacons, or servants, is not applied to the seven, but they were chosen to serve, and therefore were the servants of God and the brethren. The Church was not called upon to commit this service to all those members who possessed the qualifications specified, but to look out a given number. The seven men elected by the church and ordained by the apostles were, then, the stewards of the church, to receive and disburse its bounty. For such stewards there remains, and will remain, full need. Refuse to call them deacons if you please - call them ministers, servants, or whatever you find authority for calling them; but so long as you have a table to furnish, funds to take care of, poor to help, expenses to meet, some must have charge; the whole church cannot act; and those who act of the church must not be self-chosen. It then remains that the church look out men of wisdom, that they may be "set over this business," or "necessity," and as well may it be said that baptism and the Lordís Supper arose out of peculiar local circumstances, and, therefore, were not designed to continue, as to draw the like unfounded conclusion in this case. The order then is, that brethren be chosen by the church to take charge of and appropriate its funds, in regard to the particulars above specified, and that the brethren thus chosen be ordained by prayer and laying on of hands, by those who have charge in that department at the time of the election. The one clear example in Acts vi., shows how the necessity was met, and how it should be provided for, so long as it exists; and it will exist so long as we have money to contribute and poor to help.

The Term deacon, in its special application to the custodians of the church treasury, seems to have been derived from the synagogue of the Jews, where, usually, there were three persons set apart to collect and appropriate alms. They had charge of the poor-chest provided for Sabbath contributions, and also for the produce of the gleanings of cornfields and vineyards.

Paul having done the work of an evangelist, in planting churches in Ephesus and Crete, left them before they were fully set in order, and, therefore, he provided for the election of deacons and the ordination of both deacons and elders by transferring, provisionally, his evangelistic oversight - in Ephesus to Timothy, and in Crete to Titus. This circumstance is providentially used to provide for us a statement of the qualifications required in those who are ordained to the deaconís office.

The deacon, then, must be - 1. Grave. 2. Not double-tongued. 3. Not given to much wine. 4. Not greedy of gain. 5. Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. 6. They must be proved before they use the office. 7. They must be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and houses well. 8. Their wives must be grave, not slanderers, sober, and faithful. 1 Tim.iii.  

Note, particularly, that before entering upon the office they are to be proved. Hence, generally, deacons cannot be ordained till some time after the planting of a church. They must be known as men of GRAVITY, SOBRIETY, and UNSELFISHNESS, noted for their understanding of, and FIRM adherence to, the faith. How needful these traits in those who re-called to minister to the sick and needy of the flock! A double-tongued man may not enter upon this office. How important that one who has to be officially acquainted with delicate family and social affairs should have a tongue that can be depended upon! Not given to wine, frugal, not greedy of gain, but liberal and yet prudent. How needful in those who minister the bounty of the church. A man with an unruly family, or a wife, who is not sober and faithful, or who is a slanderer, may not be ordained a deacon. We conclude, too, that an unmarried man is ineligible. some consider that "husband of one wife" is merely intended to exclude those who have more than one. But other circumstances being equal, the superior fitness, arising from experience in family relations, is so apparent, that we cannot but urge that deacons should really be "husbands of one wife."

That women filled this honourable office is apparent. Paul wrote:-

"I commend unto you Phúbe our sister, who is a servant (deaconess) of the Church which is at Cenchrea. That ye receive her in the Lord as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatever business she hath need of you; for she has been a succourer of many, and of myself also."

She was, then, in this work of succouring, the servant of one church - that of Cenchrea. The East, owing to the more secluded life of females, would absolutely require that sisters be thus engaged. With us, though not so absolutely necessary, many cases occur which can only be investigated and relived by female agency; and, therefore, deaconesses should be ordained wherever practicable.

Of the things said concerning deacons, in this and a former article, this is the sum:-

1. That it is a standing ordinance in the church, that there be persons specially appointed to take charge of, and minister the funds of the church, especially in regard to providing for the needy.

2. That the persons filling this office must possess the qualifications enumerated by the apostle; that the office should not be filled till persons are proved thus qualified.

3. That the church elects; while those who have previous charge, in this department of labour, ordain the elected by prayer and the laying on of hands.

4. Deaconesses should be ordained in every church so soon as practicable.

QUERIES AND OBJECTIONS.

I. "Why should not the elders (bishops), two, or more of them, take charge of the treasury of the Church, and thus dispense with the election and ordination of deacons?"

ANSWER.

Because it was not so appointed by the Apostles. Paul addressed himself to the "bishops and deacons" of the Church in Philippi, and, therefore, the bishops had not committed to them the deaconís office. In writing to Timothy he likewise distinguished between bishops and deacons. We admit that a deacon might fill the bishopís office, in the event of the church so desiring, but not that a bishop can do the work of a deacon by virtue of his standing as an elder.

II. "As the bishops of the church have oversight in every department, have they not power to direct the deacons to assist needy brethren, at such times and to such extent as they consider requisite?

ANSWER.

Bishops are quite within their office when they exercise careful oversight in the matter of need and supply. They must not be considered to intrude when they make themselves acquainted with income and expenditure, and present suggestions to the deacons thereupon. But the deacons are responsible to the church by whom they are elected, and are not bound to carry out the suggested measures. If, however, they are incompetent the bishops should, by reason of their position, be the first to know it and to appeal to the church itself to judge. As, then the deacons and not the bishops are responsible, the former and not the latter have the right to determine, when and how funds entrusted to them shall be expended.

 

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