Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
May 24, 1951
NUMBER 4, PAGE 5,15b

Lost ... The Deacons

Robert C. Welch, Florence, Alabama

One of the most common and outstanding reasons for churches' failing in carrying out a successful program of work is the lack of deacons to do service in and for the churches. The New Testament speaks of "the office of a deacon." (1 Tim. 3:10, 13) Furthermore, it names them as distinguished from the elders and the rest of the members; "Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons." (Phil. 1:1) In the New Testament the word which is translated "deacon" is translated in other passages "servant." (Compare: 1 Tim. 3:8; Matt. 22:13; Rom. 16:1.) The word "deacon" signifies "servant," thus the office of a deacon signifies the office of service. In one sense all Christians are servants of Christ. (1 Cor. 7:22) But in such cases it is translated from a different original word. These deacons, or servants, have some special service different from that of all Christians. They are to render service for the church in particular. There is work that the church as a group is to perform besides that distributive work of individual Christians. This is the place for deacons. Though the word "deacon" is not used with reference to the case, some men were appointed for some of this special work of the church in Jerusalem, "Now in these days, when the number of the disciples was multiplying, there arose a murmuring of the Grecian Jews against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration ... Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." (Acts 6:1-3) This benevolent work of administering to the Grecian widows was not their only work. In chapters seven and eight we read about two of those seven who were appointed. In these chapters they were preaching and teaching the gospel. A deacon is a servant of the church, doing the special work of the church.

Servants ... Not Rulers

Deacons are to be servants of the church rather than rulers over the church. There is a difference between a servant and a ruler. The elders are the rulers of the congregation, "Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor." (1 Tim. 5:17) Baptist churches have made their deacons a board of directors of the church. They have made the preacher the pastor who oversees the doctrine of the congregation. But the deacons legislate and control all other affairs of the church, making the pastor amenable to them for salary and continuance in the office. They have taken the office away from the elders and have given it to those whom they call deacons. In name they have made their preachers the elders by calling them pastors. They have put the work of deacons into the hands of those whom they call committees, societies, and clubs. Thus their pastor does not have to fulfill the qualifications which the New Testament gives for elders. Their rulers whom they call deacons do not have to fulfill the qualifications of the elders. And the people whom they have chosen to do the work of deacons do not have to fulfill the qualifications of deacons, because they call them committees and clubs.

Some churches of the Lord have done very little better. They, too, have made their deacons rulers, giving them the position and authority of elders. Frequently one hears about "the board of deacons and elders." There is no New Testament authority for joining them together into one group of directors. Often some church will have an "officers' business meeting," where the deacons "vote" on the affairs of the church having equal power of vote with the elders. That is a perversion of the office of a deacon and the office of a bishop. The elders are to "rule," and the deacons are to "serve;" the very name given them means that. Let the elders maintain their position as overseers "as they that shall give account." (Heb. 13:17) Let the deacons "first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless." (1 Tim. 3:10)

Deacons Vs Committees

The deacon of today has become no more than an honorary member of the church. Many churches have divided the whole group of members into committees for doing the work that is suggested by the term "deacon" in the New Testament. Often there is not a deacon included in the committee. In such churches the deacon has no special work to do, no office to fill, he has just received honorary mention in his appointment. Such a practice is borrowed from the world and denominationalism. If all these committees are scriptural and necessary, what is wrong with having the clubs and societies in the church? The only difference is that of the name. A "club" and a "society" will be found in the same chapter with the "committee." The modern deacon is like the honorary pallbearer: he is an old friend of the deceased — New Testament church organization; he deserves honorable recognition at the funeral — preached by the "twentieth century Christian;" but his work must be done by the active pallbearers — the committee for charity, the committee for greeting strangers, the committee for flowers, the committee for visiting the sick, the committee for personal work, the building committee, the finance committee, the pulpit committee, the educational committee, the recreation committee, ad infinitum.

Every Christian has work to do in the cause of the Master. This work will build up the church. But not all Christians fulfill the qualifications of a deacon. (See 1 Tim. 3:8-13) The work of the church that a deacon should be given demands someone who fulfills the Lord's qualifications. There is a tendency today to put every novice in the church on a committee doing work belonging to qualified deacons. The reason given is that it will strengthen those members by giving them something to do. Every Christian has work to do as an individual which sometimes must be pointed out to him by the overseers. But the work of deacons needs to be done by the deacons. It will keep reproach from the church, and will make the church acceptable before God.

Deacons Vs Institutions

One of the reasons for the building and supporting of institutions within and without the church is the lack of deacons who fulfill their service for the church. The most common defense of Christians' doing their benevolent work through institutions is that the church is not doing anything. Thus they give to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, Community Chest, and orphanages. The kind of benevolent work done by such institutions can and should be done by the church so far as it is able. I suppose some "twentieth century Christians" might say that it would have been better to send the Grecian widows of the sixth chapter of Acts to an institution for the care of the aged. The apostles did not think like that. They appointed some capable men in the church to be over the ministration to the needy. By carrying out all phases of the work as the Lord directed the following results were obtained: "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith." (Acts 6:7) Churches need to make capable men and women servants of the churches to see after charity needs and other work that belongs to the church as a group. (Acts 6:1-7; Rom. 16:1, 2; Phil. 4:3; 1 Tim. 3:8-13) When the church is doing its work, with the help of these qualified servants there will be no disposition, ability, nor need for doing such work through other institutions. Let the churches today follow the New Testament pattern in organization and work that the Lord may be glorified in the church. (Eph. 3:21)