To the Churches composing the Long Run Association. Dear Brethren: As deacons hold an important place in our churches, suffer me to lay before you, briefly, their qualifications and duties. Let us consider the QUALIFICATIONS of deacons:
The efficiency of a deacon depends mainly upon his qualifications to discharge the duties of his office. In view of this important fact, the inspired apostles describe minutely the endowments necessary to fit a man for the deacouship. See Acts 6:1, 6. 1 Timothy 3:8, 13.
According to the scriptures a candidate for the deaconship must he devoutly pious. This is implied in the expression: "Full of the Holy Ghost." A faithful deacon needs much grace. What but this can induce him to perform the various and arduous duties of his office? He can never be moved by worldy applause, because no temporal distinctions await him. Neither can he be urged onward by the hope of gain. He receives nothing for his services. Yet he must devote much tune, make many sacrifices, and perform much labor. Can so much be expected from any but the devoutly pious? "Full of the Holy Ghost."
Again, a candidate for the deaconship must have good common sense. The church in Jerusalem was directed to select men "full of wisdom." The term wisdom, as here used, does not refer primarily to what is called human learning. Literary attainments, to any considerable extent, are not essential to the deaconship, because they do not impart the peculiar qualifications required. Learning is desirable; but a man may possess profound learning, and yet have but very little practical good sense. That kind of wisdom is doubtless meant, which enables a man to manage the affairs of a church to the best advantage; and to select the most appropriate means to accomplish the desired ends. Such is the wisdom required for the deaconship.
Again, a candidate for the deaconship must support an unblemished character. Paul charged Timothy thus: "The deacons must 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 first be proved, then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless." He must possess all the moral qualities which enter into the character of a man "of good report." He must also have the reputation of possessing them - not with the church only, but also with the world: "Having a good report of them that are without."
Again, a candidate for the deaconship must be capable of managing the affairs of the church. Mark the apostolic description: "Ruling their children and their own houses well." Examine into the private management of him you would place in authority, if you would know his capability for that high office. If a man come short in his own household, "how shall he take charge of the church of Christ?" Would you secure the services of an efficient deacon? select the man who rules his children and his house well; who conducts his business with skill and success; and who meets promptly and energetically all his engagements. Let such a brother "use the office of a deacon."
Again, a candidate for the deaconship must be sound in the faith. This qualification is enjoined with great emphasis: "Holding the mystery of the faith." That is, he must clearly understand and firmly maintain the fundamental doctrines
of Christianity - such as the Trinity - the Messiahship and Divinity of Christ - the vicariousness of his sacrifice - the personality and Deity of the Holy Ghost - regeneration - salvation by grace through faith, &c. Besides, deacons will be compelled, frequently, to defend the peculiar doctrines of the gospel. They will be called upon to instruct the ignorant, to comfort the weak, and to establish the wavering. But without a thorough knowledge of the word of God, they will be incompetent to the work. A deacon must be well established in the truth - "holding the mystery of the faith."
Again, a candidate for the deaconship must be judicious in his marriage union. Paul directs: "Even so must their wives also be grave, not slanderous, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife." Every man is influenced more or less by his wife. It is exceedingly desirable that the wives of deacons should fully correspond with the Divine description. The meaning of the phrase: "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife," is plain. It does not require that "a deacon shall have a wife, but that if he be married he shall not at the same time have more than "one wife."
Such are the scriptural qualifications of deacons. We proceed to point out.
2. The DUTIES of deacons: It is not the duty of deacons to preach the gospel. The first deacons were not appointed as preachers, nor with any intention of ever becoming such; but expressly and alone to take charge of the temporal concerns of the church, that the attention of the apostles might not be diverted from the ministry. Read the divine history said "the twelve" to the church: "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." As the pastor has supervision of the spiritual interests of the church, so the deacons have the charge of all the temporal interests of the church.
Again, it is not the duty of deacons to administer the ordinances. The administration of the ordinances is the prerogative of the ministry. The deaconship confers no such authority. True, deacons receive at the Lord's supper the bread and wine from the hands of the pastor, and distribute them to the communicants. This, however, is not by Divine authority, but only as a matter of convenience. Any other brother might with equal propriety, do the same thing. But as it is necessary for some one to serve, and as deacons are suitable persons, it is as proper as it is common for them to officiate.
Again, it is not the duty of deacons to rule in the church. As officers, they have a right to rule in their own sphere. Office without authority is a solecism. Deacons hold a relation to the church similar to that which civil officers hold to the Government. They are not legislators, but simply executors of the will of Christ. They are the servants of the church, and have not a particle of authority beyond the limits of their office. They can never, therefore, infringe upon the rights and privileges of any member. But what are the duties of the deacons?
By Divine appointment "deacons are placed over all the temporalities of the church." All the property and funds belonging to the church, as a church, are placed under their direction. Their control, however, is not absolute, but limited to such uses as the church may direct. Every church of necessity has its expenses, such as its house, its fuel, its lights, its sexton, &c. These contingent expenses must be met promptly. The requisite funds should be placed in the hands of her deacons, who are the proper disbursers.
Again, it is the duty of deacons to administer to the wants of the necessitous, especially widows. The neglect of this dnty gave rise to the appointment of the first deacons. "And in those days, there arose a murmuring, because their widow's were neglected." As every church has its poor, so every one should have its charity fund, placed under the control of the deacons, who are the almoners of the church's bounty. Alas! how many churches are delinquent here!
Again, it is the duty of deacons to see that the pastor is well provided for and supported. Under the Mosaic economy the ministers of the sanctuary were supported
by their avocation. The same principle holds .under the Christian dispensation. "Even so hath God ordained that those who preach the gospel shall "live of the gospel." "For the laborer is worthy of his hire." This law is not peculiar to the gospel, it is founded in reason and justice. Ministers are not clerical paupers; they have a right to a competent support, provided they give themselves wholly to the work assigned them. The pastor's salary then must be raised, he has to live, but who shall do it? As the deacons are placed over all the temporalities of the church it is their business to secure to him his "wages."
Such are the duties of deacons. Let churches be more cautious in the selection of deacons. Let deacons consider well their mighty responsibilities. And let ministers be more faithful in urging both churches and deacons to their duty. Brethren, farewell. "May the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and love of, God, and the communion of the Holy Ghost, abide with all, forever!" Amen! ==============[From Long Run Baptist Association Minutes, 1846, pp. 6-8; from the original documents at Southern Baptist Seminary Library, Archives and Special Collections, Louisville, KY. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]
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