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The Deaconship
By T. P. Simmons, 1932

      The editor a short time ago attended an ordination of deacons in Catlettsburg Baptist Church. He was called upon to preach the ordination sermon. At the close of the service it was requested by a vote of those present that the sermon be published in the Baptist Examiner. We, therefore, undertake to reproduce the sermon substantially as it was preached, but with some amplification.

I. The Origin of The Office

      It is quite certain that we have the origin of the deaconship in the sixth chapter of Acts. The word for "serve" (diakoneo) in Acts 6:2 is exactly the same word that is used to designate the office of a deacon in 1 Timothy 3 :10, 13; and is the verb corresponding to the noun for deacons in Philippians 1:1; 1 Timothy 3:8, 12.

      It is interesting and instructive to note how the first deacons received their office. They were elected by the church. “Then the twelve called the multitude 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 (rather, set) over this business" (Acts 6:2, 3). The apostles set the deacons in their office, or ordained them, as we see in verse six, for this is the meaning of the word translated "appoint" in both the King James and Revised Versions; but the apostles did not presume to select them. They left this to the church. They did not even recommend to the church the ones they should elect. They left the church to find this out from the Holy Spirit. This was an exceedingly important matter, but the apostles were not afraid to trust it to the church. This is a fine example of the democracy of New Testament churches. We profess to believe in democracy as Baptists, but in some cases we retain only the form without any reality. The popular way of electing Sunday school teachers and officers is an instance in point. Instead of the church looking out the teachers and officers, it is common to trust it to a committee; and the church simply accepts the judgment of the committee. This is democracy only in form and not in reality. When the editor came to Ashland as pastor a committee had been appointed to recommend officers and teachers for the Sunday school. The incoming pastor had been given a place on that committee. When the committee met the pastor recommended that they go back to the church and ask the church to assume the responsibility of selecting these officers and teachers in an open election. The committee, somewhat doubtfully Perhaps, acceded to the suggestion of the pastor, and the church also agreed. The results were far better than we could have hoped from the other method. The objection commonly made to this is that the church as a whole will not be well enough acquainted with conditions and needs to choose teachers wisely. We have two things to say about this objection: First, if the church is not well enough acquainted with the conditions and needs to choose teachers wisely, then it is high time she were getting acquainted. It is her business to be acquainted, for she, is responsible to God for the kind of teaching that is done; and she is not faithfully discharging that responsibility when she trusts in the judgment of a committee. Second, since the church is the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 3 :16), the body of Christ, and the pillar and ground of the truth, she is better fitted to know about this matter than any committee. All that is needed in a church that God really owns, one that is truly indwelt by the Holy Spirit, is that the church be thrown upon the Holy Spirit for leadership. If a group of men can know better than the church how to select officers, why didn't the apostles select the seven deacons? And since it is difficult to know whether candidates for baptism are really saved, why not have a committee to pass upon this? God will honor scriptural methods in a church that he owns. God's ways are not man's ways. That is the reason his ways do not always seem wise to men. But the foolishness of God is wiser than men.

II. The Duties of This Office

      We will first discuss the matter negatively.

      1. It is not the duty of deacons to pass upon applicants for church membership. It is a custom in many churches today to receive none into the church until the deacons have passed upon the matter. This is a pernicious custom because it is without the slightest scriptural warrant and because it is inimical to democracy. It is a substitution of human wisdom and human scheme for divine wisdom and the divine plan.

      2. The deacons are not a committee on discipline. When Paul wrote about church discipline he wrote to the churches and not the deacons. If it is necessary to appoint a committee in cases of discipline, there is nothing wrong with deacons serving on the committee as individuals, but this is not the official work of deacons. It is always best to observe the divine order. God's program will always work better in his churches than any of the plans of men.

      3. The deacons are not a pulpit committee.

      If a pulpit committee is necessary, deacons may serve upon it as individuals, but this is not a function of their office. We heard of a case not so long ago where a pastor in resigning sent his resignation to the deacons, and the deacons wrote him their acceptance of the resignation before the church had been consulted. This is pushing the idea of the deacons as a pulpit committee to the limit.

      4. The deacons are not to boss the pastor. It is not their business to call him, dismiss him, nor tell him what to preach. Deacons are subordinate to the pastor; not over him.

      5. The deacons are not an advisory committee on the business of the church. The writer used to be so ignorant (may God forgive him of it) that he thought he could not properly have a business meeting of the church until he had had a meeting of the deacons to go over matters and make recommendations to the church. In the course of time God opened his eyes and he quit this plan for three reasons. (1) No scriptural authority, not even an inference from Scripture, can be urged in its behalf. (2) It is the best method we know of to produce "short horn" or bossy, mulish deacons. By this method deacons are encouraged to think that it is the duty of the church to adopt their recommendations. If the church doesn't do it, then most of them are usually offended. And when they conceive of themselves as the dictators of the church, why shouldn't they presume to dictate to the pastor? If he isn't preaching right, why shouldn't they tell him so? And if he has been in the pastorate long enough, is it not their duty to inform him? The pastor is under the authority of the church, and he has encouraged the deacons to become the dictators of the church. Why now should they not dictate to him? When any pastor uses this method, and then gets "rolled" by the deacons, he has no one to blame but himself. He taught them to do it. If they have a right to dictate to the church, they certainly have a right to dictate to him and he ought to accept it in good grace. (3) It makes a farce out of the democracy of the church. The church comes to take little interest usually in the business affairs of the church. Why should they? The deacons will have everything all threshed out, and the church must accept it or usually have a row. Thus the church will retain the form of democracy. and yet, at the same time, become in reality an oligarchy. All of these inovations [sic] work injury in the body of Christ. They are human substitutions for the divine program. God will not honor them. They impugn his wisdom, and deny to the church the place God has given it.

      Turning now to the positive side of this matter we find that the first deacons were elected and ordained for the specific purpose of distributing alms. This is all we know for certain concerning the work of deacons. It may be that their work extended to other temporal matters, but there is absolutely no reason for thinking that it went beyond temporal matters. One of the effects of adding other things to the work of deacons is that they most always are thereby led to neglect their rightful duties. In most churches the deacons do a little bit of everything, and if the poor are looked after, the pastor must do it. Let the deacons stick to a care of the temporal matters of the church, especially the care of the poor, and really give themselves to this work.

III. The Qualifications of Deacons

      We will first take up the qualifications as mentioned in sixth chapter of Acts. We find here that deacons are to be—

      1. Men of good report. "Good report" is the translation of the R. V. It is broader than "honest report" of the K. J. V. Deacons are to be men of good reputation in general. They are to be men in whom the people have the utmost confidence. Of course, first of all, they should be men that are scrupulously honest; men that can be trusted.

      2. Full of the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is in every believer (John 7:38, 39; Romans 8:9, 14; 1 Corinthians 6:19; Galatians 4:6; Ephesians 1:13). He is received at the time we are saved, and abides with us forever afterward. When we receive the Holy Spirit, we receive all of him, for he is a person and, therefore, indivisible. The doctrine that the Spirit is received today subsequent to conversion, as was the case with believers on the day of Pentecist [sic], is not a scriptural doctrine. There can no more be a repetition of Pentecost than there can be a repetition of Calvary. All the works of grace are definite, and those who are still talking about the second one are to be pitied. Those who are truly saved have received innumerable definite works of grace; in fact, they are subject to a continuous definite work of grace. Folks who do not yet have the Holy Spirit abiding in them, need not seek the second blessing; they have not yet received the first.

      Though all saved people have the Spirit in them, they are not all filled with him. They have all of him, but he does not have all of them. The need is not that they shall seek the Spirit, but that they shall surrender to the Spirit already in them so that he will fill them with his presence and power. His is an expansive presence, and he fills so much of us, and only so much of us, as is not filled with something else. If the Spirit is to fill us, we must empty our lives of self and the world. It is only of men that have made a full surrender to the Spirit that we are to make deacons.

      3. And of wisdom. Deacons are to be men of discernment and skill. The wisdom here spoken of is not human Wisdom, but that wisdom which is from above (James. 1:5; 3:17). "Sanctified common sense" is a misnomer. There is no such thing. Common sense is the ordinary thinking of man. And the ordinary thinking of man is the thinking of the carnal mind. And the carnal mind is enmity against God (Romans 8:7). Therefore, one might as well talk about sanctified enmity against God as to talk about sanctified common sense. God's estimate of man's sense will be found in James. 3:15. Much harm results from trying to carry on God's business after the manner of secular business. James. 1:5 tells how to secure the wisdom necessary to a deacon. We turn now to 1 Timothy 3:8-12 and note the qualifications aid down there. We find there that deacons must be -

      4. Grave. This means that they are to be dignified, serious minded, and free from levity and frivolity. It does not mean that they are to be grouchy and long-faced.

      5. Not double-tongued. This means that deacons are not to be men who talk one way to one person and another way to another. Such a deacon will be an endless source of shame to the church. Deacons are to be men whose word can be trusted.

      6. Not given to much wine. In New Testament times alcoholic drinks had not been abused as they have today; therefore they were not absolutely forbidden. Only the abuse of them was prohibited. But today they have been the subject of such abuse that our government has rightfully prohibited the manufacture, sale or transportation of intoxicating liquors for beverage purposes. It is well, therefore, in obedience to the spirit of the law, that Christians, and especially deacons and ministers, wholly abstain from even wine except for sacred or medical purposes.

      7. Not greedy of filthy lucre. A deacon must not be a man that has an inordinate love of money. If he is, he will likely misappropriate funds entrusted to him. Great has been the shame brought upon churches because men greedy of filthy lucre have been entrusted with church funds.

      8. Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. Deacons should be sound in the faith. They are not official teachers, but they will have much opportunity for private witnessing. Nothing but a sound Baptist should ever be elected as a deacon. One that believes that one church is just as good as another, or one who is the least tamed with Modernism or Arminianism, or one that denies any fundamental Bible truth is not fit to be a deacon. A man who will leave his service and go off to a service of another denomination is not fit to be a deacon. The deacon is to hold the faith in a pure conscience - one that has been purged by the blood of Christ and renewed by the Holy Spirit. Such a conscience will be free from gross selfishness and hypocrisy and will be regulated by devotion and sincerety [sic].

      9. Let these also first be proved. As with bishops, so with deacons, we should lay hands suddenly or hastily on no man (1 Timothy 5:22). And like a bishop, a deacon should not be a novice, or one newly come to the faith (1 Timothy 3 :6). We should not elect men as deacons just to honor them, nor because they are influential or wealthy; but only when they have proved themselves to be in possession of the scriptural qualifications.

      10. Their wives must be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. It is contended by some that female deacons are here referred to. And while this view may seem to have some things in its favor; yet we consider it far from being established. Let us note the usual arguments offered as proof that the reference here is to female deacons : (1) It is affirmed that such an office existed in some New Testament churches at least, since Phebe is called a "diakonos" (Romans 16:1). But "diakonos" appears in many other places where the office of deacon is not signified. See 2 Corinthians 2:6; 11:22; Ephesians 3:7; 6:21; Colossians 1:7, 23, 25; 1 Thessalonians 3:2; 1 Timothy 4:6, where "diakonos" is translated by "minister." This word and its cognate forms appear in many other places similar to the above also. In view of this, we certainly have a very slight foundation for the office of a deaconess because "diakonos" is once applied to a woman. It is quite evident that Phebe, out of her strength and her own wealth, had been "a succor of many" and of the Apostle Paul also (Romans16 :1); therefore she was called a "diakonos" or one that ministered to the needs of others. There is no proof that she served officially in this capacity. (2) It is supposed also that the women mentioned in Philippians 4:3 were deaconesses. But there is less evidence here for the office than there is in the former case. Not the slightest hint is given here that these women were deaconesses. There were some women who assisted Christ in his work; wonder if they were deaconesses too? (3) It is argued that such an office existed in post-apostolic churches. But many things existed in most of the post-apostolic churches that were not of divine institution. (4) It is said that "the Greek has not 'their wives,' but simply women, without article or pronoun, and it is, therefore, properly rendered, not 'their wives,' but women, and, in this context, female deacons" (H. H. Harvey). It is true that the Greek does not expressly say "their wives," and, while the word for "wives" is a word which may mean simply "women," yet it is the only word in the New Testament for wives, and is therefore, the word that would be used to denote wives. The possessive pronoun is easily understood since deacons are under discussion. As for the omission of the article, that is not significant as there is no article before deacons in verse 8. And when we read in the succeeding verse that the deacon is to be husband of one wife, it adds force to the view that wives of deacons are intended in verse 11. (5) It is argued that there is no reason for defining the qualifications of deacons' wives while nothing is said of the wives of bishops. The reason for this is that the nature of the deacon's work often, doubtless, called for the active assistance of his wife in a Much greater way than the bishop's work called for the assistance of his wife. Thus the deacon's wife must not be a slanderer. If she is, she will stir up much trouble. She thus needs also to be grave, sober, and faithful in all things. Gossipping women can stir up more trouble in churches than most anything. It is a fine thing when a woman finds so much to do in looking after her own business that she does not have time to meddle in the business of other people. We are only a wicked sinner saved by grace, but we have never been able to see what pleasure and profit folks get out of trying to attend to other folk's business. Folks who do this usually neglect their own.

      11. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their own children and their own houses well. A deacon must have but one living wife. He must have his children in subjection. One of the greatest practical needs of this day is a revival of old-time parental authority. The lax authority, if authority indeed it can be called, in the average Christian home today is a shame and a disgrace. No wonder the younger generation are conspicuous for their absence at church services in most places. They are reared to have their own way, and it is not according to their own way to go to church. Most children today, for the most part, mind only when they please. The deacon is to RULE his children and not to let his children rule him. And the deacon is to be head of his house, for the Scripture not only specifies that he is to rule his children, but also his whole house. The divine plan is for the husband to be the head of the home. When the man is a Christian, and this is recognized, the home will be the happiest of homes. If the man is not a Christian and the woman is, then she will have to make the best of it. If she was a Christian when she married him, she violated the word of God (1 Corinthians 7:39), and must, make the best of the chastisement that she will receive. It has been said, and quite truly, if a woman marries a child of the devil, she can expect to have trouble with her father-in-law.

      Verse 13 gives us the temporal recompense of a deacon. If he serves well as a deacon, he purchases a good degree and great boldness in the faith. The New Testament pictures the deaconship as an exalted office. It has been much degraded through our failure to respect the qualifications laid down in the Scripture and by our altering the work of deacons to suit our own notions.


[From: T. P. Simmons, editor, The Baptist Examiner, July 1, 1932, pp. 6-8. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall]

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