I read the following in a book this week:
“After the Netherlands fell to Germany in 1940, deacons in the Dutch Reformed church rose up to care for the politically oppressed, supplying food and providing secret refuge.
Realizing what was happening, the Germans decreed that the office of deacon should be eliminated.
Responding in a General Synod on July 1941, the Dutch believers resolves, “whoever touches the diaconate interferes with what Christ has ordained as the task of the church....whoever lays hands on diakonia lays hands on worship!”
The Germans backed down.”
Nazis wanted to outlaw deacons!
What was it about those deacons that scared the Nazis?
The church being the church by caring for those around the was a threat to the agenda of an oppressive regime.
When the deacons led the efforts to care for others,
We have been moving through this series on Biblical Church polity or Ecclesiology.
We began by considering what is a church, last week we consider what are elders.
This week we will learn from the Scriptures about deacons.
Like we did last week, We want to look at a few models that exist in our current culture and then consider what the biblical model is.
What are some models out there?
Let’s take a look
Do you remember this from last week?
Some churches are structured with a single pastor/elder, and then they have their deacon board.
Sometimes the deacon board actually functions more like an elder board, sometimes the deacon board are a group of yes men for the pastor, it can function in a variety of ways.
We discussed some of the issues with this last week.
Often churches that have this structure and the deacons function more like elders will have a third office called trustees who often und up doing what deacons might do in other churches.
I hope the obvious problem here is that trustees is not a biblical office.
In some churches, the office of deacon is viewed as stepping stone on the way to becoming an elder or pastor.
The office of deacon is not a calling in itself, but just the first step toward another office you really were shooting for all along, kind of like how “youth pastor” is often seen as a stepping stone to “senior pastor” but notice, there is a never a “mid-life pastor” they go right from youth to senior.
I haven’t figured that one out yet.
But the point is this: are deacons just men who are on their way to something else? Do deacons ever become elders?
Is that okay?
Is that the purpose of the office of deacon, to be nothing but a pipeline for elders?
Some people think of deacons as the handy men.
You may have heard it said that the deacons, they take care of the physical things, while the elders take care of the spiritual things.
I do think there is an element of truth to this idea, but I believe its starting at the wrong place.
Just because someone is good with their hands or can manage money well doesn’t mean that they should be a deacon.
“Can fix a ac unit” is not one of the biblical qualifications.
We may end up in a place where there is a deacon of facilities, but we must not reduce the office of deacon to the handyman club, or the financial team.
These are some ways that some churches view deacons.
Before we get into what I believe is the biblical approach, there is one more misconception to shoot down.
What I am about to show you is compatible with the last two ideas, but it has more to do with the actual structure of how things run.
Some churches are structured in such a way that they are really borrowing from our American governmental structure for their polity.
You end up with essentially three branches of power, checks and balances, with the elders and deacons and the pastor each vying for control, but all the while the congregation has ultimate authority based on how they vote.
In this model you might have elders over spiritual things and deacon over the physical, but the two offices are equal in standing.
While the elders might technically have the spiritual authority, the deacons hold the functional power because they have control of the budget.
This is a not a biblical approach to church governance.
We don’t see anything near to this anywhere in the Scriptures.
What do we see?
First, let me remind us what we discussed last week about Elders
Every elder is a pastor and every pastor is an elder.
We believe a plurality of elders is preferred, but there is only one office of overseer/elder/pastor.
There may be a staff elder and lay elders, a preaching pastor and lay pastors, but they all are to fulfill the same basic function of guarding the flock, and feeding and caring for the sheep.
They are to equip the saints for the work of the minstry.
Where do deacons come in?
I believe that the biblical model looks something like this.
The elders are tasked with the spiritual oversight of the church that includes all the things I just mentioned a moment ago.
But from time to time, or perhaps even every day, there are a variety of things that may come into the life of a church that threaten to take a pastor away from his shepherding responsibilities.
Deacons help by stepping in and taking care of that thing so that the elders are free to shepherd the flock.
I’m about to make the slide really messy with a bunch of arrows.
You end up with something like this
The elders are to feed the flock and equip them for the work of the ministry by giving attention to the ministry of the word.
They are to be example to the flock regarding what that looks like, so the the yellow arrows up top make it clear that the elders don’t get to avoid do the work of the ministry, only that their primary goal is that of quipping others.
The congregation are to be active in the work of the minsitry, and that includes ministering to others within the body through the use of their spiritual gifts, but also reaching out to the community with the Gospel.
As mentioned before, there are times when situations arise either on temporary basis or as a regular aspect of church life, and it may lead the elders away from giving time to the ministry of t he word.
The deacons are to step up and address that need in order to keep the elders free to shepherd.
That’s the model I want us to consider.
Is it biblical?
Let’s find out.
If you would, open your bible to Acts chapter 6.
While you’re turning there, I do have to make a few more preliminary comments.
First, we need to understand that the word for “Deacon” comes from a greek word family that literally means service or ministry.
Just to show this to you in a visible form:
the greek word diakonia refers to service or ministry.
ministering to others.
Helping someone change a tire, that is a service to them.
Giving someone their first bible.
Praying with someone as they go through a difficult time.
That is minsitry.
For the person performing the task, there is the noun diakonos.
This is the servant or the minister, or Deacon.
And then there is the action of serving or ministering.
These words are obviously all related words.
The struggle with seeking to understand deacons is that the word for the work of deacons shows up all.
the place in the NT.
The word is a very general word that refers to all kinds of ministry and service.
But in a small group of texts, the middle word is used in a technical way to refer to the office of Deacon.
When it comes to the office of Deacon, we really don’t have a ton of information in NT.
There is lots on Edlers....but very little on Deacons.
In fact, there are really only two passages where it is abundantly clear that the technical usage of “deacon” to refer to the office of deacon is what is meant....and Acts 6 isn’t one of them.
How’s that for a segue?
Most bible commentators don’t believe that Acts 6 is the beginning of the office of deacon.
There are many reasons for that.
However, most of those same commentators also argue that there is some form of a model presented here and we can learn a lot from this passage that is informative for the office of deacon, even if deacons aren’t technically in this passage.
As I have sought to study this out, I find myself in agreement with that approach.
Even though whats happening in this passage isn’t the beginning of the office of deacon, there are principles here that can inform how the office of deacon should function.
With all that stated, lets read the text and develop some conclusions.