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Elder John A. Keen, Jr.

Danville, Indiana

"ÖIt 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 wordÖ." This passage of Scripture in the middle of Acts 6:1-7 is commonly accepted to be the institution of the office of Deacon in the Lordís church and it represents nearly all of the guidance given in the Bible regarding this office. Yet, this passage, when combined with the absence of Scripture on this subject, reveals much about the limits of this office.

The first thing we notice, regarding the office of Deacon in the above passage, is that it is not associated with ministering the Word of God to the church membership. In fact, the very reason the office was instituted was because the Apostles were being drawn away from ministering the Word of God by other duties within the church. The office of Deacon was not instituted to help minister the Word of God. Instead, it was instituted to provide the Apostles more time to meet this responsibility.

This is not intended to infer that deacons have no responsibility to proclaim the Word of God. In fact, the passage of Scripture following the ordination of deacons, Acts 6:8-15 & Acts 7:1-60, is a wonderful account of the Deacon Stephen who was deeply immersed in Godís Word and taking advantage of the opportunity to preach it to others. It must be noted, however, that we do not see Stephen ministering Godís Word to church members. Instead, we see the Deacon Stephen declaring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to an unsaved world. This example is repeated with the Deacon Philip in the next passage of Scripture, Acts 8:1-40. Philip was one of the seven Deacons ordained in the church at Jerusalem, however in Acts 8:1 it is noted that, after the death of Stephen, the Jerusalem church was scattered (except for the Apostles). It is a logical conclusion that the duties entrusted to Philip and the other deacons were no longer needed, now that this church had been scattered. Philip, and the other scattered church members (see Acts 8:4), are now applying their gifts and talents to preaching the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Philip first preaches in Samaria and then in Gaza to the Ethiopian Eunuch. Again, we do not see Philip ministering the Word of God to church members in his capacity as a deacon.

While the deacons should be men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and of wisdom, they are not responsible to God for the spiritual oversight of the church congregation where they belong. This responsibility falls squarely upon the shoulders of the Elders in each church (Acts 20:17-38). Particularly insightful in this area are the instructions provided by the Lord, through the Apostle Peter, to Elders in II Peter 5:1-4. Here Peter reminds the readers that he too is an elder. This authenticates that it is the Elders, and not just Apostles, who are responsible for feeding the flock of God. Not only are Elders to oversee the flock, but God has stated that He will hold them accountable for this oversight (Hebrews 13:7 & 17). While the Deacons may minister to the church membership in other areas, their primary focus is upon freeing up their pastors (Elders) so that they can provide spiritual leadership from the Word of God to the church members. An examination of the qualifications for Bishops and Deacons in I Timothy 3:1-13 reinforces this conclusion. Verse 5, regarding the office of Bishop (Elder) directly commits the Bishop to "take care of the church of God." There is no such inference to the office of Deacon.

Some may wonder what the responsibility of the deacon should be now that we no longer have widows being neglected in the daily ministration (Acts 6:1). Though this may have been the specific example cited, the problem was that other church needs were taking the Apostles (Elders) away from ministering the Word of God. This is still a problem today. Deacons do not need a specific list of responsibilities. Instead, they need to see their main purpose as keeping their Elders in the Word of God. Deacons should be challenged to take on any duty that would free-up the Elders to meet this responsibility.

Though the statements made in this article may appear to be straight forward and universally understood, it is this writerís opinion that they are not universally practiced. The Lordís churches suffer when the Biblical order is not the custom. Frequently deacons see themselves as the spiritual guardians of their church. They consider it their responsibility to ensure that the preaching and teaching of Godís Word in their church is sound and that only sound practices are maintained. Then church members are discouraged that the deacons "run the church." This was never Godís intention according to our Scriptural text in Acts 6.

Deacons do not bear the blame alone for churches leaving the example of Scripture in this area. They share it with the Elders and with the congregations they both serve. Some Elders have relinquished their leadership responsibility and because of personal gain, the avoidance of confrontation or just general weakness, they have failed to address this issue. Also, congregations have placed the deacons in the position of ministering Godís Word. They have seen preachers come and go and often the only stability (and talent) the church has is in the office of Deacon. Again, this is not the example supported by Acts 6.

We need a rededication to the "Old Path" found in Acts. Only by faith in God and trusting the model He left for us, can we expect to reap the type of blessings that we see in Acts 6:7, "And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly;Ö ."