committed to historic Baptist & Reformed beliefs









      Concerning this order of ecclesiastical officers, I propose to consider,

      I propose to consider

      I. The Qualifications Requisite for the Office of Church Deacon.

      Of these we have a summary account given by the Apostle in the third chapter of the first Epistle to Timothy, in connection with the third verse of the sixth chapter of Acts.

      "Likewise must the deacons 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 also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless. Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things. Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" (1Ti 3:8-13).

      "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" (Ac 6:3).

      Concerning the qualifications of persons for the deacon's office, as exhibited in these passages, a highly respectable writer observes: [79]

      1st. "That they should be men of dignified gravity, in their speech and gesture; and not light, frothy, and vain. The deacons must be grave.

      2d. They must be sincere. Not double-tongued.

      3d. Temperate. Not given to much wine.

      4th. Free from avarice. Not greedy of filthy lucre.

      5th. Acquainted with the doctrines of the gospel. Holding the mysteries of the faith, that is, the gospel.

      6th. Honestly attached to the doctrines of the gospel. Holding the mysteries of the faith in, or with, a pure conscience.

      7th. Of a fair Christian reputation. Brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report; that is, well reported of, or having an unblemished and irreproachable character."

      They ought to be men of distinguished piety, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom.

      8th. "They ought to be proved antecedently to their introduction into office. And let these first be proved.

      An ancient, perhaps the original, mode was this:

      The name of the candidate was published in a Christian assembly, that if those who belonged to the church had anything to object to his character they might have an opportunity of declaring it to the church.

      But as no mode is described by the Apostles, and as the end or object of the trial is a thorough knowledge of the candidate's character, whatever will accomplish this end in a satisfactory manner is undoubtedly sufficient. The accomplishment of the end is, however, always to be insisted on.

      9th. They are required to be the husbands of one wife.

      In an age when polygamy was so common this direction was important. From this, however, we are not to conclude that it is necessary for a deacon to be a married man; but if married, he should not have more than one wife at the same time. [80]

      10th. They ought to be such as rule well their own families. Ruling their children and their own houses well."

      The eleventh verse in the text quoted from the third chapter of First Timothy prescribes the qualifications of the deacons' wives. "Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things" [1Ti 3:11], or, as some think the original should be translated, "Let the women likewise be grace." This is applicable to believing women in general, but it may refer particularly to the women who belonged to the order called deaconesses.

      That there existed such an order, or rank, in the primitive church the following verses of Scripture seem to favor, and render highly probable:

      "I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea" (Ro 16:1).

      It is generally allowed that Phoebe, who is here expressly called diakonon, a deaconess, or servant of the church, was one of this order.

      Such, it is reasonable to think, were also Euodias and Syntyche, two pious women in the church at Philippi, that had "labored with" the Apostle "in the gospel"; "and who were assistants to others also who had assisted him" (Php 4:2,3).

      And such, likewise, in all probability, were Philip's four daughters (Ac 21:9).

      Concerning these stated servants of the church the Apostle judged it expedient to enumerate several requisite qualifications for the office which they sustained. They are required to be

      1st. Grave. Of a solemn and dignified behavior.

      2d. Not slanderers. No false accusers of the brethren, and others, which is devilish.

      3d. Sober. Prudent and watchful, so some render the word.

      4th. Faithful in all things.

      Deaconesses were servants of the church, and as such they must be faithful in serving the church in all things belonging to their [81] office; especially in dispensing the bounty of the church, in visiting the sick, in comforting mourners, in assisting female candidates for baptism, in procuring places of entertainment for female strangers at public meetings, and in performing all those religious offices for the female part of the church which could not with propriety be performed by men, which was particularly their original business and duty.

      Howbeit, as the Scripture is entirely silent in respect to the original institution of the office of deaconess, and also as to any explicit rules about it, it can only be defended on grounds of expediency, and not as a matter of divine appointment.

      The office of deacon, however, now under consideration is without controversy plainly marked in Scripture as divinely instituted. And those, says the Apostle, "that have used the office of a deacon well," who have faithfully discharged their duty, "purchase to themselves a good degree" of gifts and graces, or of further advancement in a higher office, "and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus" [1Ti 3:13]. This some explain as importing an ability to teach, and others as denoting the exercise of prevailing faith in prayer before God. In either sense the passage gives great encouragement to the diligent and faithful performance of the deacon's office. I now go on to consider,

      II. The Manner of Appointing Them to Their Office.

      This we may learn from the history of the transaction relative to the subject recorded in the sixth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles, from the first to the sixth verse inclusive.

      "And in those days, when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews, because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration. Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples 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 [82] report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and ministry of the word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte of Antioch: Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them" (Ac 6:1-6).

      This passage contains both the original institution of this order of officers and the manner of their appointment to office.

      Now, as it respects the manner of appointing deacons, I observe that they ought to be chosen by a vote of the church, either by the suffrage of all the members of the church, both males and females, or by the male members only. The right of female suffrage in the election of ecclesiastical officers ought to be subject at all times to the majority of the church.

      This, I think, is in perfect conformity with the manner of choosing the deacons recorded in the passage as above cited. The Apostles, we are informed, summoned "the multitude of the disciples" together, and then directed them to choose seven men of specified qualifications, whom they might appoint over this business [Ac 6:2,3]. "And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they [the multitude of the disciples, or the church] chose Stephen, a man full of faith," &c. [Ac 6:5].

      Thus, it is sufficiently evident that the original manner in which deacons were chosen was by the vote and suffrage of the whole church.

      After the election was ended, and the choice determined, the Apostles publicly recognized and ratified the same by prayer and imposition of hands. This rite was generally used by the Apostles, and others in their age, to convey the same extraordinary or miraculous gifts. But as this power has confessedly ceased with the [83] apostolic age, and by consequence no one is now capable of conveying such gifts through the use of this rite, I judge myself authorized to give it as my opinion that this is no "authoritative example of the manner in which deacons are to be introduced into every church."

      "This office was instituted when the church was numerous; wherefore, the number of seven in the first church is not a rule and example binding on all future churches; but such a number are to be chosen, and may be changed, increased, or diminished as the exigency of the church requires."

      The deacons' destination is only to that particular church to which they belong. Their term of office is optional with the church.

      III. Their Official Work.

      Deacon signifies a servant, Diener. They may be what the Apostle calls elsewhere helps; in German, Helfer (1Co 12:28), inasmuch as they are helpful to the elders, church, and poor.

      Their work and business is,

      1. Not to preach the gospel or administer the ordinances, as baptism and the Lord's Supper. Philip, indeed, one of the seven, did both preach and baptize (Ac 6:5 8:5-40); but then he did both by virtue of his office as an evangelist (Ac 21:8).

      2. Not to rule in the church. We read of ruling elders, but never of ruling deacons.

      3. Their principal work and business is to serve tables (Ac 6:2). As,

      1st. The Lord's table.

      It is their duty to provide the elements of bread and wine, and make all the necessary preparations whenever the Lord's Supper is to be administered.

      2d. The Minister's table.

      It belongs to them to take care that a proper provision be made for the subsistence of those who labor among them "in the ministry [84] of the word" [Ac 6:4], or who preach the gospel. "For," as says the Apostle, "the Lord hath ordained that they which preach the gospel should live of the gospel" [1Co 9:4]. But in order that such may "live of the gospel," or be supported by the church or churches among whom they fulfill the work of the gospel ministry, it is necessary that some person or persons should collect the bounty of the church and communicate it to them for that purpose.

      This duty properly belongs to the deacon's office.

      They should also provide suitable places of lodgings or entertainment for strangers, and for brethren from a distance when traveling or attending meetings of religious worship.

      3d. The Poor's table.

      In the primitive churches there seems to have existed something like a regular system of contribution, designed solely to provide relief for their poor and suffering members.

      "Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given order to the churches of Galatia, even so do ye. Upon the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store, as God hath prospered him" (1Co 16:1,2).

      "They would that we should remember the poor; the same which I was always forward to do" [Ga 2:10].

      From these and other texts of Scripture we plainly see that the Apostles and first Christian were full of alms-deeds. St. Paul was not only forward himself to remember the poor, but he felt anxious to have others remember and assist them also. He, therefore, gave particular direction to the church at Corinth, as he had previously done to the churches of Galatia, to take up weekly collections for the saints who were poor and necessitous. And on these occasions every one was required to contribute in proportion as "God had prospered him" [1Co 16:2].

      This laudable and Christian duty ought with similar care to be observed by all Christian churches at the present time. In every church a charitable fund ought to be begun, and to be continually [85] supplied by weekly contributions. Out of this fund the indigent and necessitous widows, orphans, and others ought to be assisted and relieved. "Of this fund the deacons ought to be the standing almoners, as being by the authority of God designated to this office."

      Thus we have considered the official work and duties incumbent on church deacons, namely:

      First. To provide the proper elements for the celebration of the Lord's supper.

      Second. To procure, or make up, a competent support for the elder or elders who devote themselves to the service of the church. And,

      Third. To make proper distribution of the alms of the church to its suffering members.

      Thus they are to receive, lay out, and distribute the stock of the church to its proper uses. These are the purposes for which their office was established. And whilst they are employed in directing and managing the temporal affairs of the church, it is the proper business of the elders to preside over and direct its spiritual concerns. This doctrine was exhibited and illustrated under its proper head in the last chapter. [86]

The Reformed Reader Home Page 

Copyright 1999, The Reformed Reader, All Rights Reserved