Qualifications for Deacons 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Justin Deeter May 15, 2016

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1 Qualifications for Deacons 1 Timothy 3:8-13 Justin Deeter May 15, 2016 Introduction Sola Scriptura. That was one of the five mottos of the protestant reformation. Sola Scriptura is a Latin phrase, meaning Scripture alone. The protestant church was convinced that when it came to church practice and the Christian life, the Scriptures were not just A authority; they were THE authority. This was in direct contradiction to the Catholic church that said Scripture and church tradition exist as equal authorities. Over the years as I ve studied the Reformation, and the development of our own denomination, I m terribly concerned that Baptist churches are looking more and more catholic. Now, I don t mean we have a Pope, and I have no intention of wearing a funny looking robe. So how are many Baptist churches looking more and more like the Catholic church? This is the reason: tradition is placed on par with Scripture and sadly often surpasses it in authority. We are far more concerned with preserving things as they have been than reading the Scriptures and doing what they say. We enslave ourselves to our traditions, and neglect the sound teaching of the Word of God. Though the Protestant Reformation began almost five hundred years ago, each generation of Christians must go back to the fount of God s word. With the Scriptures as the authority, we must always be reformed by the word of God. Everything we do and have done should be examined and probed under the light of God s word. That which is not in step with the Scriptures either in our doctrine, ministry methods, and yes, even our church government needs to be changed. Who cares what we ve done in the past? We must be ruthlessly committed to God and his word. Now I m convinced I have a bit of reformer in my blood. Part of this is the way God has wired me. I ve grown up in Southern Baptist churches all my life. My father was and still is a pastor of a Southern Baptist church. I attended a Southern Baptist college for my undergraduate work, and I attended a Southern Baptist seminary for my masters work and now my 1

2 doctoral work. I say all that to say, my loyalty and devotion to my own denomination runs deep. I m incredibly thankful for my Southern Baptist heritage, but we are not always right. It wasn t until I went to college that I began to read the Scriptures with fresh eyes. Then, I began to evaluate the traditions that I had grown up with. In that time of growth, my appreciation for my own heritage only grew. I saw so much within Southern Baptist life that matched exactly what I had read about in Scripture. Yet at the same time I saw areas in my own denomination that needed to be reformed and brought in line with the authority of the Scriptures. So when God called me into pastoral ministry, it was a call to be a church reformer. I don t have some big box plan for quick church growth. I have this Bible in my hand, and that s more than enough. One of the big themes I hope to cast over my entire ministry career, as long as the Lord gives me breath, is to help churches open up the Bible and do what it says. You see the Scriptures are not just authoritative in our lives, but sufficient in what they teach when it comes to faith and practice. That even includes church government. I say all that, because I want to lay my cards on the table when it comes to an area of our church that I think is in need of great reform, and that s the area of church government. The typical southern Baptist model for church government has its roots not in the scripture but it mid-twentieth century business practices. This is why I think 1 Timothy is such a timely and important book for churches today, including our own. Paul tells us his purpose of writing this letter in 3:15, so that you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. Paul writes so that we may know how the household of God should be structured and organized for maximum effectiveness in the world. So I m not proposing any new initiatives or reforms in our church yet. But one day we must put into practice what God is teaching us in books like 1 Timothy and even bring our church government in line with the Scriptures. Perhaps God will lead us to do that in 2017 or But, I do want us to pause and listen to what God s word has to say on the matter, and be prepared that it might go against many of our preconceived ideas. May God gives us grace to see the text with fresh eyes. Elders, Deacons, and Church Leadership So before we launch into the qualifications of deacons, I want to paint a big picture of what the Bible teaches on church government and leadership within the church. I believe what the Bible teaches is an 2

3 elder-led, deacon served, congregationalism. Let me try to explain what each of those phrases mean. Let s start with that word congregationalism. This is the idea that each local church should be independent and autonomous. This truth is essential to our DNA as Baptists. So as Forest Hills Baptist Church, there is no governing entity outside of us that tells us how to do church. There is no ruling body of bishops or popes that tell us what to do or what to believe. There is no presbytery that can impose their will on us as a church. As Forest Hills Baptist Church we are free and independent to live our lives under the authority of God s word. So as an independent church, we have chosen to align ourselves with the Southern Baptist Convention. The Southern Baptist Convention exists as a partnership of other Baptist churches who pool their resources together for mission s work. So though we are incredibly thankful for the Southern Baptist Convention, we are not forced to remain in the Southern Baptist Convention. We as an independent church who has chosen to align with other Baptist churches and partner with them. In the same manner, we could choose (if we wanted to) to pull out from the denomination. In addition, this means that each local church decides its membership and its leaders. So when we call a pastor to our church we can call whomever we want. We don t have to go to denomination leaders and get their approval. We are a congregational and Baptist church, and that s a very good thing, in line with the Scriptural vision we see throughout the New Testament. Congregationalism means that the local church members possess the authority over their local church. Let s talk about that next phrase: elder led. You will remember from last week when we talked about overseers how the New Testament uses three words interchangeably for the position of pastor. Elder, overseer, and pastor are all used to describe the same church office. The office of elder is always referenced in the plural in the New Testament. The New Testament reveals that each church had a team of pastors, called elders, who taught and led the church as a team. The elders are godly men that the church chooses to call into leadership in the church. The congregation delegates much of their authority to this group of called and qualified godly men. This elder team should be made up of not only paid or staff elders (like myself, Grant, or Tim), but also lay or volunteer elders. The elders then make decisions, lead the church, and shepherd the souls of the members as a team of equals. The Senior pastor then is not at the top of the totem pole of the church, 3

4 but rather he is one pastor among many, sharing the pastoral authority among a team of godly pastors. Let s talk about that third phrase: deacon served. So the New Testament gives us two leadership positions in the church: overseer and deacon. Deacon s do not possess any sort of spiritual authority in the church, rather they are the servants of the church. Biblically, the deacons were never a decision making body, but come alongside the apostles and the elders to assist in the practical needs of ministry, so that the elders could devote themselves to the teaching of the word and prayer. We see the creation of the office in Acts 6, where seven were called to assist in the care of the widows. This New Testament understanding of deacon is very different than even the way the Forest Hills deacons operate. In many churches, including our own, the deacons function like pseudo-elders exercising spiritual authority and leadership in the church. Yet, that was never their function biblically. Instead the deacons were more like committee leaders. They took care of the practical needs of the church. They counted the money. They prepared for the ordinances. They managed the building. You get the point. The elders cared for the spiritual needs of the flock, exercising leadership and spiritual authority over the members. The deacons then come along side, underneath the authority of the elders, to help care for the temporal, physical needs of the church. So what we ve done is confuse the biblical leadership offices of the church. Elders/Overseers/pastors were to be a team of godly, qualified men to teach, lead, and shepherd the church. Instead, we ve given the responsibility of the elders to the deacons. Instead of mobilizing the deacons to care for the practical needs of the flock, we ve created this confusing and (dare I say) unbiblical category of committees to do that work. Notice when there is an issue in the local church, Paul never says you better call a committee to handle that! No, he instructs the elders to handle such issues, utilizing the servant oriented deacons as helpers. Instead of following what the Scriptures say on biblical leadership and authority in the church, we obscure godly authority and leadership in the church and replace it with bureaucracy and politics. We need a better way forward, a biblical way forward. I believe that way forward is a model that many Southern Baptist Churches are beginning to move towards an elder-led, deacon served, congregationalism 4

5 But now, let s turn our attention to the passage at hand looking specifically at the qualifications for deacons. The Qualifications for Deacons Paul gives us some character qualifications for those who wish to serve as deacons in the church. Similar to the qualifications for overseers, these qualifications are not exhaustive, but painting a picture of the type of person qualified for the office of deacon. Dignified. The person must live their life in a way pleasing and honorable to Christ. They must have a reputation of godliness, a life worthy of the Gospel of Christ. Not Double-Tongued. A deacon must be a truth speaker. There is no speaking of scathing words behind someone s back. No back room politicking. No gossips. Deacons are honest people, speaking the truth to all. Not Addicted to Much Wine. Deacons must flee from drunkenness, not controlled by alcohol or any other substance. Not Greedy for Dishonest Gain. They do not serve in order to push their own cause or agenda. They serve with nothing to gain. Hold the Faith with a Clear Conscience. A deacon must whole heartedly affirm the Christian faith. The Gospel of Jesus must be a firm conviction, a driving motivator for all that they do. They should be committed to the church s teachings and hold to the confession of the church without reservation. Their conscience must be cleared. Tested. If someone wishes to serve as a deacon, they must be tested first. If a member of a church is not serving the body, what makes us think that person will do so as a deacon? In addition, the life of a deacon must be examined before he is put into the office. This means it s the responsibility of the church to probe into lives of deacon candidates to examine their character, their walk with Christ, and the spiritual health of their family. After this testing, if a man is not found blameless, then he should not be a deacon. Selecting church officers, including the office of deacon must never become a popularity vote. As with all church leaders, we must set the bar high for the qualifications, because the Scriptures tell us to do so. Family. Verse 12 also gives us instructions to examine a man s home, just like for the office of overseer. A deacon must be devoted to his wife, managing 5

6 his household well. If a man cannot serve his own family, how will he serve the church? If he cannot manage the needs his own household, how will he manage the needs of the body of Christ? Can There Be Female Deacons or Deaconesses? Now, verse eleven is a debated verse. At the heart of the debate is this question: how should you translate the word wife. In the Greek the word is γυναῖκας. That greek word can be translated two different ways. It could mean women or wives. If the word is translated women, then Paul is giving a list of qualifications for women who serve as deaconesses. If you translate that word as wives then this would be an additional list of qualifications for not only for the deacon, but his wife. So can women serve as a deaconess? Well, I think the answer is maybe. If you are like me, having grown up in the Southern Baptist church, we typically associated Baptist churches with female deacons as liberal. And honestly, they usually are. I m about as far away from theological liberalism as they come, so why would I say maybe to female deacons. A few reasons. First, I tend to favor the translation of the word as women instead of wives. I think Paul is giving us a separate list of qualifications for a deaconess. For example, much of the qualifications are very similar outlined for male deacons. In addition, a big question comes to my mind and it s this. Why would Paul not give any qualifications for an overseer s wife, but gives some for a deacon s wife? Why would Paul hold a higher standard for the office of deacon then that of overseer? Based off of the context, I believe that Paul is addressing specific qualifications for females to serve as a deaconess. Second, there is a reference to a female deacon at the end of the book of Romans in 16:1. He commends to the church our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae. The word servant is the same word for deacon. It appears Paul is referring to her as a deaconess. Third, the primary factor in the whole question of deaconess is how the role of deacon is defined constitutionally by the local church. As I ve alluded to already, many Baptist churches confuse the role of elders and deacons. In most Baptist churches deacons wield spiritual authority over the church. If the deacon office is defined in that way, then no, women should not serve as deacons because it would violate 1 Timothy 2:12: I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man. And, as the deacon role is 6

7 currently defined at Forest Hills, women should not serve as deacons. Yet, if we define the role of deacon as one of service, in a similar way to our committee chairs, then yes, I think we have biblical grounds to have female servants, also known as deaconesses. Fourth, if you construct your church government strictly from the New Testament, eliminating the concept of committees all together, and you implement a plurality of elders and redefine the roll of deacon to one strictly of service while only allowing men to serve, then you fail to utilize the gifts, skills, leadership, and ability of godly women to serve the church. The women of Forest Hills serve our church greatly in the present. In fact they are largely doing deacon type work. They take flowers to the shut ins. They assist in the counting of the offering. They prepare meals for families when a church member dies. They decorate our building. They help manage our library. The list goes on and on. As I understand the biblical roll of deacon, it s not an authoritative office, but one of service. We must give praise and thanks to the godly women in our church who do deacon type work in our church. Women are an incredible gift to the church and we have many wonderful women in our church who help as servant leaders. So in summary, If we ever decide in the future to restructure our church government to bring these offices more in line with their biblical definition, then I am open to the concept of having deaconesses. Yet, if the office of deacon continues to be defined as an office of spiritual authority, a pseudoelder team, then I would be very much against having female deacons, due to the firm word of 1 Timothy 2 on women and authority in the local church. But we must say, there is an element of Christian liberty when it comes to how we put these things into practice. Each local church must decide for itself how they interpret these passages and put them into practice. You are welcome to disagree with me, again I m not an authority, but God s word is. But I want to push us to structure the leadership positions and the government of our church to conform to the pattern of scripture, not to force the Scriptures to conform to the pattern of our church. The Reward of a Deacon Now, though talking about church government might not be the most interesting topic you ve ever heard, but it is incredibly important. With the remainder of our time I want to shift away from the subject of church government and look at the reward of service, particularly as a deacon. I do 7

8 this in hopes to encourage everyone of you to service in the church. Many of you (whether you re in the office of deacon or not) serve our church valiantly. Service in the church is a great reward, particularly for those who hold the office of deacon. We are currently in the process of selecting our deacons for the next year as a church. You, as a church, have nominated several men in our church, and the current deacons will begin examining and testing the nominations for the office. I pray that God would bring us godly men this next year into our deacon body, as we lead the way forward at Forest Hills. Serving as a deacon or in any other capacity in the church is a great sacrifice. It s an extra part-time job with no pay. If you are going to serve as a deacon at Forest Hills, it will demand a great deal of time and you carry a great weight of responsibility. But Paul says this, For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus. Serving as a deacon in the local church brings you two great rewards. First, a good standing in the church. We as a church must express our profound thankfulness to those who serve as deacons here at Forest Hills. As you serve the church, you will grow in favor and honor among God s people. I must pause and give thanks to God for the deacons at Forest Hills. We have an incredible group of men who work together to serve this body. I love hearing stories from these men of God who go above and beyond to serve the needs of this church. Whether its making an unexpected visit to a member, helping a widow in our church with yardwork, or staying late into the night washing dishes in the kitchen, the servant-heartedness of these men humble me. You who serve well in the church, we give you our thanks. You who put in long hours with little thanks. You who labor for the good of others, we thank you now. No one else may know what you do, but take heart, your Father who is in heaven sees that which is in secret, and will reward his saints accordingly. Second, Paul says that you receive assurance of your faith. As you lay down your life for the good of the church, giving of your time and energy for those around you, it provides confidence in your salvation. Your service is evidence that the Lord Jesus Christ is at work in your life, sanctifying you, growing you, and using you for his glory. 8

9 Final Thoughts Deacons are servants of the church, giving their lives for the people of the church. Those who seek greatness in the kingdom seek service to others. Jesus redefines what it means to be great in the Gospels. He says Rather, let the greatest among you become as the youngest, and the leader as one who serves. (Luke 22:26, ESV). Indeed, this is the posture every Christian should have, but particularly those of overseer and deacon. The Bible instructs us to be servant leaders. We deny ourselves for the good of those around us. Paul gives instructions to the entire church of Philippi when he writes, Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Philippians 2:3 4, ESV) Pastors, Deacons, Church members, may we all strive in our Christian life for this type of service. May we put our own needs on the backburner for the good of the whole. May we follow in the pattern of Christ, who took the form of a servant, went to the cross for our sins, and died in our place to bring us to God. As Christ has so served you, may we serve one another. 9

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