Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
October 23, 1958
NUMBER 25, PAGE 9-11b

The Deacons

James A. Allen, Nashville, Tennessee

The church, or congregation, is God's Benevolent Organization, just as it is God's Missionary Society. It is the perfection of organization to care for the fatherless and widows, and the poor, just as it is the perfection of organization to preach the gospel. Under the management and oversight of the elders, the deacons supervise the labors of the whole congregation in the care of the poor.

"Deacon," from the Greek word, diakonos, a servant or minister.

Liddell and Scott's Greek-English Lexicon defines diakonos: a servant, waiting man: a messenger. 2. a minister of the church, esp. a deacon.

In every New Testament church, established and set in order by the apostles, men with the qualifications prescribed by the Holy Spirit were appointed elders or overseers, and other men with the qualifications prescribed by the Spirit were appointed deacons. With overseers to watch for the souls of every member of the congregation, "to feed the church of the Lord, which he purchased with his own blood," and to train them in personal living and in doing the work of the Lord and with the deacons to serve in material things, such as distributing to the poor, feeding the hungry, and clothing the naked, every church was thoroughly furnished to do all good works. The work of the elders in personally looking after the spiritual interests of the fatherless and widows was even more important than the work of the deacons in looking after their physical needs. To turn the care of the fatherless and widows over to a human institution, and to another set of officers, unknown to the New Testament, as anybody can easily see, is to rob them of the individual and .personal care of the elders and of the individual and personal attention of the deacons.

"Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, to all the saints in Christ Jesus that are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ." (Phil. 1:1,2.) Such was the salutation of Paul to the church he and Silas established at Philippi. He sent no greeting to "the minister" of the church at Philippi, because it had no "minister." No New Testament church had a "minister," but each did its own work and every brother was taught and trained to participate personally in the public meetings of the church. The apostolic order of things is the antithesis of the modern "minister system," by which men today, instead of "doing the work of an evangelist," on the other hand, draw fat salaries, with a manse furnished free, for an easy life of pastorating.

"With the bishops and deacons." The apostles appointed bishops and deacons in every church. When they first established a church, they did not appoint them immediately. An infant church, just started by people obeying the gospel, must grow and develop before it can fully function. To this end, when the apostles preached in a new place, and thus established a church, they taught them the ordinances of divine service, started them off properly, and then left, giving them an opportunity to grow and develop by doing their own work. If, after establishing a new church, an apostle had sat down to "pastorate" over the new church, as modern "ministers" do, the New Testament churches never would or could have evangelized the whole world in thirty-five years. Instead, they left them to themselves, to conduct their worship and service and to do their work and to thus develop the ability and strength that can only come from practice.

At the proper time inspired men returned for a visit with the newly established church, to confirm and strengthen them. "And after some days Paul said unto Barnabas, Let us return now and visit the brethren in every city wherein we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they fare." (Acts 15:36.)

"Deacons in like manner must 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 serve as deacons; if they be blameless. Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things. Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well. For they that have served well as deacons gain to themselves a good standing, and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." (1 Tim. 3:8-13.)

"Deacons in like manner." Deacons, as elders, have an active, vital function to perform in the church. The elders are the overseers, and, as such, the deacons work under their supervision. Deacons cannot be deacons merely nominally, or in name only, but must be deacons in fact and act. While the elders oversee and feed the flock, and are personally responsible for the spiritual condition of every man and woman, boy and girl, in the congregation, the office of the deacons is to be over and to superintend and manage the work of the church in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, feeding, clothing, and caring for the fatherless and widows. Working "that which is good toward all men, and especially toward them that are of the household of the faith." "And the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables. Look ye out therefore, brethren, from among you seven men of good report, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business." (Acts 6:2,3.)

"Must be grave." Deserving serious consideration of thought; important; weighty, of serious or sedate and dignified aspect of demeanor. Not a frivolous, trivial, light, funny man, who has no intelligent grasp of the momentous importance of the work of the church of God. Not a man who seeks to be a deacon because of a frivolous, fleshly ambition to gain notoriety or prominence, but who has a calm, dignified and weighty conception of the responsibilities of the work of deacons.

"Not double-tongued." Not characterized by duplicity of speech, tricky, deceitful, talking two ways, talking one way to one man, and another way to another, or behind his back. But a sincere, honorable or honest man. Not a man who cannot command the confidence of those with whom he has to do, hence unfit and unworthy to be in charge of the financial resources of the church in distributing to the poor.

"Not given to much wine." Not given to or a slave to an appetite for wine, but sober, temperate, in control of self. Not craving wine, nor giving way to a lust for it. Any one given to much wine is undependable, untrustworthy, and unfit to engage in the work of the Lord.

"Not greedy of filthy lucre." Not a lover of money, not avaricious, grasping, not merchandising the work of the Lord. Honest and upright in handling money, keeping financial accounts straight, not stealing nor embezzling. Not close, covetous, greedy, miserly, begrudgingly, sordid or stingy, but bountiful, free, generous, liberal and munificent. Deacons have a grave responsibility in handling the finances of the church. While it would be wrong for them to financially assist spongers, and deadbeats, those who will not work, yet they must be generous and liberal in assisting those whom their investigations show to be worthy.

"Holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience." Deacons must be diligent students of the Word of God. "Full of the Spirit and of wisdom," was one of the qualifications named by the apostles in commanding the appointment of the first deacons. A man full of the Spirit is full of the Word through which the Spirit operates. "Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly." (Col. 3:16.) This can be true only of a man with a well-worn Bible. The mystery of the faith is revealed through Christ and comes to us through His apostles. Deacons must be sound in the faith, holding sincerely to the gospel, with a pure conscience, a conscience free from mixture or contact with that which weakens, impairs, pollutes or corrupts. Deacons "holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" can never be willing to set aside God's order and turn over the work of caring for orphans and widows that God commits to them through apostolic appointment to a humanly invented institution or organization.

"And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless." Appointing a man a deacon cannot be the result of wire-pulling or church politics or of a "minister" or a faction seeking votes to control. Deacons are appointed to serve in doing a specific work, which is to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for orphans and widows, and to attend to everything of such nature, under the oversight of the elders or overseers. They cannot be appointed until they have been proved, examined, tested, and shown to be fitted for such work. To appoint a man to be a deacon who has no talent for such work, or who has no conception of what the work of a deacon is, would be unscriptural and sinful. Before a man can be appointed a deacon, he must have shown himself adapted to and fitted for such work.

"Women in like manner must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things." Women have a great work to do in the church. Both in evangelizing and in visiting the poor and unfortunate, they are peculiarly talented and adapted to do certain work better than men can. "Yea, I beseech thee also, true yokefellow, help these women, for they labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and the rest of my fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life." (Phil. 4:3.) In entering into the homes of the distressed and needy, in many ways the women of the church can render a service for which the men are not adapted or fitted. The deacons should utilize the services of women with these qualifications.

"Let deacons be husbands of one wife." A deacon, like an elder, must be a married man. Marriage gives a man weight and standing he cannot have without it. Except for an emergency, or for devotion to some great undertaking that makes it impossible for a man to have a home, every man ought to marry and be the head of a family.

"Ruling their children and their own houses well." If a man cannot handle and manage his own children, and his own house, he is unfitted and thus shows he is not qualified to deal with and handle the many people with whom he will be thrown into contact while managing the distribution of the funds of the church to the poor. Indeed, a man who does not rule his children, bringing them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and who does not manage his own house well, should not be permitted to take the lead in any work of the church. His record is against him and brings reproach on the church.

"For they that have served well as deacons." It is a wonderful thing for a church to have deacons "that serve well." The church of God is the greatest organization on earth. It has real officers that count. that actually function, that actually have a work to do. Instead of its elders merely being members of a board, whose only work is to vote on the proposals of the small oligarchy in control, their work is to personally and individually oversee the work of every member of the church, to be acquainted with and to watch over the welfare of each member. Dividing this work among themselves, the overseers find it a work of faith and a labor of love. Nor are the deacons mere figureheads. A deacon in name only is not "serving well as a deacon." The deacons Must personally and individually be acquainted with every one in the congregation in need of assistance. They carry assistance to where it is needed. There is no red tape, no politicking to get a favored few "admitted." Their work is in their own community, among people with whom they are personally acquainted. No human institution can do the work of the deacons.

Because the deacons of a church may be deacons in name only and not do their work in caring for the poor, and for orphans and widows, is no more a reason for setting aside God's order and presumptuously and wickedly substituting a huge human institution, wholly unknown to the New Testament, to do the work of the deacons of the thousands of congregations that send their money to it, than the failure of the overseers to teach the church to do evangelistic work, is a reason for presumptuously and wickedly changing God's order and substituting a missionary society to preach the gospel. An orphan home stands on exactly the same ground a missionary society stands on. A man cannot condemn one and approve the other.

"Gain to themselves a good standing." Are rooted and grounded in the faith. They are sound in the faith and stand for the truth. Being real men and standing on their own feet and on their own convictions, they cannot be swept away with a popular breeze, nor coddled into becoming soft and unsound and led into minimizing the apostolic order of things.

"And great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus." The first Christian martyr was one of the first deacons the apostles appointed. A deacon is a preacher, as every Christian is a preacher. As he goes over the neighborhood, looking after the poor and needy, he talks, preaches to all with whom he comes in contact. Stephen boldly contended for the faith against a bitter opposition that cost him his life. Real deacons gain great boldness in teaching the truth. Men who are soft and effeminate, and not rooted and grounded in the faith, and in the sound doctrine, cannot be deacons. Every church should strive to have deacons in fact and act. If such were the case, the huge money-hungry institutions, that are incapable of even scratching the surface of the work of the deacons of the thousands of churches whose work they pretend to take over, would be sent back to the Man of Sin, from whence they came.