Paul and Timothy, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons. (Philippians 1:1)
Last Sunday, Don Fender and Daniel Byers were installed as deacons at BCBC. It is a noble undertaking.
Deacon, diakonia, means service at the table, and is mentioned 34 times in the New Testament. Don and Daniel join a long and distinguished group of men of the church in a service that has evolved since the early days of the Apostles in Jerusalem.
Here’s some history
Early on, the apostles, in dealing with the benevolence ministry problem at the Jerusalem church, told the congregation…
It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. Therefore, brethren, seek out from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. Acts 6:2-4 (NKJV)
“Business” in this sense according to the Greek “chreia” means “need”.
Derek Gentle, writing in The Baptist Start Page, traces the history of Deacons. From the 2nd through 5th centuries, deacons were the real agents of charity provided through the church. They served the needs of widows and orphans. They visited the martyrs in prison and helped to train new converts. They watched over the church members, reporting to the bishop any who seemed about to fall away. They also attempted to restore the excommunicated.
Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. (Acts 20:28)
The Middle Ages
For a long period from the 5th to the 15th century, the Office of Deacon changed and less resembled the New Testament model. Medieval deacons assumed an increasingly ecclesiastical role. It became a path to advance to the priesthood.
This again changed during the reformation, which started in the 16th century. Martin Luther stated, “The diaconate is the ministry, not of reading the Gospel or the Epistle, as is the present practice, but of distributing the church’s aid to the poor.”
John Calvin agreed, “Scripture specifically designates as deacons those whom the church has appointed to distribute alms and take care of the poor, and serve as stewards of the common chest for the poor.”
Similarly, in the early 1600’s, John Smyth, an early Baptist minister in England and a defender of the principle of religious liberty, and Thomas Helwys, one of the founders, of General Baptist denomination, saw the primary role of deacons as carrying out the benevolence ministry of the church.
An expanding role again
By the latter half of the 18th century however, the activities of deacons expanded this time to include serving as business managers for the church in order to relieve the pastor from the secular concerns of the church.
In 1846, R. B. C. Howell, an early Tennessee Baptist and editor, referred to deacons as, “A board of directors, and have charge of the all the secular affairs in the kingdom of Christ.”
By the 1950’s and intensifying in the 1970’s this role for deacons was rejected. In 1991 Jerry Songer, of the Chattanooga Central Baptist Church, wrote that, “The board of deacons and business manager concept is no longer a viable model”
Baptists today agree that God established the deacon position to provide servant leadership for churches. According to the Bible, the office of deacon is an honor and a blessing.
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 (1 Timothy 3:13).
We thank Don Fender and Daniel Byers for their service.
Thanks to Doug Van Wirt for the photo.