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Sermons & Study Guides

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government Pt. 7 - Deacons.

James Dodson

Form Of Presbyterial Church-Government 


The scripture doth hold out deacons as distinct officers in the church[1].

Whose  office  is  perpetual[2].    To  whose  office  it  belongs  not  to  preach  the  word,  or administer the sacraments, but to take special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor[3].

Question 1.—Does the Scripture hold out deacons as distinct officers in the church?

Answer.—Yes. 1 Tim. 3:8.  That they are a distinct ordinance of Jesus Christ appears: 1.)  They  are  found  in  Christ’s  catalog  of  church  officers distinct  from  all  other  officers extraordinary   and   ordinary—helps,   1   Cor.   12:28.      The   Greek   word ἀντιλήμψεις [antilempseis]  properly  signifies  “to  lay  hold  of  as  in  taking  up  some  burden  or  weight.”  Metaphorically, it is here used for deacons whose office is to help and succor the poor and the  sick,  to  lend  them  an  hand  to  lift  them  up,  &c.    And  this  office  is  here  distinctly  laid down  from  all  other  ordinary  and  extraordinary  offices  in  the  text.    2.)  They  are distinguished  from  all  ordinary  officers  counted  by  Paul, Rom.  12:7,  8.    Under prophecy there  is  the teacher  and pastor;  under ministry,  the ruling  elder  and  the deacon.    The deacon  seems  to  be  described  by  two  words,  setting  down  the  two  principal  acts  of  his office, viz. relief of the poor and needy (“he that gives,” ὁ μεταδιδοὺς [ho metadidous]—share), and succor of the sick and afflicted (“he that shows mercy,” ὁ ἐλεῶν [ho eleon]—to  show  mercy).    3.)  This  officer  was  so  well  known  and  usual in  the  primitive  churches, that when the Apostle writes to the church at Phillipi, he directs his epistle not only to the saints  but  to  the  officers,  Phil.  1:1.    4.)  Deacons  have  a  divine  approbation  and commendation  in  Scripture,  if  they  execute  their  deacon’s  office  well,  1  Tim.  3:13.    5.) Because  the  complaint  of  the  widows  was  that  they  were  neglected  in  the  daily ministration,   or   deaconry,   Acts   6:1   (τῇ   διακονίᾳ   τῇ   καθημερινῇ [te   diakonia   te kathemerine]); therefore, this text must insinuate a deaconry or office of deacon.

Question 2.—Is this office perpetual?

Answer.—Yes.  Acts  6:1-4.    This  appears  from  the  following  considerations:  1.)  The apostle  lists  qualifications  laid  down  by  Christ  for  deacons,  1  Tim.  3:8-15;  but  since  the qualifications are not extraordinary, they belong to those offices which are ordinary and so perpetual.    2.)  The  manner  of  the  deacon’s  vocation  or calling  unto  their  office  is delineated in such a way that it shows this office to be ordinary and therefore perpetual.  a.)  They  must  be  chosen  by  the  church,  Acts  6:3-5.    b.)  They must  first  be  proved  and tried by the officers of the church before they  may officiate as deacons, 1 Tim. 3:10.  c.) They  must  be  appointed  by  the  officers  of  the  church  to their  office  and  set  apart  with prayer,  Acts  6:3,  6.    3.)  Because  the  occasion  of  their  first  institution  of  this  office,  Acts 6:1-3, and because the churches are never likely to lack poor and afflicted persons, there will be constant or perpetual need of this office, John 12:8.

Question  3.—Does it  belong  not  to  his  office  to  preach  the  word,  or  administer  the sacraments?

Answer.—Yes.  Acts  6:1-4.    Thus  do  the  Papists,  Prelates  and  others err  maintaining that deacons are to preach the Word and administer the sacraments.  Their first argument is that those who were chosen to be deacons were those full of the Holy Ghost, Acts 6:5, but, say they, this is not required in a man to distribute money.  They are confuted in this for the following reasons: 1.) To distribute in a civil and natural way requires not a man full of  the  Holy  Ghost,  but  to distribute  in  simplicity,  and  with  the  grace  of  heavenly cheerfulness,  Rom.  12:8;  and  with  the  qualities  of  a  complete  deacon,  1  Tim.  3:12-14; requires the Holy Ghost.  2.) The Holy Ghost is required for sanctification, as well as for gifts  of  preaching,  Luke  1:15;  Matt.  10:20.    3.)  Stephen  did  no  more  in  Acts  7,  in  his apology,  than  any  witnesses  of  Christ  convened  before  rulers  may  do,  1  Pet.  3:15;  yea, though it were a woman who may yet not preach, 1 Cor. 14:34.  4.) It is true that Philip did preach and baptize, Acts 8:5, 6, 12; however, Philip was an evangelist, Acts 21:8.

Their  next  argument  is  that  deacons  must  hold  the  mystery  of  the  faith,  therefore  he must  be  able  to  preach.    However,  this  does  not  follow.    1.)  Paul  clearly  differences  the deacon from the preaching elder, 1 Tim. 3:1, 2, 12, 13; and requires that the elder be apt to teach, but not the deacon.  2.) The purpose of selecting deacons was to relieve those called to preach of the ministration of tables, Acts 6:1-4; thereby we see these two offices to be differenced.  3.) Whoever may by his office teach, by his office may administer the sacraments,  for  Christ  gives  one  and  the  same  royal  patent  and  commission  for  both, Matt.  28:19; 1  Cor.  11:23;  John  4:1,  2; but  that  teaching  or  ministry  of  the  word pertains not to the deacon is clear, Acts 6:4; therefore, the deacon may not teach or preach.

Again,  they  do  assert  by  argument  that  because  the  deacon  must  govern  his  own house well, he must be able to govern the house of God.  But note, the deacon is never called  a  ruler;  nor  is  the  same  dignity  of  ruling  the  church  put  upon  the  deacon,  1  Tim. 3:12, which is put upon the overseer, 1 Tim. 3:5.

Lastly, they make much of the deacon being ordained by the laying on of hands, Acts 6:6.  However, 1.) There is need that deacons be tried; they must be found blameless in conversation, not apt to teach, which is required in a teacher, 1 Tim. 3:10; for those who must work the work of the deacon, Rom. 12:8, must be approved and tried blameless, lest they  defraud  the  poor.    2.)  It  is  not  said  that  deacons were  ordained with  fasting  and prayer, as the elders chosen in every church, Acts 13:3; 14:23; but simply that they prayed and laid hands on them, Acts 6:6.

Question  4.—Does it  rather  belong to  his  office  to  take  special  care  in  distributing  to  the necessities of the poor?

Answer.—Yes.  Acts  6:1-4.    Deacons  have  by  Scripture  their  work  and  employment appointed  them,  with  directions  how  to  discharge  it.   This  is  evident  because:  1.)  Their work  is διακονεῖν  τραπέζαις [diakonein  trapedzais],  “to  minister  to  tables,  serve  tables” (hence the name deacon is derived).  2.) Their work is to give or distribute alms, “he who gives,” Rom. 12:8.  3.) Their work is to show mercy on the distressed, sick, afflicted, &c., called  therefore, “he  that  shows  mercy,”  Rom.  12:8.   4.)  Their  work is  to  be  an help, not hindrance  in  the  church,  called helps,  1  Cor.  12:28.    Directions  are  revealed  how  they must discharge their work and office.  They must attend and wait upon their ministration, Rom.  12:7.    As  the  ruling  elders  serve  the  spiritual  ministration,  so  the  deacons  the temporal.    5.)  They  must  give  with  singleness  and  show  mercy  with  cheerfulness,  Rom. 12:8.

[1] Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8.

[2] 1 Tim. 3:8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15; Acts 6:1,2,3,4.

[3] Acts 6:1,2,3,4.