Have Deacons Become Obsolete?
Weldon E. Warnock
Bowling Green, Kentucky
The office of a deacon is a special office in the church. Paul wrote to the Philippians, "Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishops and deacons" (Phil. 1: 1). Deacons, along with bishops, stand out distinctly among the saints. Men become deacons in a congregation by selection and appointment of the brethren. They are not picked by the elders, nor by the preacher, but by the church. They are selected by the church to serve on behalf of the church.
The qualifications are specifically set forth in I Tim. 3:8-13 and Acts 6:3. The qualifications show that it is an office that is to be "used." "For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree" (I Tim. 3:13). There is work to be done by deacons which exclusively pertains to that office. This work requires "wisdom" (Acts 6:3).
Acts, chapter 6, shows implicitly that the work of deacons is of a material nature in the church. This is the area of their jurisdiction. They are to function in the area of benevolence and other physical matters in the church. It is their prerogative to make the decisions as to HOW all physical matters are going to be executed. The elders determine WHO and WHAT and the deacons decide HOW. If deacons have no right to make decisions in their work, then why the qualification of "wisdom?"
Brother H.E. Phillips wrote, "But we have said that it is not always a matter of human ability in performing the work, but a matter of divine authority. The work particularly assigned to the office of a deacon cannot be scripturally done with authority by one who is not a deacon; otherwise the qualifications and office amount to nothing. Why consider certain qualifications and appointment of certain men to a work that any and all can do? It is a matter of divine authority." (Scriptural Elders and Deacons, page 256.) Sometimes committees take over the work that deacons ought to do. Sometimes elders do the work that deacons should do. Other times, preachers assume some of the deacon's work. Consequently, deacons are left without any functions. They are mere figureheads-men with a title, but no work.
Brethren believe that it is unscriptural for a church to exist without deacons when there are qualified men to appoint and the church has elders. Yet, several do not seem to be too concerned that the office of deacon has become sort of a vestigial office in the church. We worry and fret to make sure that we get qualified men in the office, and then after we appoint the qualified men, they become "honorary" office-holders, devoid of responsibilities.
Some brethren are afraid that if deacons are given too much rein, they will be taking over the church. Certainly they have no right to rule the church. Elders do this. But they do have the right to take over the execution of physical matters. God gave them this right. And for deacons to need supervision in every detail of their work by the elders is as out of place as a husband, who is the head of his wife, to constantly supervise his wife in her home duties. The wife has rights and privileges of her own, although she is to be subordinate to her husband. Likewise, the deacons have certain privileges of their own, although they are under the elders.
Deacons could have meetings themselves occasionally to plan and coordinate their functions in the church. These duties are many. Brother Phillips writes, "The administration to the physical needs of the church goes further than just to the looking after widows, orphans and poor. Constant service is needed at every worship service. Ushers are needed. The preparation of the building and all elements of the worship, such as the emblems for the Lord's Supper, the distribution of song books, distribution of tracts, etc., must be done. This is directly the work of the deacons. The preparation of the building-heating or ventilating - must be done. The general care of the grounds and buildings comes directly in line with the nature of the work of the deacons. Preparation for baptizing believers is also a part of the work of deacons." (Ibid. p. 272). The preceding duties by Brother Phillips by no means exhaust the list of things that deacons are to do.
Congregations need to free the hands of their deacons. Let them function as God appointed. If they are not going to be anything more than errand boys, then the qualifications for deacons are meaningless. Any member can run an errand. Let elders be primarily involved in the spiritual affairs of the church, and let deacons take care of the physical things. The church needs elders who will shepherd, deacons who will serve and preachers who will preach the Word. This is God's plan. It will work!
TRUTH MAGAZINE, XV: 14, pp. 8-9