By H.E. Phillips
How are deacons selected and appointed in the local church? Are they self-appointed? Are they ordained with the laying on of hands in a special ceremony? Are they elected by majority vote? Do they grow into the office? This is the subject assigned to me in this special issue on the work of deacons.
Deacons are listed with the bishops, servants (ministers) and saints in Philippi 1:1: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi, with the bishop and deacons.”
While we do not have detailed directions for the step by step procedure in selecting and ordaining elders and deacons, we do have principles in the New Testament that govern the procedure of putting elders and deacons in the office (work) of the local church. Ignoring what the New Testament says about this matter will usually cause internal problems and will make it virtually impossible for elders and deacons to function after they begin their work. We must know what we are to do and then know how we must do it.
What the Church Is to Do
Neither elders nor deacons are self-appointed. It would be a disaster for any congregation to accept just any man who decides he should be a deacon and appoints himself to that work. The requirements in the word of God would be worthless if the church could not “look ye out among you” those who meet the pattern given by the Holy Spirit.
It is important to understand the meaning of select and appoint. The appointment of elders and deacons is the beginning of an agreement between them and the church. It is the point at which the elders and deacons begin their work. Such a beginning is necessary to know when one is an elder or deacon, and when the church has an obligation to them in that capacity.
1. The Selection. The New Testament gave the criterion for a man to be a deacon, and the church where they are to serve is to select out those who have the qualifications. The men must be what God requires of them before they can be selected, otherwise the disciples could ignore the requirements and select whomsoever they pleased.
The selection is simply the choosing out from the number those who have the requirements given by Christ. The qualifications determine whether a man may be appointed to be a deacon, and the church simply looks out from their number those who have the qualifications. They are not deacons at this point.
Voting usually means the majority rule, which is scripturally wrong. The kingdom is not a democracy, it is a monarchy, with Christ as the only King, Ruler and Lawmaker. Someone has said, “The first attempt at voting in scriptural matters marks the beginning of division: for and against.” Voting for elders and deacons, with the majority vote winning the office, is not scriptural from any point of view.
When the multitude of disciples did what the apostles told them to do, they chose those seven who were qualified who were “set before the apostles” to be appointed “over this business” (Acts 6:5,3).
2. The Appointment. The term “appoint” signifies a subsequent action to the selection of those to be deacons. Of Paul and Barnabas the Holy Spirit said, “And when they had ordained them elders in every church. . . ” (Acts 14:23). Ordain here means “to elect by stretching out the hand” (Young’s Analytical Concordance).
Titus was instructed by Paul to “ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee” (Titus 1:5). Thayer says the word “ordain” here means “to appoint one to administer an office.” The apostles appointed the deacons in Jerusalem who were selected in Acts 6:3. This was something the apostles did following the selecting by the multitude of disciples – the church. This is what the church is to do in appointing deacons.
How Is the Church to Choose and Appoint Deacons?
The selection of those to be deacons is not done by majority vote election. This method automatically makes the winners deacons. Others put the responsibility upon the preacher to select and appoint the deacons. This is not what Acts 6:3 teaches.
Some believe that deacons “grow” into the office. They began doing the work and one day they are recognized as deacons. Various views of this method are put forward, but none are scriptural.
There is not a detailed procedure, point for point, given in the New Testament for selecting and appointing deacons. There are three steps necessary in getting men into the office of deacon:
1. Qualifications determined. The first thing to be done is to determine exactly what essentials the men must have because selection depends entirely upon whether or not the men have them. A lot of teaching and studying of the New Testament should be given to this subject by the congregation.
2. The Selection. The Holy Spirit said: “Look ye out among you” (Acts 6:3). This places the responsibility upon the disciples (church). Whatever method of selecting out the qualified men that is decently and orderly, and fully respecting the Scriptures, may be used. One method may be to have each member of the congregation make a list of the names of those believed to be qualified and give the lists to two or three respected brethren of the congregation to put together for all to consider. Any orderly method of doing this will be successful. To stop here would be “majority vote rule.” After the names of those who have been suggested are given, each member should have the opportunity to voice any scriptural objection against any name. If any objection is scripturally valid, that person should not be appointed, no matter how many want him; he is not scripturally qualified. The selection depends upon the qualifications. If any man is contentious about being a deacon even though valid scriptural objections are established against him, he is confirming his unfitness for the office.
3. The Appointing. Titus was left in Crete to “ordain” elders in every city (Tit. 1:5). Paul and Barnabas “appointed” elders in every church where they had preached (Acts 14:23). Deacons are appointed in the same way. The evangelist may appoint those who are qualified and have been selected by the brethren. This appointing is simply the designating them to the work. The method of doing this may vary from place to place, but it must conform to God’s word.
Some time should be allowed between the selection and the appointment to allow for consideration by the church. Someone may know of a scriptural reason why one should not be appointed. After a sufficient time has elapsed after the selection, the preacher may appoint them in a very solemn manner to impress the seriousness of the responsibility of both the deacons and the church. No secret balloting should be used because too many evil things can be covered up.
Every responsible and faithful member of the church should know when one is qualified to be a deacon. If one is taught to act without bias and prejudice, and to try to please God rather than self, there will be little or no difficulty in the matter of selecting and appointing deacons to the work.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 22, pp. 686-687
November 16, 1989