She Was A Deacon!

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 Rom 16:1 I commend to you Phoebe, our sister, who is a servant {literally, deacon} of the assembly that is at Cenchreae,
 2 that you receive her in the Lord, in a way worthy of the saints, and that you assist her in whatever matter she may need from you, for she herself also has been a helper of many, and of my own self.  (World English Bible)

Phoebe....literally a deacon in the church at Cenchrea....and suddenly Houston....Living Word.....we have a problem. Living Word Lutheran is operating on an unbiblical basis when it comes to the office of deacon in this church, and we need to do something about it.

As the overseer of this flock, the buck stops with me, and I must take full responsibility for this error on my part and ask your forgiveness. I further ask your forbearance as we seek to rectify the situation. Women have far more rights and responsibilities in the church than they have been given at Living Word and we need to rectify the situation as soon as possible.

A couple of weeks ago, I preached on the role of women in the worship service. I talked about the necessity of women being silent in the church and what that should look like. The command was written in the perfect tense and that means that it is good for all time. It was not just a ďcultural thingĒ as some would have you believe.  It is forever to be a demonstration of Godís created order.

By way of review and perhaps filling in a few other details we note that the context of the command to keep silent in church must always be kept to the worship service itself. And I believe the public worship service begins with the formal use of an invocation and it ends with the benediction. The Apostle Paul writing to Corinthians said:

1 Corinthians 5:4  ďIn the name of our Lord Jesus Christ when you are gathered together, along with my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ.Ē

Those words signify that the formal worship service is on, and in my mind, they have the same power as the words invoked at baptism. Something special is taking place here, the name of Jesus has been invoked and there are biblical guidelines to follow!

 Most churches do not begin their services that way anymore, but I think it is wise, in light of the biblical restrictions placed on participation in the formal worship. Now, the benediction certainly isnít a biblical requirement for ending, but ďya gotta end it sometimeĒ why not with a benedictive blessing?

This frees the woman up for all manner of speaking before the service begins and after it is finished. However, whenever she speaks, she must always respect her position of submission to the man. This is made evident by Paulís admonition to remain veiled when praying or prophesying in public given in 1 Cor. 11:2-16

That is another sermon in itself.

When Paul says women are not permitted to speak in church,   1Co 14:34 Let your women keep silent in the churches, for they are not permitted to speak; but they are to be submissive, as the law also says.

The word speak in context here, means to preach. They are not to preach in divine worship services. Itís not that they arenít capable, itís just a reflection of Godís created order. That order is to be reflected in two the family, and in the formal worship service.   

So why canít women read Scripture and lead in prayer in church? Thatís not preaching is it? (No! But sometimes it can lead to it...better to err on the side of safety and leave those duties to the spiritual overseers (the elders) 1 Timothy is also very instructive in this matter.  The Ryrie Study Bible says that 1 Timothy chapter 2 deals with ďinstruction concerning worship.Ē

In this section Paul instructs the church to engage in intercessory prayer, and in 1 Tim. 2:8 he says, ďTherefore I desire that the men pray everywhere (in every congregation) lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.Ē

The men are to do the intercessory prayer in a church worship service.  As far as the reading of Scripture in the public worship service, some say that  1Ti 4:13 gives that responsibility to men alone:
1 Ti 4:13 Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching, to teaching.

However the meaning of that verse only tells us that Timothy was to be watchful over all the churches under his care as to what Scripture was being read and expounded on, lest someone pick and choose the Scriptures for their own agenda (Such as the Judaizers were apt to do) This is why many churches follow a pericope or lectionary (prescribed readings that provide balance to the teachings of Scripture)

I grant that there is no prohibition in Scripture against the reading of Scripture in a public worship service by a woman. However it would do well for us to look at the traditions of the early church and especially the two offices of elder and deacon before we give the green light to such an endeavor.

As I was researching this message, I was amazed to find out that in the post-apostolic church and in the church of the Middle Ages the service of and validity of women theologians was recognized.

Charito taught at Justin Martyrís school at Rome. Melania founded a monastery in Jerusalem. Theodosia led a circle of students of theology in Constantinople......and there were many more,........Itís a given that they practiced this under the spiritual authority of men.

BUT one area was consistently reserved for men, that is, the office of teaching and preaching Godís Word and administering Godís means of grace in the worship service. And Godís means of grace include, Baptism, The Lordís Supper, and The Word of God.

Reading Godís Word in the worship service therefore, since it is a means of grace,  is a duty  reserved for elders and the office of elder is reserved for men.  Every qualification for bishop or elder in Scripture indicates that the office is to be held by men.

Not much is mentioned about the responsibilities of the offices of elder and deacon in Scripture, but we can glean some things from the early church regarding these two distinct offices. We know they are distinct because of:

 Php 1:1 Paul and Timothy, bondservants of Jesus Christ, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons:

Three distinct greetings here from Paul and Timothy. (1) Saints - all believers) (2) Bishops - spiritual overseers, and (3) deacons - official workers in the church.  We should all know about saints....they are believers.

Bishop, or overseer, or elder are all used interchangeably in Scripture for the office of pastor/teacher. These are the men who are to ďgive themselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word.

 Ac 6:4 "but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

But what about deacons? The first deacons of the church were appointed out of necessity by the Apostles, the elders, of the church at Jerusalem and we read about it in the Book of Acts. A murmuring had arisen amongst the people because certain widows were being neglected in the daily distribution of food. We pick it up in Acts 6:2

  Ac 6:2 Then the twelve summoned the multitude of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable that we should leave the word of God and serve tables. (In other words, we need some help here in the day to day operation of the church!)

 3 "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; (the first deacons were men, but as we have seen, women deacons were added later on)

 4 "but we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word." (This is what the elders or the spiritual leaders of the church are to do!
They are to prayerfully meditate on Godís Word and then minister it (apply it) to the lives of those in the congregation)

 5 And the saying pleased the whole multitude. And they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch, (Please notice. Who did the choosing? The whole multitude! Which most certainly included women. What does that tell you about the right of women to vote in the church. I think we need to correct that flaw in our constitution as soon as possible)

 6 whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid hands on them.
(This indicates that the office of deacon was definitely an established office of the church)

7 Then the word of God spread, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests were obedient to the faith. (Note the results when the ďcalledĒ elders are left to the duty of prayer and ministry of the Word with a minimum of distractions!  The number of disciples multiplied greatly!)

The office of deacon was established for the purpose of providing servants, helpers, and workers and ministers in the sense of ministering to physical needs, for the congregation. It was open to both men and women. Deacons ďenabledĒ the elders to devote their time to spiritual matters.

The office of deacon must never be allowed to dictate spiritual matters, that is reserved for the overseers or elders and great care must be taken to preserve that distinction. Something that must be carefully considered in the revamping of the Constitution.

As we look at the requirements for the office of deacon, we get further proof that the office is open to women. In 1 Tim. 3:8-13 we read:

 1Ti 3:8 Deacons in like manner must be grave, not double-tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;
 9 holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.
 10 And let these also first be proved; then let them serve as deacons, if they be blameless.

In theses verses Paul is talking about the male deacons. Then in verse 11 we see the qualifications for women deacons:

 11 Women (deacons) in like manner (they must meet the same requirements as the men) must be grave, not slanderers, temperate, faithful in all things.

Then Paul shifts back to the male deacons and their responsibilities in their home. Perhaps indicating that they need to serve in their own house well, before seeking to serve in another.  

 12 Let deacons be husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.
He concludes with the great spiritual benefits of serving as a deacon.

 13 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.

 Again, here at Living Word, we have made no provision for women to hold this office in our church and this is wrong and it needs to be corrected.

As for the rest of church is not divinely commanded or forbidden in Scripture. It is manís idea, so the church is free to create, adopt, or adapt any form of organization and structure. Of course it should be designed in the best way to proclaim the Gospel and administer Godís means of grace.

And it should always keep in mind that the elders have the last say in the matter of spiritual issues.

Since the Scriptures are silent on the matter of church government, the door is wide open to all to serve! Itís okay to have a woman treasurer, chairman, secretary, etc. Itís wise to select people of character and giftedness to serve in such or women! But there are no biblical requirements laid down for such offices.

Biblical requirements are only in force for the offices of elder and deacon.

In closing, let me say this. All Christians are redeemed by Jesus Christ and sanctified by the Holy Spirit. Men and women have the same status before God through Christ. In baptism, we are all clothed with the garment of Christís perfect righteousness.

But, as Lenski says, ďthis does not involve some sort of physical mutation. A Jew is still a Jew, a Greek is still a Greek, free men and slaves kept their social position, men and women keep their sex. The Gospel changes nothing in the domain of this world and this natural life.Ē

In other words, even though we all share the blessings of Christís redemption equally and fully. The things establish by God at creation (His creation order) are not set aside by Christ, and so the spiritual overseeing of a family and the spiritual overseeing of the church is left to the man.  But all other functions are wide open to women and men.

May God raise up men who are qualified elders in His church. May He raise up qualified men and women as deacons in His church, and may we all work together within His guidelines to strengthen the faith of the saints, and to bring the gospel of Jesus Christ to a dying world.