The Magnificent 7: A Case for a Manly Diaconate

David Burchard Doctrine Leave a Comment

Claim: Only godly, competent men are qualified for the office of deacon in the local church.

Reason 1: This accords with the created order.

In 1 Timothy 2:13, we learn that Adam was created first, then Eve. Because of that, women are not to exercise authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12).

Yes, an office-holding deacon serves the physical/logistical needs of the congregation. But how? Service isn’t ethereal; it’s practical. A deacon doesn’t serve the church by following, but by leading. Others certainly may serve in assistance to a deacon in order to address a physical need of the congregation, and they would be serving by following. But how in the world would a deacon address a need without leading out to meet that need? It is an office with authority, which is the very reason that it is an office that can get anything done.

Reason 2: The diaconal qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:12 are manly.

“Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well.” A deacon is to be the husband of one wife, who rules his house well. That is to say, a deacon is to be a faithful man in his relationship to his wife/honorable and pure in his relationships with women. And it is the man, not the woman, who is lord, under God, in the home.

Reason 3: The first church members officially set aside by a congregation to deacon were all men (7 out of 7), even though the occasion of their selection was a problem specific to women (widows needing food).

This is consistent with the truth that, within a covenant community, men bear the burden of responsibility to lead, protect, and provide.

Some argue that the seven men selected in Acts 6 were not deacons in the formal sense that Paul is talking about in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. But if they’re not office holding deacons, what do we want to call them, and why? Does this chapter not provide us with the framework for understanding the relationship of elders and deacons in local churches today? Do not the seven men meet Paul’s qualifications list in 1 Timothy 3? Does not the entire church vote to officially appoint them to deaconing, “διακονεῖν τραπέζαις”? Are hands not publicly laid upon them? If we don’t want to call these guys deacons, what are we going to call them; and what implications of the name change are there?

Deacons, proto-deacons, whatever, what are we actually trying to do with the passage if we disconnect it from the office we’ll have filled in our churches?

What is the toughest question to answer while holding this position? 

Why in the world does 1 Timothy 3:11 exist? If only men can be deacons, why does Paul talk about what their wives must be like and not do the same for elders, when the office of elder is far more critical to the health of the church? Doesn’t verse 11 show that, while Paul reserves the office of elder to qualified men, he thinks it appropriate for qualified women to be chosen for the office of deacon (official, ordained deaconesses)?

As this verse is the only real place from which someone can argue for women holding the diaconal church office (Romans 16:1 doesn’t actually have enough there to make or break anyone’s case), it is fair to expect a legitimate explanation of its presence.

So what’s the deal?

The nature of the office and work of the deacon, unlike pastoring a church, uniquely invites direct assistance from wives. Think back to Acts 6 and the seven men chosen as deacons to oversee the care of widows in the church. While the responsibility of oversight was held by the seven, think of all the ways their wives could be direct helps in seeing their agenda carried out. How about godly wives appropriately helping deacons in carrying out their agenda regarding the 1 Timothy 5 widows list? In how many diaconal situations related to the care of these widows would good decorum call for the help of a woman? Plenty. Paul, recognizing the nature of the work involved with the office, goes out of his way to insist on the wives being marked by godliness.

Conclusion: Only qualified men can be deacons, as only qualified men can be elders. The weight of the positive evidence establishes this conclusion. The best rebuttal can be sensibly answered.

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