If the teachings of Christ and his Apostles have any meaning to a lost and dying world, it is because their truths are demonstrated in practical and meaningful ways. True Christianity makes a difference in people’s lives, and a local church’s deacons stand at the front lines, as living examples of that difference.
The Christian tradition of appointing deacons to the work of caring for the practical needs of church members arose out of a church dispute, which is recorded in Acts 6:1. The congregation needed people who could solve the problem in a fair way, so the Apostles instructed them to “pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty” (Acts 6:3). They did, and the New Testament church office of deacon was born.
The role these deacons played in the early church went far beyond the mundane tasks to which they were assigned. The deacon Stephen preached a powerful sermon to the enemies of the church, and became its first martyr (Acts 7). The deacon Philip became an evangelist, reaching both nearby Samaritans and faraway Ethiopians with the Gospel of Christ (Acts 8:4-8; 26-40). So it is clear from Scripture that “the office of deacon…is spiritual in nature” (PCA Book of Church Order [BCO], 9-3).
The Apostle Paul laid out the requirements for deacons as follows:
Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
[1 Timothy 3:8-12, ESV]
The fact that the first deacons were selected to ensure the proper care of widows, who were among the most helpless and vulnerable people in ancient society, shows that, “It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress” (BCO 9-2). The office of deacon is a high calling requiring special gifts, including “spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment” (BCO 9-3).
At EPC, our deacons serve together on board called a “diaconate.” They meet regularly and devote considerable time and energy to the needs of our people We count ourselves supremely blessed with the servant-leaders God has called to minister among us.