Tag Archives: deacons

Scriptural Points on Church Government — David R. Pharr

There is an obvious contrast between the ecclesiasticisms of modern religious groups and the simplicity of church government in Christ’s original plan. Solomon wrote: “Lo, this only have I found, that God hath made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions” (Eccl. 7:29). Though this observation can have broader application, it certainly fits the way denominations have invented unscriptural schemes by which their churches are governed. The great apostasy which resulted in the hierarchy of Catholicism grew out of men assuming high positions of authority for themselves (Acts 20:29ff).  Protestantism and the denominations which followed broke free of many of the errors of Rome, but for the most part could not give up the politics of centralized control. Even those which claim congregational autonomy may feel constrained by and be pressured by denominational conventions.

Christ the Head

In the scriptural plan Christ is the only head of the church and the only headquarters is Heaven (1 Pet. 3:22; Col. 1:18; Eph. 1:22-23). He has absolute authority (Matt. 28:18-20) and no legislation is acceptable from any other source. It is not our purpose in this article to argue that the Scriptures alone reveal the instructions of our King, but knowing that to be the case, we surely see the error of councils which claim authority for themselves. It has been demonstrated over and over that the larger and more prestigious denominational organizations become, the further will be their departures from the truth. A recent egregious example was in a council voting to ordain homosexual bishops. That was a case of an unscriptural board approving an immoral lifestyle for a non-biblical position.

His Ambassadors

The Head of the church commissioned the apostles to be his representatives on earth (2 Cor. 5:20; 1 Cor. 14:37). These ambassadors of Christ declared the gospel and guided the proper formation of the congregations. It was through them that the commandments of Christ are made known (Matt. 28:18-20). It is important to understand that their instructions originated with and had the authority of Christ. He told them: “Truly I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven (Matt. 18:18, NASU, emp. mine). This reminds us of David’s assurance: “Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven” (Ps. 119:89).

The ministry of the apostles was in the context of history. Revelation of the pattern was progressive. That is, in various places situations arose which required apostolic guidance. The instructions they gave in those situations demonstrate the principles by which the church is to be guided today. In this way the New Testament gives a pattern which ought to be followed.

In telling the apostles that their authority would originate in heaven, he added: “Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst” (Matt. 18:19-20). This is sometimes thought to be assurance for those in small church gatherings, but that is hardly the application. In Acts 15 we find more than “two or three” of the apostles (and others) being together to affirm the truth regarding the Gentiles. This is the only time recorded of apostles meeting together over a doctrinal issue. However, it was not to legislate but to affirm for the brotherhood what Christ had already revealed.

Pattern Unchanged

This emphasis on apostolic authority is necessary because the world is not satisfied with the ancient order of things. The common notion is that the apostles’ teaching and practice was satisfactory back then, but hardly suitable for changing times. This presumes the Lord’s failure to provide a plan suitable for all nations and all times. Such presumption ignores not only the intended universality of the apostolic commission (Great Commission), but also Christ’s assurance regarding the apostles: “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:20).

There were movements even in New Testament times to depart from the original order. As a reason for not being “carried about with divers and strange doctrines,” the Hebrews writer emphasized: “Jesus Christ [is] the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Heb. 13:7-9). Whatever in any creed, discipline, manual, or private opinion that is thought to be an improvement on the Scriptural pattern is an affront to the infallibility and unchangeableness of the risen Lord. The “faith,” the true Christian system, was “once for all delivered” (Jude 3).

The biblical pattern makes no provision for succession of the apostolic office.  This is evident when after the martyrdom of James no one was chosen to replace him.  (Paul’s commission without being one of the twelve was unique, with a special purpose regarding Gentiles, but was not to be in place of James).

Local Congregations

Baptized believers who worked and worshiped in a given area constituted a local congregation. Their assemblies together identified them as a church of Christ. Though in each Christian’s relationship with Christ he or she was part of the universal church, earthly membership was in local congregations. Each congregation organized after the New Testament pattern and faithfully serving Christ was in itself as completely a church of Christ as was any other congregation in the whole world.  Christian were expected to assemble together (Heb. 10:25). Those who traveled to other places were expected to connect themselves with the local church there (Acts 9:26; 11:26; Rom. 16:1ff).

Local congregations were known collectively as “churches of Christ” (Rom. 16:16). These were all part of the same cause and cooperated with one another, but were autonomous bodies. Unlike the inter-congregational arrangements of denominations, there was no hierarchy ruling over districts, states, or the world.

The letter Paul wrote to the church of Christ at Philippi was addressed: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1). The term “saints” applies to all Christians (cf. 1 Cor. 1:2). “Bishops and deacons” refers to men qualified for leadership and service positions in the congregations. Another word for “bishop” is “overseer.” This implies leadership. The scriptural pattern is for a plurality of bishops to guide a local congregation. A church was not “set in order” until qualified men could be given this responsibility (Titus 1:5-9).

Other New Testament terms are used interchangeably in reference to the role of bishops. They are called “elders” (“presbyters”), reflecting their being men of experience. They are called “pastors” (“shepherds”) to show their loving care for the “sheep” in their charge. A review of various passages, such as Acts 20:28 and 1 Peter 5:1-4,  where these terms are used will prove that all applied to the same office. One will find, however, that the ways the same terms are frequently used today are different from the simplicity found in Scripture. Bishops/elders/pastors must meet qualifications (Titus 1:5-9; 1 Tim. 3:1-7). They are themselves subject to Christ and must never yield to their own self-interest (1 Pet. 5:1-4).

Another point about church government which denominations often choose to ignore is the pattern of male leadership. Paul, guided by the Holy Spirit, wrote: “And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence” (1 Tim. 2:12). Only men were chosen to be elders. We should take note of the fact that Christ chose no female apostles. This is not to be interpreted to mean spiritual, moral, or intellectual inferiority, only that God made us male and female and has assigned different roles.

The deacons in New Testament congregations met qualification which made them suitable for special service assignments. It is likely that the seven men chosen to serve a special need in Jerusalem were deacons, though the term is not used in the text (Acts 6:1-6). (Diakoneo, a derivative of diakonos, the Greek term transliterated “deacon,” is used in Acts 6:2.)  Deacons are not overseers. Instead, they are expected like all the members to obey those who have been scripturally appointed to rule the congregation (Heb. 13:17).  The Acts 6 example indicates they are “special servants” whom the leaders of the church put in charge over various ministries of the local congregation.

Ephesians 4:11-12 indicates that in addition to the inspired apostles and prophets who gave the church the New Testament (cf. Eph.  3:3-5; 2 Pet. 1:19-21) and the pastors who oversaw the church as elders, evangelists and teachers also worked in the local congregation to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  The work of evangelists is to bring the gospel to the lost, while the work of teachers is to teach and spiritually build up the saints.  Preachers and ministers such as Timothy were given the responsibility to “do the work of an evangelist” and to “teach others” (2 Tim. 4:5; 2:2).  Many preachers are financially supported in their work by local congregations (1 Cor. 9:4-14; 2 Cor. 11:8-9; Phil. 4:14-19).  Serving under the oversight and authority of the overseers of the local church, they are to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2) “with all authority” (Tit. 2:15).

“Follow The Pattern”

In spite of the apostasy of many in departing from the simple organization found in the New Testament, churches of Christ must still heed “the pattern of sound words” which are found in the inspired writings of the apostles and prophets and in so doing, “guard the good deposit” entrusted to us (2 Tim. 1:13-14).  The biblical pattern for church organization exists and is clearly seen in Scripture.  We must work hard “not to go beyond what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6) and submit to the wisdom of God as shown in his plan for the organization of his church.

David is the former editor of the Carolina Messenger and serves on its board of directors. 

“Those Who Have Served Well As Deacons” – Curtis Kimbrell

For the last three years, I have had the privilege of serving as a deacon at the church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC.  I have the honor of working with the youth at our congregation.  Meeting the qualifications as stated in 1 Timothy 3 has helped me in many aspects of my life.

As I go to work daily, many of the qualifications are constantly in use.  When you are living up to these requirements and standards, they eventually become a natural part of your Christianity everywhere you go.  It’s not that you are never going to fail, because you ARE going to do that.  However, I do find myself going back frequently to the verses to remind me of who I am and what God requires of me.

The impact of a deacon on a church can help the church grow in different areas.  If the impact is good and “fruitful,” this means the deacon is active and doing his job.  My job of working with the youth has encouraged me to do more than plan events and service projects.  It has become a personal task to teach the ones with whom I come into contact on a one-on-one basis.  We are all told to go teach all nations (Matt. 28:19)…but it’s usually a job left to someone else.  I’ve seen from personal experience that great results can occur if you take the time to study with someone.  I have studied with several and ended up baptizing them afterwards.  It is an amazing event to see someone baptized into Christ’s death and then rise to start a new life (Rom. 6:3-5; Gal. 3:27)!

I write about the above not to boast, but rather to encourage all Christians to get active!  Your area may not be the same as mine, but anyone can pick up a phone, write a card, and send an email.  Matthew 25:14-30 teaches us to use our different talents!  If you are thinking about becoming a deacon, make sure you and your wife qualify for you to be one (1 Tim. 3:8-13).  In my case, I was already doing the work or volunteering for it before I was given the name.

There will be times when you want to leap for joy, but there are also times you want to just give up.  I look at everything Paul went through, and I know that I can overcome the obstacles that I face.  Some of your main problems could be just dealing with other Christians.  Acts 15:36-41 tells us even Paul and Barnabas had a strong disagreement, but they departed from each other.  We all need to remember who we are and that others are always watching as well.

There are many spiritual pitfalls that come with the territory also.  If you are an over achiever like I tend to be, your plate becomes overloaded!  Make sure your events and tasks don’t overlap. If you give your word on doing something, make sure you follow through with it.  It’s fine to have many things going at once, but one important thing to remember is this:  don’t neglect your family or close friends!  Every time you say “Yes” to something, you are saying “No” to other tasks, events, and things.

Another spiritual pitfall for not just deacons but also any male leader in the church is how friendly you appear to be with the women in the church.  Don’t get me wrong.  I love a hug from a close friend just as much as you may, but there are those times that people see things that aren’t really there.  There are also times where an innocent hug can turn into an affair over a period of time.  I have seen it with members, deacons, and even preachers.  Our intentions always need to be pure, and our minds need to be as well.  All in all, being cautious makes life so much easier than being accused of real or perceived wrongdoing.

One who has a positive attitude even when things are hectic can help overcome their spiritual pitfalls.  It’s easy to get your plate full, have issues with other members in the church, and also have your personal life overwhelm you to the point where you want to “throw in the towel.”  One thing I have definitely learned is to delegate.  Don’t try to do it all by yourself.  I’ve found that there are plenty of people willing to help, but aren’t the type to volunteer.  It’s okay to have several projects going on at once, and much can be accomplished…but you need to oversee some things while dedicating your time to the more important tasks.

As a teenager, I was the shy type.  I kept to myself and wasn’t very outgoing at all.  If I had to speak in front of an audience for just a few minutes, you could probably hear my legs shaking!  Now, my love and passion is to teach others.  I love to teach one-on-one classes as well.  I can’t stress enough to the teens to just invite their friends to church.  After a few times, I eventually begin to talk to the visitor, get to know them, and finally study with them.  I’ve been more successful in reaching and helping souls this way than I have compared to knocking on doors.

Constantly studying with people as well as teaching classes has kept me growing spiritually.  2 Timothy 2:15 tells us to study to show ourselves approved.  Our spiritual state should never become stagnate!  The area of interest in which a deacon is appointed  to work should be one that suits his character and be one that he should enjoy.  I thoroughly enjoy working with the youth and the many ways they have helped make me a better Christian.

The role of a deacon is again a privilege. It should never feel like an obligation or a “have to” job.  Even though there are many pitfalls and obstacles, the role is more than worth it if you can dedicate your time to this role.  If you can manage to juggle your job, family, church duties and this role, you will see the reward is more than words can express.  When times are difficult though, and you feel like giving up…talk with someone.  I have certain friends with whom I can talk when I have a problem, and they help me overcome my obstacles while keeping me from me giving up. The impact you can have on a church can be great…if your heart is dedicated to the work!  As a father, a husband, a Christian and also as a deacon, I try to keep 1 Corinthians 10:31 in mind. “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”

Curtis serves as a deacon for the Boiling Springs Church of Christ in Boiling Springs, SC.  You can reach him at mommaof2la@yahoo.com.

Church Leadership Causes Growth – Jon Mitchell (Editor’s Page, November/December 2013 Issue)

Church growth.  Growing the church.  Causing both spiritual growth in the brethren through edification and numerical growth of the congregation via evangelism.  I’ve yet to meet any Christian, especially any preacher, elder, or deacon, who honestly denied wanting their congregation to grow in these ways.

To my knowledge, there is only one passage in the entire Bible that very specifically spells out what causes church growth.  Sure, there are many passages to which one may go which give principles and examples of church growth…but only one which directly says, “Do this, and the church grows.”  That would be Ephesians 4:16:  “from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love” (ESV, emp. added).  Contextually, Paul defines the body as the church (1:22-23; 5:23).  Therefore, God is basically saying that the church grows “when each part is working properly.”  The church grows when each member is working.

That’s where godly leadership comes in.  There’s a reason God refers to the church as a whole as “the flock” (Acts 20:28) and to elders as shepherds or pastors (Acts 20:17, 28; 1 Pet. 5:1-4).  In his wisdom, God knew that Christians, no matter how sincere, do not grow properly without proper leadership, just as sheep never get where they need to go without a shepherd to guide them.  That’s why just a few verses earlier in Ephesians 4 he mentioned the very reason he gave the church the New Testament writings of the apostles and prophets and the teaching and guidance of evangelists, shepherds, and teachers:  “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11-12).  Proper church leaders will equip each and every saint in the flock to serve the Master and spiritually build up each and every soul under their care.  When that happens, the church grows.

This issue is dedicated to church leadership.  You’ll read an article about elders written by an elder, an article about deacons written by a deacon, and an article about preachers written by a preacher.  You’ll also read about how God wants us as Christians to treat the leaders of the church, something which many in the church need to know if the church is to grow.  After all, the people perish without vision from their leaders (Prov. 29:18), and leaders can’t develop a proper vision for the church when they’re continually distracted by the fires of ungodly backbiting, petty criticism, and unrighteous judgment.

Elders, deacons, preachers, teachers…read these articles with an open heart and an open Bible.  Study 1-2 Timothy and Titus to see what kind of men God wants preachers, elders, and deacons…and all Christians…to be.  Elders and deacons, study the example of Acts 6:1-6 and apply it to your relationship with each other.  Preachers, deacons, and members, study the commands of 1 Thessalonians 5:12-13 and Hebrews 13:17 and apply them to your relationship with your elders.   Shepherds, study John 10:1-5, Acts 20:17-32, 1 Thessalonians 5:14-15, and 1 Peter 5:1-4 to see what your job description is according to your Lord.

May we all strive to work harder to serve our Master in his kingdom!