Monday, December 20, 2010

Gleanings from the Pastor's Perspective: Think about Deacons and Elders

The Pastor’s Perspective
“Think about Deacons and Elders”
First Published: April 1, 2008

twitter: should we rethink the offices of deacon and elder? No, but made you look.

As you prepare for the very important congregational meeting this Sunday, April 6, after the 11 o’clock service, at which we will act upon a recommendation from the Session to initiate the process of electing new elders and deacons for First Presbyterian Church, perhaps it will be helpful to you to start thinking about what elders and deacons are and do.

In the Presbyterian Church there are two types of officers in the Church: elders and deacons. And within the office of elder are the two kinds: teaching elders (commonly referred to as ministers or preachers) and ruling elders. The elders jointly are responsible for the government and spiritual oversight of the church, including teaching. In conformity to Scripture, the office of elder is open to men only. We are electing Ruling Elders in this election process.

The Bible requires the elders to watch diligently over the flock committed to their charge, to promote sound belief and godly living. What do elders do? Elders teach the Bible, disciple members, exercise government and discipline, and take oversight of the spiritual interests of the particular church. They visit the people in their homes, especially the sick. They instruct seekers, share the gospel, comfort those who are mourning, and nourish and guard the children of the church. They endeavor to set a worthy example to the flock entrusted to their care by their zeal to evangelize the unconverted and make disciples. They pray with and for the people, and are careful and diligent in seeking the fruit of the preached Word among the flock. This office is a great privilege and responsibility. Our elders will one day give an account of their governance to the Almighty.

What are the Biblical qualifications for those who are elders? The Bible is clear about the qualifications for an elder. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:2-7 that an elder “must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable, free from the love of money. He must be one who manages his own household well, keeping his children under control with all dignity (but if a man does not know how to manage his own household, how will he take care of the church of God?), and not a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil. And he must have a good reputation with those outside the church, so that he will not fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.”

In Titus 1:6-9 he adds that an elder must be “above reproach, the husband of one wife, having children who believe, not accused of dissipation or rebellion. For the overseer must be above reproach as God's steward, not self-willed, not quick-tempered, not addicted to wine, not pugnacious, not fond of sordid gain, but hospitable, loving what is good, sensible, just, devout, self-controlled, holding fast the faithful word which is in accordance with the teaching, so that he will be able both to exhort in sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict.”

Thus, to summarize, the Bible specifies godly Christian character, family spiritual leadership, and ability to teach the truth of the Word as indispensable qualifications for the eldership.

What are deacons? Well, the office of deacon, too, is an office to be held by godly men and those who hold this office are jointly responsible for leading the mercy ministry of the church. Our Book of Church Order puts it this way: “The office of deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church. The office is one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of need.”

What do deacons do? The Book of Church Order supplies this helpful summary: “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. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation.”

What are the Biblical qualifications for deacon? The Bible is clear about the qualifications for a deacon. Paul says in 1 Timothy 3:8-10, 12-13 that “Deacons likewise must be men of dignity, not double-tongued, or addicted to much wine or fond of sordid gain, but holding to the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. These men must also first be tested; then let them serve as deacons if they are beyond reproach. Deacons must be husbands of only one wife, and good managers of their children and their own households. For those who have served well as deacons obtain for themselves a high standing and great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.”

Deacons were first appointed in the church by the apostles themselves, in Acts 6. A problem had arisen in connection with church aid given to some of the widows in the congregation in Jerusalem. The apostles determined that it would be wrong for them to neglect their job as elders, but that the ministry of mercy was also too important to neglect. Thus, we read: “So the twelve summoned the congregation of the disciples and said, "It is not desirable for us to neglect the word of God in order to serve tables. "Therefore, brethren, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we may put in charge of this task. "But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word." The statement found approval with the whole congregation; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch. And these they brought before the apostles; and after praying, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)

This is why our Book of Church Order says: “To the office of deacon, which is spiritual in nature, shall be chosen men of spiritual character, honest repute, exemplary lives, brotherly spirit, warm sympathies, and sound judgment.” Thus, to summarize, the Bible specifies godly Christian character, family spiritual leadership, and firm belief in the truth of the Word as indispensable qualifications for the diaconate.

Your friend,

Ligon Duncan

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