RBC deacons are a group of volunteer men and women from the congregation who will help meet physical and spiritual needs within the body. These men and women will meet specific spiritual qualifications, and will receive training to equip them to serve. This group will not be the sole providers of care, but they will form a focused and much-needed role in the overall ministry of care at RBC. By God’s grace the ministry will start slowly and expand over time both with regards to the number of people serving and the kind of needs that will be met.
Perhaps the best biblical word to describe this ministry is “deacons,” based on the Greek New Testament (NT) word diakonos. The word embodies the idea of service and ministry from its nearly 100 uses in the NT. Various forms of the word are used to describe the ministry of a wide range of people including men, women, those of no office or title, apostles, and even Jesus (Mark 10:45).
SOME ANTICIPATED QUESTIONS
There are two areas where we anticipate possible questions. One is the role of deacons in relation to the elders, and a second is the role of women serving as deacons. The following discussion briefly addresses these issues.
Use of the term “deacon” may raise questions because of the way some churches form deacon ministries. In some cases deacons, usually only men, function like what the NT describes as elders/overseers, namely those who exercise decision-making oversight and spiritual authority within and over the church. In this case, the role is appropriately restricted to men in keeping with 1 Timothy 2:12 which prohibits women from exercising spiritual authority over men (as well as teaching men). RBC’s intent is that deacons be those who provide service to the body under the oversight of the elders.
Regarding women serving as deacons, we feel that the NT does not make a strong case either for or against such a position. We therefore feel the freedom to have women serve in this role so long as that role does not put them in a position of teaching men or having spiritual authority over men (1 Timothy 2:12).
The key NT passages are Romans 16:1; 1 Timothy 2:12; 3:8ff; and 5:9ff. The first of these, Romans 16:1, refers to a woman, Phoebe, with the Greek word diakonos. Therefore, there must be some sense in which a woman can be a deacon.
The Greek word diakonos is neuter in gender – it simply means one who serves, whether male or female. The word is so widely used in the NT (~96 times in its various forms) that a precise description is impossible. A fair conclusion is that the term is general and doesn’t necessarily have any clear implication of being an office, or if it is (1 Timothy 3:8 and Philippians 1:1), the role and function is varied. This is in contrast to the office, role, and function of elders, who are unambiguously described in numerous passages. Beyond the Apostles of the early church, the only specific provision in the NT for a continuing provision of church oversight and spiritual authority is that of the eldership, and only men qualify for the office (attested to both in every example without exception, and in keeping with 1 Timothy 2:12, which precludes women from exercising spiritual authority over, as well as teaching, men). The point being made here is that a woman serving in the role of deacon does not violate 1 Timothy 2:12.
Although not uniformly agreed among expositors, 1 Timothy 3:11 may refer to women as deacons or in a deacon-like role. In this passage elders are clearly described in verses 1-7. In verse 8, deacons (clearly referring to men) are introduced by the phrase “…likewise deacons…,” and in verse 11, another “likewise” introduces women.
The sequence of “likewise” statements seems to carry a progression starting with elders, then moving to deacons, and then moving to what might be women in a deacon-like role. Some would argue that the description is that of the wives of deacons, as seen in some English translations, but it makes little sense that there would be a qualification associated with the wives of deacons but no similar qualification for the wives of elders. Later in this book, in chapter 5, starting in verse 9, there is the example of women meeting certain qualifications who are “enrolled” (ESV) or “put on a list” (NASB, NIV) – i.e., designated – and serving in the areas of hospitality, washing the feet of the saints, caring for the afflicted, and devoted to every good work. The point is that women, specifically designated to serve within the body, is supported in the NT (cf Romans 16:1).
Given that the intended role of women serving in a deacon ministry at RBC will involve no exercise of spiritual authority over men or teaching men, we see no biblical prohibition to women serving as part of this ministry.