1. In the only possible scriptural description of the role of a deacon, Acts 6:1-6, the apostles themselves described the deacons’ jobs, perhaps ironically, as “waiting on tables.” There is no justification for our expanding the role of the deacon any farther than specified in Acts 6, where it was simply the task of handling the benevolent program.
The Second Century church also saw the job of a deacon similarly. This is in accord with the views of such notable Restoration commentators as Robert Richardson,Tolbert Fanning, W. K. Pendleton, and E. G. Sewell. We must be silent where the Bible is silent.
2. The only possible example that we have of how deacons served is that the seven were appointed to a single task, very much as a committee.
3. Romans 16:1 states that Phoebe was a deacon (not “deaconess”). 1 Timothy 3:11 probably describes women deacons.
4. There is nothing that a male church member cannot do without being appointed a deacon — other than wear the title. Some would require that deacons handle all church funds, but there is no basis in scripture for making this a rule. Some would put all “worldly” matters in the hands of the deacons, leaving the elders to handle spiritual matters. But this rule is also missing from the Bible. Some would make the deacons into a cabinet of department heads, but there is no scripture for this interpretation. And some would make the deacons into a House of Representatives, voting on matters that must also pass the Senate — the elders. This is not only unsupported by scripture, it directly challenges the authority actually given by scripture to the elders.
5. In the First Century, a major work of the church was to support widows during a time of short male life expectancies and no pensions. 1 Timothy 5:3-16 deals with this problem at length. It is not surprising that 1 Timothy 3 deals with the qualifications of those charged with administering the church’s care for such widows. But we no longer maintain a list of supported widows, and the need for a special class of members to handle this job is over. If a church were to take on such a noble work, the work should certainly be entrusted to members who meet such high standards of behavior.
6. But even if we find in the scriptures a broader role for deacons, women can do anything that deacons can do, because there is no scripture denying them the right to use whatever gifts they have in God’s service. Giving them the title is amply justified by Romans 16:1 as well as 1 Timothy 3:11. Indeed, the Bible unambiguously commands those who have gifts to use them in God’s service and condemns those who refuse to do so and those who refuse to permit others to use their gifts. We should make the fullest use of our gifts possible.
We speak of direct commands, necessary inference, and binding examples as providing authority for church practices. The lessons taught by Jesus and Paul regarding talents and gifts are plain authority for putting gifts into practice. They are indeed direct commands. There are many women with unused gifts given by God for use in His service. There is no safety in burying those talents. There is grave danger for those who fear to allow others to serve God!