I am not very interested in the question of whether women may wear the deacon title, because I’d rather not bother with the title. Granting “deacon” as an honorific title only gets in the way of humble, servant-hearted volunteer work.
Several years ago, I was assigned to call several young men in the church and invite them to be deacons. My favorite calls — most of them, actually — were with men who said, “I don’t want the title. I’m happy doing the job you’ve asked me to do without the title. But if the elders think my having a title will help the church some way, I’ll accept it. But I’d rather not.” This is ideal, I think. Except more ideal would be for me to have not made the calls at all.
I don’t want to be heard as saying that all male deacons are useless or in the way. In fact, I’ve been very impressed with the work and heart of many a deacon over the years. Rather, I think deacons are as victimized by the system as those excluded. That is, the system is unfair to married men because it forces them to take on roles they may not be gifted for and imposes expectations on them that God may not have equipped them to meet. And it tells them and the church that a title is important, which is worldly thinking.
Just so, the traditional system is unfair to the single, the women, and the childless by imposing on them the supervision of unqualified men and by denying them the ability to work directly with their elders in their service.
So rather than appointing female deacons, let’s just call them all “servants” or forget having a title altogether.
However, just for the record, I should point out that —
- The early church appointed female deacons at least as early as Clement of Alexandria (early Third or late Second Century). This is the same guy who is the earliest early church father to oppose instrumental music (because instruments are associated with the military), although he only addressed music at banquets, not in the assembly. That came even later.
- Clement interpreted 1 Tim 3:11 as addressing female deacons.
(1 Tim. 3:11 NRS) Women [or wives] likewise must be serious, not slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.
- The Greek is ambiguous as to whether the meaning is wives or women. But it is hard to imagine Paul imposing a standard on the wives of deacons and not on the wives of elders. I can tell you from experience that the wives matter — a lot — and the wives of elders being women of high character is far more important than for deacons’ wives. Therefore, I agree with Clement. Regarding female deacons. Not the instrument thing.
From Ministry Magazine,
The existence of deaconesses. Somewhere between A.D. 111 and 113, Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, wrote to the Emperor Trajan asking how he should deal with Christians. In the letter, he tells of questioning two women, who were called ministrae, the Latin equivalent of diakonos.7
Of the ministry of women, Clement of Alexandria wrote: “But the apostles in conformity with their ministry concentrated on undistracted preaching, and took their wives around as Christian sisters rather than spouses, to be their fellow-ministers [“fellow deacons”] in relation to housewives, through whom the Lord’s teaching penetrated into the women’s quarters without scandal.”8
The Didascalia Apostolorum [Teaching of the Apostles], undoubtedly from the eastern part of the empire and composed in the third century, gives specific instructions about the role of men and women church workers: “Therefore, O bishop, appoint yourself workers of righteousness, helpers who cooperate with you unto life. Those that please you out of all the people you shall choose and appoint as deacons: on the one hand, a man for the administration of the many things that are required, on the other hand a woman for the ministry of women.”9
7 Pliny, Letters 10.96.
8 Clement, Stromata 3.6.53; English translation from Clement of Alexandria, The Fathers of the Church, vol. 85 (Washington, DC: Catholic University of America, 1991), 289.
9 “Concerning deacons and deaconesses,” The Didascalia Apostolorum in Syriac, ed. Arthur Vööbus, Corpus scriptorum christianorum orientalium, 407 (Louvain: Sécretariat du Cor.pus SCO, 1979), 2:156.