Later church history
In the early church, we find further support for deacons being teachers. The Didache (100-125 AD) says that deacons “are to be honored, “for they too carry out the ministry of prophets and teachers” (Did. 15.1).
Later on, we find in the early church fathers evidence that deacons were involved in administering the Lord’s Supper, in handling church benevolence funds, and otherwise serving as aides to the elders or bishop. The office is also associated with administration of baptism, with female deacons being ordained due to the practice of some churches of baptizing converts in the nude.
In short, it’s difficult to declare that deacons did one and only one thing, but under Collins’ translation, their role in Acts 6 was as teachers, assisting the apostles in their ministry of the word. On the other hand, this translation leads to taking the Seven as something more like elders. Nor has this translation gained a scholarly consensus, whereas the scholars seem largely agreed on Collins’ re-definition of diakonos. Continue reading
Deacon as church office/re-translating Acts 6:1-6
So what does mean with regard to the office of deacon? Well, we should not think of them so much as servants but as representatives, agents, or even attendants. That is, they serve at the behest of the elders to assist them in their duties.
The subtle question that the redefinition forces us to ask is: whom do the deacons
serverepresent? If the word means “servant,” then we would naturally take the deacons as serving the church, and that has been our traditional interpretation (and the traditional interpretation of many others).
But if the word means “agent” or “representative” in this context, the church can’t be the answer. Rather, Acts 6 offers an example of the Seven taking on a role previously held by the apostles, doing work so that the apostles are freed for prayer and the ministry of the word. Continue reading
I’m looking for contact information for the heirs of John L. Edwards. I regularly receive requests for a source from which to buy his book An In Depth Study of Marriage & Divorce.
College Press originally published this book, but it is now out of print and the publishing rights reverted to Edwards. For years, Edwards sold copies out of his house, but he and his wife have passed away and, the best I can tell, their copies have been exhausted.
I’d like to republish the book and make it available to the Churches of Christ once again, but to do this, I have to obtain the consent of his children. And I don’t even know where to begin looking.
Does anyone know how to contact his family? Please respond in a comment below or email me at jfguin(at)comcast(dot)net.
John N. Collins and the meaning of diakonos
A couple of years ago, in a comment, Mike Cope referred me to Diakonia: Re-Interpreting the Ancient Sources (1990) ($38.95 at Amazon) by John N. Collins. In this book, Collins comprehensively surveys secular and Christian Greek literature to find the correct meaning of the terms diakonia and diakonos.
Collins has followed that 368-page book with a shorter sequel focusing on a handful of key passages, Deacons and the Church: Making Connections Between Old and New (2002) (out of print).
A helpful article summarizing Collins’ work may be found in a 1992 article by Karl Paul Donfried in the Concordia Theological Quarterly, especially beginning at p. 7 (free download).
Collins published a follow up article in 2011, “The problem with values carried by diakonia / “Diakonie” in recent church documents.” Collins points out that no less of an authority than Cardinal Ratzinger (who became Pope Benedict) adopted Collins’ arguments (also a free download). Continue reading
I have a few more thoughts on this subject to share.
First, remember that God equips certain members of the church as pilots — people equipped to navigate the church between the rocks and shoals.
We assume that these people are elders, and that would be fortuitous indeed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The church’s best pilots may be on staff or a part of the ladies Bible class or volunteers in the food pantry program. Find these people and have them help in designing the vision-discernment effort. Continue reading
(Prov. 29:18 KJV) Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.
This verse is in the running for most-misused Bible passage of the 21st Century, and even though there’s a lot of century left, it seems a nearly guaranteed winner. But it does look nice on the first page of any church’s 5-year mission plan.
Of course, it appears in the KJV because only the KJV uses words that sound like a modern, Western mission statement. The more recent, more accurate translations differ in important ways — Continue reading
The job descriptions in the titles
Next, some of the most helpful instructions for what an elder should look like are found in the titles given the position: elder, overseer, and shepherd.
An “elder” was the ancient world’s equivalent of a city councilman and city court judge. They governed villages and cities, and even held special authority under the Law of Moses. In Numbers 11, God had Moses appoint 70 men as elders, and he gave them the Spirit to help them in their work.
An “overseer” is someone in middle management. That is, an elder must understand that this is God’s church and that he works on God’s behalf to fulfill God’s purposes. The elder owns nothing.
And “shepherd” is a title reserved in the Old Testament for God and the king — except in Ezekiel 34, where it refers to the king and others in power over Israel. Continue reading
When I mention “elders” in a Church of Christ forum, I immediately receive a negative reaction, as though all elders in the Churches of Christ are just awful. There’s a desperate unhappiness within many of our congregations regarding whom we’ve chosen to be our elders.
And yet our elders don’t ordain themselves. Every church I’m familiar with requires the members to nominate candidates and to comment on the scriptural qualifications of the elders — and yet we keep ordaining unqualified men.
I think the primary reason that we often do such a poor job of selecting elders is that we ignore their spiritual qualifications, that is, the working of the Holy Spirit within the men we choose. You see, the standard sermon series on the qualification of elders is usually so focused on Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 that the several verses addressing the Spirit’s role in elder ordination are completely ignored — when they should be paramount.
Part of this, of course, is the traditional Church of Christ bias against an active, personal indwelling of the Spirit, but even in Churches that believe in a personal indwelling, we struggle to escape our traditional mindset. And so traditionally, we ordain any man who is (a) nominated and (b) doesn’t badly fail the tests of Titus 1 and 1 Timothy 3 — even if he’s among the least spiritual of our members. Continue reading
When I was in college, I attended a Sunday School class for young adults, and the usual teacher was out of town. The fill-in teacher passed out a survey that asked our views on several controversial questions.
We anonymously circled “True” or “False” for each question and then he took them up. Then, just like in high school, he passed the surveys out for us to “grade,” making sure no one got to grade his own paper. Continue reading
So what are the next steps?
- Teach grace sufficient to allow us to treat other denominations of Christians as saved.
- Teach a faith certain enough that we don’t treat non-Christians as Christians. Jews and Muslims aren’t part of this. Faith in Jesus is required — without apology. We preach Jesus just the way Peter and Paul preached Jesus in Acts. Unity without Jesus is impossible and pointless. We’d may as well re-attempt atheism a la the French Revolution (which went very badly, by the way — as has every single society built on atheism).
- Insist that our preachers participate in any local association of Christian pastors and preachers — even to the point of providing their fair share of leadership. Continue reading