THE CHURCH ACCORDING TO SCRIPTURE
1 Now in these days when the disciples were increasing in number, a complaint by the Hellenists arose against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. 2 And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples and said, “It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. 3 Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. 4 But we will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” 5 And what they said pleased the whole gathering, and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmenas, and Nicolaus, a proselyte of Antioch. 6 These they set before the apostles, and they prayed and laid their hands on them. 7 And the word of God continued to increase, and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith.
— Acts 6:1-7, ESV
Today we ordained two men to the two offices of the New Testament church. There are no other specified offices but these two. One serves the church by leading, the other leads the church by serving.
The leadership office has three different names and two primary functions. The three names can be found in 1 Peter 5:1-2.
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight.
Elder is “presbeuterous,” from where we get the name Presbyterian Church. Overseer, sometimes translated bishop, is “episcopeo,” from where we get the name Episcopal Church. Shepherd, sometimes translated pastor, is “poimaino,” from where we get the name Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Note that the three names can be used virtually interchangeably and that they always are found in the New Testament in a plurality.
The Apostles served as the original Elders, or Bishops, or Pastors of the church, and saw to the appointment of the office in the new churches that formed. Eventually they all died, along with their Apostolic gifts, and left the church to be led by Elders. The primary functions of the Elders are found in Acts 6:4:
We will devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.
Pastors and Elders are given to meet the spiritual needs of the church. They pray for and with the people of the church. They minister the gospel and the word of God in preaching, teaching, public worship, and private counseling. They lead the church by keeping her chained to the gospel and the sound doctrines of Scripture. A man can spend a full week, month, year, and lifetime doing these things, which is why one or more of them should be employed full time by the church.
The servant office is simpler, having only one name and ostensibly one function. They were named by the function they were originated to carry out in Acts 6:2-3.
It is not right that we should give up preaching the word of God to serve tables. Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty,
Deacon comes from the word in the text, “deakoneo," which is translated simply as serve. In this context it is the service of food distribution to needy widows in the church. It has been expanded over the years to encompass any kind of compassionate ministry that addresses the physical needs of the widows, widowers, elderly, or other needy people in the church.
They are not to form a board, they are not decision makers, they have no leadership authority. They are servants, table waiters, qualified members of the church who see to the physical needs of the church members when we gather for worship or need assistance in our homes.
The members selected for ordination by the church should meet the obvious qualifications spelled out in 1 Timothy 3:1-13.
The Charge to the Candidates
Understand your authority. Deacons, you have none. Pastor and Elders, you have none. Christ is the Head of the church and He administers His authority through the inspired, infallible, inerrant word of God. Pastors and Elders are the Great Shepherds under-shepherds, however, and are given to lead the church in formulating decisions that are true to Christ and consistent with Scripture. Only a Reformed church can truly accomplish this, committed to the authority of Scripture alone, preaching a gospel of grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, and seeking the glory of God alone.
Carry out your responsibility. Pastor and Elders, you are servants of the Lord who lead the people of God. Deacons, you are leaders by example called to serve the people of God. Pastors and Elders, serve by praying for the people every day, and with them as the opportunity arises. Preach and teach the gospel and the words of God, and appoint gifted Sunday School or small group leaders to serve under you in this capacity. Chain the church to the Scriptures. Deacons, help the elderly to get in the buildings for worship, help them in their homes if they need food, shelter, or clothing, call upon the people to give so you may give, and to serve with you when extra hands are needed. And do your duties with mutual love and respect for one another, as in the early church, so that the church may be unified and the gospel may be multiplied.
Maintain your integrity. Ordination to these offices will be in vain if you do not guard your heart, watch your walk, and keep your soul closely knit to God. If the burden gets too heavy, ask for rest or sabbatical. If the temptations get too great, close with one another in prayer. When sins are committed and mistakes are made, humbly admit it and ask for forgiveness. Love the church, and the true church will love you.
The Charge to the Church
Do not be the church that adds to Scripture. Do not submit to non-biblical offices like “pope,” “cardinal,” “priest” (except to know there is one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus, and you are all a kingdom of priests), or for that matter the dreaded, “chairman of the deacon board.”
Do not be the church that ignores Scripture. You cannot order a certificate for the ordination of an Elder from the Southern Baptist Convention. This exemplifies why they typical SBC church is in such disarray is that the people popularly elect deacons to run the church and tell the singular pastor what to do. This is upside-down from scripturally appointed Pastors and Elders who lead, adjoined by scripturally appointed Deacons who serve, in a congregation where all the members are ministers of Christ to one another and the world.
Be the church according to Scripture. Set and maintain biblical standards for leadership and membership. Worship according to the regulative principles of Scripture. Seek to be and make true disciples of Christ, not mere decisions for statistical purposes. Fellowship with one another at every opportunity. Minister to one another and the world around you. Pray for, give to, and go with missionaries so that every corner of the world can hear the gospel and have a scriptural church.
We are not a theocracy, per se, like Old Testament Israel. We do not have prophets, priests, and kings. We have Pastors and Elders, Deacons and members.
We are not a democracy, at all, like the USA, where money and power rule, where politics and getting out the vote has usurped patriotism and responsible citizenship. We belong to a heavenly kingdom, under the Lordship of Christ, submitting to the holy writ of Scripture mediated by godly, ordained leadership.
We are a bride, the most precious possession of Christ on earth. We are a body, His body, representing Him and ministering for Him on earth. We are a family of God, organized in the way He has commanded on earth. We have parental figures in our Pastors and Elders, big brothers in our Deacons, and all of the congregation are siblings, brothers and sisters in Christ, worshipping and working together for the cause of Christ, obeying His commandments, and loving one another.
One day, all believers will be gathered together in Heaven. Some will be able to say they were part of a championship team, in high school or college or professional sports. Some will say they were part of a band of brothers, maybe even the ones who stormed Normandy on D-Day. Some will say they were part of a scriptural church, one which tried to do God’s worship and God’s work in God’s way according to God’s word.
I do not have a championship ring, and I came of age in a time of peace. But I have fought the church wars and finally figured out how God wins. When we all get to Heaven, may He say of us that we were a scriptural church, not perfect by any means, but pleasing to Him in worship and work, leadership and membership. For this will be a reward to last for all eternity.