Who is to Serve?

James 1:2 Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.

I thank the Lord when folks occasionally challenge something I’ve said or done in church because of what they’ve understood to be true in God’s word. It keeps me sharp – to ensure I am rightly dividing the word of truth. They have searched the scriptures, like the Bereans, to see if what I have said is accurate. As you know, I encourage everyone to do the same. My prayer is for our church family to be wonderfully scripturally literate. Sometimes, however, scripture may not be as perfectly clear on specific topics as we would like.

This happened recently as we brought in our new board of Deacons.

There is a very old debate as to if, and how, women should serve in positions of leadership within the church. Google it! You could spend months on the material dealing with the pros and cons. Even within our Reformed denominational families, there are strong feelings and support one way or another. Today, I just want us to look at what scripture appears to tell us about deacons.

Most people cite 1 Tim 3:11, as the verse which clearly outlines males as represented in the role of deacon. However, it seems to be a matter of translation.

Here is the Stevens 1530 Textus Receptus in Greek (For you type A, extra credit geeks):

gunaikaV wsautwV semnaV mh diabolouV nhfaleous pistaV en pasin (That so didn’t convert, yikes!)

There is wisdom in using multiple translations if nuance is necessary in a passage. Both the ESV and the KJV state respectively in verse 11: “Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober minded, faithful in all things (ESV); Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things (KJV).” Now in the KJV, words that are added for readability are italicized. “Must their” and “be” are added in this line in the KJV. The greek word “gynaikas” is rendered in both those translations as “wife,” but that isn’t its only meaning. The NASB, which is considered a more literal, word-for-word version says: “Women must likewise be dignified, not malicious gossips, but temperate, faithful in all things.”

What gives?

In the NASB, that same Greek word “gynaikas” (What I bolded in the Greek above) is rendered “women.” The adding of “their” is an interpretation in both the ESV and the KJV. Without the modifier, in the NASB, it appears Paul is saying both men AND women share in this office. Especially since the word “likewise” implies not just the men, but women as well.

Now one verse doesn’t make a doctrine, but Paul – in the most doctrinal of all NT epistles: Romans – calls Phoebe a “diakonos” of the church at Cencheae (16:1). This Greek word is the same one he uses for “deacon” in 1 Timothy 3:8. It is rendered “servant.” However, in Romans 16:2, he calls her what is variously defined as a succourer, patroness, or legal protector. Leadership of some kind is again implied. Dr. Bill Mounce, an esteemed New Testament scholar and Greek language expert, backs this understanding. Believe it or not, I am not trying to pursuade anyone, just examine what is in front of us.

My point in all of this is to show the Bible neither perfectly shows them in, nor denies women from this office. You should know even the Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Minority Report recommended women for this ministry of compassion. Given the range of understanding on this topic, it behooves us to be humble and not become too dogmatic on the subject. Far too many women have faithfully served under this title throughout time bringing untold comfort to the church. There is a well researched book on Amazon about numerous women in the early church who served as deacons. We are blessed such capable and dedicated women stepped forward in Christ Alone to bring that necessary compassion to our church family. I really believe the Great Deceiver uses our theological disagreements to keep us needlessly embattled rather than discipling the nations. Spiritual warfare is real. Perhaps this is why the EPC considers the topic non-essential to our primary goal of advancing the kingdom of God in Christ.

My prayer, and the original intended thrust of my column this month, was to continue to engage and develop men for the spiritual duties to which they are called. Perhaps what I’ve written above is a sign for us fellows to start making things happen. Thus, come Fall, I will begin leading a Men’s Study on Wednesday evenings starting with a dive into 1 Timothy. The leadership characteristics Paul lays out for Timothy are not just for positions within the church, but for all men. Guys, I really want you to pencil this into your schedules. To properly grow our children in the ways of the Lord and be salt and light, we as men need to passionately model it in our own lives. There is no do as I say not as I do.

If there is anything I know, it is that I cannot make everyone happy. Nevertheless, my intent for God’s glory, for His church, for the Name above all names, is to draw us more closely in faithfulness to Him. Working through theological controversies are just another trial which will produce steadfastness in our walk. Pray over our leadership, the Lord’s church, our men to rise to the occasion, our community, and yourselves. Ask Him for an unshakable dose of the Holy Spirit to guide us and help us to do His will. We will see His blessing.

In Christ’s love,

John