Posted: 05 Jan 2011 11:00 PM PST
ALTHOUGH THE SEVEN MEN WHO ARE appointed to certain responsibilities in Acts 6:1–7 are not explicitly called "deacons," few doubt that this is the beginning of what came to be called the diaconate. Several points call for comment:
(1) What precipitates this step is a problem—a particular kind of problem. The Greek-speaking Jewish Christians are dissatisfied with the level of support being received by their widows, compared with the support received by the widows of Aramaic-speaking Jewish Christians. Whether the charge is justified or not—and, if it is, whether it is an intentional slight or an accidental one because the Aramaic-speakers were on home turf and probably in the ascendancy—cannot at this point be determined. In any case, the divisiveness is at least as potentially dangerous for this large, fledgling church as the perceived injustice that precipitated it. Note: (a) The church ran its own welfare system for the indigent and the unsupported. (b) It is mildly reassuring, in a wry way, to discover that the earliest church faced problems of alleged inequity, injustice, and consequent divisiveness. (c) More telling is the fact that it addressed those problems. (d) Moreover, it is obvious that the size of a church, not to say its rising problems of equity and communication, may demand improvements in organization and the appointment of new officers.
(2) The reasoning of the Twelve is stunningly focused: "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables" (Acts 6:2). Again, they lay down some criteria and insist that they themselves will give their attention "to prayer and the ministry of the word" (Acts 6:4). We may not have the Twelve today, but pastors/elders/overseers have inherited this ministry of the word and prayer. That includes not only teaching others, but doing the serious study and preparation and intercession that stand behind good teaching and preaching. There will always be a hundred things to distract you. Do not be distracted from what is central.
(3) The criteria presented by the Twelve for the church to use in their choice of seven men are not managerial prowess and gifts of diplomacy. The men are to be known as full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom and faith (Acts 6:4, 5). Of course, these criteria include managerial savvy: if a person is full of the Holy Spirit, he or she will exercise care in relationships; and "wisdom" can include practical, godly skill in some defined area. But at bottom, these seven men are appointed because they are judged to be mature and godly Christians as well as gifted for the tasks assigned them.
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