Many church denominations use members in positions called deacons. As varied as denominations are, so too are the duties and responsibilities of these deacons. By observing their functions in different churches we might ask ourselves some basic questions to understand them and their function. Some of the questions I ask myself are: Where do deacons come from? What are their purposes? When did the church first start using deacons? Are the servants identified in Acts the start of the deacons in the church?
First we must define deacon. Vine’s dictionary says that deacon, or DIAKONOS in Greek, “primarily denotes a servant, whether as doing servile work, or as an attendant rendering free service, without particular reference to its character.” In the scriptures we see the deacons as the servants of the church. Deacons are not leading the church, which is the responsibility of the pastor, but taking care of the church as a servant. In Philippians 1:1 we see Paul identify three groups of people in the church. They are the general populace of believers or saints, bishops and deacons. So we can clearly say that the deacons are the helpers of the early church.
Homer Kent Jr. categorizes Acts 6:1-7 into three distinct categories which he says that Luke captured in these few verses. The three categories are “The Need” (Acts 6:1,2), “The Method” (Acts 6:3-6), and “The Outcome” (Acts 6:7). In keeping with this outline I will capture the start of the deacons within the church and answer if the seven selected men are deacons by definition and action.
When the church first started growing the believers were few and shared everything. And there was not much need for deacons. But as time went on a need for deacons was identified. First the church was growing in numbers. The exact amount is not known at this time but “the last total given in Acts was five thousand men (4:4),” and “multitudes had believed since that count (5:14).” We continue to see additional converts (5:26) as time moves forward and learn that “the number of the disciples was multiplying”. (6:1 NKJV) This increase in numbers brings more personalities into the mix, opposing opinions and additional stressors.
The next reason that there was a need for deacons was due to the “complaint against the Hebrews by the Hellenist” (6:1 NKJV) This complaint from the Hellenist was that their widows were neglected in the daily administration. Whether this is truly going on is not addressed directly. It could have been happening or it could have just been a perception. At a minimum it was perceived as happening otherwise they would not have been complaining. This needed to be addressed immediately because it looks like impartiality was being played against the Hellenistic Jews. Though the Hellenist were Jews, they were “Jews that were scattered in Greece, and other parts, who ordinarily spoke the Greek tongue” and this was enough difference to set them apart from the Hebrew Jews who spoke Hebrew...