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Church Officers: Elder and Deacons

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This past weekend, many of the Faith Church campuses ordained and installed new elders and deacons (with the rest ordained and installed this weekend). This is a good time to pause and consider why we have these officers and how they are to function, so we will break this week from the Apostles’ Creed series to do this. 

Basis for Offices

We don’t have these officers because of tradition or because we thought it would be a good idea, but because the offices of elder and deacon are found in Scripture. Philippians 1:1 shows Paul writing to the “overseers and deacons” in Philippi, and 1 Timothy 3 gives a list of qualifications for the offices of overseer and deacon. Titus 1 indicates elders and overseers to be the same, as what Paul calls an elder in verse 5 is called an overseer in verse 7. In Acts 20:28, Paul spoke to the elders in Ephesus and told them that they are to be overseers of the church (thus telling elders to be overseers). 1 Peter 5 uses language of elders both shepherding and also overseeing, showing the interchangeability of the title elder and overseer. In 1 Timothy 5:17, Paul distinguishes the difference between elders who rule, elders who teach, and elders who preach and provides the rationale for a separate class of pastors who teach, along with elders who rule or oversee the church. Thus we have pastors, elders, and deacons. Therefore, the Belgic Confession (one of our church’s confessions of faith) states that the church “ought to be governed according to the spiritual order our Lord has taught us in his Word. There should be ministers or pastors to preach the Word of God and administer the sacrament. There should also be elders and deacons, along with the pastors, to make up the council of the church” (Article 30).

Qualifications for the Offices

The qualifications for these offices also come from Scripture in 1 Timothy 3 (and again for elders in Titus 1:3-7). These verses tell us that elders should have qualities such as being the husband of one wife (literally, “a one-woman man”), well thought of by outsiders and respected by the community, hospitable, not a quarrelsome person or one who is violent, and one who is self-controlled rather than one controlled by alcohol or money and able to teach (among others); deacons should also not being greedy or addicted to alcohol but faithful in life and conduct and live with dignity and integrity. Note the heavy emphasis on character and convictions; elders and deacons must reflect Christ in word and in deed.

Functions of the Offices

The titles and the qualities are biblical, but what is the function of these officers? Once again, we turn to the Scriptures, with the quintessential text of elders found in Acts 20 and the quintessential text for deacons in Acts 6.

In Acts 20:28-35, Paul tells the elders of Ephesus that they are to pay attention to the flock that the Holy Spirit gave them because there are “fierce wolves” that will come and try to destroy them. Thus, elders watch over the doctrine (teaching) of the church to make sure it is faithful to Scripture. Because there is an enemy trying to pull people away from God, the elders also guide people in conduct and behaviors that are faithful to the Scriptures. They do this by continually teaching the Word in public and in private, and building relationships to dispense with the Word of God. Our Community Care Elders at Faith Church seek to do this, working with the pastors (elders who teach and give the sacraments); each campus has elders to help shepherd that campus.

Acts 6 is a good example of the responsibilities of deacons, as seven men were appointed to assist the apostles when some widows were being overlooked in the distribution of funds. These seven men handled this matter, while the apostles focused on the Word and prayer. Similarly, the deacons of the church take care of logistical issues related to finances and mercy so elders can focus on our teachings and conduct. This is the purpose of our Stewardship Team Deacons at Faith Church, with each campus having deacons who help do this at that particular campus who oversee the budget and also care for older singles and those in need. This description does not mean that deacons are not “spiritual” like the elders; rather, I like to say the deacons help us put our money where our mouth is, to help make sure that our finances match our faith. In fact, the apostles did not look for deacons who had good financial backgrounds but were faithful and trustworthy, who were full of the Spirit and wise to help in these matters. 

Working Together in These Offices for The Glory of God

So, that is the reason we have elders and deacons and what they do. One of the unique things about Reformed churches that trace their roots back to the Netherlands is that these elders and deacons come together in a body known as the “Consistory” that serves as the governing board of the church (the pastor’s boss). 

These different officers and teams can be confusing, but there is also a real sense of structure in which the various leaders help us as a church not to be dominated by one person; we believe in a plurality of leaders (having multiple leaders) who reflect various gifts and perspectives (for more on this idea, see this post from last year). There is one person who leads the church, and that is Jesus Christ, but he has given us leaders and officers to help his church flourish and to reach the ends of the earth with the gospel. May we be thankful for them and pray for them.

 

Questions about the Bible or theology? Email them to Pastor Brian at Theology@WeAreFaith.org. You can also request to receive weekly emails with our blog posts by filling out the information on the right side.

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