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"...The church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth."
I Timothy 3:15

Deacons: The Baptists’ Sacred Cow

Pastor John Reaves, Sr.

We, as Independent Baptists, are always quick to get on to those who assume things in Scripture. For instance, those who believe that the church began at Pentecost assume that when Jesus gave guidelines for church discipline in Mat. 18:15-20, that it was guidelines for the future church. But Jesus said in verse 17, “And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church...,” as if the church already existed. And, of course, it did. Jesus started his church not the Holy Spirit, (Mat. 16:17-18).

It is always dangerous to assume things in Scripture, for therein all the false doctrines have begun. As I approach the sacred cow of the Independent Baptist churches, I am sure many will cry out, “Heretic, Heretic,” but please hear me out.

Back to the matter of assuming, the average Baptist assumes that Acts 6:1-7 is speaking about deacons (as we know deacons today). But the word ‘deacon’ never appears in the text. I have talked to pastors and missionaries that have been in the ministry for years, and when I told them the word ‘deacon’ doesn’t appear in that text they have had to go look in their Bibles because they thought it did. But all they found was a heading, like in the Scofield Bible that reads, “The First Deacons.” They say, “Well, I assumed that it said deacon because of Acts 6:2-3,” “Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables.”

“Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.”

The Apostles said, “...It is not reason that we (the twelve) should leave the word of God, and serve
tables." ‘Serve tables’...there it is...deacons. They are to serve tables, be waiters. So in order to wait on tables they must be “ of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," (verse 3). What?! All of this just to wait on tables? So now in order to wait on tables they must have authority. “Whom they (the church) set before the apostles; and when they had prayed they laid their hands on them,” (Acts 6:6). They ordained the seven for what? To wait on tables.

When I was ordained in 1977, my home church laid hands on me and gave me the authority to go out and baptize and start local New Testament Baptist Churches. As was the case with Paul and Barnabas in Acts 13:1-4. You don’t need to be ordained to wait on tables, but you do in order to baptize and start churches.

So when the apostles said, “It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.” What were they saying? Were they saying we can’t leave the Word of God, but we will appoint seven who can? How could that be? When the seven were men full of faith and the Holy Ghost? Faith comes by the Word of God, (Rom. 10:17). No, the apostles were not saying that. You must remember, that first church in Jerusalem was a church like no other. All twelve apostles were members. The estimated membership of that church was between 18 and 20 thousand. The apostles were very busy concerning the Word.

Because of them, the 12, being used of God, we have Matthew, John, James, I & II Peter, I, II & III John, and Revelation. They didn’t have God’s complete revelation. That’s why, as being leaders, they gave themselves entirely to prayer and the Word, searching the O. T. Scriptures. There was a need for others to tend to “the daily ministration." The counseling, dealing with church problems, like the one between the Grecians and the Hebrews having to do with the widows being neglected. And when you look at the two examples given us of the seven, we see they did everything but be a waiter of tables.

In Acts 7, we read that Stephen, one of the seven, preached a fiery, Holy Spirit convicting message. One that led to him being one of the first martyrs. No waiting on tables there. But we do see a preacher. In Acts 8, beginning in verse 4, we read of Philip, one of the seven, going to Samaria preaching, baptizing, starting a church, then leading the Ethiopian eunuch to Christ, and baptizing him. No table waiting there! But we do see a missionary at work, one who has been ordained, given the authority to baptize, and to start churches.

As a matter of fact, of Philip, in Acts 21:8, we read, “And the next day we that were of Paul's company departed, and came unto Caesarea: and we entered into the house of Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven; and abode with him.” It calls him, “Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven.”

The word evangelist means a preacher of the gospel and it comes from another word which means: to declare or bring glad tidings. Simply, Philip was a missionary as we have already seen in Acts 8.

Paul even told the young preacher Timothy, in II Tim. 4:5, to “do the work of an evangelist.”

So when the Apostles talked of waiting on tables they spoke of servants of which all missionaries and pastors are to be. With Christ as our example, Mat. 20:27-28, “And whosoever will be chief among you, let him be your servant:

Even as the Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

After our Lord washed the feet of the apostles and sat down, (John 13:14), He says to them, “If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another’s feet.” Thus speaking of serving or to be a servant to one another.

You can search in vain but you will not find deacons, as we know them today, in the Bible. No such thing as a deacon who is voted in for a two year term, ordained and then in two years someone else voted in and ordained. I submit to you that the Independent Baptist idea of deacons is merely tradition. The Baptist Sacred Cow! Our whole idea of deacons comes from Acts, chapter 6, of which it speaks nothing of deacons as such. Those seven were nothing more than preachers, pastors, and missionaries.

We, as Baptists are always so quick to jump on religious groups for practicing tradition, placing tradition above the Bible. We too are guilty of tradition concerning deacons. Why do you believe in deacons the way they are today? Most likely because you have been taught to believe it and taught that Acts 6 speaks of deacons.

Let me give some food for thought:

1. First of all, why are deacons not listed in Eph. 4:11 along with those given to the church by our Lord

for the perfecting of the saints, for the edifying of the body (church) of Christ? “And he gave some,
apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers.”

But no deacons! Could it be that deacons, evangelists, and missionaries are one in the same? Like
pastor, bishop, and elders!

2. Why is it in I Tim. ch. 3 the qualifications for bishops and deacons are basically the same.

"Blameless, husband of one wife, not given to wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, one that ruleth well his own house having his children in subjection with all gravity." What is the purpose for this qualification? Verse 5, I Tim. 3, "For if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God?" The deacon has the same qualification in I Tim 3:12, "Let the deacons be the husbands of one wife, ruling their children and their own houses well."

There is basically one difference between bishops (pastors) and deacons, I Tim 3:10 says, “And let these also first be proved; then let them use the office of a deacon, being found blameless.”

Could it be that deacons are nothing more than pastors and missionaries in training, being proved. Don’t we as Independent Baptists require our young preachers to work in the church and get their training in the local church? Don’t we prove them before we send them out? As they did in Acts 13.

3. We, as Independent Baptists, like to say, “Christ is our head, we don’t have a hierarchy." We claim verses like Eph. 5:23, which says, “For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body.”

And, yes, Christ is the Head of the church or is supposed to be. And yet many Baptist Churches set up deacon boards, trustee boards, and all other kinds of boards. The pastor takes things of importance to the deacon board and if they don’t approve it, it never goes to the rest of the church, the body. Is Christ really the Head of a church who does not allow the body as a whole to decide on matters of importance.

4. Where are the deacon boards in the gospels? The Epistles? They are not there. No matter what well known preachers such as Dr. Tom Malon (and others) say, as said in a recent message and I quote: “The Bible teaches that a church should have a board of deacons.” I submit to you that based on the Bible, our final authority, that there is no such thing as a board of deacons and it sure does not teach we should have one.

5. When you consider even the definition of the word "deacon" you have to admit, it could be speaking of a pastor. In the Strongs Concordance the word for deacon is as follows:

“1249. diakonos, dee-ak'-on-os; prob. from an obs. diako (to run on errands; comp. G1377); an attendant, i.e. (gen.) a waiter (at table or in other menial duties); spec. a Chr. teacher and pastor.”

6. You can search early church history and you will find nothing to even hint at a deacon board or
deacons as we know them today.

7. Even if Acts 6 is talking about deacons, the church in Jerusalem had a membership of around 20,000 and they only needed 7. Why is it in most churches today which do not even have an attendance of 200 need 7? Man made tradition that's why.

And in conclusion of the matter of deacons, let me ask one final question. What has been the outcome of deacons and deacon boards as we know them today? Destruction! Many churches have been destroyed as a result of this man-made board system. Pastors are not allowed to do as the Bible says in I Peter 5:2, “Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind.”

With deacons and deacon boards, pastors are not able to take the oversight concerning the matters of the church. Many young preachers are being taught when you start a new church the first thing you need to do is get some deacons and they do. The result? The deacons run the pastor off.

A lot of churches today are being controlled by deacons and that has never been the Lord’s way. I am not saying that there is not such a position as deacon but what I am saying is our idea of deacons is not the same as found in the New Testament. The Lord’s chain of command concerning the church has always been Christ the Head, then the pastor, then the body. No place for a board of any sort.

The Bible Baptist Church in Brandon, Manitoba, was organized in 1988. The church is 6 years old at the writing of this tract, and we have never had a deacon nor a deacon board. There has been only one men’s meeting and that was a mistake. When we have meetings, all of the body of Christ is in attendance and as a result the Lord has greatly blessed our church.

I challenge you to study it out for yourself...this matter concerning deacons.

The only deacon board I have found in the Bible is in Numbers 16:1-4:

Now Korah, the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram, the sons of Eliab, and On, the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men:

And they rose up before Moses, with certain of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty princes of the assembly, famous in the congregation, men of renown:

And they gathered themselves together against Moses and against Aaron, and said unto them, Ye take too much upon you, seeing all the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them: wherefore then lift ye up yourselves above the congregation of the LORD? And when Moses heard it, he fell upon his face.

Sounds like a deacon board to me.