Friday, October 06, 2006

William Einwechter: Deaconnesses? No.

William Einwechter taught a smaller session on whether women should be permitted to serve in the office of deacon.

[Note: I think the lower attendance than the previous session reflected the settled nature of the question for many of the conference participants. I thought it would be helpful, though, especially since the families in our church have come from a diverse theological background -- a state I expect will only continue.]

He said that the term used for the office of deacon, diakonos, means to carry out the duties of a given role. Paul used the term of his service to the Gentiles, as a deacon or servant. Romans 12:4 speaks of our diaconate work, our service. 1 Tim 3:1 and 10 it is used both of elders and deacons. It refers to an ongoing, particular duty performed for the church.

There are only two such offices in the New Testament – elder and deacon. Apostles and prophets were temporary offices for the establishment period, and they were not chosen by the church but commissioned directly by the Head of the Church Himself.

Regarding elders, presbyteros refers to the man, the elder; the second, episkopos, refers to his function, oversight. The elder is a shepherd who feeds the church on the Word, governs (oversees) the church in its affairs, and protects the church from false doctrine by teaching the truth. There is no higher office under Jesus Christ in the New Testament. Qualifications are 1 Tim 3 and Titus 1.

Furthermore, the qualifications are given for men only, with responsibilities (particularly teaching) which are specifically withheld from women in other places.

What about deacons?

This is established in an official sense in Phil 1:1, Paul and Timothy are servants of Christ with the bishops and deacons. 1 Tim 3:8-13 elaborates on the deacons.

Note that the office of deacon is important to the local church. This is not just about whether women can be deacons, but also to recognize the significance of the diaconate itself. Diakonos does not refer to a slave, like doulos. That is a servant, assistant, or attendant. A deacon is “one who does something at the behest of a superior”, like a stewart. The Septuagint uses the term in the story of Esther, verses 1:10 and 2:2, of the chamberlains. Haman indeed was a diakonos of the king, and in fact was second to the king himself. They were very important government officials, but under the authority of the king. In the pagan literature, it was also used of a messenger; when Paul is a diakonos of Christ, he is charged with carrying a message for Him.

Who is really great in the church? The servant -- yet the deacon is more than simply the one making sure the lavatories are clean.

What is the origin of the office of deacon? Although some dispute it, it appears likely that Acts 6:1-7 is the origin. The goal was to relieve the apostles of the duties which interfered with their ministry of the Word.

What are the duties of the office? Take the duties given to the seven men in Acts 6, to care for the physical needs of the church members and take that burden off the elders. Einwechter, however, believes that is “much too narrow. I think it is better to follow the New Testament leading which is much broader in general service to the ministry.”

“We should see the office of deacon as one who gives assistance to the elders in any area which the elders deem necessary. This assistance may be temporary or permanent. In this view, deacons may have teaching responsibilities and shepherding responsibilities ...” This is consistent with the broad meaning of the word. “There is no explicit limitation to the deacons' service in the New Testament, but always under the direction and oversight of the elders.”
The examples of Stephen and Philip show deacons in preaching and evangelistic roles.

“I believe the office of deacon may involve any service that the elders do, but always under the elders, while the elders are under no higher earthly authority.”

Qualifications: 1 Tim 3:8-13. They are high qualifications. In character they are identical to elders, men of great responsibilities, except that deacons are not required to be able to teach, nor in Titus 1:9 does he have to be able to hold fast the faithful word against gainsayers. Surprisingly, they are not mentioned in terms of practicing hospitality, either.

If deacons are able to articulate sound doctrine in teaching, then elders are wise to recognize that, but they are not required to be able.

The selection of deacons is the same for choosing all officers. God gives His people three steps for selecting leaders – God gives the qualifications, the people choose from among themselves, and the leaders appoint them. (That seems to allow some sort of veto power, too.)

Now, should women be permitted to hold the office of deacon?

Evidence for

Rom 16:1-2 speaks of Phoebe as a diakonos, [most translations “servant”, RSV “deaconess”]. Does this refer to the office? Some argue that it does, or even extend it to justify women pastors.
1 Tim 3:11 says that the wives of deacons must have certain characters. Or does the language refer to women generally, in the context of diaconal qualifications? Einwechter points out the same transition occurs in discussion of wives of elders.

Evidence against

Rom 16:1-2 doesn't prove anything since the term is used to refer to others who were not deacons per se, such as Paul and Timothy. Rom 13:4 also refers to civil magistrates (“servants of God”) with the same term (again showing the importance of the office). This probably refers to Phoebe in the since of a messenger for Paul, as was Titus (Col 4:7) who was referred to as a faithful servant. Some conservative scholars suggest that Phoebe made actually have been charged with delivering the letter to the Romans.

1 Tim 3:11 is a stronger argument for the “pro” side, “but the evidence is not only uncertain but unlikely.” Verses 8-10 speak of men who are deacons, verse 12 speaks of men again, while verses 11-12 speak of the deacon's family relationships. This fits the context. If Paul were introducing a female office of deaconess, it would have made sense to complete the discussion of deacons before starting a section on the separate office. It may even be that Paul intended this to apply to the wives of elders, too.

And if there were to be deaconesses equal to deacons, then why would Paul have mentioned a separate category at all? If a deacon is a deacon is a deacon, and if male and female is immaterial in that office, he would not have highlighted the gender.

It is an office of responsibility, an office of leadership, and one that requires men of the same character as elders. There is no explicit evidence for women deacons in the New Testament, none. At best, Rom 16 and 1 Tim 3 are inconclusive. And in both elders and deacons, they are required to be “husbands of one wife”; would this not apply to a female aspirant to the office?
And the statement that women shall be “delivered through childbearing” [1 Tim 2:15] refers to being delivered from a position of “no position”, because it is their entry into their highest role.

“There are so many noble women serving in the New Testament, but yet I believe the greatest ministry of a woman in the kingdom of God is that of wife and mother in the raising of a family.”

No comments: