Many churches throughout the world use a Bible reading schedule called a "lectionary." It's just a fancy word meaning "selected readings." Posts like this reflect on the readings for an upcoming Sunday or other Church holiday, as found in the three-year lectionary.
This week’s Epistle reading from 1 Timothy 3:1-13 speaks about the biblical qualifications of elders and deacons. The term used for “elder” (ἐπισκοπής) is also often translated “bishop.” Literally, it means “overseer.” This is the person who would watch over the work of the Church, making sure all is well. The term for “deacon” (διάκονος) indicates someone who would serve others.
Notice that all the character qualities listed for these people are qualities which we would really expect to see in just about any godly man in a congregation. The statement which makes me suggest “man” is that he is the “husband of one wife.” While there is some debate about the role of females as elders or deacons, we’ll leave that for another time and place. Are the qualities (except for being a husband of one wife) generally those of a mature believer in Christ? They certainly are. The elders and deacons are simply mature, responsible people who take their identity in Christ seriously.
The New Testament uses terms for “elder,” “overseer,” and “pastor” interchangeably. Somehow in many circles elders have come to be elected by a popular vote for a particular term of office. Some church congregations specify a number of people who will be elders. In doing so, this distances the elder from the biblical pattern, which indicates someone who would be responsible before God to lead Christ’s people well, especially feeding them in Word and Sacrament. I’d love to see us return to a view which says the office of elder is critically important and that the person who desires it is doing 1) a good thing and 2) will knock himself out to accomplish the tasks.
Is the deacon a second-class leader? Not at all, but the deacon is not an elder. The deacon is not charged with teaching God’s people. This is not an inferior office in any way. It is simply a different role within the body.
Lord, raise up elders and deacons within your Church. Use them powerfully so that your kingdom may come and your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
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