The Case for Female Deacons: Protecting Male Eldership

So far, we’ve looked at what the Bible says about female deacons. Then he saw how the church has handled the issue through its history. Now, I want to show how allowing female deacons actually protects and strengthens a church’s commitment to male eldership.

Elder vs. Deacon

It is important to remember that elders and deacons are two different positions. Throughout the 20th century, many American churches collapsed the two together: those who filled positions of leadership authority in the church were called “deacons.” But the Bible demonstrates that elders and deacons are clearly two different things. Paul gives the specific qualifications for elders in 1 Timothy 3:1-7. The only skill mentioned there is the ability to teach. Why? Because elders serve the authoritative teaching role in the congregation. It is the elder’s job to preserve the truth and pass it along to the next generation.

Deacons, on the other hand, are servants. They do not teach. They do not exercise spiritual authority over the congregation. Paul gives the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-14. If Acts 6:1-7 serves as a prototype for deacons, then deacons are also heavily involved in the mercy ministry of the church.

Although some Christians see a women fulfilling a church “office” as inherently exercising authority, the pertinent question becomes, “What kind of authority does this person (or office) hold?” Is it a spiritual authority where the office can make discernments of a spiritual nature about a person? Or is the position on with the authority to perform a function? For deacons, I believe the latter is the case. Once installed, the deacon has the authority to serve. But they are not serving in an authoritative teaching role like an elder.

Protecting Male-Only Eldership

If a church decides to allow women to be deacons, they can draw a sharp line between the office of deacon and the office of elder. The Bible provides equally valid interpretive options on the issue of female deacons. On the other hand, there is no good evidence for allowing women to be installed as pastors/elders. Scripture is quite clear on the issue. First, Scripture forbids women from holding an authoritative teaching (i.e. the office of pastor/elder) in 1 Timothy 2:11-12. Paul’s prohibition is not grounded in a particular cultural context, however. It is grounded in God’s creational design (1 Timothy 2:13-15). Just as Adam was created as head of his wife and thus served in the leadership role in the relationship, so men are called to serve in the authoritative teaching role of the church.

Furthermore, all of the qualifications in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 are cast only in male terms, whereas men and women are addressed in the qualifications for deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-14). We never see in Scripture an example of a woman serving in the role of elder or pastor. But we do have evidence that Phoebe could have been view as a “deacon of the church at Cenchrea” (Romans 16:1).

Strengthening Male Eldership

I believe that installing women as deacons can actually help strengthen male eldership in the church. How? The role of a deacon is to serve the church. In many ways, they work closely with the elders to ensure the practical needs of the church are being met. Restricting the office of deacon to men severely limits the number of competent and qualified believers to fill that role. Having a deeper “roster” of servant-hearted believers to care for the body of Christ seems like a huge benefit.

Male elders should be just as committed to raising up and discipling women as they are women, for women should be roughly half of the congregation. Elders are shepherds. And they are called to shepherd the whole congregation, both men and women. Installing women as deacons will put women on the forefront of the disciple-making of the church. When both men and women fulfill the roles that God has called them to, the body of Christ will flourish.

The Case for Female Deacons: part one, part two, part three.

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