Does the Bible Support Female Deacons?

On Sunday morning, May 23, I made the case for faithful women being recognized by the church for official service in the church according to appropriate complementary roles. While all are called to serve, some faithful men and women are recognized by the church for official service. You may listen to that message here.

While faithful men and women already serve in appropriate ways at High Pointe, after years of study and prayer, the elders concluded that we should rightly recognize the Lord’s servants as Scripture allows. The elders’ aim is to order our church according to Scripture. This is precisely what the apostle Paul does when writing to Timothy – that “you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God…” (1 Timothy 3:15).

Allow me to highlight how the elders came to this conclusion and how you may study this topic as well:

Consider the Biblical Arguments
We believe the Bible, all 66 books, are God’s word written to us. It is God’s word, breathed out (inspired – 2 Timothy 3:16) and, therefore, authoritative, true, and without error. Consequently, Scripture (God’s word written) is our final authority because God is our final authority. As we study the Bible on this topic, we need to understand, not only the specific texts that deal with diaconal ministry, we need also to consider the overarching story of the Bible, particularly as it relates to the complementary roles of men and women. One of the important principles of Bible interpretation is that we must allow Scripture to interpret itself. Because the Bible is God’s word, it will not contradict itself. So, we need to read all of Scripture in light of the whole Bible.

That means we must begin with an understanding of biblical complementarity in Genesis 1, 2, and 3. God establishes the foundation and pattern there for how men and women, though equal as God’s image, also have different complementary roles. Those roles flow out of being created as male or female. Men, for example, are by design to be protectors. Women are by design nurturers. How these roles work out in each culture may differ, but the point is that our maleness or femaleness is not arbitrary. There are things men should and should not do as males, and there are things women should and shouldn’t do as females. This is God’s good design.

In 1 Timothy 2:9-15, based on this creational pattern, Paul argues that women should learn alongside men in the church but not fulfill the role or function of elders/pastors: teaching and exercising authority over men. Likewise, in the context of speaking about how faithful men are to be recognized in the church as deacons (1 Timothy 3:8-13), Paul distinguishes how women may be evaluated and recognized by the church also to serve in an official capacity (1 Timothy 3:11). Whether one interprets v.11 as “their wives” or as “women” is beside the point because the context indicates Paul is speaking about offices in the church: elders (3:1-7); likewise male deacons (3:8-10, 12), likewise women/wives (3:11). The fact that Paul refers to Phoebe with the same male word for deacon (diakonos) and identifies her as representing a specific church in Romans 16:1 also bolsters the argument for female recognized servants in the church.

It’s important to note that Paul would not contradict himself. So, the fact that he recognizes women/wives in v.11 means he sees faithful women serving in an official capacity in the church in a way that does not violate the prohibition he just stated in 1 Timothy 2:12 or the pattern for male/female complementarity he recognized in 1 Timothy 2:13-15. Also of note is the fact that Paul clearly prohibits women from fulfilling the role of an elder in 1 Timothy 2:12, then goes on to talk about elders (3:1-7). However, he does not follow up with a similar prohibition against women deacons when talking about male deacons.

In summary, all are called to serve in the church: men and women. But some are recognized by the church for official service in areas of need – to protect the church’s mission and promote the church’s unity. And all who serve, whether in general or in an official capacity, must do so in appropriate complementary ways as men and as women.

We encourage you to study these passages on your own. Consider also Acts 6:1-7, along with other passages that may shed light on the specific passages of Romans 16:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13. We all come to the Scriptures with convictions. But don’t come to the Bible looking for verses that will only support your position. Instead, in prayerfulness and humility, come to the text allowing it to say what God says and to change your mind if required.

Consider How the Church Has Addressed this Topic throughout History
While church history is not authoritative, like Scripture is, it does provide a lens by which we may see how God has worked in the church over time. We are not the first Christians. We stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us. So, in our consideration of church history, we need to understand how the early church and church fathers viewed the role of women in the church, in general, and of deacons and deaconesses, in particular. Here is a helpful blog post that outlines some aspects of the historical argument for female deacons or deaconesses.

We also must consider how faithful pastors and churches understand the role of women in the service of the church. But we must be careful to compare apples to apples. What I mean is that our faithful gospel Presbyterian brothers must argue against women deacons because of their view of ordination. Both elders and deacons in the Presbyterian church are ordained men, and it is only those men who are recognized to serve in the church: preaching/teaching (elders), reading Scripture in the public gathering, serving in various official ways (deacons). Consequently, when a Presbyterian claims that women may do anything in the church that any non-ordained man may do, it means something different in their context because non-ordained men may not teach or preach or serve in an official capacity. In our context, however, non-ordained men do a lot: preach on occasion, teach Life Classes, lead Life Groups, and even serve as deacons. Still, it’s helpful to see how other faithful pastors and churches affirm the Bible’s support for women deacons/deaconesses:

Again, church history is not authoritative like Scripture is. And well-known pastors and theologians are not infallible. They too have blind spots. We all do. But as we consider church history, we’re reminded that faithful, gospel Christians have differed on the matter of women deacons/deaconesses and that this is not a matter over which Christians should divide – even in a local church. All are to serve, but some are to be recognized by the church for official service. That has always been the case because of needs that arise (Acts 6:1-7).
So, let us continue to recognize faithful men and women to serve at High Pointe. And let us keep up the fight to protect the church’s mission and promote the church’s unity.

Love,

Pastor Juan

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