“To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are in Philippi, with the bishops and deacons (Philippians 1:1b).”
For several weeks John prepared us for the nominating process for elders and deacons. The qualifications that he detailed came directly from the Bible, from 1 Timothy 3, Titus 1, and 1 Peter 5, and it is the same instructions that were given to the churches in the first century. It is a privilege to participate in the process and it is instructive to our youth and visitors to Jersey Village in demonstrating the appointment of servants and leaders in the Lord’s church that remains undefiled by human traditions or innovation adhering to the ancient pattern (2 Timothy 1:13).
As John detailed, these offices are filled by men only. Both elders and deacons are to be a husband having only one wife (1 Timothy 3:11, Titus 3:6), thus excluding women from these offices (1 Timothy 2:11-14). Some point to the NIV translation of Romans 16:1 which describes Phoebe as a deaconess. So it is important to distinguish the office of deacon and the role of servant. The Greek word “diakonos” can mean a servant, which all Christians are to be, or depending upon the context, can refer to the office of deacon. The qualifications in the passages pertaining to the offices explicitly pertain to men alone removing all doubt.
There is no set process for the appointment of these offices, however, the church in Jerusalem was instructed “to seek out from among you (Acts 6:3)” men to serve in this role we know as deacons, who served others in the church. It is this example that we follow at Jersey Village, by nominating qualified men from among us to these positions. The preacher or evangelist then confirms them in these respective offices (Titus 1:5).
The office of elder is essential and described a number of ways in the New Testament. There are five English words (elder, shepherd, pastor, bishop, and overseer) and four in the Greek that are all synonymous with the word elder.1 In Acts 20:17 Paul calls for the elders (presbyters) at Ephesus and in v.28 refers to them as overseers and shepherds. From these words we derive the English words bishop and pastor. English words Overseer and Bishop are from the same Greek word (episkopos) so that we know these are not separate offices. In 1 Peter 5, the Apostle calls himself a fellow elder and refers to others who shared that office as presbyters and pastors or shepherds. These are synonyms for the same office, not a hierarchy of positions as some suppose.
This leadership position of the Lord’s church is also explicitly laid out in the New Testament. Christ is the Chief Shepherd (1 Peter 5:4, Ephesians 1:22, Colossians 1:18) so there can be no man who is said to be the head of His church. For that reason there is to be a plurality of shepherds in the local congregation (Acts 14:23). In a recent NBC news story, the lone “pastor” of one denominational church in Alabama announced that he had mishandled church funds, abused drugs, committed serial adultery with several women in the congregation and likely given them AIDS as a result.1 The members voted 80-1 to have him removed as “pastor” but he refused to step down. Locks on the building are being changed and the matter is now in the hands of attorneys (1 Corinthians 6:1). Is it not plain to see the wisdom of God’s pattern for leadership in the church? By the appointment of a plurality of elders no one man can corrupt the entire flock (1 Corinthians 5:6).
It is indeed a good thing to be led by such men who fit the divine pattern of leadership in the church and to serve alongside qualified and dedicated deacons who minister their duties just as those first men did in Jerusalem more than 2,000 years ago. As John has admonished us, let us all resolve to let their service be a joyful duty (Hebrews 13:17).
“And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, and to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake. Be at peace among yourselves. (1 Thessalonians 5:12-13).’”