Sunday, May 22, 2011

Deacon Sunday?

Reading: Acts 6:1-7

As the number of disciples continued to grow, the Hellenists complained against the Hebrews because their widows were being neglected in the daily distribution. So the Twelve called together the community of the disciples and said, “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task, whereas we shall devote ourselves to prayer and to the ministry of the word.” The proposal was acceptable to the whole community, so they chose Stephen, a man filled with faith and the Holy Spirit, also Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicholas of Antioch, a convert to Judaism. They presented these men to the apostles who prayed and laid hands on them. The word of God continued to spread, and the number of the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly; even a large group of priests were becoming obedient to the faith.

Examining Acts 6:1-6 serves a dual purpose. First, it shows the difficulty in drawing straight lines from current ecclesial praxis back to the apostolic church. Secondly, it demonstrates the often ambiguous nature of the word “deacon” in all its forms as it is used by New Testament authors, showing that most frequently it refers to an activity, not to a specific office, or order of ministry, in the church. Two of the three usages of various forms of the word “deacon” in these verses of Acts indirectly refer to the seven. The first use of diakonia implies what service they are to be set apart for, namely insuring an equal distribution of food daily among the widows of the community, a community that held all things in common, thus they were set apart primarily as peace-makers and bridge-builders within the community. Closely bound up with the first appearance of diakonia is the word diakonein that the twelve use to describe the very service for which the seven are set apart by the laying on of hands. It also bears noting that despite distinguishing being in charge of the daily distribution, which apparently included something like waiting tables, from the diakonia of the word, which, along with having adequate time to pray, is why the twelve wanted to be free from those duties, especially in light of the dispute that arose, we shortly read that "Stephen, filled with grace and power" began "working great wonders and signs among the people" and launching into an extended sermon that constitutes part of the authentic Christian proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (Acts 6:9). So, while this and subsequent references to the seven men, only two of whom, Stephen and Philip, we read more about in Acts, do not refer to them as deacons, it is easy to understand why they represent the biblical basis for this order of ministry.

1 comment:

  1. Scott I was definitely thinking of you and other deacons as I proclaimed this reading from the ambo yesterday.