It is important to note the impact that deacons made on the first-century Christian church. After they were elected, Acts 6:7 records, “The word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly.” With great insight, Ellen G. White attributed this growth experience to the work of the deacons. She stated:
“This ingathering of souls was due both to the greater freedom secured by the apostles and the zeal and power shown by the seven deacons. The fact that these brethren had been ordained for the special work of looking after the needs of the poor, did not exclude them from teaching the faith. On the contrary, they were fully qualified to instruct others in the truth, and they engaged in the work with great earnestness and success.”1
David S. Dockery concludes that “the selection of the seven [deacons] started the church on its world evangelism mission.”2
These statements indicate that, in addition to addressing the physical needs of the poor, the deacons of the early church proclaimed the gospel and won converts to the church, as did the apostles. The Book of Acts gives undisputable evidence of this fact, as it portrays the ministry of deacons Philip and Stephen. Although there is no biblical record that proves that the other deacons proclaimed the gospel and won converts, neither is there any record that proves otherwise. According to 1 Timothy 3:9, one of the qualifications necessary to serve as a deacon is to hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience. This includes being “a well-informed Bible student.”3 This would suggest that all of the deacons were expected to share their faith verbally.
Philip is portrayed as an effective evangelist and Bible worker. In Acts 21:8, he is referred to as “Philip the evangelist, which was one of the seven . . .” As an evangelist, he conducted a public evangelistic meeting in the city of Samaria with tremendous success (Acts 8:5-8). Ellen White stated, “Philip’s work in Samaria was marked with great success, and, thus encouraged, he sent to Jerusalem for help. The apostles now perceived more fully the meaning of the words of Christ, ‘Ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.’ Acts 1:8.”4
Philip also had the skills of a Bible worker: to teach the Scriptures to a one-person audience. After completing the meeting in Samaria, he was instructed by the angel of the Lord to go into the desert of Gaza. There, he met an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading the Scriptures. Philip explained the Scriptures to him and baptized him (Acts 8:34-38).
Stephen is another example of a deacon who won converts to the church. Acts 6:8 gives this account of Stephen: “And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Unfortunately, Stephen faced great opposition because of his work and was stoned to death (Acts 7:58-60); however, the infamous Saul witnessed Stephen’s courage and was convicted. Ellen White indicated that God chose Saul “to take the place of the martyred Stephen, to preach and suffer for His name, and to spread far and wide the tidings of salvation through His blood.”5 Therefore, Stephen witnessed through his life and his word—and also through his death.
The implication of the deacons in the first-century Christian church proclaiming the gospel and winning souls for today‘s deacons is that there is a potential for an explosion of new members added to the church. Deacons who have the gift of evangelism can conduct public meetings—home meetings, hall meetings, church meetings, and prophecy seminars. They can also serve as Bible workers in meetings conducted by their pastor or guest evangelist. This would reduce the expense of hiring outside Bible workers.
1 Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 90.
2 David S. Dockery, “Acts 6–12: The Christian Mission Beyond Jerusalem,” in Review and Exposition 87 (Summer 1990): 424.
3 “Faith,” in SDA Bible Commentary, 7:299-300.
4 Ellen White, The Acts of the Apostles, 107.
5 Ibid., 102.
Vincent E. White, Sr., D.Min., is a retired pastor and author of The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model; The Twenty-First Century Deacon and Deaconess: Reflecting the Biblical Model Workbook; and Problem Solvers and Soul Winners: A Handbook for Deacons and Deaconesses.