The ministry of deacons and deaconesses had its beginning in apostolic times and was related to service of different kinds among the early believers. It is a commonly accepted belief that the work of the deacons began with the apostles’ selection of seven men, including Stephen and Phillip, to care for the charitable work of the Jerusalem church (Acts 6:5–7). Later, the New Testament also mentions the service of female deaconesses, such as Phoebe (Rom 16:1). Thus the ministry of deacons and deaconesses is biblical in origin. David’s leadership teaches us timeless principles for today’s diaconate. A totally converted life of godliness, moral and spiritual uprightness, identity with God’s people and His cause, and wisdom and discernment are some of the essential qualities of those called to church leadership. The following selection, from Acts of the Apostles by Ellen G. White,1 is an invaluable perspective on the ministry of deacons and deaconesses for the service of the church.
DAVID’S LEADERSHIP: A TIMELESS MODEL FOR DIACONATE
King David, toward the close of his reign, delivered a solemn charge to those bearing the burden of the work of God in his day. Summoning to Jerusalem “all the princes of Israel, the princes of the tribes, and the captains of the companies that ministered to the king by course, and the captains over the thousands, and captains over the hundreds, and the stewards over all the substance and possession of the king, and of his sons, with the officers, and with the mighty men, and with all the valiant men,” the aged king solemnly charged them, “in the sight of all Israel the congregation of the Lord, and in the audience of our God,” to “keep and seek for all the commandments of the Lord your God” (1 Chr. 28:1, 8).
To Solomon, as one called to occupy a position of leading responsibility, David gave a special charge: “Thou, Solomon my son, know thou the God of thy father, and serve Him with a perfect heart and with a willing mind: for the Lord searcheth all hearts, and understandeth all the imaginations of the thoughts: if thou seek Him, He will be found of thee; but if thou forsake Him, He will cast thee off forever. Take heed now; for the Lord hath chosen thee: . . . be strong” (1 Chr. 28:9, 10).
PRINCIPLES OF GODLY LEADERSHIP
The same principles of piety and justice that were to guide the rulers among God’s people in the time of Moses and of David, were also to be followed by those given the oversight of the newly organized church of God in the gospel dispensation. In the work of setting things in order in all the churches, and ordaining suitable men to act as officers, the apostles held to the high standards of leadership outlined in the Old Testament Scriptures. They maintained that he who is called to stand in a position of leading responsibility in the church “must be blameless, as the steward of God; not self-willed, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre; but a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate; holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:7–9).
The order that was maintained in the early Christian church made it possible for them to move forward solidly as a well-disciplined army clad with the armor of God. The companies of believers, though scattered over a large territory, were all members of one body; all moved in concert and in harmony with one another. When dissension arose in a local church, as later it did arise in Antioch and elsewhere, and the believers were unable to come to an agreement among themselves, such matters were not permitted to create a division in the church, but were referred to a general council of the entire body of believers, made up of appointed delegates from the various local churches, with the apostles and elders in positions of leading responsibility. Thus the efforts of Satan to attack the church in isolated places were met by concerted action on the part of all, and the plans of the enemy to disrupt and destroy were thwarted.
“God is not the author of confusion, but of peace, as in all churches of the saints” (1 Cor. 14:33). He requires that order and system be observed in the conduct of church affairs today no less than in the days of old. He desires His work to be carried forward with thoroughness and exactness so that He may place upon it the seal of His approval. Christian is to be united with Christian, church with church, the human instrumentality co-operating with the divine, every agency subordinate to the Holy Spirit, and all combined in giving to the world the good tidings of the grace of God.
- Except for the subheadings, the entire portion is from Ellen G. White, Acts of the Apostles (Mountain View, CA: Pacific Press, 1911), 87–96, and is based on Acts 6:1–7. Scriptural references are placed in parentheses, instead of footnotes as in the original.