The Church a Caring Community
The spiritual vitality of the early church was evident not only in its gospel ministry but also in its whole manner of life as a serving community. The members of the churches served one another in spiritual exhortation and admonition. This mutual ministry was focused in the apostles and elders as the servants of the churches. This outflowing of spiritual life in mutual service may be equally discerned in the way the early churches sought to meet the material needs of their poorer members or of those undergoing persecution. The whole atmosphere of the churches was one of practical concern for those in need. There can be no doubt that this stemmed directly from the Lord himself, who declared that he did not come to be served but to serve. It was the direct and immediate effect of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, and all the members were involved whether male or female. In manifesting this concern they recognised the members of the household of faith as their first priority, but believed it right to do good to all men. All this carries implications for our own day. In a society where the state accepts responsibility for the relief of the poorer citizens, the churches ought to be mindful of those in underdeveloped countries, and of the victims of such calamities as earthquakes or floods. It is also important to remember that a ministry of mercy need not be confined to financial aid. The relief of worry, loneliness and confusion is a pressing need in every situation and in every generation.
Mat. 20:28; Acts 2 and 4; 1 Cor. 12; 2 Cor. 8 and 9; Gal. 6:10.
The Office of Deacons
Whilst all the members of the church are to care for one another, the New Testament particularly focuses this aspect of service on a body of deacons, whose duty it is to ensure that this ministry is fulfilled in the church. The qualifications required for this office are no less spiritual than those required of elders. They are to have the wisdom required for handling people and money efficiently and graciously. Suitable women may be appointed to assist in specific duties in association with their work. The deacons should care for all the business aspects of church administration, since this requires the exercise of the same talents and gifts as the task of supplying the needs of poorer members.
Acts 6; Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3; Acts 6:3; Rom. 16:1.
The Appointment of Deacons
All such service must be seen to be honest before God and before men. In the appointment of deacons in the early church no provision appears to have been made for retirement or regular elections, although 1 Tim. 3: 10 may indicate a probationary period. There is the possible exception of those subject to some disciplinary action. In the contemporary situation the fixing of a term of service with a view to retirement or re-election after a number of years may be helpful in overcoming the problem of making way for new appointments. Care must be exercised so that the mechanical application of this method does not introduce a carnal approach to the solemn nature of setting apart those whom God has called to this work and given to the church. Similarly, care wil be taken to ensure that those appointed have not merely a fresh approach but the spiritual maturity, as well as the administrative ability, to show that the Lord has equipped them for this work. If the Lord has given to a church more of such men than the normal ministry of deacons demands, then it may well be that he is directing the church to exercise these gifts in some other way, perhaps in an expansion of the work or the help of weaker churches. As with elders, it would seem advisable to retain the encouragement and counsel of older brethren whilst not stifling the energies of younger men. This could be ensured by an agreement to relieve older men of some of their responsibilities without requiring then to lay down their office.