Deacons? What were the apostles thinking?

deaconsNOTE: This article is a follow up to the article Martha, Martha, Martha!

Reading Acts 6:1-6 in several translations this morning I picked up on a few additional cues that raised even more questions concerning the creation and ordination of deacons.

Normally, I use the ESV for casual reading, which for Acts 6:2, reads in part:

“And the twelve summoned the full number of the disciples …”

The word “summoned” jumped off the page at me and leaves me rather unsettled, because it is often used in situations of authority, e.g., a court of law summons someone under the law to stand before the law. Strong’s dictionary defines the Greek προσκαλέομαι (proskaleomai / pros-kal-eh’-om-ahee) G4341 as:

“to call toward oneself, that is, summon, invite: – call (for, to, unto).”

I lean toward the translation of “summoned” over “invited” or “called” for the simple reason that it involved the “full number” of the disciples suggesting that their presence was expected. Had it been an invitation or call, I would expect some but not all to have shown up.

Another thing I observed in Acts 6:2 this morning, is the apostles’ counter-complaint. The variety of translations in the 32 English Bibles I have in eSword, gives me the impression that the translators are sugar-coating the literal meaning of the passage.

… It is not fit that we should forsake the word of God, and serve tables.

… It is not right for us to give up preaching the word of God in order to make distribution of food.

… It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.

Note that not one of the translations say anything remotely like “It is not the will of God” that we should sacrifice preaching the word to wait tables. Rather, the apostles seem to be asserting themselves by answering the complaint in Acts 6:1 with a counter-complaint followed by their ‘take it or leave it’ proposal. The underlying message of the apostles seems to be “we’re done with serving tables”.

In that vein, the EMTV translation reveals an emotional undercurrent to it all:

“… It is not pleasing to us that we should forsake the word of God to serve tables.”

This is how the literal Greek translation puts it:

(ABP+) [4having called G4341 1And G1161 2the G3588 3twelve] G1427 the G3588 multitude G4128 of the G3588 disciples, G3101 said, G2036 [2not G3756 3pleasing G701 1It is] G1510.2.3 for us G1473 leaving behind G2641 the G3588 word G3056 G3588 of God, G2316 to serve G1247 tables. G5132

Notice the Greek word G701 is rendered “pleasing” in the ABP+ while the KJV renders it “reason”.

Ἀρεστός (arestos / ar-es-tos’) “agreeable; by implication fit: – (things that) please (-ing), reason.”

Accordingly, the apostles counter-complaint and proposal would seem to be about their own will more so than God’s will.

HOWEVER!

About the time I reached the conclusion that the apostles acted in their own interests, I felt a big HOWEVER! in my spirit.

In defense of the Apostles, this may be like any number of seemingly good works that men have undertaken in the name of Christ, that once performed and enjoyed by the people, becomes a tradition, “a thing” that takes on a life of its own and in time, demands the people serve IT! – accommodate IT! Serving up a common meal to the whole ekklesia, people selling off their possessions, donating the proceeds for the body and all the new disciples living with the apostles in the kind of communal arrangement described in the final few verses of Acts 2 and 4, may never have been intended by the Lord.

The back story in this passage may just be that breaking bread, done in remembrance of the Lord, morphed into the “Good News Cafe” and quickly became a burden to the Apostles. Consequently the apostles response to the new disciples may have been to simply divest themselves from the part that did not originate with the Holy Spirit in the first place but nevertheless managed to suck the apostles into the busy-work. If that’s an apt assessment, then the apostles simply turned the service back to the people who demanded IT!

Morphing into an IT! may be the reason the Lord permitted the severe persecution of Acts 8:1 to come upon them in order to break up their little enclave. The Lord did, after all, charge the apostles in Matthew 28 with the words “go ye therefore into all the nations” with the good news of the kingdom to make disciples of all nations. So what were they doing cloistering in Jerusalem? Did Jesus have to call yet another apostle, Paul, to find someone willing to “go to the nations” like He commanded them in the first place?

I don’t think it’s unreasonable to suppose that the apostles capitulated to the people in the matter of serving the common meal and in so doing, institutionalized the ministry of Martha: Deacons. I draw comfort from that conclusion inasmuch as I too have been sucked into what on the surface seemed like a worthwhile good work for the Church, only to become consumed by IT! over time. In the past my wife and I both have come to that shocking decision “ENOUGH!” and abruptly quit a work we were heavily involved with in order to get back to the simplicity of the gospel.

By way of example, I am a performing songwriter of original Christian tunes. For several decades, the Lord blessed me with a fruitful concert ministry. Yet with regard to my home church, never was I invited much less allowed when I volunteered to sing one of my original songs for the worship service. But! The music minister didn’t hesitate to add me to the praise band as the “guitar player” or plug me into the choir as a baritone or if desperate, a bass. In no time, I found myself at the church up to 10 hours per week on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday with choir practice, praise band practice and playing for multiple worship services which occasionally interfered with my weekend concert schedule or recording projects. And when I was not at the church practicing and playing, I was practicing at home for church! Yes, I was very busy at music for the church I attended, just never any of the anointed songs the Lord gave me.

ENOUGH!

That’s what I think I hear in Acts 6:1-6 now; the apostles simply had ENOUGH of the busy-work that consumed them and divested themselves of that which had been foisted upon them by the expectations of a rapidly growing and immature Church. Faced with the decision to either kill the beast outright or delegate IT! to the people who demanded IT!, they delegated.

Certainly it wouldn’t be the first time God through His anointed one(s) capitulated to the will of an obstinate people.

ONE FINAL THOUGHT

Serving the common meal to the burgeoning Church in Acts 6:1-6 not only revisits the lesson of Martha and Mary upon the apostles; it also revisits the miracle of feeding the 5,000 described in John 6. After everyone ate their fill of the loaves, the disciples sailed from Tiberias to Capernaum and Jesus followed. When the crowd realized Jesus had left, they made their way to Capernaum as well, some by boat, presumably others on foot (10 miles). When they met up with Jesus again, He knew they had come for the loaves of bread and so admonished them not to seek after food that perishes, but  food that endures to eternal life (John 6:26-27). Jesus went on to tell them that He was the bread of life (John 6:35) and sadly, “many left him” (John 6:66).

Trying to turn the hearts of people from physical food to spiritual food, caused the crowd to take offense and leave, where only the 12 remained with Jesus (John 6:67-70). Having been witness to the event, I can understand why the apostles may have capitulated to the people concerning the distribution of the daily meal (loaves), rather than kill the beast outright.

NOTE: There are 3 articles in this series:

Martha! Martha! Martha!
Deacons? What were the apostles thinking (this article)
A dream remembered