Monday, May 21, 2007

Why Not Start With Female Deacons?

Among the Churches of Christ in the United States, it's increasingly common for congregations to study and consider questions that typically come under the heading "Women's Role in the Church." (For reasons I have a hard time articulating, "Women's Role in the Church" is not my favorite expression. But it communicates. My friend and brother Dale Pauls has spoken of "Women in the Church at First").

In some cases (not many), these congregations wind up making practical changes. Said changes usually show up in worship assemblies. Women begin taking on roles previously filled only by men. They lead public prayers, preside at the Lord's Table, etc.

Now, from what little I've seen and heard, Scripture study and practical changes along this line are accompanied by a congregational disclaimer and explanation that goes something like this:

We're not reacting to the rise of feminism, at least not primarily. We are still (in fact, more than ever) a people of the Book. So, if caving to the culture is not what this is about, then what is it about? The results of better Bible study. When we read the Bible not as a flat constitution, but rather as a collection of occasional documents which must be interpreted in the light of context, we come out with different conclusions. And when it comes to our consideration of "Women's Role in the Church" those different conclusions have led us to different ways of thinking and acting.

Now, if and when preachers and elders and the congregations they lead say something like that, I have no good reason to doubt them. I'm neither a mind reader nor a heart discerner. And I'm certainly not the judge of someone else's servant.

However, what I wonder about is why all of this has, from what I can tell, by-passed the question of female deacons. The fact is, the female diaconate does not have two apparently-restrictive passages to climb over (1 Corinthians 14:34-35 and 1 Timothy 2:9-15). Instead, the female diaconate has two apparently-supportive passages going for it (Romans 16:1-2 and 1 Timothy 3:11).

The only person in the New Testament who is called a diakonos of a particular congregation is sister Phoebe, apparently a deacon of the church at Cenchrea (Romans 16: 1). And, a comparison of what Paul says regarding "deacons" (in 1 Timothy 3:8-13) with what he says regarding "the women" (in verse 11 ) seems to indicate that the two groups are parallel. Furthermore, the female diaconate is supported by both the New Testament background and early Christian history, not to mention that at least the idea, and sometimes the practice, has had wide support in the history of the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.

At any rate, in addition to the questions raised here, my explicit question is, If going with the Bible is what's driving current changes, then why all the neglect of what is a comparative no-brainer, the ordination of female deacons?


Anonymous said...


I agree. Wholeheartedly.

John Alan said...

Perhaps some of our difficulty with this is the fact that we don't really know what a deacon is. In many churches they are simply the Junior Varsity elders.

I do find it interesting that in many churches the "deacon in charge of children's ministry" is married to an elementary school teacher.

Frank Bellizzi said...

You hit the nail on the head, John Alan. It's very hard for some of my brothers and sisters to even consider the idea because, ironically, we don't know what deacons are to begin with. I say "ironically" because Churches of Christ tend to talk a lot about elders and deacons, spend a lot of time in 1 Timothy 3, etc.

Wade Tannehill said...


I agree with you and with John Alan. The fact that deacons are considered JV elders, is exactly why women aren't considered. Deacon is seen not as a servant role, but as a power role.

Of course some would argue that the passage in Timothy is a reference to deacons' wives. But what makes no sense is why there would be qualifications for deacons' wives and not elders' wives.

preacherman said...

The way I have seen it in the progressive churches I have been at and worked for (I hate labels) but we use them anyway; is it starts slowly. The elders allow women to be on commitees. Then head commitees. Then they decide to have a praise team with men and women sitting up front with the song leader. Then they have the women sing a solo. Then one morning they have the worship team up front with the song leader. Then they have a women leading a prayer. Then pass communion. I have seen them select deconesses over different ministries. You see women Childrens ministers, youth ministers, small group ministers, and even involvement ministers.

I do find it very interesting that church is the only place where women aren't allow to do certain things just because they are women.

In the Bible do we see active in the church in Acts?

1 Corinthians were they Prophecying and speaking in tounges? Using different gifts? Do we say to the women just because they are women we don't need your gifts?

I do believe the older women in our congregations have fail to show the example to the younger women on how they can serve and make a differnce in the kingdom.

Frank this is a great post.
You have made me think.

The question I want to know and have been asked on numerous times is can a woman baptize? If so, who? If not, why not? Can they only baptize women? I think that might be an issue that is brought up in churches in the future. Not what the role of women but once they evangelize can they follow through with baptism.

Frank Bellizzi said...


Thanks for your comment. You raise and ask a lot of questions.

Regarding women baptizing: I've known some churches whose baptismal garments made it inappropriate for any man to be there when a woman was immersed. No sooner did the angels start rejoicing than all of the men were tempted to violate the tenth commandment!

Arlene Kasselman said...

Frank,your last comment has me cracking up.

I agree with the general flow of comments about not really knowing what to do with deacons in general. I think another reason is that some of our churches are moving away from the title of deacon at all and trying to level the playing field by using the title "Ministry leader."

I do not think beginning with women in deacon roles is smart until we decide if we even think our interpretation of the deacon structure is biblical.

I have been given the opportunity to lead ministry, teach adult classes on Sunday morning and lead small groups etc. But, still week after week my stomach churns as my 11 year daughter has to sit through church experiences that are all male led (bar a few readings here and there and a mixed praise team. If anyone doubts what this exclusion communicates to our girls, they are so wrong.

Frank Bellizzi said...

I want to add that, along these lines, I don't have an axe to grind. Far from it.

My question is, Why don't congregations that get over the apparently-restrictive passages begin with what I can only regard as a much lower "hurdle."

Alex Campbell wrote: "From Ro. 16:1 as well as from 1 Tm. 3:11 it appears that females were constituted deaconesses in the primitive church." I have a hard time imagining him giving the same endorsement of, say, a woman leading a prayer in the Christian assembly. We seem to have it the other way. How come? That's what I'm asking.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

If you have Alexander Campbell's LIVING ORACLES then take a look at Romans 16.1 ... and then his Office of the Deacon in his Restoration of the Ancient Order Series.

Bobby Valentine