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Deaconess

Deaconess

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Published by: barry_davis_6 on Jun 17, 2012
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1
Position Paper on Women Serving As DeaconsApproved by the Elders and Ministers of Coon Rapids Christian ChurchIntroduction
This paper serves as a summary of what the present leadership of Coon Rapids ChristianChurch believes to be the biblical basis for women serving as deacons in the church. It isunderstood that this is an emotional subject with many biases on both sides of the issue.In fact, every man on this leadership team has had to be willing to break with the traditionthey were brought up in based on their study of Scripture. We do not wish to impose ourbiases upon anyone else or to let those biases color our understanding of the biblicalrecord. Our intention is to view the relevant biblical texts, the role of church history,possible objections, and what this means for us today.Being a Christian Church of the Restoration Movement, we have always been willing to"Speak where the Bible Speaks, and to be Silent where the Bible is Silent". In otherwords, we will not impose our personal opinions and/or culture upon the biblical text, norwill we refuse to perform up to the plain biblical standard. It is our belief that the Bible ishardly silent on the issue at hand and that it needs to be addressed.
THE BIBLICAL TEXTS THAT REFER TO WOMEN DEACONSTwo biblical texts stand out in support of women deacons - Romans 16:1ff,1 Timothy 3:11*The footnotes are included in the translation and are enclosed in brackets [ ].
Romans 16:1 (New Revised Standard Version) “I commend to you our sister Phoebe,
adeacon
of the church at Cenchreae,”
 
Romans 16:1 (New Century Version) “I recommend to you our sister Phoebe, who is ahelper [
a helper 
 
Literally, “deaconess.”
This might mean the same as one of the specialwomen helpers in 1 Timothy 3:11.] in the church in Cenchrea.”
 
Romans 16:1 (New Living Translation) “Our sister Phoebe,
a deacon
in the church inCenchrea, will be coming to see you soon.”
 
Romans 16:1 (New International Version) “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, aservant [
Or deaconess
] of the church in Cenchrea.”1 Timothy 3:11 – In the NIV and NLT the translation is “deacon’s wives”. In the NRSVand NCV the translation is “women”. It is interesting to note that the word “deacon” isnot in the original at all but was added by the translators of the NIV and NLT. The wordfor “wives” and “women” is the same in Greek – this will be dealt with in more detaillater.
 
2Paul refers to Phoebe as, "a deaconess of the church of Cenchreae . . . she has been ahelper of many and of myself as well" (Rom 16:1-2). The word "deaconess" is atranslation of the Greek 
diakonos
, a masculine noun which was used both for men andwomen with two distinct meanings.In the vast majority of its occurrences in the New Testament, the term
diakonos
simplymeans "servant" or "one who ministers" to another. Paul, for example, speaks of himself and of his co-workers as
diakonoi
(servants, ministers) of Christ, of the Gospel and of thenew covenant (1 Cor 3:5; 2 Cor 3:6; Eph 3:7; 1 Thess 3:2). He also speaks of hisapostolic work as a
diakonia
(Rom 11:13)In a few cases the term
diakonos
is used to describe the church office of "deacons" (Phil1:1; 1 Tim 3:8-13). Usually the context gives the clue to whether
diakonos
is used in thegeneral sense of ministering or in the restricted sense of an established diaconate. Thequestion then is to determine whether Paul is commending Phoebe as a member of thechurch at Cenchreae who has served others, or as a deacon in that church. From our studywe have concluded that
diakonos
is used by Paul in a technical sense to describe theofficial deaconess role of Phoebe in the church. The main reasons are three.1) First, the use of the participle "being" (
ousan
) in Greek and the connection with thechurch--"Phoebe,
being
a deacon of the church in Cenchreae"--reads like an official title.Paul may have chosen to introduce Phoebe to the Romans by her official role in her homechurch, especially if she was the carrier of his letter, as is generally believed.2) Second, the characterization of Phoebe as a "helper of many" (Rom 16:2), suggeststhat she played a vital role in the Cenchreaean church by offering assistance to many,including Paul himself. Such a service was associated especially with the office of thedeacon.3) Third, in 1 Timothy 3:11 Paul describes the qualifications of a group of womenserving in the church--qualifications which are point for point parallel to that of thedeacons given immediately before (1 Tim 3:8-10). The parallel lists of qualificationsstrongly suggests that the function of these women was parallel to that of the deacons.The reason why Paul does not call these women deaconesses (
diako-nissa
) is simplybecause such a term did not yet exist. The term first appears in the Syriac
 Didascalia
(ch.16), a document written in the early part of the third century. The masculine form of "deacon--
diakonos
" was used for both men and women as in the case of Phoebe (Rom16:1). In 1 Timothy 3:11 Paul uses the word "women--
gynaikas
" instead of "deacons--
diakonoi
" presumably to avoid confusion, since he had already used
diakonos
tointroduce the men in 1 Timothy 3:8. Thus, it would seem best to understand the "women"of 1 Timothy 3 as a group of persons who served the church in a similar capacity to thatof the deacons. The example of Phoebe, identified as
diakonos
, lends positive support tothis conclusion.
 
3Female deacons were needed in the early centuries when the sexes could not minglefreely. According to the
 Didascalia
they performed a great variety of services in the careof women, including assistance at the baptism and burial of women, the catechizing of women and caring for sick women at home. They never functioned, however, as heads of the community, but served in a role auxiliary to that of the pastors, elders and bishops.Women distinguished themselves in the apostolic church not only at the level of localchurches but also in the wider missionary outreach of the church. Much of the missionaryactivity reported in the New Testament focuses on Paul and his co-workers, many of whom were women.In Romans 16 Paul greets several women whose missionary endeavors contributedsignificantly to the life and growth of the church. Outstanding among them is Prisca (adiminutive of Priscilla) and her husband, Aquila. Of them Paul says: "Greet Prisca andAquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whomnot only I but also all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks; greet also the church intheir house" (Rom 16:3-5).This couple lived in Rome until about A.D. 49 when they were forced to move to Corinthafter Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome (Acts 18:1-3). From Corinth they movedtheir tentmaking business first to Ephesus (Acts 18:18-26; 1 Cor 16:19) and then back toRome. It is noteworthy that both Paul and Luke mention Prisca almost always before herhusband, Aquila, presumably because she was the more prominent in missionaryendeavors. In Acts she is engaged with her husband, Aquila, in teaching the great oratorApollos (Acts 18:26). Prisca, therefore, must have been well-grounded in the Christianfaith and a most capable instructor.Paul refers to this couple as "fellow-workers." The term was often used by Paul tocharacterize those persons who worked with him, including Titus and Timothy (Rom16:9, 21; 1 Cor 3:9; 2 Cor 1:24; 8:23; Phil 2:25; 4:3; Col 4:11; 1 Thess 3:2).Other women greeted by Paul are: Mary, Tryphaena, Tryphosa, and Persis, all of whom"worked hard" in the Lord (vv. 6, 12). The term Paul uses here is descriptive of the toil inproclaiming the Gospel (cf. 1 Cor 4:12; 15:10; Phil 2:16; 1 Tim 4:10). In Philippians 4:2,3 Paul mentions two other women, Euodia and Syntyche, as persons who "have laboredside by side with me in the Gospel."
THE PERSPECTIVE OF CHURCH HISTORY
As a conservative, Bible based church, we believe that we should look to early churchhistory to see how our "church fathers" regarded women in ministry. Many people mightbe surprised to learn that there exists a rich, apostolic tradition of ordained females thatendured until the Middle Ages. The women to whom we are referring were deacons.They served as part of the church's ecclesiastical community for almost half of our 2,000year history. The New Testament and the patristic writings of the early church clearly

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