Elders and Deacons, Word and Deed

We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can tolerate. We all know that actions speak louder than words.

Our life together must be marked by both Word and deed. This does not by any means minimize the primacy of the Word of God in the Christian life.  It is simply a recognition that God’s truth will always bear incarnational, tangible, and demonstrable fruit. The Westminster Confession of Faith highlights this notion asserting that the church has been entrusted with “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world.”

 

The heroine of My Fair Lady, Eliza Doolittle, captured the sentiment of most of us when she complained: “Words, words, words—I am so sick of words.  I get words all day through, first from him, now from you.  Is that all you blighters can do?”  She was tired of empty rhetoric—as high sounding as it was.  Instead, she wanted to see something real.

Talk is cheap.  Promises are a dime a dozen.  Most of us have had about all of the spin-controlled sound-bites we can stand.  We’ve heard just about all the hollow rhetoric we can tolerate.  We all know that actions speak louder than words.

That is a universal truth—no less valid in business or politics or media as in faith or family or church.  Good intentions are simply not sufficient in any area of life.  There has to be follow-through.  There has to be substance. 

John the Apostle admonishes us accordingly, “Let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).  In the Biblical scheme of things, love is something we do, not just something we feel.  Mercy is something we extend not just something we intend.  Hope is something we must act on not just something we harbor.  Our orthodoxy must be matched by orthopraxy.  Our life together must be marked by both Word and deed.

This does not by any means minimize the primacy of the Word of God in the Christian life.  It is simply a recognition that God’s truth will always bear incarnational, tangible, and demonstrable fruit.

The Westminster Confession of Faith highlights this notion asserting that the church has been entrusted with “the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world.”  In other words, in order to faithfully carry out this stewardship, the mission of the church must be organized around Word and deed—or what Francis Schaeffer called “contents and realities.”

To that end, from the earliest days of the apostolic church, congregations were purposefully structured for Word and deed ministry.  Each local body was to be led by elders who were charged with the weighty task of preserving sound doctrine. They were to teach it, exhort it, nurture it, and highlight it in every aspect of congregational life—in both its evangelism and its discipleship, from its worship to its societal presence.  They were to bring the Gospel to bear in Word.  That fixedness in the Word was to provoke holiness, godliness, and faithfulness in all things.   

In addition to the elders though, those early fellowships were also served by deacons—or more literally, servants.  They were to translate the truth of the Word into very practical deeds.  They were to make evident the beauty of human relationships transformed, reconciled, and restored by the Gospel.  They were to provoke abundant evidence of true koinonia.  At the same time, they were to insure that covenantal relationships would show forth selfless service crafted in tenderness, empathy, excellence, intelligence, and glory.

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