Men and Women in the Deaconate and in the Service of Communion

When the church enacted our “new” constitution in 1990, one aim was to clarify the role of men and women in relationship to the eldership and the deaconate. There are two offices in the New Testament: elders and deacons. Our constitution represents the view that spiritual men bear the responsibility of the eldership of the church, while men and women are called to be deacons.

Section 4a says, “The Deacons shall be both men and women, both Vocational Ministers and Lay Deacons.” Section 5a says, “The Council of Elders shall be composed of men, both Lay Elders and Vocational Elders.” The distinction is based on New Testament teaching. While not everyone at Bethlehem believes that elders should be only men, and not everyone believes that deacons should include women, the great majority at the church embraced this understanding of what the New Testament teaches.

The distinction between the two offices is owing to the New Testament teaching that the governing and teaching office of the church is to be the responsibility of spiritual men (1 Timothy 2:12). Elders are distinguished from deacons in just these two ways: elders bear the responsibility to govern and teach the church (1 Timothy 3:2; 5:17). They are, among other things, the doctrinal guardians and overseers of the body (Titus 1:9). Deacons, on the other hand, are not charged with the teaching and governing responsibility. This is why historically there has been a male and female deaconate.

Traditionally, at Bethlehem deacons have served communion. When the new constitution embraced the office of “elder,” the elders began to share in serving the bread and cup. The assumption was that when women deacons were in place, they would also share in this ministry at the table.

That time has come.

Districts are gradually raising up deacons—men and women—to assist the elders in their responsibility of shepherding the flock. These deacons will now share in the serving of communion.

Our belief is that serving communion is a holy privilege. The elements take on a sacredness as we use them in the Christ-ordained practice of remembering his death and savoring his sacrifice. The bread and cup should be handled by clean hands—not perfect hands, since there aren’t any of those, but rather hands that the new Testament describes as “blameless” or “above reproach” (1 Timothy 3:10). We symbolize that sacredness by making the distribution of the elements on Sunday morning the responsibility of deacons and elders—the people who have been tested and found to fulfill the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-13.

Pray for your elders and deacons. Together they care for your souls in more ways than you probably know. We will one day give an account to God (Hebrews 13:17), and teachers “will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

Trembling and glad to be a teaching elder
With all the deacons and elders of Bethlehem,

Pastor John

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