Most scholars assume that deacons originated with the selection of the seven in Acts 6 who were assigned to “wait on tables,” an apparent attempt to quell the discontent between Jewish and Greek widows who sometimes felt neglected. But these same seven immediately threw themselves into the work of preaching and evangelism. As a result the message of Christ was carried beyond Jerusalem. A spiritual awakening broke out in Samaria. And a church was started in Antioch that would later send out Paul and Barnabas.
Some of the other “offices” seem interchangeable, especially elders, overseers and pastors. Exactly how the churches were to be organized and how they were to conduct worship and ministry is not explained. This may be the reason we have so many different churches, organized in many different ways and conducting worship and ministry with great variety.
Because of its silence on these issues, the Bible gives great freedom as to how churches can be organized and how they function.
The fact that churches were indispensable in the spread of the Christian faith is indisputable. The entire book of Acts and all of Paul’s letters are predicated on the practice of planting churches and helping them prove productive. In fact, Josephus, the ancient historian, states that churches were multiplying so fast during the first century that no one could count them. Churches not only spread westward with Paul’s ministry, but north, south and east, so that the first center of Christian learning was at Alexandria in Egypt. Peter wrote his letters to churches in Asia and Bithynia, regions Paul never entered.
If organization and structure regarding the church (and churches) is vague in the New Testament, other things are not. It is clear that whatever churches did, and however they did it, they developed followers of Jesus Christ who reflected His character and glory.
The bottom line is that churches are about people living out their faith. This month we have been visiting a church of English speaking believers in Nuremberg Germany. We served this church for three months two years ago and felt impressed to return. We have visited with people from South Africa, Austria, Cameroon, Bulgaria, Indonesia, Portugal, India and Germany.
We have heard their stories: a husband who was a professed atheist until three months ago when he gave his life to Christ; a young man who was addicted to drugs until he found Christ 18 months ago, and is planning to marry a young woman he met in the church next month in Poland; a young couple from Portugal who will marry in that country later this year; a father whose daughter will marry next month at the beautiful St. Bartholomew chapel on the Koenigsee at Berchtesgaden; a young woman starting her career in Nuremberg whose grandfather was a pastor in India; a young professional from Cameroon who is finding ways to create agri-business opportunities in his native country.
We are reminded that the church continues in every culture, in every language and in every country because the church is always the people who believe in Christ. It is more than a mere organization.