Hello everybody, and welcome in to episode 28 of the Bible 2021 podcast. We are reading Acts 6 today, and our focus is on deacons and the leadership of the early church . Thank you for joining us for Bible 2021! We are a daily 10 minute podcast, where we will dig in to the truth of the Word of God by reading one Bible chapter a day and discussing it. Welcome to new listeners in Thanks for listening! Our goal this year is to encourage DAILY Bible reading, so you can jump in at any time and join with us. We want to invite as many people as possible to join us in daily Bible reading, so help spread the word and share the podcast Don’t forget about our new web-page, Bible2021.com – contact page, show notes, transcript and more – Click here for our reading plan!
One great question that came in from listener Ramal Wellpo last time we discussed civil obedience and disobedience was how Christians should handle unjust laws – and his question was in the context of the civil rights movement and, specifically, Jim Crow laws. This is a great observation and question – the Bible is not even remotely a racist book – not in any way, shape or form – almost all of the characters are brown or black, for one…I’m not sure many – if any – would qualify as white! (See The Bible and Racism for more…) That said – this is a question in process for me in terms of wrestling with biblical truth. How do Christians submit to 2nd Peter 2, Titus 3 and Romans 13 while also resisting and changing unjust laws? I believe Christians should stand for justice and against injustice. I believe Rosa Parks was absolutely correct when she refused to move on a bus, and that Christians – pastors in particular – should have led the way MORE stringently and obviously against the unjust race laws that have been in place for much of our country’s history. Race is still very much an issue in America – especially in the church. In one of the very conservative and biblical Facebook groups I am a part of, somebody posted a quote from an African American pastor today, and some of the members roasted him – calling his views heretical, him a heretic, and divisive and all sorts of things. His quote was on race, but it was really quite innocuous – but people vehemently attacked and dismissed him. Was racism behind that vehemence – or simply a current internet culture that causes us to rabidly disparage and attack any viewpoint or person we disagree with? I don’t know…but it was heartbreaking to read. We must do better as followers of Christ – especially on areas of opinion where we disagree with each other.
Speaking of disagreements, Acts 6 presents us with the first recorded disagreement in the early church, and it appears to be a racial one. According to vs. 1 – the Greek Jews were murmuring because they felt their widows were being overlooked in the daily deaconing or ministering. Neither food nor money is mentioned here, but only the verb form of the word that eventually would become ‘deacon,’ – a word that indicates service/ministry/table-waiting. In other words, it appeared that the Jewish widows were being better taken care of by the early church than the Grecian widows. From all appearances – there wasn’t a big debate or hand-wringing…the apostles immediately came up with a practical solution – choose some men to make this situation better, and thus seven men were chosen for this duty. I note that they weren’t called deacons at this time – but did the work of serving/ministry – from the Greek diakano. The group of seven appears to be quite diverse – some have Greek names, some were clearly foreigners – like Nicholas – but the only qualifications we know of come from verse 3:
3 Brothers and sisters, select from among you seven men of good reputation, full of the Spirit and wisdom, whom we can appoint to this duty. Acts 6:3
Let’s go ahead and read the chapter – it’s quite short – and pay attention to the results of this decision.
If you missed it – the decision of the early church to appoint men to the ministry of deaconing is captured in vs. 7:
7 So the word of God spread, the disciples in Jerusalem increased greatly in number, and a large group of priests became obedient to the faith. Acts 6:7
Little is known about these deacons (other than Stephen) from the Bible itself, but the early church fathers did pass down some informations and traditions about the ministry of the seven post-book of Acts. Several were said to have been martyred, including Prochurus, Nicanor, and Parmenas. Interestingly, there was a pretty significant debate about Nicolaus of Antioch among the early church fathers. Several of them – including some very early, early church fathers like Irenaeus and Hippolytus of Rome, and several others – identify Nicolaus of Antioch as the beginner of the Nicolaitan heresy – mentioned twice by Jesus in Revelation:
15 In the same way, you also have those who hold to the teaching of the Nicolaitans.16 So repent! Otherwise, I will come to you quickly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Revelation 2:15-16
Other early church fathers defend Nicolaus and say he is not the one that the heresy is named after. Scholars today are still divided because the evidence is scant – some see the word Nicolaitan as a compound word that doesn’t refer to a person, but instead to victory over the people – (Nike=victory, Laos=people), and thus the heresy of the Nicolaitans would be some sort of lording it over them abuse. We just don’t know for sure.
What we do know for sure, however, is that the early church grew in strength and witness when the material and ministerial needs of the people were met AND the focus was still on the daily proclamation of the Word of God. Some churches today – the more conservative ones, usually – only focus on the ministry of the Word and worship services. Other churches – more liberal ones, usually – downplay the importance of the Word and even water it down, but do engage in ministry to the poor and widows – a kind of deaconing. The apostles seem to show us that the proclamation of the Word is of paramount importance, and Acts 6 teaches us that ministry to the members – and the poor and needy – need not detract from the Great Commission of making disciples of Jesus, but can only enhance it. Rise up, deacons – Jesus’ church needs you still today. I am grateful to be serving in a church of servant/ministry minded deacons.
End of the Show: Bible memory verse for January: Mark 1:15 15 “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
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