***DISCLAIMER – I RECEIVED THIS BOOK FOR FREE, PRESUMABLY TO REVIEW***
Earlier this year, I reviewed Alexander Strauch’s book Biblical Eldership: An Urgent Call To Restore Biblical Church Leadership. I sent him the review. When I told him I was next going to review a book of his pertaining to the New Testament deacon, he instead sent me the book Paul’s Vision For The Deacons: Assisting The Elders With The Care Of God’s Church. Apparently this book is an updated version of the one I was planning on reviewing. He also included the workbook that goes with this updated book. As a token of my appreciation, I read it as soon I could. I also did the workbook alongside it. This prolonged the time it took me to review it. Nevertheless, I think doing the workbook was worth it. This book review mainly reviews the book. However, I do want to dedicate a little bit of time toward the workbook itself.
For the most part, the workbook follows a certain structure:
- A disclaimer to read the chapter on the relevant section before completing the workbook portion
- One or more verses corresponding to the chapter
- Many questions pertaining to the chapter
- A memory verse or more
- Optional questions/assignments
- Suggested readings
Strauch, like he does in the book, absolutely loads the workbook with Scripture. For example, in chapter five, he has a plethora of Bible verses for the topics of speech, lying, wine, strong drink, stealing, greed and the Archenemy (pp. 60-67). In this same chapter, Strauch states that all deacons should study the book of Romans (p. 65). While I did not complete in full his way to master the book, I did read the book of Romans in one sitting as part of the reading process. It took me about 41 minutes. It was the first time I ever read the book in one sitting. I would do it again easily.
I now spend the rest of this review reviewing the book itself.
This book is a little over half as long as Strauch’s other book I reviewed. That book, overall, topped out at about 337 pages. This one tops out at about 183. Part of the reason for the shortness is that this book does not have a dedicated “notes” section like the other one did. Instead, the notes are in each chapter. Despite the shortness, this book is as advanced to read as the other one given the plethora of Scripture citations. I cannot and will not complain about all those Scripture citations. I must admit that reading and reviewing that other book by Strauch prepared me to read this one.
Structure-wise, this book starts with an “abbreviations” section and an unofficial introductory section titled “What Do Deacons Do?” (pp. 7-18). The book has three parts. Part One (one chapter) addresses the biblical starting points for deacons (pp. 19-34). Part Two (three chapters) addresses overseers and deacons (pp. 35-86). Part Three (five chapters) addresses the deacons’ qualifications, examinations and rewards (pp. 87-154). The book closes with an appendix on deacons’ wives, a section of indexes and a section of acknowledgements (pp. 155-184).
In the unofficial introductory section, Strauch gives his intention for the book (pp. 11-15). The question “What Do Deacons Do?” generated many answers for him in his research for the question (pp. 11-12). I believe those answers influenced his intent for writing the book. Here is that clearly expressed intent:
Among evangelical, Bible believing Christians there exist widely divergent views on the role of deacons. Some churches do not even have deacons because they see no need for them. Of those that do have deacons, I have found that churches of the same denomination in the same city may have diametrically opposite views. In one church, for example, deacons are the governing board of the church. While across town in another church, deacons are the building maintenance crew.
My intention in writing this book is to encourage my dear deacon friends and fellow church leaders to think more critically about what they are saying and doing in light of what Scripture actually teaches (or does not teach) about deacons. Sadly, most of the literature I have read on this subject claims biblical authority but provides little or no biblical evidence exegesis for the assertions made.
Strauch mentions that the most amusing answer he got to his question was, “I’m the coffee-bar deacon” (p. 12). Such a concept (coffee-bar deacon) is nowhere mentioned in Scripture. I doubt this concept was a thing at any part in older church history. Obviously, Strauch’s intention for this book is a good one.
At the conclusion of this unofficial introductory section, Strauch makes mention of the study guide for this book (p. 15). He recommends that the church elders go through the guide before the deacons do (p. 15). I am neither an elder nor a deacon at the church I attend. Nevertheless, I found the guide to be helpful. Strauch’s recommendation is a good one.
Strauch dedicates a single chapter to the biblical starting point for deacons (pp. 19-34). The biblical texts Strauch appeals to include but are not limited to Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:8-13. These are good appeals because, as Strauch mentions, the Apostle Paul (who wrote both Philippians and 1 Timothy) was the only New Testament writer who mentions deacons (p. 19). Drawing from the biblical texts, Strauch notes eleven things about deacons (pp. 23-29):
- First mentioned in Paul’s greeting to the church in Philippi
- Regulated by Paul’s instructions in 1 Timothy 3:8-13
- Always mentioned after the overseers
- Required to meet specific qualifications
- Not required to teach
- Are required to be examined and approved by the church and its leaders
- Are church officeholders like the overseers
- “Deacons” is plural
- Deacons’ wives (or Women Deacons) are required to meet specific qualifications
- Deacons can gain much respect in the eyes of the church and have their faith in Christ deepened
- Deacons are called Diakonoi in Greek
The fact Strauch appealed to Scripture in all his points is super important. We are not getting Strauch’s opinion here. Instead, we are getting Strauch’s exegesis of the relevant biblical texts. This tactic was a strength in his other book I reviewed. It is certainly a strength in this one.
Strauch dedicates three chapters to part two (pp. 35-86). Relevant texts include but are not limited to Philippians 1:1 and 1 Timothy 3:1-8. The chapter subject matter covers the elders (the church overseers), the deacons (the assistants to the elders), and how the deacons assist the elders with the care of God’s church. In part two, Strauch repeats his book intention by stating, “My intent in this book is to correct some of the confusion and false statements made about deacons by faithfully addressing the texts of Scripture” (p. 35). So far, so good.
At this point, I have to note Strauch’s good organization of his book. I appreciate the fact he gives clear sections that tell about who biblical elders are and what they do (pp. 36-46). What I also appreciate is the plethora of Scripture he uses. Consider the box on page 48 (shown in list form) that lists the “responsibilities of biblical elders, the overseers” (p. 48):
- Lead the church of God (1 Tim. 5:17)
- Exercise oversight: manage, supervise (1 Peter 5:2)
- Teach the people God’s Word (1 Tim. 3:2; 2 Tim. 2:2; Titus 1:9)
- Equip and prepare the saints for Christian ministry (Eph. 4:11-12)
- Labor in preaching and teaching (1 Tim. 5:17)
- Model Christian leadership (1 Peter 5:3)
- Shepherd, that is, pastor the whole church (1 Peter 5:2); feed, protect, lead, and heal (Acts 20:28)
- Judge doctrinal disputes (Acts 15:2-30; 16:4; 21:20-25)
- Guard the church from false teachers (Acts 20:28-31; Titus 1:9-10)
- Care for the church of God (1 Tim. 3:5)
- Help those within the church who are weak (Acts 20:35)
- Pray for the sick and anoint them with oil (James 5:14-15)
- Lay hands on certain gifted individuals (1 Tim. 4:14)
- Handle church finances (Acts 11:29-30; 1 Peter 5:2)
- Represent their local church to other churches (Acts 11:30; 15:4, 22-23; 21:18-19)
- Held accountable by God the Father (Heb. 13:17)
A lot of these texts were familiar in light of Strauch’s other book. Once again, Strauch’s heavy use of Scripture is on display. Moreover, he handles God’s Word rightly.
In chapter three, Strauch provided biblical evidence that support the assertion that deacons are assistants to the elders (pp. 51-68). In chapter four, Strauch basically makes a biblical case for why deacons are more than just table servers (pp. 69-86). Apparently, “From the second century to the present day, many Bible scholars and church leaders have thought that the origin of the deacons is recorded in Acts 6” (p. 69). I never knew that. Strauch makes a good case for why Acts 6 is not the origin of the deacons.
Strauch dedicates five chapters to the last part of the book (pp. 87-154). The main biblical text in this section (many more are appealed to) is 1 Timothy 3:8-13. This looks at the deacons’ qualifications, examinations and rewards.
Strauch once again appeals early and often to the biblical texts in making his points. Before I elaborate on that, I must say that chapter five started with some heat. I’ll offer commentary after I show the flame-throwing introduction (p. 87):
In a letter to a young elder named Nepotian, Jerome, father of the Latin translation of the Bible, rebuked the churches of his day (AD 394) for showing more interest in the appearance of their church buildings than in the proper selection of their church leaders:
Many build churches nowadays; their walls and pillars of glowing marble, their ceilings glittering with gold, their altars studded with jewels. Yet to the choice of Christ’s ministers no heed is paid1.1 Jerome, “Letters 52,” in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers, 6: 94.
Keep in mind that the above quote (2nd paragraph) was written in AD 394. Think about the seeker-driven movement in the present-day. Most of the churches in the movement (I cannot speak for all) have buildings that are unquestionably large and beautiful. Moreover, these churches’ lighting, performances and events put on quite the show. And yet, the so-called pastors in the movement more often than not preach some of the most self-absorbed, narcissistic, irreverent, Christ-less, cross-less, Gospel-less blasphemous messages I see. Think about some of the heretics/pharisees in this movement like Rick Warren, Craig Groeschel, Andy Stanley, Joseph Prince, Todd Smith and Brian Houston (to name a few). These “pastors” have some of the best and biggest church buildings in the world. However, their doctrine is absolutely atrocious. It is fascinating that Jerome’s words some 1,600 years ago are as relevant now as they were then.
Strauch spends chapter five looking at the five qualifications a deacon must meet (pp. 88-101). Drawing from 1 Timothy 3:8-9, those qualifications are:
- Dignified (worthy of respect)
- Not double-tongued
- Not addicted to much wine
- Not greedy for dishonest gain
- Holding the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience
To prove Strauch is on the money in his exegesis, here are the aforementioned verses in the fuller context of 1 Timothy 3:8-13 (ESV):
8 Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. 9 They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.
The text says what it says, and I’m glad and thankful Strauch draws from it.
Strauch mainly and thoroughly draws from 1 Timothy 3:10 in chapter six, a chapter dealing with examination of the deacons (pp. 105-118). Strauch notes how this examination process is thorough and public. The process is not like the one he describes to begin the chapter (p. 105; bolding done by me):
At Valleyview Church the deacons are the church’s business committee. Their primary duty is to make financial and facility decisions. Once a year the pastor invites all members to meet after a Sunday evening service to choose new deacons. As everyone gathers around a whiteboard, the chairman of the deacon board asks for nominations. Several names are suggested and written on the whiteboard. The members who attend (and only a few do) then vote for two new deacons to replace the two whose three-year terms have expired. After the votes are counted, the newly elected deacons are installed, and the pastor closes the meeting in prayer. The entire process takes less than an hour.
Except for that closing prayer, the pastor and members engaged in no prayer about the choices being made, no serious consideration of the biblical qualifications for deacons, and no conscientious effort to examine whether each candidate’s moral character, family life, and lifestyle were consistent with the faith. Such thoughtless procedures display disregard for, or possible ignorance of, the clear instructions and authority of Scripture and seriously weaken our churches.
Strauch does not specify either what this Valleyview Church is or where it is located. There’s lot of meat in 1 Timothy 3:8-13. I do not see how a church could conceivably do the examination process in an hour. If that indeed is what is happening in many churches, that is a big issue.
In chapter seven, Strauch looks at 1 Timothy 3:11 (pp. 119-130). Strauch notes that there seems to be five views of who the women of 1 Timothy 3:11 really are (pp. 121-123). In fact, he dedicates the appendix of his book to “The Deacons’ Wives” (pp. 155-172). Whoever they are, they are to be dignified, sober-minded, faithful in all things and not a slanderer (pp. 123-128).
Chapter eight’s title is “Marriage, Children, And Household” (pp. 131-144). Essentially, Strauch argues that the deacon must manage his household well. This includes but is not limited to encouraging, instructing and disciplining his children. Strauch lists some good biblical texts for the deacon in this regard. After I list the texts, I add something I believe the deacon should also do (p. 139):
In God’s wise design for the family, the father plays a central role in the encouragement, instruction, and discipline of his children:
And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lay down, and when you rise. (Deuteronomy. 6:6-7)
Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord. (Eph. 6:4)
Fathers, do not provoke your children, lest they become discouraged. (Col. 3:21)
For you know how, like a father with his children, we exhorted each of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:11-12)
Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and respected them. (Hebrews 12:9)
These are obviously outstanding texts for the deacon. I would like to add that the deacon should also proclaim the Gospel to his children. To start, he can begin by explaining that by default, everyone is born dead in trespasses and sins.
Ephesians 2:1-10 explains (NASB):
2 And you were dead in your trespasses and sins, 2 in which you formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience. 3 Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), 6 and raised us up with Him, and seated us with Him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
The Bible is clear that people are born dead in trespasses and sins (2:1-3). God’s being rich in mercy makes one alive in Christ (2:4). Furthermore, it is by grace through faith that one is saved (2:5-9). It is not based on works (2:9).
If you do not believe what Ephesians 2:1-10 states, I would ask you please look at the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:1-17. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever stolen something, even if it was small? Have you ever used God’s name in vain? Jesus said that whoever looks upon a woman to lust after her has already committed adultery in the heart (Matthew 5:27-28). Jesus also said that if you ever get angry at someone, you’ve committed murder in the heart (Matthew 5:21-26). Just the mere thoughts of adultery and murder make you guilty of the very acts themselves.
Please understand that it only takes one murder to be a murderer, one lie to be a liar and so forth. David said in Psalm 51:5 that he was conceived in sin. Genesis 6:5 states that every intent of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually. Clearly, man has a sin problem. Romans 3:23 states that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Man is in big trouble with God because of his sin. This is more amplified by the fact that perfection is the standard (Matthew 5:48).
Now, some people try to justify their sin by trying to balance it out with the good deeds that they have done. However, if you were to try that in a court of law, the judge would throw the book at you. A good judge would not accept a bribe. He would cast you off into jail. God likewise will not accept a bribe, for there is no partiality with Him (Deuteronomy 10:17; Ephesians 6:9).
Thankfully, Jesus came to solve the sin problem over 2000 years ago (Isaiah 53:1-12). You and I broke the law. Jesus paid the fine (Matthew 26:14-28:20). This means that the judge can do what’s legally right in dismissing your case. He can say, “This person has broken the law, but someone has paid his fine. He’s out of here.” This is good news.
There are two things a person must do. He must repent. This means to turn from his sin (Mark 1:16; Luke 24:36-49; 2 Timothy 2:19-26; Acts 17:30-31). He must also put his trust in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ (Acts 16:31, 17:30-31; Romans 4:1-25, 10:1-17; Galatians 3:1-14; John 6:26-29). These gifts of repentance and faith are granted by God (Ephesians 2:8-9; 2 Timothy 2:22-26). If you repent and put your trust in the Savior Jesus Christ, He will forgive you of your sins and grant you everlasting life (John 6:47). Oh may you know His mercy and grace today if you have never repented and put your trust in Jesus Christ alone for salvation. May every child in every Christian household understand how he/she can be saved. May every deacon proclaim the Gospel to his children.
Strauch closes the “chapter” part of his book by discussing rewards for the deacons (pp. 145-154). Drawing from 1 Timothy 3:13, Strauch notes the deacons’ rewards of commendable service, honorable standing and great confidence in their faith in Christ as a result of their performing their duties well. By this point in the book, Strauch has demonstrated that deacons “do significant and needed work” (p. 151). It is a blessing that their doing the work well would result in rewards.
Alexander Strauch once again has turned in a biblically-heavy book that is a little on the advanced side if this is the first book by Strauch that you have read. Reading and reviewing his other book made me a little better prepared to read this one with a bit of ease. This book is most definitely a must-have for the Christian. It gives excellent biblical information on the biblical portrait of a New Testament deacon. This book, like the other one by Strauch that I reviewed, is a classic that highly educates one on the concept of the New Testament deacon.
NOTE: I emailed my review to Alexander Strauch, for we have exchanged email conversations in the past (albeit very briefly). I also tweeted by review. I tagged him in the tweet.