Back to the Shadows


Food can be a source of great anxiety for Christians. Our society bombards us with what and how we should eat. Every week there is new study telling us about the evils this food or that food. How should we think as Christians when it comes to food? Below is my brief attempt at putting up some guardrails on a road where many are currently driving over the cliff. A couple of notes before I begin:

First, I know there are Christians who flaunt their freedom and eat like gluttons. I know it is possible for the fat person to look down on the thin. However, in the community I am in and the Christian world at large that is becoming less and less of an issue. The bigger issue is holiness by dieting or exercise. That is what I am addressing because that is what I see around me.

Second, each person has to make choices about how they want to eat and what they want to eat. I understand this. However, too often our choices become a source of holiness for us and a way of dividing between Christians. What we eat has very little bearing on our own righteousness and holiness and should not be a source of division in the Body of Christ.

With those qualifications out of the way, here are my points.

1. The Old Testament laws about food have been done away with. It is hard to understand what else Acts 10:9-16 along with 10:28 can mean. Any Christian who tells you, “Don’t eat pork because the Bible forbids it” has failed to understand the New Covenant and is leading you back to the shadows of the Old Covenant.

2. The Old Testament food laws were about the separation of Jew and Gentile. This is clear from Acts 10:28. The Old Testament food laws were not about health.  There are many arguments against this. God never uses this type of language. He tells them to do this because they are to be holy, separate from the nations. (Leviticus 22:26) The Old Testament dietary laws are not a manual on healthy eating. They were a reminder to the Old Testament saints that they are to be separate from the nations. With the coming of the New Covenant those OT dietary laws are broken down as God is making one new man out of two. (Ephesians 2:14-18)

3. Natural food is not necessarily healthier than processed food. In today’s culture, much of the processed food has been stripped of its nutrient value. However, it is important to not overreact. Nature is fallen just like man. There is not pristine, natural wheat. The wheat has felt the effects of sin just like we have.  Also, God put us here to take dominion. We should be trying to make the wheat better. That is what God put us here to do. Just because greedy men tear down what God has given does not mean we should just take food as it is. We were made by God to take up the things in the world and transform them for his glory. This would include wheat, cows, and orange trees.

4. The two primary food sins in Scripture are gluttony and drunkenness.  If you eat too much or drink too much alcohol then you are sinning. However, having an extra piece of pie does not qualify as gluttony, just as having two beers does not qualify as drunkenness. Gluttony, like drunkenness is not hard to spot. The verses on gluttony are few and far between, though it has always been included among the seven deadly sins. Primary verses are Deuteronomy 21:20 and Proverbs 23:19-21. The picture here is not of someone who overeats and is overweight, but of someone who leads a riotous, drunken life and squanders their money and time. (c.f. Matthew 11:19 and Luke 7:34) I am reminded of the vomitoriums in ancient Rome, where men would eat until they were full and then go throw up so they could eat some more. That is the picture of gluttony.  A fat person is not necessarily a glutton. A thin person can be a glutton.

5. Where your food comes from does not matter. As Americans we have been taught somewhere that it is our solemn duty to make sure our food does not come from a tainted source. But in I Corinthians 8:1-8 Paul says it is not a sin to eat meat offered to idols. (See especially I Corinthians 8:8) If it is not a sin to eat meat offered to idols, then it is not a sin to eat non-organic chickens, lettuce from China, and beef filled with hormones from the meat plant in Iowa. This is an argument from the greater to the lesser. If the Scriptures teach that I can buy meat sacrificed to idols, it is hard to see how it is sin to buy and eat vegetables with pesticides on them or to eat chickens that were stuffed in a small cage their whole life.

6. What you eat or refuse to eat does not make you more holy than someone else. You are not more holy because you refuse to eat white sugar or white flour. You are not more holy because you buy organic. You are not more holy because you are a vegan or drink soy milk. You are not more holy because in your Christian liberty you can eat an entire pizza. You are not more holy because you exercise. Paul makes this point in Colossians 2:20-23.  Men love to draw unbiblical lines of holiness to separate themselves from others. Paul says these false lines make us look holy and feel holy, but in end they are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. Paul tells us where true holiness comes in Colossians 3:1-17.(See especially verses 5, 8, 12-13) If we worried more about those things mentioned in Colossians 3, sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, and less about what type of flour we are eating, how much fat is in our food or how much weight we put on we would be more holy.

Women Deacons: Defining the Terms

Several months back a good friend of mine and I got in a discussion about women deacons. This lead to research and study on my part. I am going to blog on this topic here and there over the next few weeks. 

One of my pet peeves is people who write on a subject, but never really define what they are talking about, especially if the subject is controversial. I am sure I have been guilty of this in my writing. Insisting on precise definitions can seem tedious, especially in an age dominated by short blog posts. However, it is kind to the readers for a writer to give a clear definition of what he is talking about. I am about to embark on a series of blog posts exploring the issue of women deacons/deaconesses. Before I start I wanted to note what someone can mean when they say women deacons/deaconesses.  Here are the options when it comes to women deacons and deaconesses. If you can think of other options put them in the comments. By the way, I use the term office throughout this post to refer to both ordained and unordained positions within the church.

Summary of the Options
1. Ordained deacons, some male and some female, but with all having equal status and function.
2. Non-ordained deacons, some male and some female, but with all having equal status and function.
3. Male and female deacons with equal status, but different functions.
4. Ordained deacons with an office of deaconess, ordained or not ordained, under the authority of the deacons.
5. Non-ordained deacons with a non-ordained office of deaconess under their authority.
6. There is no office of deaconess/woman deacon at all.

Explanation of the Options
Option 1: All deacons are ordained. Women deacons can do everything a male deacon can do. Both men and women deacons have the same status, role, and function. There are not male and female deacons. There are just deacons. If there was a head deacon a woman could fill that role.

Option 2: The exact same as #1, except the deacons are not ordained.

Option 3: There are male and female deacons with equal status, but distinct roles and functions within the church.  These could be ordained or not ordained. I have not heard anyone endorsing this particular position, though it is possible.

Option 4: There are ordained men deacons. There is a separate office of deaconess (or even women deacons). These women could be ordained or not ordained, but either way they serve under the authority of the deacons. Deaconess is not equivalent to deacon in either status, role, or function, though is some overlap between the two offices. There are several possible ways for widows and deaconesses to relate under this position: 1) Deaconess and widow could be the same office, 2) Widows could be part of the deaconesses, but other women are included as well, 3) Widows and deaconesses could be distinct offices in the church, 4) Widow is not an office, but deaconess is.

Option 5: This is the same as option 4, except neither group is ordained. I have not heard this particular position put forth by anyone though it is possible. Usually a two office view, deacons and deaconesses, has either both ordained or ordained deacons only.

Option 6: There is no office of deaconess in the church. There are a couple of options here. One could say that widows, not deaconesses, are the only proper biblical office for women. This would be basically option 4.1 above but instead of calling them deaconesses they would be called widows. Or it is possible to say there are no officially recognized offices for women in the church.

Thoughts on the Options
For all practical purposes #1 and #2 are the same: one office with both genders included. Most people I have read who are advocating “women deacons” are advocating one of these options. They just are not as clear about it as they should be.

Those who hold to #1 or #2 should jettison the phrase “women deacons” and “men deacons.” They should just have deacons. If the men and women have the same status, role, and function then they are equals. The whole point of 1 and 2 is that whether they are male or female is irrelevant to the tasks they can perform.

For all practical purposes #4 and #5 are the same: two distinct offices divided by gender. This group could have the office of “woman deacon” and not mean what #1 and #2 mean.

Option 3 is a bit of a wild card. I have not heard this exact position put forth.  It is an awkward position because it gives equal status, but not equal function. It would be like those who hold to a two office view (elders and deacons) saying that ruling elders could not preach while teaching elders can. I think some who are officially #1 or #2 function like #3. However, if a church has things women deacons cannot do, but men deacons can then they are not equal. For example, if a church has deacons that are men and women, but female deacons cannot visit a sick man in the hospital or cannot serve communion, but a male deacon can then they are not equal, at least not in function. My question would be, “Why give equal status, but not equal function?” That seems to be a contradiction. I am not saying deacons who are women must do everything men do in this type of a system. But if they are equal in status then they should be able to do everything men do. Otherwise you need two offices, not one.

Option 6 has the difficult task of explaining why throughout much of church history, including in Reformed churches, there have been offices for women.

Finally, it is odd to me that so much ink is spilled on I Timothy 3:11 and Romans 16:1, but so little ink is spilled on I Timothy 5:9-16.  Why is there not more discussion of whether or not the widow passage in I Timothy 5 should inform the office of deaconess/women deacons and if so how?

When discussing deacons, women deacons, and deaconesses, function (what they can do) and status (their office), both need to be considered, not just exegetical and historical data. A writer needs to be clear on what office is being given and what the functions of that office will be.

After posting this I thought of one more option: the reverse of #3, where there is not equal status, but there is equal function. Many of the same arguments brought to bear against #3 would be brought to bear against this position as well. Why allow women deacons/deaconesses to do everything men can do, but not give them equal status? Again this seems to be contradiction. 

Women Deacons and Equivocation

Equivocation is the misleading use of a term with more than one meaning or sense (by glossing over which meaning is intended at a particular time). (Wikipedia)

Recently J.A. Medders, a lead pastor at an Acts29 church, wrote a post on why his church has women deacons. There are exegetical and historical problems with his post. Here I am only going to address the way Pastor Medders uses church history. I will address the exegetical issues in later blog posts. By the way, I am not saying this equivocation by Pastor Medders was on purpose. I do not think he was trying to deceive people.

Pastor Medders says

When we are uncertain what the Bible teaches, not because of the Bible, but because of us—we should consider Church History. Historical theology shows us what the Body of Christ before us has done. This practice may not always lead us in the right direction, but it may help us see more clearly. We should always hold exegesis and texts in our hands, and Church History as a voice in the background. For me, the historical evidence here[in favor of women deacons] is overwhelming

There is wisdom in what Pastor Medders says. Church history can teach us a lot. However, it is easy to get sloppy with our history, especially when we are trying to summarize 2,000 years in less than a thousand words.

Does Deaconess Equal Woman Deacon?
The problem with his history lesson is that none of the quotes from church history use the phrase “woman deacon.” All of them say deaconess. This may seem like a petty argument. Don’t they mean the same thing?  Perhaps. But this must be proven not asserted. Even if all those quotes used “woman deacon” he must prove they mean the same thing he does.  To assume that similar words have the same meaning from Pliny to Calvin to Spurgeon to Pastor Medders is dangerous. To assert that every time someone used the word “deaconess” in the past they meant what Pastor Medders means in the present weakens significantly his historical argument. He does this while never really defining what he means by the phrase “woman deacon.” I am pretty sure I know what he means, but his failure to clarify his position makes it hard to compare his position with the ones from the past.

Brian Schwertly sums this up nicely. While he is only speaking of the patristic age, his point could be expanded to other periods of church history as well.

The study of deaconesses in the patristic age is liable to different interpretations. Some writers (who favor deaconesses in the same office as male deacons) base their argument on the word deaconess without a careful analysis of its meaning or intent. These writers argue that the early church had deaconesses, and so should we. But they are arguing by equivocation. What modern women-deacon advocates are advocating is not women deacons who serve in a separate office from men deacons, who have different qualifications that are based on 1 Timothy 5:9ff. They are advocating something totally foreign to the early church. They believe women deacons would have the same qualifications and serve in the same office as male deacons. They are comparing apples to oranges. They do not bother to carefully examine the character, qualifications and duties of the office of deaconess in the ante-Nicene age but simply rest their case on the name deaconess. They presuppose that their modern conception of a deaconess is the same as the church fathers and councils, despite evidence to the contrary. [Emphasis Mine]

Additional Historical Notes
Here are few more notes from this book that clarify the history of the office of deaconess/woman deacon. The office of deaconess was often built upon I Timothy 5:9 not 3:11. That is why the earliest deaconesses were widows over the age of 60. That age was eventually lowered to 50 and then finally to 40. Some saw I Timothy 3:11 as referring to the same group at I Timothy 5:9. Deaconesses were under the authority of the deacons. Deaconesses ministered primarily to women. They did not minister to men except perhaps in a hospital setting. Deaconesses did baptize women in the early church, but that was because female converts were baptized naked. At some point deaconesses did start getting ordained. But this practice was not part of the earliest records, did not make them equivalent to deacons, and was abandoned at various stages of church history. As one might expect with an office only vaguely described in Scripture, there is quite a bit of variation in both the existence, status, and function of deaconesses throughout church history. To say otherwise is equivocation.

Deacons were part of the ruling class of early church right underneath bishops and priests. Even with this office there was of course variation. They read Scripture, administered the Lord’s Supper, preached in some cases, determined who got financial aid, and were ordained clergy. The office of deacon in the early church was built on Acts 6:1-6.  Here is a quote from The Constitution of the Holy Apostles, which indicates some of the authority deacons had. “If any brother, man or woman, come in from another parish, bringing recommendatory letters, let the deacon be the judge of that affair, inquiring whether they be of the faithful, and of the Church? whether they be not defiled by heresy?” In this document, deacons determined whether or a not person could transfer to their parish. It appears from the last phrase that they examined the transfer’s orthodoxy. 

We can debate whether or not the deacons should have had this authority, but the point is that historically they did. Church history has examples of deaconesses who had specific tasks and roles in the life of the local body and in the Church at large. But no matter how many times the word deaconess is quoted, church history is not littered with women deacons who had the same status, role, and function as men deacons.  

Note: A few updates were made at 2:45 pm on August 15th. 

John Stott on I Timothy 4:4-5

“And more grateful celebration there should be among us, uninhibited by our lingering evangelical asceticism.  For the truth is that a world-denying Gnosticism has not yet been altogether eradicated from our theology and practice. Instead, we pride ourselves on our super-spirituality, which is detached from the natural order, and we look forward to an ethereal heaven, forgetting the promise of a new earth…We should determine, then, to recognize and acknowledge, appreciate and celebrate, all the gifts of the Creator: the glory of the heavens and the earth, of mountain, of river and sea, of forest and flowers, of birds, beasts and butterflies, and of the intricate balance of the natural environment; the unique privileges of our humanness (rational, moral, social, and spiritual), as we were created in God’s image and appointed his stewards; the joys of gender, marriage, sex, children, parenthood and family life, and of our extended family and friends; the rhythm of work and rest, of daily work  as a means to cooperate with God and serve the common good, and of the Lord’s day when we exchange work for worship.; the blessing of peace, freedom, justice and good government, and of food and drink, clothing and shelter; and our human creativity expressed in music, literature, painting, sculpture and drama, and in the skills and strengths displayed in sport.”