What We Believe

July 22, 2012 Q & A

How do women deacons and women missionaries differ?


I am trying to clearly understand how the OPC understands the role of women. I see from a previous Q&A that the OPC "appoints" women to the diaconal role of missionary. So if I try to verbalize for someone (not in the OPC) how this differs from women in diaconal roles in the local church, how would I do that? I am at a loss to understand the difference, so I find myself unable to explain it to a sincere questioner. Is there something in print form that lays out the beliefs of the OPC on the "roles" of men and women?


In order to answer your question, I need to begin by explaining the vocabulary we are using. The Greek noun from which we get the word "deacon" is diakonos or diakonon in the singular and diakonoi in the plural.

Diakonos is found 14 times in the New Testament. They are Matthew 20:26; 23:11; Mark 9:35; 10:43; John 12:26; Romans 13:4; Galatians 2:17; Ephesians 3:7; 6:21; Colossians 1:7, 23, 25; 4:7 and 1 Timothy 4:6. Diakonon is found twice. It is in Romans 15:8 and 16:1.

Please pause to look them up. You will see that most of the time the word "servant" is used to translate it and occasionally the word minister is used to translate it.

Diakonoi is found 6 times in the New Testament. They are John 2:9; 1 Corinthians 3:5; 2 Corinthians 6:4; 11:15; 11:23; and I Timothy 3:12. Once again, the translators used "ministers," "servants" and "deacons" to translate the words.

And, these aren't the only form of the word. For instance there is diakonoun in Philippians 1:1—translated deacons. I am not even accounting for the verb which in its various forms is found many times. It is translated "help," "serve," "wait on" and "serve as a deacon" (1 Tim. 3:10). Then there is diakonia which means "service."

Sometimes these words are used in a secular manner (e.g. waiters at a table), sometimes to the members of the church, sometimes to the servants of Satan and sometimes to Jesus (Romans 13:4). Most of the time then, it is not referring to office. We do not believe, in light of context nor in light of the regulative principle for worship that that any of these passages are describing a female ordained deacon. However, it is also quite clear that all of Christ's disciples are to be servants to him and each other (e.g. 1 Peter 4:10). All un-ordained disciples of Jesus are servants (diakonoi).

I suppose that we could describe the role of un-ordained men and women who go to the mission field to assist our ordained missionaries as "serving" rather than diaconal, but I am not sure that that would be more helpful.

May I suggest, that you explain it to your friend in this way. There is a difference between "diaconal" and "deacon" as we are using them. "Deacon" describes someone in an ordained office. "Diaconal" is an adjective that can describe the work of the deacons but we are using it to describe the more general work of serving. A doctor, nurse, teacher, construction worker, etc., who is not ordained, serves the Mission by using their skill to relieve the preaching missionaries of some non-ordained duties and by accompanying the preaching of the Gospel with deeds of love. This is just like Sunday school teachers, pianists and those who set up for worship or who mow the lawn. A local church doesn't appoint such people but it does approve them for some of those roles. On the mission field we do "appoint" them to their task in order to officially connect them to the administrative oversight of the Mission.

I hope that this helps you.



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