Some interpreters regard this occasion as the origin of the church office of deacon. I am not convinced that this suggestion is correct. Instead, it looks to me that the apostles suggested that a temporary committee be formed to deal with a short-term problem, and once the problem was corrected the committee would have ceased to function. Two of the committee – Stephen and Philip – were also preachers and they did not limit themselves to activities usually associated with deacons.
It is interesting to note the advice of the apostles. First, they themselves did not form a committee of apostles to deal with the problem. One of the biggest hindrances to church community life is authoritarianism on behalf of the leaders. They insist on being involved in every decision, even down to the minutest detail. There is a difference between having God-given authority and man-made authoritarianism. This accusation could not be levelled against the apostles.
There is another danger that could have arisen in such circumstances, and that is appointing one’s favourites to the committee in order to ensure that it would be a set of ‘yes-men’ . The apostles refused to identify the persons who would be on the committee. Instead they left the choice of persons up to the church. It is true that they specified the qualities needed for those who would be on the committee, but they did not take part in making the choices.
This is perhaps surprising because the church in Jerusalem had not been in existence for a long time. At most, the church was two or three years old. How could the apostles be confident that such a young church would make the right choices? The answer must be that the apostles had conveyed to the members sufficient teaching that would enable them to identify suitable people for fulfilling this aspects of the Lord’s work. The church had been well-instructed and could therefore be relied upon.
Not only did the apostles ensure that they were not guilty of authoritarianism and favouritism, they also ensured that no one was left out of the process. They insisted that all the disciples become involved in the decision. Nobody was allowed to sit on the fence and not take part. Each member of the church was to have a say in putting together this committee to deal with a practical problem. In other words, the apostles reminded each of the believers of their responsibility to take part in church decisions.
Once the choice had been made, the apostles authenticated the decision by praying for the men and laying hands on them. This was a public announcement that they agreed with the decision that was made. Perhaps one feature that would have encouraged the apostles may be deduced from the names of the seven men. The names are Hellenistic names which suggests that the Aramaic-speaking Jews voted for men from the other group. This action was evidence that they trusted their choices to act in a Christian way with the authority they had been given. Therefore, the occasion of setting these men apart for this role would have been a very happy one.