By Adam Brown –
In 1987, John Piper was a founding member of The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). The mission of CBMW “is to set forth the teachings of the Bible about the complementary differences between men and women, created equally in the image of God, because these teachings are essential for obedience to Scripture and for the health of the family and the church.” As a key step in advancing this mission, CBMW drafted the Danvers Statement, which the elders of Southshore have officially embraced as our own view on manhood and womanhood.
Under Piper’s leadership, the group drafted a statement outlining what would become the definitive theological articulation of “complementarianism,” the biblically derived view that men and women are complementary, possessing equal dignity and worth as the image of God, and called to different roles that each glorify him.
It is for these reasons, that Piper’s voice is so important to us in the discussion about women serving the local church as deacons. Piper’s complementarian credentials are uncontested. His commitment to the equality and functional distinction of men and women in the home and in the church is well documented.
Of course, just because Piper affirms women deacons does not necessarily mean that this is the only way to interpret 1 Timothy 3:8-13. However, Piper’s interpretation does suggest that committed complementarians can, with good reason, conclude that this passage does invite women to serve as deacons.
Perhaps the clearest articulation of Piper’s position comes from Appendix 2 in the Seminar Notes from Piper’s May 1, 1999 Session 1 presentation of “Biblical Eldership.” Here is an excerpt from that resource:
Were Women Deacons?
Probably yes. There are four observations that incline me to think that this office was held by both men and women.
1. The Greek word for deacon can be masculine or feminine in the same form. So the word itself does not settle the issue.
2. In the middle of the qualifications for deacons in 1 Timothy 3:8-13Paul says, “The women likewise must be serious, no slanderers, but temperate, faithful in all things.” This could be the wives of the deacons, but could also be the women deacons. The latter is suggested by the fact that no reference to women is made in 3:1-7. Since women were not candidates for the eldership in the New Testament (1 Timothy 2:12-13) because of its authoritative function in teaching and oversight, the absence of the reference to women in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 would be expected. But this confirms the probability that the reference to women in 3:11 is to women deacons, not merely to wives of deacons.
3. The deacons were distinguished from the elders in that they were not the governing body in the church nor were they charged with the duty of authoritative teaching. So the role of deacon seems not to involve anything that Paul taught in 1 Timothy 2:12 (or anywhere else) which is inappropriate for women to perform in the church.
4. In Romans 16:1, Phoebe is very probably called a deacon. “I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon(ess) of the church at Cenchreae, that you may receive her in the Lord as befits the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a helper of many and of myself as well.”
It appears then that the role of deacon is of such a nature that nothing stands in the way of women’s full participation in it. Within the deaconate itself, the way the men and women relate to each other would be guided by the sense of appropriateness, growing out of the Biblical teaching of male and female complementarity.