Theology

Justice is a gospel issue: Empowered problem solving in Acts 6:3

Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty. (Acts 6:3)

Having set out their team leadership stall in the previous verse, the apostles continue their empowering approach by asking the gathered believers – which we know from Acts 6:2 was the whole assembly – to select “seven men” from “among you…whom we will appoint”. The people were to choose those the apostles would commission to solve the problem. The apostles empowered the believers to address the complaint.

Once again, lest it is overlooked, the apostles didn’t choose Stephen and the other six, the attending believers did. This also allows the group’s voice to be heard. It empowers the seven to take on more responsibility – just look at them go in the second half of the chapter! And it solves the practical complaint that this whole incident was based on (note the names of the seven – something we will return to later).

Two other renderings put it like this: “We will give them this responsibility” (NLT) / “whom we may appoint over this business” (NKJV). In other words, the apostles publically empowered and validated the seven in their new role. This also shows that the apostles remained able to offer apostolic guidance over the appointments – to the extent of the criteria they issued. But it was “we” plural (representing team leadership) rather than I (suggesting a single head or executive leader).

As leaders, we decide our attitude, which controls our response, which determines whether or not a situation is a conflict or a positive confrontation. The apostles gave the believers clear criteria, in this way they empowered them to make a good choice. Some call this “providing for success”. Either way, we have to let people know how to make a good decision, otherwise how can we expect them to make one?

Following the wisdom of Jethro, as practiced by Moses, appointing teams of seven leaders was common in synagogues of the day (this would have been familiar to the congregation, which was largely made up of Hebrew and Hellenistic Jews).

This part of the verse also demonstrates something about the apostles’ understanding of the church, their ecclesiology. It was both structured and omnidirectional. The apostles offered clear leadership, but it was also empowering. It represented team leadership, but could also be described as both presbyterian and congregational. Keener concurs that there may have been a democratic element: “This might suggest the Greek and sometimes Jewish practice of voting; for the people choosing someone and the leader ratifying”. Therefore, as far as biblical models of leadership are concerned the text isn’t either 100% apostolic or 100% presbyterian or 100% congregational. Rather – as Chapter 6 demonstrates – it was clearly a flexible and flowing combination of the two.

“men who are well respected and are full of the Spirit and wisdom”

The qualifications reflect the apostles ecclesiology – they are spiritual and natural. Such ministers must be well respective, full of the Spirit and wise. The development of qualifications for ministry in chronological order, with about 30-odd years between start and finish shows how this evolved as the church grew:

    • Acts 6:3 – “good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom”
    • 1 Tim. 3:1-7 – “2Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3 not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. 5 (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) 6 He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. 7 He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.”
    • Titus 1:5-9 – “An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe[b] and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. 7 Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. 8 Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. 9 He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.”
    • 1 Peter 5:1-4: “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; 3 not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. 4 And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.”

With all this in mind, and in light of verse 1 and 2’s placing of the ecclesiological questions in the context of an immigration controversy within the church, the body can once again learn from its past today. Race relations within the Western church (and especially the USA) remain strained. Too often church hierarchies have sought to simply teach the body the answer. But here the apostolic model is to: listen, act, empower and create new system solutions. Neither is it a rationale for the enrichment of the hierarchy.

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