“But we will devote ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the word.” —Acts 6:4
The church has legitimate physical needs that are being neglected. The apostles don’t deny this, but they say they’re not going to give up their time for it, and, this pleases the church. Certainly, they did lead the church so that the seven are chosen to deal with the problem, but the church is pleased by the apostle’s word as a whole.
Protestants have forgotten what they protested; what they should be protesting. The Roman priests devoted themselves to everything but prayer and the ministry of the Word. Much of what they did should have been the responsibility of deacons. John Eck was a defender of Catholicism who squared off against Luther in debate, but he knew this much:
He [the cleric] should focus on the ministry of the Word of God and entrust the worldly things to the deacons, [city] servants and local government, as the apostles did in this passage. Now, however, our own prelates turn the matter upside down. Whatever spiritual matters there are is too much for them. …If they are supposed to preach, then they shove forward some monk. If they are supposed to absolve a distressed sinner, then there is the confessor. However, whatever concerns gold, money and interest, that we must bring to ‘my most merciful lord.’
Many evangelical pastors neglect the ministry of prayer and the Word because they too are more concerned with money and empire building. In contrast, Derek Thomas comments,
It is fascinating to observe that the church agreed on the need for preaching. In an age when Christians desire ‘less preaching and more programs,’ it would be well to observe the opposite in the early church. These Christians felt the need to prioritize a Bible-based instructional ministry to feed their souls and instruct them in the way of truth.
The reason deacons were installed in the church was so that the Word would continue to be proclaimed unhindered. It is good to want deacons because you love the body and want their needs to be provided for. It is better to primarily, though not exclusively, to want deacons so that the Word can go forward without encumbrance to the glory of Christ’s name and the growth of the church. Because deacons were appointed, and the twelve were able to devote themselves to prayer and the Word, “the word of God continued to increase, and the number of disciples multiplied greatly (Acts 6:7).”
Advising against those who wanted to use physical means, such as smashing alters and destroying images, to advance the Reformation, Luther warned,
Give men time. I took three years of constant study, reflection, and discussion to arrive where I now am, and can the common man, untutored in such matters, be expected to move the same, distance in three months? Do not suppose that abuses are eliminated by destroying the object which is abused. Men can go wrong with wine and women. Shalt we then prohibit wine and abolish women? The sun, the moon, and stars have been worshiped. Shall we then pluck them out of the sky? Such haste and violence betray a lack of confidence in God. See how much he has been able to accomplish through me, though I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all. Had I wished I might have started a conflagration at Worms. But while I sat still and drank beer with Philip and Amsdorf, God dealt the papacy a mighty blow.
Fellow pastors, may this be our uncompromising glory, “I did no more than pray and preach. The Word did it all,” and praise be to God for men of good repute, full of the Spirit and wisdom, who for love of the church and God’s Word, free us to do so.