A Pamphlet Concerning the Reformation of the Churches

(Kuyper has been talking about the particular work of the individual office bearers. He has discussed up to this point the office of the ministry of the Word and the office of elders. In the following two paragraphs he turns to the work of professors of theology and the work of deacons.)

24. What Is to Be Said Of Professors. 

The question if there is, alongside of the office of preacher, elder, and deacon, yet a fourth office, that of Doctor or Professor in the church of God, is not to be decided by an appeal to Ephesians 4:1. Indeed it is stated there that the Lord has set some to be apostles and some evangelists, but then it follows: some pastors and teachers. If it said: some to pastors and some to teachers, then the matter would be decided. Now it is not. Our Confession, in Articles 30 and 31, knows only three offices, and indeed there are four offices spoken of in the Church Order of Dort, Article 2. But first of all the Church Order must be explained according to the Confession, not the Confession according to the Church Order. And secondly, the church, also after 1619, has not gone in the direction of an ecclesiastical professorial office. On this ground it must be recognized that the office of professor is still in a state of change and only by degrees shall come to its own through a further development of ecclesiastical circumstances. With that further development, the following ought to be considered as a rule: 1) That the ecclesiastical professorial office is completely distinct from the university titles granted to graduated persons. 2) That the ecclesiastical title of professor is never a bare title, but is really an office, having as its purpose to train prospective ministers of the Word, to expound scientifically the truth, and to defend the truth which the church confesses against heresy. The purpose of this office is for one of these three or for all together. 3) That such professors be placed in ecclesiastical seminaries, preferably at the same time retaining some part of the work of the ministry of the Word. 4) That such ecclesiastical professors receive a place in the consistory of their church and have an advisory vote on Classis and Synod. 5) That they are not eligible for election to professor until after a proper examination of studies and godliness. And 6) that these ecclesiastical professors are designated for their office by the church and installed in their office either by the consistory if they are locally called, or if they are appointed for an ecclesiastical seminary, by the Classis or Synod which has established this seminary. 

Professors in theology at universities, i.e., not at ecclesiastical seminaries but at independent and nonecclesiastical scientific institutions, can be appointed by the consistory of their own town to be at the same time ecclesiastical professors; but they are not automatically professors. It is most advisable for such universities that they, before the appointment of their professors in theology, invoke the cooperation of the church in such a way that to these professors the ecclesiastical office is given and to the church is given the supervision over those who rule this office. 

25. What Is the Work Of the Deacons In the Church Of Christ. 

The office of deacons was already partly corrupted in the old Christian Church. It was entirely corrupted in the Romish Church. At the time of the Reformation it was only partly restored to honor. It was only partly restored to honor because the Lutheran Church dropped it entirely. But it was also only partly restored because even in the Reformed Church it never came to proper and full development. A deacon holds an office, a royal office conferred on him by Christ, in the same way as the minister of the Word and the elder. To say that deacons work in material things and are thus lower than preachers and elders who labor in the spiritual realm is a false distinction which falls away as soon as the office of the diaconate is considered in its highest significance. The diaconate is the office of Christian love; and just as the Lord Christ, during His sojourn on earth, performed two kinds of divine work, first the preaching of the, gospel to check sin, and secondly, relieving the misery of the sick and hungry to break the consequences of sin, so also the deacons must stand alongside of the presbytery to manifest the ministry of divine mercy alongside of the ministry of the divine Word. The diaconate must thus by no means end in collecting and distributing to needy persons, but it ought gradually to develop as the glorious instrument of the church for Christian philanthropy. The care of orphans and widows, of aged and sick, of blind and idiots, of insane and incurably sick, yes indeed of prisoners and itinerant strangers, etc., lies also upon the deacons. And while in this way they have to help the miserable who are the Lord’s to support and comfort them, not only with money and goods, but also with spiritual comfort, they have to work spiritually in the congregation to teach the people to give. The giving of money is for the selfish and greedy man a spiritual act unto which only grace equips him and which also brings him grace. So also deacons are lacking in devotion to duty towards the congregation if they do not, teach the people to give. Thus, far from disdaining the diaconate as a purely natural office, it ought to be honored as a highly spiritual office even though nowadays it is operated in almost no church according to this requirement. 

Deaconesses hold no office, but are to be considered as helpers to deacons. They must be honored as such in each church because the love of Christ for the miserable cannot come to its own unless it has also feminine tenderness as its instrument. 

The ones who hold this office must be chosen by the congregation even as the ministers and elders, but must be called and ordained by their fellow office bearers in the same way as was described in connection with ministers of the Word and elders. The requirements for their office are first of all spiritual; but I as soon as the indispensable requirements of uprightness and godliness are met, the requirement of a certain position in daily life is necessary so that their souls are not in danger by managing money and so that trust in them remains unshaken. 

Whether they must be ordained in conformity with Acts 6:9, with the laying on of hands, is uncertain. Yet it seems certain from the laying on of hands by the apostles on the first deacons that their office must not be slighted in worthiness in relation to other offices. 

If then, in connection with the broader development of the ecclesiastical diaconate, individuals should devote their entire effort to this office, there is nothing against the idea of providing such deacons, just as preachers, with a livelihood for themselves and their families, provided that the money for this is not taken from the benevolent funds, but is provided by the church. 

The question is much debated whether the deacons have a part in the government of the church. The practice in our Reformed Churches was commonly that in almost one thousand of the eleven hundred congregations the deacons did have a part in such government, namely, in all country congregations and in the very small villages; and that, therefore, on the other hand, in about one hundred congregations the deacons formed a separate body and only voted in the calling of office bearers and in the material affairs of the council of the church. From this arises the seeming conflict between the Confession which in Article, 30 combines the deacons, elders, and ministers in one consistory, and our Formula of Subscription which distinguishes the body of deacons from the meetings of ministers and elders. And still there is no doubt about the manner in which this conflict must be resolved. From the clear fact that our Reformed Churches, after their first troubles, did not permit deacons on the Classis or Synod, it appears that the diaconate was not recognized as a unique ecclesiastical body. Indeed, they ought to have a seat in the plenary council where all the office bearers come together to represent the congregation. But if they have a part in the government of the church in the villages, this is because of the small number of elders whose deficiency they supply. On the other hand, we do not agree with those who permit the deacons; to have no greater part in the calling of elders and deacons than the members of the congregation. This must not be. An office is an office. And also the deacons: sit in the council of the church as office bearers. 

Another question which we touch on only lightly is: whether just as Classis and Synod are gatherings of many churches which are busy with all things concerning the rule in the churches, so also deacons from different churches ought to come together in a like manner to be busy with the matters which concern the poor. For the arrangement of the care of orphans: in small villages, for the care of the sick, idiots, lunatics, blind, strangers, etc., such a cooperation in a classical meeting of the diaconate appears to be all the more indispensable.