Rev. Cammenga is pastor of Southwest Protestant Reformed Church in Grandville, Michigan.

“The deacons shall meet, wherever necessary, eve y week to transact the business pertaining to their office, calling upon the Name of God; whereunto the ministers shall take good heed and if necessary they shall be present.” 

Church Order, Article 40.


No mention is made in Article 29 of the Church Order of deacons’ meetings as a distinct ecclesiastical gathering: “Four kinds of ecclesiastical assemblies shall be maintained: the consistory, the classis, (the particular synod), and the general synod.” Deacons’ meetings are not a separate ecclesiastical assembly in the strict sense of the word. They are really an extension of the consistory.

As far as the background of Article 40 is concerned, already the Synod of Dordt, 1574, called for meetings of the deacons: “Each week the deacons shall meet together to discuss fruitfully the matters concerning the poor.” The Synod of Dordt, 1578, decided: “The deacons shall meet together every week or as often as necessary, in order to deliberate concerning whatever pertains to their office and shall do their counting every month or else according to circumstances in the presence of the consistory.” The Synod of Middelburg, 1581, ruled: “Similarly, the deacons shall meet every week in order to transact the business pertaining to their office.” The Synod of the Hague, 1586, decided: “Similarly, the deacons shall meet every week in order to transact the business pertaining to their office prayerfully, to which the ministers shall take good heed and if necessary be present.” The Synod of Dordt, 1618-1619, adopted our present Article 40.

Article 40 prescribes separate deacons’ meetings in congregations where the diaconate is of sufficient size to make this possible. Article 37 of the Church Order provides for the inclusion of the deacons in the consistory. The last part of the article reads: “Whenever the number of elders is small, the deacons may be added to the consistory by local regulation; this shall invariably be the rule where the number is less than three.” In cases where the deacons are added to the consistory, separate deacons’ meetings are not usually held.

But when there are a sufficient number of deacons, this should be done. Then the deacons should meet separately, the elders should meet separately, and the elders and deacons should meet together. Generally separate deacons’ meetings should be held in congregations where the number of deacons is four or more.

The Nature of Deacons’ Meetings

The deacons’ meetings are to be formal meetings. The deacons are not merely to meet informally as may become necessary, perhaps after a Sunday worship service or before the consistory meeting. But these are to be official meetings. They ought to be held on a set date, at a set time, in a set place. The meetings ought to be publicly announced in the church bulletin. Minutes of the meeting are to be recorded in a minute book. Officers are to be elected and function at the meetings: President, Secretary, Vicar (Vice-All or General Adjunct). An adopted agenda ought to be followed.

These meetings have as their purpose: “… to transact the business pertaining to their office.” Specifically, the deacons’ meetings are to be concerned with the work of the deacons, the work of the collection of the alms, and the distribution of benevolence. Things belonging to the business of the general council meeting ought not to be considered at the deacons’ meetings. The “business pertaining to their office” is described in Church Order, Articles 25 and 26.

This business would include:

1. Benevolent Fund report.

2. Reports of committees that met with individuals and dispensed alms.

3. Consideration of requests for benevolence with appointment of needed committees.

4. Cases that ought to be investigated.

5. Reports of visits to the elderly, the widows and widowers, and the shut-ins.

6. Causes outside the congregation: sister churches, individuals from another church who might have requested help, even non-Christians (Gal. 6:10).

The deacons’ meetings are to begin by “… calling upon the Name of God….” The meetings are to be opened with prayer. Although not specifically mentioned, there ought also to be the reading of Scripture. This should be done by the president of the deacons. The deacons’ meetings should also be closed with prayer. This provision of Article 40 is intended to be a reminder to the deacons of their absolute dependence upon God in carrying out the work of their office.

In addition, this provision also serves to protect the spiritual nature of the work of the deacons. Their office is not just the distribution of money. But their office is the administration of the mercies of Jesus Christ. The deacons are in much need of wisdom and grace properly to carry out this important work in Christ’s church.

There are distinct advantages to holding separate deacons’ meetings. One advantage is that the deacons are afforded more time for consideration of their work. Too often when matters pertaining to the deacons are considered at the general consistory meeting, along with all of the other matters the consistory must deal with in an evening, the work of the deacons gets short shrift. In addition, the poor in the church are given somewhat freer access to the deacons if regular monthly deacons’ meetings are held. Also, because the work of the deacons is largely dealt with at the deacons’ meetings, these matters are eliminated from the agenda of the regular council meetings. Having deacons’ meetings does mean one more meeting a month for the deacons. But usually the council meetings do not last so long as otherwise they might.

Supervision by the Elders

The last part of Article 40 reads: “. . . whereunto the ministers shall take good heed and if necessary they shall be present.” This provision was added by the Synod of the Hague in 1586. The intention was that the deacons’ meetings should be supervised by the consistory. The minister(s) were to be present for supervision as well as for consultation and advice. It would be good that Article 40 were revised, so that instead of reading “minister” it reads: “… whereunto the elders shall take good heed . . . .” Generally, in churches where there are separate deacons’ meetings, the minister takes his turn in rotation with the other elders in attending the deacons’ meetings.

The deacons’ meetings fall under the supervision of the elders. As much as the minister and his work and the work of each elder and committees of elders falls under the supervision of the consistory, so does the work of the deacons. For this reason Article 23 specifies one of the duties of the elders to be “… to take heed that . . . the deacons faithfully discharge their office….” And Article 25 requires of the deacons that “they shall render an account in consistory…” of their distribution of benevolence.

For this reason an elder must always be present at the deacons’ meetings. He has only advisory vote, that is, only the right to speak. He is to serve the deacons with his counsel, as well as report to the next consistory meeting.

Division of Labor

When separate deacons’ meetings are held, the following names are the best to designate the various bodies in the local congregation. First, there is the consistory. This is the ruling body of the minister(s) and the elders. The articles of the Church Order that speak of the “consistory” refer always to the ministers and the elders, in distinction from the deacons. (Cf., for example, Articles 4, 5, 10, 37.) Other names for the consistory include: elders’ meetings, restricted consistory – in Dutch, smalle kerkeraad. Second, there is the diaconate, or body of deacons. Third, there is the council. This is the body of minister(s), elders, and deacons combined. This is the designation of the Belgic Confession of Faith, Article 30, “… also elders and deacons, who, together with the pastors, form the council of the Church . . . .” Other names for the council include: the general or full consistory-in Dutch, breede kerkeraad.

Generally, the division of labor will be in line with the peculiar offices in which the officebearers labor. This means that the deacons’ meetings will deal with matters of benevolence, the elders’ meetings (consistory meetings) with the oversight of the congregation. And the council meetings will deal with those matters common to the labors of the officebearers in the local congregation.

The following is a suggested division of labor.

Deacons’ meetings:

1. Counting of offerings.

2. Matters of benevolence in the local congregation.

3. Other matters of benevolence.

a. Sister churches.

b. Other causes.

4. Visits to sick, aged, and widows.

Consistory meetings:

1. Matters of Christian discipline.

2. Oversight of the preaching (including catechism classes) and the administration of the sacraments.

3. Confessions of faith, requests for baptism, admittance to the Lord’s Supper, membership transfers.

4. Family visitation.

5. Decisions respecting delegates to the broader assemblies.

6. Report of elder present at the deacons’ meeting.

7. Visits to sick, aged, and widows.

Council meetings:

1. Financial reports and matters pertaining to the general finances of the congregation.

2. Various standing committee reports.

3. Matters dealing with building, grounds, and property.

4. Nomination of officebearers.

5. Calling of a minister.

6 . Matters to be brought on congregational meetings.

7. Annual church visitation.

8. Censura Morum.