“The deacons shall meet wherever necessary, every 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.”
—Article 40, D.K.O.
It is to be observed that already as early as 1574 the Synod of Dort ruled that “Deacons should meet weekly in order to consider the affairs of their office.”Twelve years later the Synod added the stipulations that these meetings should be attended with the“calling upon the Name of God” and “supervised by the ministers, who, if necessary, should also be present.” The words “wherever necessary” were added later; in the Netherlands in 1905 and in the Christian Reformed Church in America in 1914, and so we have the present article which, it is understood, applies only-to those cases where the elders and deacons hold separate meetings. In cases where the deacons are added to the consistory (see Article 37 of the Church Order) the above article would not apply although it is not impossible that where a consistory is small and naturally the diaconate still smaller, the latter might still hold separate meetings to attend to matters that belong strictly to their office. Should the deacons who are already added to the consistory choose to do so, they would also function under the regulation, of Article 39.
Deacons’ meetings are not in the technical or official sense of the word to be regarded as “ecclesiastical assemblies.” They are not included in the four kinds of ecclesiastical assemblies which, according to Article 29 are to be maintained in the church. It is undoubtedly for this reason that the deacons must report all of their activities to the consistory and also why their meetings are held under the direct supervision of the consistory. These meetings would then assume a sort of semi-official status with the consistory passing final approval upon the actions taken.
In the present article there are three things worthy of note. Firstly, there is the meeting itself at which the business of the deacons is transacted. Secondly, there is the matter of the calling upon the Name of God and, finally, there is the presence of the ministers at the meetings. These matters we will treat separately in this and in a subsequent article.
The Meetings Of The Deacons
The Church Order prescribes that deacons’ meetings shall be held every week “wherever necessary.”Originally weekly meetings were held to be compulsory. The reason for this is not known but it is certainly advisable to have a certain amount of flexibility in a rule of this nature. Circumstances must dictate the frequency of meeting and these are not the same in every congregation. It may very well be that in the larger churches the deacons have to meet every week in order to do justice to the large amount of work while in other smaller churches a bi-weekly or monthly meeting is adequate. The main thrust of the present rule is to require some local regulation so that in each church the meetings of the deacons will be held at regular intervals. This is conducive to good order and even the suggestion of the Church Order Commentary is worthy of note that in places where separate deacons’ meetings are not held, the deacons nevertheless meet from time to time to consider the spiritual side of their work. There does not have to be a large diaconate for this. Further, it is always well to do this.
The work that is to be performed at these meetings is to be strictly confined to “that which pertains to the deacons office.” Matters of doctrine and the government or administration of the church may not be considered since these things belong to the jurisdiction of the elders. Neither should the deacons concern themselves with sundry social and political problems which belong to other agencies and have nothing to do with the office of the deacons. But what is perhaps a more serious error that is not infrequently committed is that the business of the deacons’ meeting is limited to those things that concern the financial operation of the church. It is more or less taken for granted today that the deacons attend to all matters of finance. They pay the minister’s salary, the janitor’s salary, the gas and electric, bills and whatever other expenses are incurred in the operation of the church. They receive the funds contributed to meet these expenses and they formulate proper reports of all receipts and expenditures. To do these things they meet regularly and if nothing more is attended to the main function of their office is neglected. It is not question that it is proper to entrust this work to the deacons but this should not occupy so much time at their meeting that other work is neglected and if it does the situation plainly necessitates more frequent meetings.
The main task of the deacons to which attention at their meetings should be given is described in the form for installation. We quote as follows:
“We may easily gather, what the deacons’ office is, namely, that they in the FIRST place collect and preserve with the greatest fidelity and diligence, the alms and goods which are given to the poor: yea, to do their utmost endeavors, that many good means be procured for the relief of the poor.
“The SECOND part of their office consists in distribution, wherein are not only required discretion and prudence to bestow the alms only on objects of charity, but also cheerfulness and simplicity to assist the poor with comparison and hearty affection: as the apostle requires, Romans, chapter 12; and II Corithians, chapter 9. For which end it is very beneficial that they do not only administer relief to the poor and indigent with external gifts, but also with comfortable words from Scripture.”
The deacons’ office is an office of mercy. A mercy-dispensing office! For a more complete description of this office we may refer our readers to what we wrote in Vol. 32 of The Standard Bearer in connection with Articles 25 and 26 of the Church Order. We need not repeat that here but we should note that whereas the main function of the office of the deacon is to attend to the business of mercy and charity in caring for the poor and indigent and since the purpose of the deacons’ meeting is to transact business pertaining to their office, this work should receive priority. The diaconate that so functions is faithful and in the church where such diaconates are found the office will not fall into disuse or revert into a function that could just as well be performed by a committee under Consistorial supervision.
Calling Upon The Name Of God
Article 40 stipulates that the meetings of the deacons’ shall be attended with the “calling upon the Name of God.” Article 32 of our Church Order states that the“proceedings of all assemblies shall begin by calling upon the Name of God” but, as we have pointed out, deacons’ meetings are not ecclesiastical assemblies and, therefore, do not fall under the latter ruling. Hence, the provision in Article 40. It would almost appear unnecessary to state this but then Jansen suggests that at the time this provision was inserted in the article the office of the deacons was being used by civil authorities for the disbursement of funds to the poor. Some began to look upon the diaconate as civil and secular in nature and to retain this office as an ecclesiastical institution which it is, and to emphasize the ecclesiastical and spiritual nature of the deacons’ function, this provision was added. At any rate, whether redundant or not, it is a very proper and necessary practice. The ministration of the mercies of Christ through the office of the deacons is a work that is solely dependent upon the Lord and the gifts of His Spirit and grace. To attempt this work in any other way than through prayer is folly.
An appropriate prayer for this occasion is found in the collection of old liturgical prayers which today are virtually unknown. It reads:
“Merciful God and Father, Thou hast not only declared that we shall always have the poor with us, but hast also commanded us to succor them in their need. Thou hast ordained the service of the deacons for Thy Church, in order that its needy members may receive the aid they require. Since we whom Thou hast called to the diaconal office in this church are now met in Thy Name to discuss matters pertaining to our office, we humbly beseech Thee that Thou mayest, for the sake of Jesus Christ, dwell among us with the spirit of discrimination. May Thy Spirit help us to distinguish between those really poor and those who feign destitution, and to distribute the alms that have been collected as each one’s need may render necessary, in the spirit of joy and fidelity. May we never fail to comfort the needy members of Thy dear Son, nor dispense gifts to those who are not in want.
“Kindly fervent love to the poor in men’s hearts, in order that they may contribute generously of their temporal possessions over which Thou didst appoint them stewards, and we may have command of sufficient means to bring relief to those that are indigent, and may faithfully perform our task with true liberality of heart and without difficulty.
“Bestow upon us also the grace we need, not only to relieve want by means of external gifts, but also to instill the comfort of Thy Holy Word in hearts afflicted with misery. Truly, man lives not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of Thy mouth. We pray, therefore, that Thou wilt bless our ministrations and wilt multiply the bread of the poor, to the end that both they and we may have reasons to praise and thank Thee; meanwhile awaiting the blessed appearance of Thy dear Son, Jesus Christ, Who for our sakes became poor that He might enrich us with eternal treasures. Amen.”