Introductory Note: The contents of this article were delivered as a speech td the Officebearers’ Conference on January 6, 1970. The article is prepared from a tape recording of the speech with only slight modification. The article of the Church Order referred to in the title deals with the work of the deacons.
The subject of Medicare and Medicaid is only part of a far broader problem which involves the work of the deacons. The problem is essentially this: Our federal government through various programs of aid to the poor has encroached upon the work of the deacons. The result of this has been that the office of deacons in the Church has suffered and, in some instances, has all but ceased to function. The question is much broader therefore, than the mere rightness and wrongness of Medicare and Medicaid. I propose to address your attention to the broader problem.
This is not by any means the first time that this problem has discussed among us—in our deaconates or even in our Officebearers’ Conference. But as far as I know there has not been very much work done along the lines of coming to a solution to this problem; and I am firmly convinced that the time as come to apply ourselves to this problem and come to some solution. And that rather quickly.
In preparation for this speech I obtained a large mass of material from Washington which explains the Medicare and Medicaid programs. This material, numbering in the hundreds of pages, I will not attempt to give to you this evening. What did strike me very forcibly as I was wading through the material was the fact that when the government enters into a program of benevolence, the program becomes unbelievably complicated. It was especially the contrast between these complex government programs, which require the acumen and training of a lawyer to understand, and the simplicity of the work of the deacons. I was reminded of the statement of Solomon in Proverbs: “The tender mercies of the wicked are cruel.”
A DESCRIPTION OF THE MEDICARE AND MEDICAID PROGRAMS Medicare and Medicaid are two entirely distinct programs. They are only indirectly related to each other.
The Medicare program consists of two distinct parts. These two parts are usually designated Part A and Part B. Part A of Medicare is a hospital insurance program. It is for people over 65 years old. It is hospital insurance for, retired people who draw social security benefits. It is an insurance program which is financed by means of the social security program itself. In other words, one pays his premiums in his regular social security payments. These payments are usually included in the social security payments. It is intended to cover most of hospital costs when those who are retired must enter a hospital for treatment or surgery. It also covers post-hospital costs in some instances, with some limitations, and what is called post-hospital home health care. This is care for a patient in a rest home or in his own home when the care requires full-time nursing.
Part B of Medicare is Medical Insurance. It too is for people who are retired; but it is financed somewhat differently than Part A. It is financed, not through the Social Security Program, but by means of the payment of premiums. Those who are insured under Part B of the Medicare Program are insured by means of premiums. These premiums are only paid in part by the person insured. At present the premium is $8.00 a month. The insured pays $4.00 while the other $4.00 is paid by the federal government. As far as I can determine, the $4.00 of the premium paid by the government comes out of tax monies and is therefore in the nature of a welfare program in part. This part of the program covers most of physicians’ services, most of medical services and supplies and most of outpatient hospital services.
The Medicaid program, on the other hand, is altogether different. It is simply a welfare program. It is available to anyone who belongs to that group of people known euphemistically as low-income people. Anyone who is poor according to the standard of poverty set by the government can apply for Medicaid. It is limited to medical payments. It is intended to supplement Medicare by paying that part of Medicare which ordinarily the individuals pays, in the event that he cannot pay it. It is intended to pay additional medical and dental expenses not covered by Medicare. It is a welfare program which is intended to help the needy in the land. The Medicare Program is administered by the Federal Government through the Social Security Office. The Medicaid Program, however, although administered in part by the Federal Government, is administered not through the Social Security Office, but through the Department of Health, Education and Welfare. Medicaid is a joint venture of the Federal Government, State Governments, and local governments. The money which pays for the Medicaid program comes out of regular tax dollars.
THE PLACE OF THE OFFICE OF DEACONS IN THE CHURCH
It is not my purpose to discuss the office of deacons in an exhaustive way. It is rather my purpose to discuss this important office in the Church from the viewpoint of its importance in the Church. This involves an aspect of the office which is often forgotten among us.
To get at this aspect pf the office, it is necessary to discuss briefly the general principles of the rule of Christ over His Church. This may not immediately appear to you to be directly connected with the work of deacons, but is closely related to our subject nonetheless.
We must proceed from the principle that Christ is the chief and only Officebearer in His Church. This principle, among many other things, certainly implies that when we speak of the fact that Christ is the chief and only Officebearer in His Church we are referring particularly to the fact that Christ is the King of His Church. It is obvious, of course, that Christ is also Prophet and Priest. Yet these three are only aspects of the one office which Christ holds. These three aspects of Christ’s office are reflected in the Church in such a way that the aspect of prophet is reflected in the Churchly office of minister, the aspect of priest is reflected in the Churchly office of deacon, and the aspect of king is reflected in the Churchly office of elder. But the fact is nonetheless that in this one office which Christ holds, with its three aspects, the central feature of that office is that Christ is the King of His Church. He is the King of His Church because of the fact that at the time of His exaltation, after He had finished His work on earth, His exaltation consisted in His being seated at the right hand of God where all authority was given to Him. This rule of Christ over His Church is a rule of grace. Christ rules over His Church by saving His Church. Christ rules over His Church in such a way that, by the power of His redeeming cross, He makes His people humble and obedient, faithful and fit citizens of His own everlasting kingdom. It is this rule of Christ, gracious and saving, which is reflected in the offices in the Church. Christ exercises His Lordship over His Church through the offices which He has instituted.
I submit that therefore the key point in a consideration of these three offices in the Church is that all of them are offices in which the officebearers rule. That point must be underscored. The officebearers are all in positions authority. In these positions of authority, the officebearers rule. This is why the chief office in the Church is the office of elder, the office of government. This is not to say that the offices of minister and deacon are sub-offices. But the right to rule is principally in the office of elder. This is why our form of church government is sometimes called Presbyterian church government. It is a church government which emphasizes the office of elder. This is why our Church Order makes clear that the office of elder has the government over the other offices. To the office of elder is committed the responsibility for the faithful preaching of the Word and the responsibility for the supervision of the work of deacons. The elders must supervise the other offices.
Nevertheless, both the office of minister and the office of deacon is an office of rule. The rule of Christ is effected through all three offices. That which uniquely characterizes the office of deacon and the deacons’ rule in the congregation is this: the office of deacon reflects the fact that the rule of Christ over His people is a benevolent rule. Christ is not the kind of King over His Church Who simply makes laws for His Church and Who sees to it that these laws are executed. But Christ is the kind of King Who rules over His people in grace, in mercy, in compassion, in love, in tender regard for their needs. This is true, of course, of any Christian monarch in an earthly sense. A God-fearing king who rules over a nation of people is not simply interested in making laws for this nation and in executing these laws. But he is the kind of a king who has the welfare of his subjects in His mind and heart constantly. And as their king he assumes the responsibility for the care of all the needs of the people within his realm. Christ is eminently such a king over His people. He rules not as a dictator or a tyrant. He rules benevolently, in. love and mercy and compassion. He rules in such a way that He assumes all the responsibilities for the needs of His people and abundantly provides for all these needs out of the fulness of His grace. All these tender attributes of His loving rule are revealed in the cross itself, where Christ gave Himself and gave His own life in order that through the blood of His own cross His people might be redeemed and their sins atoned for.
Now it is precisely this aspect of Christ’s rule, that Christ is a benevolent king, a king who assumes the responsibility for the needs of His people that is reflected in the office of deacon. The deacons in their work in the Church come to the people of God to teach them and to show them concretely that their heavenly King is a very merciful King, a King Who is filled with tender compassion for all of their needs; A King Who loves them, provides for them and will abundantly satisfy them out of His own fulness. This is uniquely the reflection of the rule of Christ in the office of deacons.
There are a couple of very important truths which follow from this principle. In the first place, the implication is that Christ Himself sees to it that the office of deacon will always be able to function in the Church. Or, to state the matter differently, Christ Himself purposely sees to it that there are always poor in the Church. When Matthew 26 was read at the beginning of our meeting, we noticed that the Lord answers the objection of Judas who complained that the ointment with which Jesus had been anointed could have been sold and the money given to the poor, by saying: “The poor ye have always with you.” Now, these words of the Lord are not merely a statement of fact. He is not predicting with accuracy that this is going to be the situation in the Church in the future. Nor is the Lord making a threat that the Church will always have poor. The idea is rather that the Lord is promising the Church that one of the blessings which He will personally give to the Church is the fact that they will always have poor. This is a promise. And it is a promise because (and this is the second implication) it is of critical importance for the welfare of the Church that the office of deacon functions. If the office of deacon does not function, there is in the Church of Christ part of the rule of Christ missing. And that is bad—bad for the Church. When the office of deacon does not function, the Church suffers and she loses some of her spiritual vitality. The Church loses some of the blessings which would be hers if the office of deacon was an active, functioning office.
This cannot be stressed enough. The office of deacon is not something in the Church which is created for emergency and. which is called to function only at given intervals in the history of the Church. The office is not extraneous, added because sometimes situations arise which make it advisable to have such an office. It is not an office which is not essential to the life of the Church. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Rather, the rule of Christ over the people of God is complete only when the office of deacon is a functioning office. The Church which has no functioning diaconate is a Church which suffers. It is from this principle that we must proceed as we consider this problem.
The fact that some of our deacons complain today that there are no poor and that therefore they have no work to do is not the fault of Christ. Christ will see to it personally that always there are poor in the Church. It is necessary for the Church’s welfare.
THE SERIOUSNESS OF THE PROBLEM
The problem is briefly that the government has taken upon itself work which rightly belongs to the deacons. It has done this in a variety of programs such as-old-age assistance, unemployment compensation, aid for the needy, etc.
We must not misunderstand the matter. We must not fault the government for this. There is something inevitable about these government programs. This is due to the apostasy of the Church. The Church does not take care of its poor and so the government has to do this. The government’s interference in this area is, to a considerable extent, the fault of the Church when the Church apostatizes. The offices in the Church cease to function faithfully. And someone has to take care of these poor, and so the government does this. The government is not entirely to blame. If there is one point where the government must be criticized it is at this point: some of these programs of government assistance are made mandatory. This is wrong. The result of it has been that the government has, beginning with Roosevelt’s New Deal, entered more and more into the area of benevolence. It is benevolence by whatever name you have called it. And these programs of the government encroach upon the office of deacons in the Church. This has come on bit by bit. We may be sure of one thing, however, that, as time goes on, these programs will increase rather than diminish. There is no possibility of the government backing away from these programs helping the indigent and needy. Rather there is every indication that these programs will be expanded until they cover every area of life. The aim is security from “the womb to the tomb”. What was always the work of the Church has now become the work of the government. Our government is supposedly founded on the principle of separation between Church and State. But at least in this vital area the lines of separation have become blurred and, in some instances, obliterated.
Some of the results of this are the problems which we face tonight. For one thing, the result has been that the office of deacon has been weakened, and, I firmly believe, is on the verge of being destroyed. It is a well-known fact that in our own congregations there are deacons who have nothing to do in their office of deacons. We must understand of course, that the only true work of deacons is benevolence. Deacons may take General Fund collections, count the money and pay the bills. But this is not the work of the office. The one work which deacons are called to their office to perform is the work of benevolence. And the fact is that there are deacons who have not done anything with respect to this office. This is not true in all our congregations, but it is true in many of them.
And the result of this is that our Churches have suffered. The fault does not lie with the deacons. The government has made some of its programs mandatory. Our people oftentimes seem to be much more willing to go to the government for assistance that to the office of mercy. But our Churches suffer on account of it. It is in the nature of the case that this will be. When that aspect of the rule of Christ is not reflected in the Church, the Church will suffer spiritually. She will lose her spiritual vitality. This is evident alone from the fact that we have lost the meaning of true Christian giving, of the principle that it is more blessed to give than to receive. There is, for example, in the office of believers a reflection of the benevolent rule of Christ in that the believers mutually assist one another fulfilling the injunction of Paul: “Bear ye one another’s burdens”. How much of that is there these days? A certain child of God may have staggering financial obligations for medical expenses and the other people of God may face the question: “Does he need some help?” But they quickly answer: “He has probably hospitalization. All his bills are paid. And we have our hands filled with our own financial obligations.” And soon the thought is gone.
Where the principles of Christian giving are lost, the Church suffers: not only those who receive, but those who give. The result is that the communion of the saints is weakened when the people of God no longer bear one another’s burdens. The Church as a whole suffers and her spiritual strength dissipates. Many troubles can easily flow forth from this.
From another point of view, the government itself has, with its programs, found another tool to use in its destruction of the Church. This too ought to be emphasized. It is not my contention that the government is consciously, deliberately, at the present moment set upon a path of destroying the Church—at least, not in this land. But we must reckon with the fact that the government is principally hostile to the cause of God and to the Church of Christ. It is a tool in the hands of Satan. And the ultimate aim of Satan is never for a moment forgotten by the prince of darkness. That aim is the destruction of the Church. One front on which we are called to fight the battle of faith in the preservation of the Church is in the defense of the office of deacon. We have done precious little about it. It is only a matter of time, as the government erodes the precious office of deacon, that more and more the government will put its blood-stained hands into the affairs of the Church until the Church is under complete government control. The office of deacon is vulnerable in this respect. If it should be destroyed, an important segment of the Church will be destroyed. We are playing with fire. The day is not far off when Anti-Christ shall manifest itself and the full fury of a hostile world power will be turned against the Church. Shall it be said of us that we have let the government in—bit by bit—because we have permitted one important office to fade away into governmental control? So serious is this problem. Because the problem is so serious we cannot delay in solving it. Something has got to be done.
PRELIMINARY CONSIDERATIONS TOWARDS A SOLUTION
I do not claim to have all the answers tonight to these difficult problems.
If I had my own way, I would like best for the Churches to do away with every single form of government aid. There are some religious groups who do this. It is objected by our own people sometimes that if we would ever do this, we would not be able to take care of our own poor. We would be unable to supply all their needs. I cannot buy this. We may have to make considerable financial adjustment in our lives and reevaluate our true needs. But when Christ puts poor in the Church, He will see to it also that there are the means to care for them. It is incredible that He would not. Are our doubts concerning our ability to do this only an indication of the fact that we have forgotten what Christian giving is?
But this ideal is perhaps impossible at this point. We are already in the practice too deeply to extricate ourselves completely. And it is for this reason that it is impossible to condemn out of hand the Medicare Program. It is part of the Social Security Program to which almost all of our people belong. And there is some validity to the argument that we pay into it; and thus have every right to receive from it. And it is not at all clear that Social Security is per se wrong. But it appears clear that somewhere along the line, (maybe it is impossible to determine precisely when or where), but somewhere, for the very welfare of the Church over which God has placed us, we are going to have to draw the line. We are going to have to say: Up to here and no further we will permit the government to intrude in our affairs—come what may. The welfare of the Church of Christ is at stake. What frightens me so is the fact that these important principles we have sacrificed bit by bit, little by little. And the danger is very real that when the time comes (if it is not here already) to draw the line, we will lack the spiritual and moral courage and discretion to be able to draw it and will, consequently, be entangled inescapably in the evil entanglements of total government control. We had better be very sure that we still retain the moral, spiritual courage to draw those lines where they have to be drawn and when they have to be drawn; for the time is coming, beyond any doubt, that we must draw them.
We can, no doubt, begin to draw that line at Medicaid. While Medicare is part of the Social Security Program, Medicaid is a complete welfare program. This is out. Our people should not be a part of it.
But the problem is broader. To this broader problem we do well to give consideration.
The office of deacons, we have noticed, is essentially the office of ruling in the Church. It reflects the rule of Christ as that rule is merciful. It reflects the merciful rule of Christ over the whole Church, not a segment of the Church. The deacons, insofar as they also rule in the Church, rule over the whole Church. We must not take the position that the responsibility of the deacons is limited to the few people in the Church who are poor. This is not the case. The minister who rules through the preaching, rules over the whole congregation. The elders do the same. This is no less true of the deacon. His responsibility is the whole congregation, not a fraction of it.
The force and power of that rule in every office is the Word of God itself. That is the only power of the rule of all officebearers. There is no other power than that. This is because Christ is the chief and only Officebearer, and the Word of the Scriptures is the Word of Christ. Always the officebearers in their rule have nothing else to do but bring the Word of Christ. That is their power, their force, their authority. That is the whole thrust of their office. To step outside of the Word of Christ is simply to abrogate their office and to cease to function in their office. It is to do harm rather than good in the sheepfold of Christ. So also the rule of the deacons. Their calling is to bring the Word of God. They are called, indeed, to bring financial aid to the poor. But they use this financial aid in the Church to call the attention of the people of God to the fact that Christ is their King Who graciously and tenderly provides for their needs. He does this spiritually and physically.
But this must not be limited to the poor. The deacons have a calling with respect to the whole congregation. The whole congregation must be taught that Christ rules mercifully over His people. The deacons must reflect this not only by distributing alms, but they must do this also by pointing out to the people of God that to give alms is possible only because those who give have first of all experienced themselves the depths of the mercy of Christ. In giving and in receiving there is in the Church the display of the mercy of Christ.
Concretely I suggest the following be done.
First of all, it is incumbent upon our diaconates to spend time at their deacons’ meetings discussing these problems; and particularly to discuss these government programs one by one as they come up. They must study them and come to conclusions about them. In their own diaconates and under the supervision of the elders they must do this.
In the second place, the deacons must do this in cooperation with the diaconates of their sister congregations. It is not possible for me to spell out how best this can be done. There are several ways. One is by means of correspondence. Another is by means of deacons’ conferences. There is, however, a certain danger in deacons’ conferences. That danger is that these meetings become an additional ecclesiastical assembly in the Church. Perhaps the best way and the proper way is through our own ecclesiastical assemblies. It seems that the time is ripe for our ecclesiastical assemblies to give consideration to matters of our deacons—something which is seldom done. Our elders do not do much beyond receiving a monthly financial report. Our classes do little along these lines simply because no matters concerning benevolence ever come to them. Our Synod seldom has on its agenda matters pertaining to the office of deacons. The time is ripe for our ecclesiastical assemblies to set aside time in their sessions to discuss these problems.
Of course, these assemblies cannot discuss these problems by pulling the problems out of the air. The problems must come via the deacons who bring them the ecclesiastical way of overture. The time has come to do this. Our assemblies have got to consider the important question of the office of deacon and its preservation in the Church of Christ. I suggest our deacons do this.
One word of caution. Do not simply dump problems on the ecclesiastical assemblies. Do not come with the question of Medicare and ask our assemblies to solve it. The deacons must study these problems themselves and thoroughly consider them in the light of Scripture and our Church Order. They must present our assemblies with reports that are precise and complete, so that our assemblies can give consideration to these matters and provide the way for our deacons to labor throughout our Churches with a common goal and in unity of purpose.
In the third place, our deacons have got to get these things which we are discussing across to their own congregations. The responsibility of deacons extends to all in the congregation. Our Church Order also speaks of this when it enjoins our deacons to make the congregation aware of the needs in the Church. It does not seem to me to be stretching the point to interpret this to mean that the congregation be instructed in the whole nature and purpose of the office of deacons; that the congregation be made aware of these problems which arise and threaten the welfare of the Church of Christ. Our people bust themselves come to solutions to these problems. Not the simple solutions of going to a hostile world power to receive aid in time of need. But the solutions to the problems of protecting and preserving the office of mercy against the encroachments of government. Our people need instruction along these lines. They must recognize that the threat of AntiChrist is very real. They must understand that the Church is suffering harm because the office of deacons is in danger of spiritual atrophy.
There are several ways in which this can be accomplished.
First of all is the obvious way of bringing these problems to the attention of our people through the preaching of the Word and the labors of the elders. Perhaps our elders could devote their family visitation to a discussion of these matters. Our ministers could preach about them.
Secondly, these matters ought to be discussed in the forum of public debate. It would be well if articles appeared from time to time in our Standard Bearer—articles written also by our deacons, in which these matters are discussed. The deacons must wrestle with these problems.
Thirdly, this must be done through private contacts in the congregations. They must, of course, limit themselves to their own office and discuss only matters that belong to their office. But this can easily be done.
This implies that they must instruct the people concerning these government programs and point out their dangers. They must encourage the people of God to seek their aid from the office which Christ has ordained for this very purpose in the Church. They must be shown that there is no shame attached to seeking aid from Christ; that indeed the shame is to be found in running to the government for assistance. This implies also that the deacons must seek out the poor. They must not wait for the poor to come to them. Christ does not wait for us to come to Him. They must reflect this also as they serve the Lord Christ. They must take the initiative before the government gets their hands on the people of God or before the people of God are found in the lines of government welfare.
The people of God must be abundantly shown that as they themselves have drunk deeply of the cup of Christ’s mercy, they must reflect the mercy shown to them in bearing one another’s burdens in the Church and so fulfill the law of Christ and enrich the communion of the saints.
On the whole, it is my experience, that the people of God are more ready to give to the cause of Christian mercy than any other cause. But they must be shown the need. I am convinced that in these days of affluence there will be no lack to supply all the needs of God’s people. But the need must be shown.
I have not spoken of the needs of God’s poor outside our Churches. Nor need I do this. You know the principles. I am concerned about the dangers within our own fellowship.
If we shrug off the problem, ignore it and easily forget it, we do so to our own spiritual detriment. The time has come to do something. May God give us this grace.