Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin. Previous article in this series: March 15, 2008, p. 273.
One who prepares for the office of deacon, we noted last time, desires that office. That desire leads him to pray. Prayer manifests his submission to and contentment with God’s will, for the man does not yet know whether God wills him to serve in office, nor when God might will him to serve. His desire also leads him actively to prepare for office. By active preparation I mean that the man consciously, before God and by God’s grace, prepares himself for office so that he is ready in God’s time, subject to God’s will. This active preparation shows that his desire for office is sincere.
What specifically might one do who is actively preparing for office in the church? The following come to mind: by educating himself regarding that office, by being thankful for and supportive of the work his officebearers already do, by being sure he is qualified for the office, and by being involved in the life of the congregation.
In this and a future article, God willing, we will expand on these points, especially in regards to preparing for the office of deacon.
One who prepares for the office of deacon will certainly want to educate himself regarding that office.
More than one person has trained for a job, only to find that he does not truly desire that job. More than one college student has taken classes with a certain career in mind, only to find that the more she knows about this career the less she desires it.
So by educating himself regarding the office of deacon, a man will either grow in his desire
for office (this is certain, if his desire is proper), or that desire will wane (especially if his desire is not proper).
Educating oneself regarding the office of deacon need not be a daunting task. It does not necessarily require reading every last thing one can find on the subject. It merely requires reading solid, basic works.
Assuming he is a member of a Reformed church, such a man ought to begin by reading Articles 30 and 31 of the Belgic Confession, the Form of Ordination of Elders and Deacons, and the Church Order. Because these are our confessions, our understanding of the office begins here. If he is not a member of a Reformed church, he would begin by reading his own confessional statements regarding the office.
In addition he might obtain recordings of past conferences and classes on the office of deacon. Peter Y. De Jong’s book The Ministry of Mercy for Today remains a classic text on the subject for men in Reformed churches. And may I humbly suggest the possibility that some of the articles appearing in the Standard Bearerin the last decade or so might also be of value.
If one desires to pursue the matter further, a visit to the local Christian bookstore, or browsing websites of book publishers and retailers, might turn up an interesting book or two.
But as I indicated, such preparation is less a matter of reading every last word on the subject, and more a matter of coming to a right understanding of the office. This right understanding of the office involves three things in particular.
First is that the office of deacon—indeed, every office in the church—manifests the presence and work of the exalted Christ in His church. Though seated at God’s right hand in His human nature, Jesus Christ is present with His church always, as He promised (Matt. 28:20). He is present by His Word and Spirit, as they work in every believer, and particularly as they work through the special offices.
So he who desires to hold the office of deacon must understand that the deacons represent Jesus Christ to His church. In bringing gifts for the relief of the poor and needy, the deacons show that Christ loves them to the point of caring for their bodily needs. And in bringing comfortable words from Scripture to those in need, the deacons show that Christ cares for their souls.
Is he who desires the office, then, truly willing and ready to represent Christ to the church? Does he know Christ truly? Does he consciously serve Christ? Does he know the Word of God? Can he say to the poor and needy, as well as to those who despise Christ and His mercies, “Thus saith the Lord…,” knowing what the Lord truly says? And does he have the love for the people of God, which is required of those who serve the church? Is he patient and longsuffering, gentle and kind, merciful and compassionate? Or would he be short with the people of God, impatient with them in their needs, expecting them to deal with their own problems with the least amount of help from him?
The deacons deal with God’s sheep. Some of those sheep are meek, tender, compliant, a joy to work with. Others have gone astray—their financial problems are due to sin in their lives. The deacon must be like the good shepherd—he must seek those who have gone astray, to instruct and care for them.
If in fact a man desires the office because of the prestige it will give him, he will either cease desiring the office, or begin to desire it for better reasons, when he understands that the deacon represents Christ.
Second, he who desires the office of deacon must know that if called to the office, he must serve. Remember that the word “deacon” means “servant.” And remember that the office of deacon was instituted in the New Testament church in order to free the apostles from the responsibility of serving tables, that they could devote themselves more to the word of God (Acts 6:2). The deacons were to serve those tables.
The deacons serve not only God, doing His will, but also the poor and needy. As the servants in the palace bring the king and queen their food, bowing with respect, hastening to fulfill their every wish, so the deacons are placed, as it were, at the beck and call of the poor. In the church, the poor are the kings and queens; the deacons are their servants. Thus deacons are like Christ. He came, not to be served, but to serve. He came to give His life a ransom for many (Matt. 20:28).
Is he who desires the office of deacon, then, truly willing and ready to serve? Is he able to humble himself to serve? And is he ready to deny himself? Is he ready to spend time away from his family, his regular work, and his own interests, to carry out the calling of deacons? Times will come when the poor need help tonight, although the deacon had made other plans for tonight. The plans must be cancelled. The kingly poor beckon; the deacon comes running.
He who desires the office because he thinks that in it he will be served will either cease desiring the office, or humble himself, when he understands that the office is one of service.
Third, he who desires the office must know the work required of those who hold office—that of showing mercy to the poor, sick, and needy.
As we have pointed out in previous articles, the work of the diaconate is not that of the elders. The elders rule; the deacons do not. And the work of the deacons is not the work of taking collections and administering the finances. He who desires to rule or to administer finances will decide, if he educates himself regarding the office, either that he does not want to serve in this office at all, or that he must do the real work to which God calls him, if God should indeed call him.
The work of the deacons is that of caring for the earthly needs of the poor and needy. This involves an assessment of the requests of these people for help; a cheerfulness in giving them what they need, when their needs are genuine; a readiness to admonish these people regarding their stewardship of their possessions if the need requires; and a resolve to disburse the mercies of Christ wisely, ready to deny the request of all whose need is not genuine, or who are misusing the funds that the church gives them. Yet the deacons’ work is broader than this. It involves helping the sick or aged in the congregation in other ways, as needed. It involves cooperating with institutions of mercy in the care of the poor. It involves working with the elders in the council, doing the work that pertains to the church as a whole, but not to any particular office.
So is this the work that you desire to do? Do you believe that God will give you the wisdom to make hard decisions, the compassion to show to those in true need, and the love for the faith to guide you in the work?
Be thankful and supportive
Let the one who desires the office of deacon examine his attitude toward the men who currently hold office in his own congregation. Is he thankful to God for them? Does he support them in the work they do?
More than one person has desired to hold office in the church of Christ because he was convinced that the men currently in office were not doing their work well, and that he could do it far better than they.
I do not refer to the truly pious man who desires to hold office because in love for his congregation, which he sees to be growing weak in manifesting the marks of the true church, he desires that she grow stronger. I do not refer to instances in which officebearers truly do not have a care for God’s sheep; in which pastors are not concerned to bring the Word properly, elders to rule according to God’s law, and deacons to show true mercy.
The member of such a church must manifest his love for her first and foremost, not by hoping to be put into office, but by being ready to protest the failures and shortcomings of her officebearers. And, while God can bless such a voice as that man’s to the strengthening of a congregation, it is as likely that the man will find that most are satisfied with things as they are, and that if God will have him serve in office, it must be in a different congregation, and probably in a different denomination.
When I speak of one who is convinced that the men in office are not doing their work well, and that he could do it far better than they, I refer to a man who is unjustly and sinfully critical of his own officebearers, and who is too quick to think of himself as the answer to all the church’s problems.
Are you thankful for the officebearers God has given you? Do you support them in their work?
To be thankful and supportive, not unjustly and sinfully critical, does not mean one will never disagree with decisions made by one’s officebearers. And if one who disagrees with such decisions is convinced he must follow the prescribed process of protest and appeal, this by itself does not mean he is unthankful and unsupportive. He will show himself truly thankful and supportive by addressing his disagreement with his officebearers with a proper, godly attitude (humility) and a proper, godly goal (righting the wrong for the sake of the church).
At the same time, to be thankful and supportive does not require one always to compliment the officebearers for the work they do. Perhaps from time to time he does convey his gratitude and support to them; but he does not do so excessively.
One shows his gratitude and support primarily in other ways. First, he prays for his officebearers. His gratitude is expressed to God. His support is manifest by praying that God use them for the good of His church and that they be equipped to do their work well.
Second, he defends his officebearers. When he hears others criticize them, he rebukes as needed. Perhaps he rebukes the critic by showing that his criticism itself is wrong. Or perhaps he rebukes by showing the critic that, even if he appears to have good reason for his criticism, he is expressing it wrongly, and should go to the officebearers with it.
Third, he obeys his officebearers, and follows their faith in all things lawful (Heb. 13:7, 17). Many a man is willing to obey and follow the lead of his officebearers when he sees a real benefit to himself; but if he cannot see such benefit, he will not obey and follow. One who supports his officebearers and is thankful for them will, by contrast, obey and follow in all things that are not contrary to God’s Word, whether or not he sees any personal benefit of such. He does this, understanding that God has given him officebearers to lead, guide, and direct him in the way that leads to heaven.
Are you a critical person? Are you a faultfinder? Are you of the opinion that your own good abilities to serve in office are overlooked, and the inferior gifts of others are too highly appreciated? You are not fit to serve in office. Part of preparing for the office will involve praying for grace to change, to be humble in regard to one’s own abilities, and thankful for the gifts God gave others.
All of God’s people, whether officebearers or not, should examine themselves in this respect, and repent of their sins in this regard.
But one who desires the offices in the church, and is preparing for them before the face of God, must do so all the more diligently.