Rev. Kuiper is pastor of the Protestant Reformed Church in Randolph, Wisconsin. Previous article in this series: May 1, 2008, p. 332.
One who sincerely desires to hold office in the church is likely to prepare himself for that office, the better to serve in it if God should call him to it. Prayerfully, he will educate himself regarding the office. Also prayerfully, he will be thankful for the presence of that office, and of godly officebearers, in his congregation. In our last article we elaborated on these two points. In this article we note two other things that he must do to prepare for office, particularly that of deacon: he must be qualified, and he ought to be actively involved in the life of the congregation.
One who prepares for the office of deacon must know that God does not permit just any church member, any true believer, any child of God, to hold that office.
Whole segments of the church may not hold office in the church, including the office of deacon. Children may not. Non-professing members may not. Women may not. New members of the church, and especially those new to the Christian faith, may not. Some men may not—particularly those whose lives give evidence of spiritual weakness, or lack of natural gifts.
To say that some may not hold office is not to classify them as inferior Christians. Rather, it is to acknowledge that because the church belongs to God, God has the right to determine who holds office. And it is to recognize that He has made His will known in the Scriptures.
The qualifications for office include the need to be filled with the Holy Ghost (Acts 6:3, 5). This means that a man’s faith and life give evidence that Christ lives in him. He must be strong in faith and have wisdom to know how to act to God’s glory. This will lead the deacon to be the kind of man I Timothy 3:8-9 prescribes for the church: “grave, not double tongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre, holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience.” He who is called to serve others must control his own spirit and tongue, must use his possessions in a right way, and must have a pure conscience in every respect by obedience to the law.
The qualifications also regard the deacon’s family life (I Tim. 3:11-12). The deacon himself must be devoted to his wife with all his heart, and must rule his own house and family well.
Notice what these verses do not require a deacon to be. They do not require a deacon to be descended from generations of men who have served well in the offices. They do not require a deacon to come from a family with a high social or economic status. They do not require him to be a sociable, outgoing person. They donot require him to be a financial expert—although they do forbid him to be greedy, and he should give evidence of being a wise steward of his own possessions.
They require him to be a godly man, strong in faith and upright in walk.
One who desires to hold the office of deacon in God’s church must understand these qualifications, and ask the question of himself: “Am I qualified?”
Let us be clear: the deacon must be able to say “Yes” to that question. When a man is installed into office in a Protestant Reformed church, he is asked whether he feels in his heart that he is lawfully called of God’s church, and therefore of God Himself, to this office. Because God calls none who are not qualified, implied in the question is another: “Do you consider yourself qualified for this office?” Consciously the deacon ought to say “Yes” to the question asked of him by the minister at his installation, knowing what the question and answer imply.
To judge oneself to be qualified is not to say that one is without sin. It is not to say that one does not have spiritual weaknesses. It is not to say that one considers himself to be better than other Christians.
But to judge oneself to be qualified is both to understand what God’s qualifications for office are, and to say that God has graciously given one the spiritual power to be what God demands His officebearers to be.
One who desires office must, in all honesty and before God’s face, judge himself to be qualified for office by God’s grace.
Should one in all honesty and before God’s face conclude that he is not qualified, he has two alternatives.
The first is to cease desiring the office altogether.
This alternative must be chosen by those who realize that those circumstances of life that cause them to be disqualified will not change. A woman, for example, who desires the office of deacon and prepares for it, must cease doing so as soon as she realizes that God does not permit her to hold office.
This alternative must also be chosen by those who have no desire to fight their besetting sins, on account of which they are not qualified. If one is truly so bold as to say that he has no desire to fight those sins, he acknowledges that he has deeper spiritual problems. Then, so long as he is not willing to fight his sins, he must cease desiring the office of deacon.
The second alternative is to become qualified.
This alternative is recommended for those who, realizing that their sins are the reason why they are not qualified, and that God is not pleased with them on account of those sins, and that God gives His people grace to turn daily from their sins to obedience, seek that grace. This becoming qualified, then, requires a man to grow in faith, to seek the sanctifying grace of God in prayer, and to begin to live a godly life.
Is this something a person can do? Can I “become” qualified?
If we were speaking at the moment of the lack of natural gifts that God requires of officebearers, such as the ability to teach, which God requires of elders, we would say that one cannot just “become” qualified. A man cannot do anything to gain the gift of the ability to teach. Perhaps he can improve the ability that God gave him (seminary aims at doing this for prospective ministers); but if he lacks it, he cannot gain it.
However, I am speaking of spiritual gifts and graces. I am speaking of the ability to turn from sin and live in obedience to God’s law. I am speaking of the gifts of spiritual sobriety, the ability to guard one’s tongue, the ability to rule one’s body well, contentment with one’s possessions, and godliness in ruling one’s family. To enable us to do these things, God gives grace. One who judges himself to be lacking in these areas can “become” qualified by seeking God’s grace in prayer and by living in obedience to God’s law.
And I am speaking of how one carries out his responsibilities in his home. The prospective deacon will make his family life a priority in his life. He will marry a godly woman. He will encourage his wife to be a godly woman. He will, “to the utmost of his power,” raise the children God has given him in the fear of God. He will judge whether he has been deficient in this area; and if so, he will become qualified—he will seek God’s grace to change.
Be honest, those of you who desire the office: are you qualified? By God’s grace?
Then, the one who desires the office of deacon must be involved in the life of the congregation.
By “being involved” I have in mind his attendance at Bible studies, his conscious efforts to fellowship with members of the congregation on Sunday and during the week, and his willingness to serve in other capacities if asked.
To this I should add that he ought to show a special measure of love and care toward the poor and sick in the congregation. He ought to give for benevolent needs as he has been blessed. He must rejoice in fellowship, not just with the strong and healthy men of the congregation, but also with the less fortunate. He must be ready to visit the fatherless and widows in their needs (James 1:27). He must pray in his own private and family devotions for those in the church whose needs are great. He must show he has a heart of mercy!
To put it in a nutshell, the man who desires the office of deacon, and who asks what he can do to prepare for that office, should be concerned to serve his church to the best of his ability at the present.
And, to put it negatively, the man who desires the office of deacon, and does what he can to prepare for the office, should not turn down any request to serve in another capacity simply because it is not what he wanted.
This is not just earthly wisdom. I am not telling you how to attract people’s attention to you and to how good your heart is. I am not telling you how to manipulate them into giving you what you want.
Rather, I am saying that if you desire additional responsibility in the church of Christ, you must be sure you are fulfilling the responsibilities that you currently have!
For to be involved is to exercise the office one has, in relation to Christ, of prophet, priest, and king. It is to exercise the office of all believers.
To be a living and active member of the church is the calling of the child of God. The Reformed believer confesses this when he acknowledges, with the Reformed church of which he is a part, that it is his calling “to join and unite [himself] with [the true church], maintaining the unity of the church,” and “as mutual members of the same body, serving to the edification of the brethren, according to the talents God has given them” (Belgic Confession, Article 28). And we all confess this when we say that the doctrine of the communion of the saints implies “that every one must know it to be his duty, readily and cheerfully to employ his gifts, for the advantage and salvation of other members” (Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 21, Answer 55).
To be busy in the calling that is already ours in the church is simply to serve our Lord who put us in His church for a purpose, and requires us to submit to His will.
All these things, then—educating himself, supporting his officebearers, being qualified, and being involved—the one who desires to hold office must do prayerfully and before the face of God.
In a sense, the fewer people who know about his desire, the better. His wife no doubt will, and will encourage him in it, and pray for him. But he does not need many to know that he desires the office, and to see how hard he is working to prepare for it.
He needs to submit himself to God, who accomplishes His purpose through His church apart from any shenanigans of men, and to live before Him whose eyes are on those of humble and sincere heart.
He needs to say: “I am thy servant; I am here to do thy will.” And then he must do what is clearly God’s will for him with a devoted heart.
And God, if He so pleases, will see such devotion, and cause the church to nominate and later to choose this man for office in the church.
Or, if God does not please to do that, He will still see such devotion, and pronounce that servant faithful, who served God according to God’s will, with contentment in his heart.