Oh, what a joy to be culled to be a child of God! Still greater is the joy to be called to the office of deacon!
To begin with, this office is an office to which the men of the church might well hope, some day, to attain. This office along with the office of elder is really the highest office that one can hope to attain. Even the president of this country with all of his responsibilities does not bold a higher office. After all, his office is only temporal, and concerns the physical needs of the people. The deacon is called to his office by Christ Himself through the church. Christ is the only power and authority in His Church and He exercises that authority through the men whom He calls to the different offices in the Church. He not only calls men to their offices, but He also ordains them, and as the Form of Ordination assures them and the congregation, He will also qualify them by His Spirit so they may be able to use their God-given gifts and talents in the Kingdom Work to which they have been called. There is often the misconception among Reformed people, that one has to be a deacon before he can be considered as material for the eldership. This of course is not true. The deacon as well as the elder can only labor in God’s vineyard in the fear of the Lord and with the Holy Scripture as their guide. They must both be well versed in the Scriptures and be able to come to God’s people with “Thus saith the Lord.” Without the knowledge of the Scriptures neither the elder nor the deacon can come to His people with a word of comfort or admonition, for where is there any comfort apart from the Word of God? Both not be placed on a higher level than the other.
The word “deacon” is derived from the Greek “diakonos” which in the New Testament is most often translated “minister” or “servant” or one who serves. The deacon is then actually a minister — a minister of mercy, since they are called to minister the mercies of Jesus Christ unto His people.
What are the mercies of Christ? They can be identified in the following—Love, Goodness, Long-suffering, Grace, Compassion, etc. Even as Christ bestows all of these attributes unto His people from eternity to eternity so these attributes should be evident in the church upon earth through the office of the deaconate. The power of deliverance from the awful oppression of sin and death, (to which we are all in subjection by nature), is the true mercy which God through Christ Jesus bestows upon His People.
True mercy is also that affection of one toward another whereby the one desires to lead the other in the way of truth, which leads to the attainment of the only blessedness.
The office of deacon was instituted because of the complaints of the Grecian widows who were being neglected in the daily ministration, so the Apostles could “give ourselves continually to prayer, and to the ministry of the Word,” Acts 6:4. The first deacons who were called to the office preached as well as cared for the poor and needy, as in the case of Stephen and Phillip. Later on they were called to function only in the High Priestly office of Christ.
Calvin finally, after various duties had been given to and taken away from the deacons, succeeded in restoring the deaconate to its proper duties and labors. From that time on men were called to devote their labors to the care of the poor. Their labors in caring for the poor did not only consist in seeing to it that only their material needs were being supplied, but their highest calling in caring for the poor was to administer the Mercies of Christ unto His people in comforting and sometimes even admonishing them with the Word of Scripture. In reflecting the Priestly function of Christ in the care of the poor and needy, they are called to dress the sore wounds of this present world with the ointment of Christ’s Mercy. It is through much prayer and only by God’s Grace that this can be accomplished in the fear of His Name.
According to the Form of Ordination, the deacons office is, in the first place, to collect and preserve with the greatest fidelity and diligence, the alms and goods given to the poor. The second calling is to distribute these alms with discretion and prudence only on objects of charity, and to do this with cheerfulness and simplicity, assisting poor with compassion and hearty affection as the Apostle requires in Rom. 12 and II Cor. 9. They are here required to come to the poor with comfortable words from Scripture as well as with external gifts.
There is also a calling on the part of the individual believer to provide the deacons with the means with which to support the needy, and to do this with cheerfulness and intelligence. As Rom. 12:8 states, “He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; . . . . he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.’’ The Heidelberg Catechism also exhorts the believer “to contribute to the poor as becomes a Christian.”
In connection with the distribution of the alms the “Form” has this to say, “Ye deacons, be diligent in collecting alms, prudent and cheerful in distribution of the same, assist the oppressed, provide for the true widows and orphans, show liberality unto all men, but especially to the household of faith.” With this in mind, should an occasion arise where a family, who is not affiliated with our churches, is known to be in need, I can see no reason why the deaconate cannot render them aid as they see fit; provided, of course, that it would not in any way interfere with providing for the needy of our own churches. Who is to say that means the Lord will use to gather His church?
To summarize, the deacon is to the church what a hand or foot is to the body. Since the body is not complete if a single member is missing, so the Church of Christ is not complete without all its representatives of Christ present, namely the three-fold office of Christ — Prophet, Priest and King.