The following short article appeared on the pages of The Charleston Observer in 1840, reprinted there from The Presbyterian, a Philadelphia paper. The article was written in response to actions taken in the Presbyterian Church at that time, correcting the error of disuse into which the diaconal office had fallen. This was a noted problem in the first half of the nineteenth century that only began to be seriously addressed in the period following the Civil War.
We are pleased to observe that the injunctions of the General Assembly, relative to the appointment of Deacons in our several Churches, has attracted attention, and in many instances, has led inferior judicatories to take immediate measures to supply the glaring defect which is so general, and has been so long continued. The disuse into which the office has fallen, has arisen from a wrong impression, that it may properly be dispensed with in any Church which has no poor dependent on its charity, or where the Elders without inconvenience, can attend to the poor. In reply to this, we refer to the requirements of the Church, which are imperative on the subject.
The Deacon is an officer who is spoken of as an indispensable part of a rightly organized Church, and if he may be set aside by such a plea, as the one above alluded to, with the same propriety may the Ruling Elder be dispensed with, on some similar plea.
The Deacon is a spiritual officer in the Church of Christ, and while it is his peculiar duty to be the almoner of the Church to its poor, it is surely not his only duty. Is he under no obligations to accompany these charities with kindly visits, religious conversation, and prayer? Is he not to give counsel to the widow in her affliction, and instruction to the orphan?—He may be a co-adjutor to the Elder, and aid the Pastor materially in the well-ordering of the Church.
The office of the Deacon was not designed to be a temporary one ; there is not one intimation in Scripture to this effect ; and although it originated in the peculiar wants of the Church at the time, yet those wants will always exist in a degree sufficient to justify its continuance.
—The duty of the Churches, therefore, is clear: they should forthwith choose suitable men to fill this office.—The Presbyterian.
[The Charleston Observer, 14.40 (21 November 1840): 1, col. 6]
Words to Live By:
Rev. James B. Ramsey wrote one of the best short articles I can point you to on the office of the deacon. You can read that article, here. Among other things, he said:
But, it may be asked, of what use are deacons to take care of the poor in churches where there are no poor, or but two or three ? That, indeed, is a sadly defective state of the church where there are no poor ; there must be something very deficient in its zeal and aggressiveness, if amidst the multitudes of poor around us, and mingling with us, there are none in the church itself. . . . Is it not evident that any church that fails to gather in the poor, fails in accomplishing one great design of the Gospel, and in presenting to the world one of the most convincing proofs of the truth and power of Christianity ?