August 23: The Office of Deacon

“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.”

 

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

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 chosed out suitable men to fill this office.—The Presbyterian.

[The Charleston Observer, 14.40 (21 November 1840): 1, col. 6]

Words to Live By:

“‘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 de- ficient in its zeal and aggressiveness, if amidst the multitudes of poor around us, and mingling with us, there are none in the church itself. When we remember that Christ in his message, sent to John the Baptist, declares it to be a proof of his Divine mission, worthy to stand at the close of the brief summary of his most striking miracles, as of equal or even greater convincing power; and that the adaptedness of the Gospel to come down to the most despised and degraded of our wretched race—to seize and elevate the vast masses of humanity from their down-trodden condition—is one of its most distinguishing characteristics, and one of the most striking proofs of its Divine origin—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 ?”—James Beverlin Ramsay, “The Deaconship,” p. 15.

 

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