The Diaconate and Its Work: Special Office Functions

Special officers are appointed and charged with various responsibilities that were established by the Lord in the Old Testament administration. The various roles of office were carried forward under the New Testament administration by calling, and appointment of representative offices. This is recognized in Forms of Government (FG) Chapter 1.3 as:

“Christ orders his church by the rule of his Word; the pattern of officers, ordinances, government, and discipline set forth in Scripture is therefore to be observed as the instruction of the Lord. Church government must conform to the scriptural pattern and follow the specific provisions revealed in the New Testament. In those circumstances not specifically ordered by Scripture the church must observe the general rules of the Word.”

In recognizing that Jesus Christ has set the pattern by which his church is to be governed for the well-being of the true church (those who are elect in Christ), let us look at how the Westminster Larger Catechism describes the benefits of being a part of the visible church:

Q. 63. What are the special privileges of the visible church?
A. The visible church hath the privilege of being under God’s special care and government; of being protected and preserved in all ages, notwithstanding the opposition of all enemies; and of enjoying the communion of saints, the ordinary means of salvation, and offers of grace by Christ to all the members of it in the ministry of the gospel, testifying, that whosoever believes in him shall be saved, and excluding none that will come unto him.

The Larger Catechism clearly says that the visible church is the provide special care and government for the protection of the saints. This means that with respect to the power and authority of officers of Christ’s church, we should note clearly what the Book of Church Order (BCO) FG III says:

Section 3. All church power is only ministerial and declarative, for the Holy Scriptures are the only infallible rule of faith and practice. No church judicatory may presume to bind the conscience by making laws on the basis of its own authority; all its decisions should be founded upon the Word of God. “God alone is Lord of the conscience, and hath left it free from the doctrines and commandments of men, which are, in anything, contrary to his Word; or beside it, if matters of faith, or worship” (Confession of Faith, Chapter XX, Section 2).

Section 4. All church power is wholly moral or spiritual. No church officers or judicatories possess any civil jurisdiction; they may not inflict any civil penalties nor may they seek the aid of the civil power in the exercise of their jurisdiction further than may be necessary for civil protection and security.

Section 5. Nevertheless, church government is a valid and authentic jurisdiction to which Christians are commanded to submit themselves. Therefore the decisions of church officers when properly rendered and if in accord with the Word of God “are to be received with reverence and submission; not only for their agreement with the Word, but also for the power whereby they are made, as being an ordinance of God appointed thereunto in his Word” (Confession of Faith, Chapter XXXI, Section 2).

With this said, we now move to discuss two aspects of the church that fall outside of the responsibilities of the spiritual shepherds of a visible church (congregation). These two areas are: a) the care for the needy, and b) the care for the accommodation of the congregation to facilitate the spiritual conduct and administration of work of the church.

The Old Testament recognized [1] three types of poor people, those who are materially poor, the powerless, and the afflicted. The Lord requires his people to take good care of the poor. The Lord’s generosity applies to all, it is not limited just to the materially poor; it extends to those who have lost their means of sustaining themselves; it includes those who are impaired physically or psychologically; and even extends his kindness to travelers, strangers, and foreigners. The principles that are laid out in the Old Testament carry over into the New Testament era.

So that we can more fully appreciate the responsibilities of the church visible to care for the needy we should ask why the Lord is so generous in his provisions. Next week we will consider these factors beginning with a survey of Old Testament provisions for the needy.

[1] The Deacon, Biblical Foundations for Today’s Ministry of Mercy, Cornelis Van Dam, Reformation Heritage Books, 2016, page 4.