Consistory and the Deacons
Where the number of elders is small, the deacons may be added to the consistory by local arrangement; this shall invariably be done where the number of elders or the number of deacons is less than three.
There is an old saying which applies in the case of office-bearers as well: Tres Faciunt Collegium. This means: it takes three people to form a group which is able to discuss and decide upon things. Three people are needed in order to come to a decision in case there is a difference of opinion. This means that, if there are only two elders or two deacons in a church, neither of them can meet as a body to take decisions, unless they always agree in everything and then are right; but to expect this means expecting a miracle which has not been seen since the fall of man. For this reason we provide that in all places where there are fewer than three elders or three deacons the deacons shall be added to the consistory. Also when there are, let’s say, five elders and three deacons, the deacons may be added to the consistory. This is then done “by local arrangement,” as we state in this article. Note: This article does not stipulate that thereby the elders become assistant-deacons or that the deacons become assistant-elders. At times it was stated that this was so, but this reveals a lack of making clear distinctions. When the deacons are added to the consistory, this does not mean that the deacons now accompany the elders when they bring family visits, or that now the elders assist the deacons when they visit the needy and provide them with the necessary assistance. How could one, by way of a “local arrangement,” be (partially) put into an office to which he was not called by the Lord? This article speaks only of the deacons being added to the consistory, not of a mixing up of the distinct offices by local arrangement or of the one doing the work of the other.
This is expressed very well in the Church Orders of two of our foreign sister churches: those of Australia and those of the Netherlands.
We insert here the Australian translation.
Where the number of elders and deacons is small the consistory can, on the basis of local rules, always meet together with the deacons. In that case, matters pertaining to supervision and discipline shall be handled with the advice of the deacons and matters pertaining to the office of deacons with the advice of the elders. This shall invariably be the rule if both the number of elders and the number of deacons is less than three.
Here and there we would have preferred a different term but the provisions as such express the matter very clearly. Elders do not become auxiliary
deacons and deacons do not become assistant elders: the offices remain distinct one from the other, as it said in the old Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons. This means that the deacons report their visits in the same manner as the elders. It is our experience that also when the deacons were added to the consistory, the elders reported on their visits but that only very seldom the deacons did the same. It seems that even among office-bearers the work of the deacons has to be surrounded by a veil and an aura of mystery and secrecy.
This should not happen. It most certainly is not necessary or even desirable that the deacons divulge the exact amount with which a brother or sister or family is being supported, but when the deacons are added to the consistory, they are to report and to listen to the advice of the elders just as the elders report on their visits and are to listen to the advice of the deacons. This also improves the cooperation between the two offices and prevents that the brothers work alongside each other without the one knowing what the other is doing.
The provision that the deacons shall be added to the consistory in cases described in this article prevents arbitrariness and promotes impartiality, since a larger number of office-bearers judges the various “cases.” The work and the well-being of the congregation can only benefit from this.