Meetings of Deacons
When the deacons meet separately, as a rule once a month, to deal with the matters pertaining to their office, they shall do so with calling upon the Name of God. They shall give account of their labours to the consistory.
The ministers shall acquaint themselves with the work of the ministry of mercy and, if need be, may visit these meetings.
When the deacons were still counted in with the consistory, no such provision as we find in Art. 42 was needed. The trouble started when the Synod of 1574 — which actually was no more than a regional synod — spoke of separate meetings of the minister and the elders on the one hand and of the deacons on the other hand.
Subsequent (general) synods continued on that track. It is clear, however, that the meetings of the deacons are no ecclesiastical assemblies as meant in Art. 29 CO. Their meetings were not mentioned there. Consequently it was deemed necessary to stipulate that, when they meet, “they shall do so with calling upon the Name of God,” although Art. 34 already contained the provision that “The proceedings of all assemblies shall begin and end with calling upon the Name of the Lord.”
Another strange thing is that “they shall give account to the consistory.” Certainly, reporting on and giving account of their labours is not a shame or a humiliating obligation for office-bearers. Ministers as well as elders report on their work, although they do not even get close to revealing all things they did or heard. The consistory must learn that all office-bearers fulfil the duties of their office faithfully.
But where do we find the provision that ministers and elders shall give account of their labours to the consistory? Nowhere. Why, then, such a provision for the deacons? Would this not promote the notion as though, when all is said and done, the office of deacon is somewhat inferior, in spite of all claims and assurances to the contrary?
Why is the provision made that the minister may visit the meetings of the deacons? What is the basis for this alleged right? Does the minister have a special task of supervision over these fellow-office-bearers whereas we do acknowledge that none is higher than the other?
Here are questions to which we do not have an answer, questions which will disappear only when the deacons are again counted in with the consistory, as Art. 30 B.C. has it.
The deacons are to meet regularly, as a rule once a month. This is important for the effective organization of their work, perhaps even more so
than is the case with the elders. Giving the necessary support to the members of Christ’s church is something which requires prudence and consultation, particularly so since financial aid is seldom the only consideration.
When the need for financial support is chronic — except in the event of illness — many more factors should be considered and investigated. Lengthy discussions may have to be held to get to the heart of the matter. The deacons cannot do this in five or ten minutes after the Sunday worship services.
Regular meetings with regular minutes should be convened, so that later on decisions can be looked up and consulted for further action. The work of the deacons is too important and serious to be dealt with incidentally. No amounts should be mentioned in these minutes and no unauthorized person should ever have an opportunity to read them. That the deacons conduct separate and regular meetings does not mean that they form a sort of independent body, on a level with the consistory. Even if the deacons were included in the consistory, nothing would prevent them from having separate meetings to discuss the more specific aspects of a certain family’s support, just as nothing would prevent the elders from doing the same.
Now that the separate meetings of the deacons are stipulated in our Church Order, we are to warn against the notion that the deacons form a separate body which might even try to rival with the consistory. The question was raised whether not the deacons should have their major assemblies, but this question was answered in the negative and correctly so. Diaconal conferences were held in the Netherlands (and they still are), but they are precisely what the title suggests: conferences where consultation takes place but no binding decisions are made such as we find at the ecclesiastical assemblies. The office of deacon would be destroyed if the brothers acted as if they were an independent body which, so to speak, takes no directives from anyone but from the Lord Jesus Christ.
It is a fact that, in fine, the deacons do not take any orders from anyone but Him who made them His instruments for taking care of His needy members. We make no provision either that they shall take them from the consistory. As is the case with the other office-bearers, the deacons, too, are under the supervision of the consistory. For this reason they shall give account of their labours to the consistory.
The meaning of this provision is not that the deacons shall provide the consistory with all the particulars of their work. As already stated above, neither ministers nor elders report all things. Yet it is necessary for the mutual supervision that the deacons report to the consistory in the same manner as the elders do. This means that they mention what visits they have made, what their income was from the congregation, what the total amount was with which they supported members, and whether any special things have to be discussed from their reports.
Perhaps someone might remark that because of such reporting the other office-bearers learn precisely who in the congregation is receiving financial
support. In the first place: What would be wrong with that? Is it a shame to become known as someone whom Christ takes care of through His ministers? And in the second place: when we recall what was said with Art. 23, namely that the deacons are to acquaint themselves with existing needs and difficulties, and that they are to promote with word and deed the unity and fellowship in the Holy Spirit which the congregation enjoys at the table of the Lord, we realize that the deacons visit the members not only when there is financial need. “No one,” we state in the Form for the Ordination, “in the congregation of Christ may live uncomforted under the pressure of sickness, loneliness, and poverty.”
When deacons report on a visit, it may very well have been a visit where no material support was needed or given, but where a brother or sister or family was comforted in illness or consoled in loneliness.
It cannot be denied that a minister of the Word has a special task and position in the midst of the church. This does not at all mean that he has the position of inspector general who goes after the other office-bearers and supervises their work. By virtue of his unique position, however, he does not have a special section or ward as the elders and deacons do, but he has the charge of the whole congregation.
For this reason he shall also acquaint himself with the ministry of mercy.
By talking with the deacons and, if needs be, by visiting their meetings, he may discover things which he was not aware of, but now that he does know them, he is better able to help and assist a family or brother or sister, and can at the same time keep it in mind when preparing and delivering a sermon.
As it reads now in Art. 42, any notion that the minister might be endowed with special supervisory power over the deacons and ought to inspect their work is eliminated. When he visits the meetings, he does so with the sole purpose of acquainting himself with the work of the deacons as well as helping the deacons with his advice if requested. The cooperation between the office-bearers can only benefit from all of this.