29 June 2009

Brief Thoughts on the Deacon

In the ancient Church the fullness of the office resided in the Bishop. He was responsible within the community for both the office of faith and the office of love. To assist him in the office of faith, there were the presbyters, his fellow pastors. With his blessing, they could preach, teach, and even celebrate the Eucharist. To assist him in the office of love, there were the deacons. They were charged with the care of the poor, those in prison, the needy, and providing for the clergy. Through both the office of faith and the office of love, the hope that is in Christ was imparted, strengthened, and manifested.

When the Reformation rightly noted that there was nothing in the office of faith that was not in common with the Bishop, and that this office of faith is primary, what was sadly overlooked (and lost long before the Reformation, truthfully, for bishops had long ceased to understand their connection to the community in terms of the office of faith serving out the Word or the office of love serving out charity) was the vital connection to the office of love. The Bishop was to hold both together in his person and to know himself responsible for both and thus to know that he couldn't do either by himself alone. The pastor in the Reformation tradition also knows he can't do both (just ask!), but he seems at a loss to know how to remedy the situation. There's a saying we love to use: "Faith alone saves; but the faith that saves is never alone. It is always accompanied by love." Think of that in regard to the office of faith and the office of love. It is true that the first is absolutely foundational and upon which the other is built; but the other is to be built upon it!

The diaconate is waiting for recovery among us. It is a fair question whether it CAN be recovered without the recovery of the bishop - the man who embodies the fullness of both offices - as well; I honestly don't know. But that we Reformation Christians have been guilty of neglecting the office of love is, I would think, beyond dispute. And I find it highly significant that in its liturgical expression the deacon in his office of love is the one who both gathers, presents and administers the offerings of the people and who bids their prayers. Love in action: in giving and in praying very visibly in the Sunday assembly, and out from the altar goes the service of love. We Reformation Christians need this office to return to its own place among us. Our communities suffer for its lack.

11 comments:

Jon Townsend said...

Diakonie - from 2005 to 2008 I was often on the train between Stuttgart and Mannheim and I always saw the posters for the Diaconate of the Evangelical Church of Germany. The posters didn't strike me as necessarily Christian in any way other than expressing love for one's neighbor: Helping old people, helping children. All good things.
I got me thinking - what would this be like if there was food being shared, children being helped and the helper wore a cross or crucifix. For one thing, the why that was missing would be answered. Why do this?
They have a very active and wonderful Diakonie (der EKD) in Germany in terms of loving those who hurting, but the why is really unclear. I don't really know if they ever get that far.
As for me, if this position were possible within some confessional synod, this is something I would one day like to take on.

Paul said...

Right on, Bill! Without the bishop holding the two offices together in his person, sustaining the offices becomes increasingly difficult. We have several consecrated deacons in our circuit here in northeast Tennessee, for which I humbly thank God!

WM Cwirla said...

I agree. Biblically and historically, the offices of bishop and deacon go together (Phil 1:1; 1 Tim 3).

Mike Keith said...

It seems to me this is worthy of more consideration. I also think we need to consider the Office of Bishop among us. Is there another Luthean body in the world that has the polity of LCC/LCMS?

William Weedon said...

Mike,

One certainly hopes not!

Deaconess Pamela Nielsen said...

So where do you see deaconesses in this discussion - are they assumed or removed from consideration? Deaconesses clearly existed in the early church and their work was to care for the physical needs - of people - the very young, the very old, the outcast, the sick, the dying and assisted with baptism of women, and all their service done in the name of the Christ on behalf of the church.

What is the view of our modern incrnation of deaconess service in the LCMS today - helpful, too much, not enough, misplaced? I am all ears, truly and sincerely.

- Deaconess Pam Nielsen, President
Concordia Deaconess Conference

William Weedon said...

Jon,

I think you'd be a GREAT deacon!

Paul,

Thanks, and it's great to hear you've got consecrated deacons around!

Bill,

How could a Korbyite NOT agree? :)

Pam,

I would think the role of the deaconess is substantially the same. She also manifests the office of love, and administers and serves the needs of the poor, the imprisoned, the lonely and perhaps especially the widows and orphans and such. I think the Blessed Mother was very much fulfilling this office when she came to her cousin Elizabeth in her last trimester, and no doubt served her through those most difficult months.

The liturgical question of the role of the deaconess is one that is rather more complicated. Does it help or confuse if she were to gather the offerings and present them with bidding the people's prayers? It strikes me as significant that the Church historically (to my knowledge) never employed deaconesses for this service, but did (I think I'm remembering correctly) give them a place to sit right with the deacons.

Rev. Eric J Brown said...

If I remember correctly concerning the early Church and deaconesses, they were indeed sat with the deacons - but the only liturgical function was in situations that were isolated to just women.

We also ought to consider what we are to make up of our own Elders. These are men who are supposed to be assistants to the pastor in the exercise of his duties. If you wish to make the distinction between an office of faith and an office of love - which way do the elders tend towards? I would guess in many places it is mixed.

The simple fact is that in pre-Missouri it was reaction to Stephan that completely messed us up and prevented us from establishing a well-thoughout and consistent view of the Pastoral Office. Ah well, thus is life.

I still say I'm a bishop, those who assist me assist me as I direct, although with limitations I follow out of Christian love for the rest of the Synod (so hence, my elders might read my sermon, but that is it). But that's me.

Past Elder said...

Elders? What's that? In my more or less parish, it's Ministry Action Team!

I think the Stephan scandal was and is significant, however, moreso is the evolution of deacon from what it was not by Christ but the first generation church in Acts to atrophying under Rome to being your last step before being ordained priest.

Now Rome, in typical VII fashion, has two versions -- deacons on their way to being priests, and "permanent" deacons.

Aaron said...

Some districts are consecrating lay-deacons. The Atlantic District has both male and female deacons there is no distinction in their roles.

Missouri's definition of "authority over a man" and the specific functions of the Office of the Holy Ministry seem to change about every decade or so.

I support a diaconate of men and women and even a bishopric so long as each office has a clearly defined as to its place in the church and is scripturally based.

christl242 said...

Now Rome, in typical VII fashion, has two versions -- deacons on their way to being priests, and "permanent" deacons.

Yep. And those "permanent" deacons are taking on more and more of the life of a parish due to the increasing shortage of priests.

At my sister-in-law's funeral the deacon, not the priest, accompanied us to the cemetery and offered the prayers at the internment.

I could hear my Catholic grandmother turning over in her grave.

Christine