10 June 2011

In Luther's Exhortation to All Clergy Assembled at Augsburg

he describes a bit of the topics that the true Christian Church ought be concerned and draws a contrast with the then-current practices in the Roman parishes (which he proceeds not to reject, but to reject the focus upon them in place of the focus upon the matters he listed).  It's fascinating to study both lists.  What I found most interesting in his list of things that the true Christian Church ought be concerned about was this section:

What the keys are.
What a bishop is.
What a deacon is.
What the preaching office is.

I've italicized the item that surprised me.  If Luther thought that the office of deacon was something that deserves the Church's attention, it has been sadly true that since the time of Luther, precious little attention has been given to the diaconal office among Lutherans.  This is truly odd given the way that the constant pairing of bishops and deacons run through the Pastoral epistles.  I believe that the time has come for Lutherans to seriously ponder this office of deacon, so rooted in the NT, and to seek the manner of its restoration among us.  We've done some decent work with deaconesses, but we've failed as a Synod (though there are Districts that do better on their own) to provide for the "male deaconess" as one wag put it.

And here deacon ought NOT be primarily a stepping stone to the pastoral office, but precisely seen primarily as its own office.  Imagine if we gave attention in each parish to the office of faith (the pastoral office with its preaching and teaching of the Word for the salvation of our bodies and souls) AND to the office of love (the diaconal office with its attention to the material needs of the community).  We might even become again such a Church that the heathen around would cry out:  "Behold, how they love one another!"


Rev. Eric J Brown said...

I think perhaps the biggest problem is most congregations don't even think in deaconal (sp?) terms. Not that we aren't used to a division of labor - we are used to the idea of having, if not people, at least boards designed to attend to things for the Congregation. Things like trustees or even a board of Evangelism. But ultimately, these seem to be internally focused - the needs of the *congregation*, not the physical needs of the members of the congregation or the community at large.

In America, we assume success, and if you don't have success, it is because you are foolish and stupid and if you weren't lousy you would be a self-made man like me.

So thus, my thoughts flow this way - you are right. I would give my eye teeth to have a deacon as you describe. But I wonder if we would need to reintroduce physical care as something that is a Churchly thing (at least in many of our congregations).

Other than that, in many places it might be limited to the Youth Group doing cleaning days for the old folks as a fund raiser or just disaster response.

100 years ago Lutheran Hospitals were owned by Lutherans - now they tend to be part of conglomerates. Now, when we see the poor, the best we tend to do is funnel them to a government agency.... Thus is life in a Conglomerate-Welfare Country like ours.

Terry Maher said...

Pastor Brown is quite right.

I've seen "deacons" in a variety of incarnations: the last order on the way to ordination as a priest, which is a liturgical function, all churchy; the retention of that but institution of a "permanent diaconite" with Vatican II, which was intended to remodel the diaconite after Acts but for the most part, where it exists at all, is largely a liturgical class, all churchy, helping to take some of the strain off the priest shortage; in the WELS parish where I was an elder we had deacons too but they were mostly concerned with the physical upkeep of the church and school; in an LCMS parish I attended but did not join where the Deacons were what most LCMS parishes call Elders, except my first one where they were called Ministry Action Team (glad I wasn't an elder there, Past MAT just doesn't cut it).

But in no case were these quite deacons in the sense of Acts or what you describe, where tending to material and physical need of people was the focus. OTOH I suppose one could argue that this office is of human rather than divine institution and we may structure it as we will so that the idea in Acts is retained, to free the OHM for its essential duties.

Pr. H. R. said...

The danger is that Lutherans will end up "doing their own thing" with deacons under the auspices of getting "back to the Bible" and rediscovering the *real* meaning of deacons.

Blah. We would be much better served to stick with what the AC came down with: a conservative reception, with some minor cleaning up, of the Western tradition.

Thus, deacons are clergymen. By human rite they are limited in their clerical duties - they may not baptize or preach without the bishop's permission. They may not consecrate the Lord's Supper at all. Their service to the Church is focused on the needs of the poor and the sick and in managing the church's alms.

I fear that Lutherans will make this too hard. Just do what the Western church does with deacons. It is a very valuable service.

As for deaconesses, the great lack of demand for such service and the utter lack of any need for a BA or an MA for such service ought to put an end our college and seminary programs forthwith. These laywomen - in accord with what Paul says about the "widows" and what Loehe did with his deaconesses - should be free of other familial duties, for it is a true travesty for the church to call a mother and wife away from her God-given calling in the home to wait on tables. And it is a double travesty when the church's colleges and seminaries charge them an arm and a leg and send them into debt for a diploma.


Anonymous said...

At one place I heard a good bit about "parish nurses". But they didn't seem to know what they would do... maybe blood pressure screenings?
(S'cuse me, but anyone can take his/her blood pressure in any drug store, if they haven't got a home gadget for the purpose.)

Meanwhile, several women in that congregation were going around with talons because they were too arthritic to cut their nails; their husbands wouldn't/couldn't and they were too cheap to let the wife go to a salon and have it done. Becoming qualified to do that job would have been a real "parish nurse" service!
A friend of mine donates three days of her time to members of her church with new babies, cooking, cleaning, giving advice and caring for siblings.

Lutheran? You can bet not. Lutherans are supposed to be able to pay for help they need, have relatives at hand, or go without it.


Jim Huffman said...

A couple of thoughts here, no particular order.

1. Acts 6 is kind of odd. Vs. 3 recommends the 7 for a particular task, and seems to not mention them doing that. Instead, St. Stephen preaches (in Acts 7) what seems to be a fairly well-done speech for someone set apart to wait tables. All to say that I think Pr. H.R. is on the mark: deacons are to be clergy, not guys to mow the church lawn, not that there's anything wrong with that.

2. Likewise about deaconesses, which sometimes to be an office in search of a task. And don't get me started about parish nurses, which as Helen pointed out, wind up doing blood pressure readings about 99% of the time. Random (meaning without a clinical context) BP readings are essentially valueless (I'm a RN), but a certain part of the population gets a thrill out of having it done. Why churches should be doing this when Wal Mart does (not to mention the individual's physician) is not clear to me.

Dennis Pfleiger said...

Having been ordained a Deacon in another jurisdiction, I can say that I feel this is an office that is needed. I agree with those that feel this is a well respected office within the Western Church and Eastern Church. I miss the days of taking the Eucharist to shut ins and the sick.

Also, it would help to handle the issue that the LCMS has been dealing with in regards to "lay leaders". As the role of the Deacon is quite thought out in the Church Catholic it would allow for men that do not feel call to the full ministry to have a part in the ministry.

Mr Rogers said...

Heard an episode of Issues Etc (perhaps a yr ago?) that cited Luther's frustration that Deacons had been turned into "gospelers and epistlers" instead of the original purpose of taking care of some of the social concerns. That is the situation in our own parish.