The PCA’s New Dilemma about Deacons (X)
Since the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first centuries, theologians and pastors have begun to focus, ostensibly, more on ecclesiology (or to put the matter into more colloquial words: “Doing church”). I prefer the qualifier “ostensibly,” because while many are claiming to present a new ecclesiology to the theological world, they actually fall far short of their goal. A recent case in point is Deep Church, a book by Jim Belcher. In reality, the book does not come close to living up to either word in the title. It certainly is not deep, for it is void of any historical continuity whatsoever. Superficial Church would have been a more apt title. And even though it promises an outline for a new ecclesiology, it does not deliver. Perhaps this is due to the fact that the author spends more time telling the reader about his luncheon engagements with “name brand” emergent non-leader leaders than outlining his thesis.
Since the advent of this period in which the concentration has been on ecclesiology, there has been a parallel lack of focus on soteriology (or, the doctrine of salvation). The doctrine of the Church is certainly in the foreground these days, but there is also a great deal of confusion about biblical ecclesiology. In the interim, we have become accustomed to seeing and using words like “ecclesial” and “missional.” It seems that everyone has a different sense of what those words mean and attempts at implementing them can range from the ludicrous to the more or less traditional.
As I begin this installation, I have not lost sight of the fact that we are dealing with the issue of deacons. Simultaneously, the deacons are part of the government of the Church, or at least are covered in Systematic Theology books under the locus of the Church. Therefore, it stands to reason that to misunderstand the true nature of ecclesiology is also to miss the function of deacons, even if you tell everyone around you that you are concerned about the destitute, homeless, and down-and-out.
From One Extreme to the Other
On January 8, 2011, OneNewsNow.com carried an example that is left of center on the ecclesial and missional spectrum. An article titled, “Sing of Salvation…Sip Some Suds,” reports about people meeting in a small pub in Two Harbors, MN for “worship.” The Associated Press, which reported the article, surmised that “It’s one unconventional place of worship around the country fostered by an evangelical movement known as ‘the emerging church.’” Rarely would a gathering of 17 people get any ink at all, but times have changed. The author, Patrick Condon, says that this gathering is about “chasing God,” which, when you think about it, is simply another way of saying that it is about “seeking God,” (which is simply not true). Romans 3:10-11 is crystal clear that people do not seek God, let alone chase after him. However, as in other instances, these types of biblical truths have not deterred those in both the mega church as well as in the emergent church movement from speaking about “seekers.” What Paul writes in Romans 3 is easily understandable: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands, no one seeks for God.” (Emphasis added.)
According to the accurate reporting, the gathering in the pub was informal (this is one of the typical styles of the emergent church movement).. There were two candles (candles are typically present in emergent churches) placed strategically on four bar-top tables which had been shoved into circular formation. One of the participants, “Fish” Anderson (“Fish” must be a Christian already because we all know that the fish is an early symbol of the Christian faith), sipped a beer as he cast occasional glances at the NFL pre-game show on the TV in Dunnigan’s Pub & Grub. Chris Fletcher, the non-leader leader told those who were still sober that while he wanted the time to be as informal as possible, the main goal was “creating an open space for Jesus to come into our lives, then he does the transforming work.” Well, there you have it; right out of the Bible. Create an open space for Jesus and then he comes and does his transforming work. If I am not mistaken, that is a direct quotation from 2 Hesitations 3:16. We are told in the article that Mr. Chris Fletcher is an emergency medical technician, part-time bartender, and seminary student. He should demand a refund from the seminary he is attending.
The other end of the spectrum is the typically traditional congregation that may be rightly defined as “liturgical.” In fact, some of these congregations qualify as “high church.” Some of these pastors wear clerical collars, while others preach without pulpits in open-collared shirts. Still others wear coats and ties. There is not one set format. These congregations tend to be at the opposite end of the ecclesial and missional spectrum from their emergent church movement counterparts, although they may express some sympathies for emergents. In addition, these pastors and their congregations tend to desire to be culturally aware and want very much to “engage the culture,” as they call it.
While the emergents at Dunnigan’s swill their beer to the glory of somebody, the other hip crowd feels more at home with chardonnay and brie cheese, and with a jazz quartet playing some Miles Davis prior to the worship service. There is one other characteristic of this other form of ecclesial and missional church and that is this: It seeks to incorporate women both in the worship and leadership. Despite the fact that both Scripture and the history of the Church up to and including the Reformation forbade women reading in worship, leading in prayer, and fulfilling some manmade, quasi-official leadership position, these churches encourage women to do these very things
While most of these ecclesial and missional churches know scripturally and intuitively that the Bible denies women pastors and other elders, they tend to “push the envelope” and by sleight of hand incorporate women into the deaconate—by hook or by crook. In my own church affiliation, the Presbyterian Church in America, there are some who have non-ordained, “commissioned” female deacons; this is nowhere supported in the Book of Church Order and what is more, it flies in the face of Presbyterian history. This phenomenon has progressed (regressed?) to the point that some churches have these women listed on their websites as deacons. But there is a double whammy involved here: In their efforts to give women a recognized role in local congregations, male deacons are not ordained either. Thus, by first admitting women to a position that Scripture denies them, these churches err. They further compound their error by then denying ordination to qualified spiritual men to the office of deacon.
We previously took an in-depth look at the concepts of proto-deacon and deacon found in the New Testament. In the historical analysis provided in this work, we noted that the rise of deaconesses in the Eastern Orthodox Church is easily traceable, while the same phenomenon is not evident in the Western Church of the same period. Therefore, even though a number of pastors and theologians argue for the historicity of deaconesses, their claim collapses under the weight of the historical evidence which points to the contrary.
The major thrust of the upcoming series of articles will be to define New Testament deacons, while simultaneously presenting a biblically sound ecclesiology. There is a particular brand of ecclesiology that does justice to both the Old as well as the New Testaments, which pays particular attention to the confessional statements, and is pleased to listen to the (re)discoveries of the period known as the Reformation.
To that end, then, I want to begin with one of the very important but almost forgotten Reformers of Strasbourg, Martin Bucer. From there, I would like to look at Calvin’s thoughts on deacons, and then progress to examine some lesser known, but highly important Reformed synodical decisions: The Articles of Wezel (1568), the Synod of Dordrecht (1578), and the Synod of Dordrecht (1618-1619). Eventually, we will take a look at the comments of Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575), and the writings of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck, and Frederick Rutgers (who wrote a commentary on the Church Order of Dordrecht).
 F.L. Rutgers, Kerkelijke Adviezen, Deel I, (Kampen: Kok, 1921).
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