We continue today with our Saturday excursions into the little book by the Rev. Robert P. Kerr titled PRESBYTERIANISM FOR THE PEOPLE (1883). Today’s chapter concerns the office of the deacon in the Church.
These officers were unknown in the Church of God until the time of the apostles. In Acts vi. is given an account of the election of the first Deacons. Being elected by the people, they come under the definition of Presbyterianism.
The elders, having charge of the spiritual concerns of the Church, could not give to temporal matters the time and attention they deserved; so they called upon the people to select
“seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business. But we will give ourselves continually to prayer and to the ministry of the Word. And the saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon and Parmenas and Nicholas, a proselyte of Antioch: whom they set before the apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.” (Acts 6:3-6)
The office thus instituted was extended over the whole Church, and has continued in the Presbyterian body unto this day.
The Deacons are subordinate to the Session, as the Session is subordinate to the Presbytery. Except the highest of all, there is no assembly which is not subject to the review of a higher body The work of the Deacons is to have care of the poor, the sick, prisoners, the property of the church and the money contributed for pious uses. This office has proved of immense benefit in the Church, and should be honored by those who occupy it, as well as by the people whom they serve.
In some branches of the Presbyterian Church godly women have been set apart to assist in the work of the Deacons, as among the sick and the poor there are many duties pertaining to this office which can be better discharged by females.
The divine authority for this office is derived principally from Romans xvi. 1, 2 : “I commend unto you Phoebe our sister, which is a servant” (a “ deacon ” in the original) “ of the church which is at Cenchrea: that ye receive her in the Lord, as becometh saints, and that ye assist her in whatsoever business she hath need of you : for she hath been a succorer of many, and of myself also.”
Because this office was perverted and grievously abused by the Roman Church it was generally abandoned by Protestants at the Reformation, but it is now being slowly reinstated by the Church in various parts of the world.
For more resources on the diaconate, see http://pcahistory.org/bco/fog/09/resources.html