This is the 8th and final entry in our series of excerpts from John Dagg’s A Treatise on Church Order. Here, Dagg describes the office of Deacon:
Deacons should be chosen by the churches, from among their members, to minister in secular affairs.
By apostolic direction, the church at Jerusalem chose from among themselves seven men, honest, and of good report, who were appointed to serve tables. This measure originated in the expediency, that the apostles might give themselves to the word of God and prayer. The same expediency requires that pastors should be relieved from secular burdens, and be left to the spiritual service of the church. We know that deacons existed in the church at Philippi;(Phil 1:1) and directions were given to Timothy respecting the qualifications necessary for the deacon's office. These facts authorize the conclusion, that the deacon's office was designed to be perpetual in the churches. The mode of appointment should conform to the example of the first church. The persons should be chosen by popular vote, and invested with office by ministerial ordination.
Some have thought that deacons, as well as bishops, are called elders in the Scripture. We read of bishops and deacons in connection, but never of elders and deacons;--of the ordination of elders (Acts 14:23), without the mention of deacons, when deacons were needed as well as bishops; and of contributions sent to the elders at Jerusalem (Acts 11:30), after the deacons had been appointed, who were the proper officers to receive and disburse them. It is argued, moreover, that the distinction which appears to be made, in 1 Tim. v. 17, between preaching and ruling elders, naturally suggests that the ruling elders were the deacons of the primitive churches.
In the Presbyterian church, a distinct class of officers exists, called ruling elders. The only Scripture authority claimed for this office, is the text last referred to. This text, however, does not distinguish between different classes of officers, but between different modes of exercising the same office. The word rendered "labor," signifies to labor to exhaustion. Not the elder who merely rules, is accounted worthy of double honor, but the elder who rules well; and the special honor is not due to the elder, as merely invested with the office of ministering in word and doctrine, but as laboring therein--laboring to exhaustion. Thus interpreted, the text furnishes no authority for Presbyterian lay elders; and no argument for supposing that deacons are called elders.
The other arguments to prove that the deacons were included in the eldership of the primitive churches, are not without plausibility, but they are not conclusive; and they are opposed by the facts, that all the elders of the church at Ephesus are called bishops; that all the elders addressed by Peter are said to have the oversight or episcopal office; and that the elders whom Titus was to appoint appear to have been all bishops, inasmuch as the qualifications for the deacon's office are not subjoined to those which are described as necessary for the other office.
Among the qualifications of the deacons' office, it is not required that they should be apt to teach; and they are therefore not appointed to act as public teachers of the word: but other qualifications are mentioned, which indicate, that they are expected to be forward in promoting the spiritual interests of the church. An obligation to do this rests on every member; and deacons are not released from it by their appointment to minister in secular affairs. Instead of becoming immersed in secularity, they are expected, by the proper exercise of their office, to purchase to themselves a good degree, and great boldness in the faith (1 Tim 3:13). If deacons were everywhere active in holding up the hands of the pastors, as Aaron and Hur held up the hands of Moses, the prosperity of the churches would be greatly advanced, and the success of the gospel far more abundant.
Analysis: Again, Dagg argues for a two-fold office: bishops and deacons. Bishops are vocational elders who are called to the full time ministry of preaching. Deacons are those chosen so that pastors might be "relieved from secular burdens, and be left to the spiritual service of the church." Dagg rejects the notion that deacons be considered as elders. It is not required that they be "apt to teach" and "they are therefore not appointed to act as public teachers of the word." He also rejects the Presbyterian distinction between teaching and ruling elders, simplistically dismissing the "three-fold office view" (ministers, ruling elders, and deacons) as based solely on 1 Timothy 5:17. In practice, most Baptist churches with the pastor-deacons model end up with deacons assuming a "ruling elder" role in the local church.
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