Monday, November 30, 2009
Calvin on Church Government: Part Nine
Note: This is the ninth in this series from Calvin on church government. Here Calvin outlines his view of the office of deacon.
The care of the poor was committed to deacons, of whom two classes are mentioned by Paul in the Epistle to the Romans, “He that giveth, let him do it with simplicity;” “he that showeth mercy, with cheerfulness” (Rom. 12:8). As it is certain that he is here speaking of public offices of the Church, there must have been two distinct classes. If I mistake not, he in the former clause designates deacons, who administered alms; in the latter, those who had devoted themselves to the care of the poor and the sick. Such were the widows of whom he makes mention in the Epistle to Timothy (1 Tim. 5:10). For there was no public office which women could discharge save that of devoting themselves to the service of the poor. If we admit this (and it certainly ought to be admitted), there will be two classes of deacons, the one serving the Church by administering the affairs of the poor; the other, by taking care of the poor themselves. For although the term διακονία has a more extensive meaning, Scripture specially gives the name of deacons to those whom the Church appoints to dispense alms, and take care of the poor, constituting them as it were stewards of the public treasury of the poor. Their origin, institution, and office, is described by Luke (Acts 6:3). When a murmuring arose among the Greeks, because in the administration of the poor their widows were neglected, the apostles, excusing themselves that they were unable to discharge both offices, to preach the word and serve tables, requested the multitude to elect seven men of good report, to whom the office might be committed. Such deacons as the Apostolic Church had, it becomes us to have after her example.
Analysis: Calvin sees two distinct "classes" among deacons, based on his interpretation of Romans 12:8. The first division would be those who administer the distribution of alms to the poor. The second would be those who care directly for the needs of the poor. Calvin's comments also indicate that he would see some women serving in this second division (cf. the widows of 1 Tim 5:9-10).