Synod's Review of the Three Church Offices

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For several years now CRC Synods, assisted by several study committees/task-forces, have discussed the church offices: elder, deacon, and minister. In June of this year Synod will have another stab at it. It will, hopefully, present far-reaching decisions and proposals for final approval and acceptance to the Synod of 2015. An interim report before Synod at this time is composed of 56 pages (Agenda 2014, pp. 323-380).

Last year’s Synod, though dealing with all three offices, focused mainly on the office of deacon. From the several significant observations found in the report, I’d like to single out one aspect, found in the  AGENDA'13, pp. 304 & 305. There the task force observes that the traditional view of the office of deacon had mainly been one of servanthood: caring for the poor. This appears to have been based on Acts 6, where we read that seven deacons were appointed to wait on the tables in service of the widows.

The task force observes, however, that Ephesians 4:11-13 is more appropriate in understanding the diaconal office, namely equipping and empowering God's people for work of service ('diaconia'). Deacons, then, are to serve the members in a rich diversity of ministry, awakening compassion, demonstrating mercy, seeking justice, the ministry of reconciliation, and peace making.

The traditional, more limited view of the diaconal office was one reason why deacons were not delegated to the classical (regional) and synodical (binational) meetings of the denomination. Synod of 2014 will consider in more detail the significant principle of parity. Parity means that the three offices share in the same dignity and honor. Hence all three offices are to be represented at classical and synodical meetings so that classes and synods will profit from the vision, skills and competence of each office. (Note: 'Parity' is different from 'equality', since the tasks and requirements of the three offices are different from each other.)

All three offices share in the great challenge of the church leadership: the equiping of the saints, together, but also each in its own way. Ministers proclaim, and apply the Word for the up-building of the church, and administer the sacraments. Elders oversee the doctrine and life of the believers, provide pastoral care, defend the faith, and engage in and promote the work of evangelism. Deacons represent and administer the mercy of Christ, stimulate the membership to faithful stewardship on behalf of the needy, call the members to be ambassadors of reconciliation in all areas of life and encourage participation in community transformation, creation care, and justice issues.

These extensive revision of the deacon's office, if approved, will make matching revisions of the Church Order necessary. The task force is proposing changes in the following articles of the C.O.: 4-a and -b; 11; 12-a; 25-a; 25-b; 25-c; 34; 35-a; 35-b; 42-b; 62; 64-a; 73- 77;  A new Art. 76 is being proposed, dealing with Denominational ministries. Changes are also proposed in the Rules for Synodical Procedures and in the Form for the Ordination of Elders and Deacons.

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