Growing up in the CRC, attending CRC churches, and going to seminary, I often heard this comparison when thinking about the church offices: The three offices of the church, elder, minister, and deacon, correspond more or less to the offices of prophet, priest, and king seen in the Old Testament and shown in Christ. So, roughly, preacher=prophet, elder=king, deacon=priest. Hey, that sounds neat, I thought, fits pretty good. So the elders rule and the deacons serve. Everyone knows their place. And it is a neat concept. From what it seems, this has been the preferred way of looking at the offices for many years. But what do you think — is it biblical? Can we make such a neat distinction between ruling and serving?
When we look at the history of the diaconate in the CRC, we might say that if deacons are "servant leaders", then while we have never had a problem with the servant side of the equation, we have often struggled with the *leader* side of the equation. How much of this is due to the fact that we hold onto the prophet/priest/king distinction when looking at the offices? Three works have helped me see that the deacon is as much about being a "king" as it is about being a priest. They are Henry DeMoor's "Equipping the Saints", which is about controversies concerning the offices in the CRC from 1857-1982, Hans Kater's Calvin Seminary thesis "A Study on the Role of Deacon in the CRC of Western Michigan", and Leonard Coppes Who Will Lead Us: A Study in the Development of the Biblical Offices with an Emphasis on the Diaconate. Coppes especially takes pains to show how the office of deacon arises as much from the office of king as it does the office of priest. Also helpful is stuff by John Collins, who shows that the word diakonos means *ambassador* just as much as it does *servant* — a word that emphasizes the deacon's connection to mission.
The overture coming to Synod this year asks us to take a good look at the understanding of the office. I hope that this will lead to a study committee being appointed to take a good look at this prophet/priest/king distinction. And my personal hope is that they will give a recommendation similar to the one given already to the Synod of 1967, recommending the delegation of deacons to major assemblies: "Some development of the role of deacon in the ministry of the church is necessary if the church is to fulfill her total ministry. The diaconal office has not developed within the church as fully as the other two offices. Too often the function of the deacons has been limited to the collection and administration of funds and few other tasks. Too often the diaconate is considered a training period for the office of elder instead of an office in its own right with its own essential contribution to the church's total ministry."