"You will frequently find both in the decrees of synods and in ancient writers that all that the church possesses, either in lands or in money, is the patrimony of the poor...if in bad faith [deacons] suppress or waste them, they shall be guilty of blood." - John Calvin, Institutes
John Calvin is always more revolutionary than I expect him to be. Church possessions are the poor’s inheritance and wasteful deacons have blood on their hands. He prescribes half the church’s giving to go to the poor (a fourth to clergy, a fourth to the building). He also denounces bishops from receiving anything beyond “frugal food and clothing." Calvin makes Claiborne look like a consumer.
Our church's deaconate has met twice and is already humming. We have a long way to go, but I’m excited about our trajectory. Her funds are a paltry three percent of the church budget, but truly much of what we’re beginning to do doesn’t cost money, yet.
Our men are focused on building three relationships in the city – near, far, alongside. They’re each to pursue a ministry of mercy with someone near to God (a Christian), far from God (a non-Christian), and bring someone alongside to do it (a disciple). Our thought is, if we get these guys in relationships with people, policies and wisdom and strategy will follow.
We want to raise the office of deacon from the pencil pushing, grounds-keeping role it has become. I don’t know if this is a PCA pandemic or church-in-America-wide but I meet more and more deaconates centered on budgets and buildings. I’m trying to imagine Stephen, the newly elected Spirit-filled deacon in Acts 7 being cornered by the Jerusalem church to set up round tables for the evening’s fellowship dinner. These men weren’t called to set up tables but serve tables – rich fare of bread for the body and Bread of Life for the soul. And Stephen took rocks to the face for the difference.
In a city teeming with hundreds of homeless, deadbeat dads, addicts, alcoholics, unwanted babies, a thriving sex industry, failing schools, refugees, vicious cycles of poverty, we can’t afford to play church. And if we do, our deacons must give an account for the blood on their hands.