The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order
Chapter 9 : The Deacon
Paragraph 1 : The Office of Deacon
The office of deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church. The office is one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of need.
The current PCA text dates to 1922, with substantial changes made that year to the entire section on the diaconate in the PCUS Book of Church Order. From 1973 until 1980, this chapter on the diaconate was numbered as Chapter 10. An amendment combining the old chapters 8 and 9 meant that this present chapter was then renumbered as Chapter 9. [cf. M8GA, 8-88, III.3, Item 2, p. 112].
Of some note in the wording of BCO 9-1 is the persistence of the phrase "ordinary and perpetual" from the 1867 PCUS draft through to the present PCA text.
1. PCA 1973, 10-1, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly, p. 131
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 10-1, Proposed text, p. 9
3. PCUS 1933, XI, § 44
4. PCUS 1922, XI, § 44 [see Minutes (1922), p. 73]
The office of Deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church. The office is one of sympathy and service, after the example of the Lord Jesus; it expresses also the communion of saints, especially in their helping one another in time of need.
PCUS 1879, IV-4-1
The office of Deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church.
PCUS 1869 draft, IV-4-1
The office of Deacon is ordinary and perpetual in the Church of Christ.
The office of deacon is ordinary and perpetual in the church of Christ.
PCUSA 1789, Chapter V [and unchanged through at least 1855]
The Scriptures clearly point out deacons as distinct officers in the church, whose business it is to take care of the poor, and to distribute among them the collections which may be raised for their use. To them also may be properly committed the management of their temporal affairs in the church.
 Phil. 1:1.--I Tim. 3:8, to verse 15.
 Acts 6:1, 2. And in those days when the number of the disciples was multiplied, there arose a murmuring of the Grecians against the Hebrews because their widows were neglected in the daily ministration.--Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples before them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God and serve tables.
 Acts 6:3, 5, 6. Wherefore brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost, and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business--And the saying pleased the whole multitude: and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith, and of the Holy Ghost, and Philip, and Prochorus, and Nicanor, and Timon, and Parmena, and Nicholas a proselyte of Antioch.--Whom they set before the apostles: and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them.
The Presbyterial Form of Church Government...Agreed upon by the Westminster Assembly of Divines...(1645), Deacons
The scripture doth hold out deacons as distinct officers in the church.[*] Whose office is perpetual.[†] To whose office it belongs not to preach the word, or administer the sacraments, but to take special care in distributing to the necessities of the poor.[‡]
[*] Phil. 1:1; 1 Tim. 3:8.
[†] 1 Tim. 3:8-15; Acts 6:1-4.
[‡] Acts 6:1-4 (cf. also the texts in "c" above)
ARP 2007, VII-1
The office of deacon as set forth in Scripture is one of sympathy and service after the example of Christ.
OPC 2007. XI-1
The Scriptures designate the office of deacon as distinct and perpetual in the church. Deacons are called to show forth the compassion of Christ in a manifold ministry of mercy toward the saints and strangers on behalf of the church, a recognized stewardship of care and of gifts for those in need or distress. This service is distinct from that of rule in the church.
F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order (1898, p. ) on IV-4-1 :
Section IV.--Of the Deacon.
Here are given the scriptural warrant for the office, the duties of it, and the qualifications for it. To these three paragraphs three others are added : a special regulation for securing a proper supervision of the Deacon's work by the Session ; a provision for supplying the place of Deacons when there are no Deacons ; and an explicit statement of a power inherent in the Session to appoint women to certain diaconal functions.
46.--I. The office of Deacon is set forth in the Scriptures as ordinary and perpetual in the Church.
(Cf. pars. 32, 33).
J. Aspinwall Hodge, What Is Presbyterian Law? (1882), p. 60-61.
What are Deacons ?
“The Scriptures clearly point out Deacons as distinct officers in the church, whose business it is to take care of the poor, and to distribute among them the collections which may be raised for their use. To them also may be properly committed the management of the temporal affairs of the church.”
When was this office introduced into the Church ?
There is no mention of Deacons under the Old Testament dispensation. The contributions of money were under the care of the Levites and Priests (Ex. 38: 21; Num. 1: 50, 53; Ezra. 8: 24-30, 33). Special provisions were made under the law for the relief of the poor by individual, instead of official, contributions and care (Ex. 23:11; Lev. 19: 9, 10; 25: 25-55). Rev. James M. Wilson, D. D., in a pamphlet on “The Deacon” (p. 23), says: “In the language of Dr. McLeod, ‘There were several officers in the Jewish synagogue, and these were authorized to conduct the public worship, preserve order and manage the finances of the congregation’ (Ecclesiastical Catechism, Q. 51). This latter officer was the Chazan or Deacon of the synagogue (‘Prideaux’s Connections,’ part i., book vi.), and in the words of Prideaux, ‘the Chazanim —that is, Overseers—who were also fixed Ministers and under the Rulers of the synagogue, had charge and oversight of all things in it, kept the sacred books of the law and the prophets and other Holy Scriptures, as also the books of their public liturgies, and all other utensils belonging to the synagogue.’ The order of the synagogue was, as all Presbyterians hold, the model of that of the Church under the New-Testament dispensation. In the synagogue was an officer that attended to the poor, had oversight of the place of worship and managed the finances." We have in Acts 6: 1-6 the history of the introduction of this office into the Christian Church, the occasion, necessity of the office, the qualifications and duties of Deacons, their election and ordination.
Was this office designed to be permanent?
It is evident from Acts 6: 1-6 that the office was not introduced because of a temporary emergency. The work committed to Deacons is a permanent one, for the poor we shall have with us always (Matt. 26: 11), the Church is enjoined to make provision for them (Gal. 2: 10), and contributions always will be given for the relief of Christians and for the extension of the Church, as in the days of the Apostles. The qualifications —honesty, good report, being filled with the Holy Ghost and wisdom, being the husband of one wife, ruling his children and own house well (Acts 6: 3; 1 Tim. 3: 12)—are not those which indicate an extraordinary and temporary office. Deacons were recognized as regular officers of fully-organized churches (Phil. 1: 1; Horn. 12: 7 (“ministry,” diakonian); 1 Pet. 4 :11 (ei tis diakonei). The office has always continued in the Church in some form, was recognized by all the Reformers, and is continued in all branches of the Church.
It is “perpetual,” in the sense that “it cannot be laid aside at pleasure. No person can be divested of it but by deposition.” But under certain circumstances (see below) a Deacon may cease to exercise his office and to be an acting Deacon.*
[* Form of Government, ch. xiii.. sect. vi.; Presbyterian Digest, p. 348.]
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Chapter Index [links to Par. 1 of each chapter]:
I. King & Head of Church
II. Preliminary Principles
[FoG = Form of Government ; RoD = Rules of Discipline ; DfW = Directory for Worship]