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The Historical Development of the PCA Book of Church Order

Chapter 9 : The Deacon

Paragraph 2 : Of Diaconal Duties

9-2. It is the duty of the deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation. In matters of special importance affecting the property of the church, they cannot take final action without the approval of the Session and consent of the congregation.
In the discharge of their duties the deacons are under the supervision and authority of the Session. In a church in which it is impossible for any reason to secure deacons, the duties of the office shall devolve upon the ruling elders.

HISTORICAL SUMMARY:
The current PCA text dates to 1922, with changes made that year to chapter 9 of the PCUS BCO.

ANTECEDENT TEXTS:
1. PCA 1973, Adopted text, as printed in the Minutes of General Assembly,
2. Continuing Presbyterian Church 1973, 10-2, Proposed text, pp. 9-10
[typo : "In matter [sic] of special importance..."]
and
3. PCUS 1933, XI, § 45
4. PCUS 1923, XI, § 45
It is the duty of the Deacons to minister to those who are in need, to the sick, to the friendless, and to any who may be in distress. It is their duty also to develop the grace of liberality in the members of the church, to devise effective methods of collecting the gifts of the people, and to distribute these gifts among the objects to which they are contributed. They shall have the care of the property of the congregation, both real and personal, and shall keep in proper repair the church edifice and other buildings belonging to the congregation. In matters of special importance affecting the property of the church, they cannot take final action without the consent of the congregation. In the discharge of their duties the Deacons are under the supervision and authority of the Session. In a church in which it is impossible for any reason to secure Deacons, the duties of the office shall devolve upon the Ruling Elders.

PCUS 1879, IV-4-2

The duties of this office especially relate to the care of the poor, and to the collection and distribution of the offerings of the people for pious uses, under the direction of the Session. To the Deacons, also, may be properly committed the management of the temporal affairs of the Church.
and
PCUS 1879, IV-4-5
In churches where it is impossible to secure the appointment of a sufficient number of Deacons, the duties of this office devolve on the Ruling Elders.

PCUS 1869 draft, IV-4-2
The duties of this office specially relate to the care of the poor, and to the collection and proper distribution of the offerings of the people for pious uses. To the Deacons, also, is properly committed the management of the temporal goods of the Congregation.
and
PCUS 1869 draft, IV-4-5
In Congregations where it is impossible to secure the appointment of a sufficient number of Deacons, the Ruling Elders may act as Deacons until the deficiency can be supplied.

PCUS 1867 draft, IV-4-2
The duties of this office relate to the temporal goods, the collection of oblations, and their distribution to the objects for which they are designed. Moreover, all those helpful and exemplary duties of religion, such as visiting the sick and taking care of the poor, to which all Christians are called, are especially incumbent on the deacon as an officer in Christ’s house, as is evident from the eminent manifestations of piety and zeal which the Scriptures require in those who sustain this office.

PCUSA 1789, Chapter VI
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 in the church.


OTHER COMPARISONS:
ARP 2007, VII-B.1
The diaconate shall be responsible for the congregation's ministry to those in material need or distress. It shall also encourage practice of total stewardship among the members of the congregation. It shall plan, in collaboration with the session, the causes toward which the offerings of the congregation shall be directed; devise effective methods for securing and receiving these offerings; secure and receive special offerings as directed by the session and the higher courts of the Church; and see that all offerings are properly distributed. It shall have the care of the general property of the congregation, both real and personal. In matters requiring extraordinary expenditure for acquistion, construction, or alteration of church property, consent of the congregation is required..

OPC 2007. XI-5 and 6
5.
In the discharge of their duties the deacons shall be under the supervision and authority of the session. Accordingly, the board shall keep a record of its proceedings and of all funds and their distribution, and shall submit its records to the session once every three months, and at other times upon request of the session. If it seems to be for the best interest of the church, the session may require the board of deacons to reconsider any action, or may, if necessary, overrule it.
6. It is desirable that the session and the board of deacons meet together at regular intervals to confer on matters of common responsibility.

COMMENTARY:

F.P. Ramsay, Exposition of the Book of Church Order
, on Chapter 2, section 1 :
47.--II. The duties of this office especially relate to the care of the poor, and to the collection and distribution of the offerings of the people for pious uses, under the direction of the Session.
This is the same as in paragraph 23, only that here is stated what is there implied, that they are to care for the poor, and that they are to collect the offerings as well as distribute them ; but this does not imply that it is the duty of Deacons to collect anything but offerings, yet they are engaged in a part of their distinctive work when promoting in the people the grace of liberality. It is also here explicitly stated that they are to do their work under the direction of the Session, which is something more than mere review.
To the Deacons, also, may be properly committed the management of the temporal affairs of the Church.

See exposition of paragraph 23 [provided here below]:
23.--IV. To the Deacons belong the administration of the offerings for the poor and other pious uses. To them, also, may be properly committed the charge of the temporal affairs of the Church.
Over against the opinion that the function of the Deacons is limited to the care of the poor, this affirms that to them belongs the administration, not only of the offerings for the poor, but also of the offerings for other pious uses. The making of offerings is a part of the worship, and the administration of these, that is, the application of them to their uses, cannot be taken from the Deacons without depriving them of their office. But, while it may be assumed that the kingdom of Christ can have no temporal interest or property except in these offerings and the investment of them, yet it comes about that the use and control of these temporal interests and properties are, on the one side, matters of purely secular business, but, on the other, not separable altogether from the government of the kingdom in its spiritual activities. Therefore the charge of temporal affairs, that is, the management of them, the courts of Presbyters may retain in their own hands, or may commit to the Deacons under such limitations and directions as will not impair the full control of the courts over all matters. This principle may be applied, not only in the particular church, but also in the Church at large; for just as Ruling Elders, though primarily officers of the particular church, are called to assist in the government of the Church generally, so may the Deacons, though primarily officers of the particular church, be called to the charge of the temporal affairs of the whole Church. Three principles, then, are stated : that to the Deacons may be committed the charge of temporal affairs, as well as the mere administration of them ; the charge of temporal affairs generally, as well as of the immediate administration of offerings ; and the charge of the temporal affairs of the whole Church as well as of the particular church. Of course, this commitment should, in each case, be by the court of Presbyters having authority over the interests thus committed.
The Form of Government says nothing about trustees, because the only officers are Pastor, Ruling Elder, and Deacon. To observe the institutions of government and administration as ordained by Christ, the trustees necessary as a legal instrument under the laws of the civil government should either be the Session ex officio, or, if the Session commits the charge of the temporal affairs to the Deacons, the Deacons ex officio, or appointees of the Session, with no authority whatever except to legally execute what the Session may authorize. And if the civil laws happen to require that the trustees be elected by the body of members, then the Session, the Deacons, or nominees of the Session, should always be elected. It does not belong to the congregation to determine questions in temporal affairs, for the sole government is vested in the Session ; but, as the Session may commit the charge of temporal affairs to the Deacons, so it may consult with the congregation as to these affairs, and, indeed, as to all concerns. Since the Pastor is a member of the Session, he ought to have the same authority and responsibility for the management of temporal affairs as any other members of the Session.
I am expounding the rule of the Church as here laid down, and not the practice.

J. Aspinwall Hodge, What Is Presbyterian Law? (1882), p. 61.
What are the duties of Deacons ?

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. ” This includes visitation of those in need, inquiring into their real wants, helping them to obtain work and comforting them. Being church officers, they should always unite with temporal relief spiritual consolation, instruction and prayer. In many churches it is the duty of the Deacons to take charge of the communion set, and to bring it, with clean table-linen, to the church on the communion Sabbath, and from the poor fund, or some other designated fund, to provide the bread and wine for the Lord's table.

 



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