Elders and Deacons: The Exercise of Official Responsibility (3)

In this issue, Rev. Harry G. Arnold presents the third in his series of articles under the heading, For Elders and Deacons. Because more than 3500 consistory members have recently been added to the list of those now receiving THE OUTLOOK, this series is timely and should prove to be interesting and profitable for them as well as for all others who ought to be informed about these important offices in the church.

Rev. Arnold is pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church of Lansing, Illinois. A discussion of his articles at elders’ and deacons’ meetings should be helpful to those who have been called to serve.

During vacations we often meet people with whom we seldom have contact. Such was my experience this past summer. On a recent vacation trip I was visiting with an elder whose friendship I cherish. As usual our conversation turned to matters concerning church life. Without telling him the motive behind my question, I asked him what he would stress if he were to write about the duties of elders and deacons. After thinking a moment he said: “I‘d stress the responsibilities of the elders and deacons.” It is happening, he went on to say, in some of our churches today that consistory members are often absent from regular meetings of the consistory. It seems that the sense of responsibility, on the part of some, to fulfill faithfully the office to which the congregation has called them is beginning to wane.

Every elder and deacon ought to search his heart to see if he is guilty of neglecting the office to which God has called him. Every office-bearer ought to resolve that—God helping him—he will do his utmost to faithfully fulfill the requirements of his office.

Mutual Responsibilities

Article 35a, of our Church Order reads: “In every church there shall be a consistory composed of the office-bearers. The consistory is responsible for the general movement of the church.” This article goes on, of course, to distinguish between the separate meetings for elders and deacons. This matter will be taken up in a succeeding article. However, our concern at this point is to consider the mutual responsibilities of the elders and deacons. For even when separate elders’ and deacons’ meetings are held, there are always matters which belong to the “general government of the church” and must be considered by the general consistory.

As a general principle one may say that whatever matters are not specifically assigned to either office become the mutual responsibility of the offices together. Thus, whatever does not fall within the category of “supervision and discipline” ought to be referred by the elders to the general consistory. Likewise, whatever does not fall within the category of “the work of Christian mercy” ought to be referred by the deacons to the general consistory. In the matters of “the general government of the church,” the elders and deacons function together in the consistory meeting.

Some of the matters that the full consistory must deal with are all those which pertain to the matter of trusteeship. In the Presbyterian churches it is customary to have a board of trustees which holds title to the church property and administers the temporal concerns of thc church. This board of trustees is usually a separate body from the board of elders which governs the church. This is not the case in the Christian Reformed Church. Synod of 1963 advised all its churches to include in its articles of incorporation, the following:

The Consistory of this Church shall constitute the Board of Trustees of this corporation and as such shall have all the powers over the temporalities of this church as prescribed by civil law and the Church Order of the Christian Church” (Acts–1963, p. 51).

It follows, therefore. that all legal matters pertaining to the church’s relationship to the civil governments or to the civil courts must be dealt with by the whole consistory. Elders and deacons must try to become aware of civil decisions which would affect the relationship of the church to the state in any way. Corporation matters are the concern of both offices within the local congregation.

Corporation matters include not only the physical property of the church, but also all matters which must come before the congregation for action. Such matters as the adoption of a budget. the election of elders and deacons, the calling of a minister, and the buying and selling of property must be presented to the congregation for action by way of consistory recommendation. Both offices must work together in this mutual responsibility of recommending to thc congregation the proposed budget, the nominations for office-bearers, and property decisions. No elder or deacon is excused from exercising responsibility toward the whole congregation in the matter of Corporation concerns. Each one must equally share responsibility for the church‘s corporate welfare in matters which must be proposed to the congregation as a body.

Included also in matters of mutual responsibility are those which pertain to the proper functioning of the offices and their common obligations. Thus, for example, the matter of “mutual censure” must be conducted by both offices functioning together in consistory. Each office-bearer must help the other to be the kind of elder or deacon that God requires him to be. Therefore, “mutual censure” must be done in the presence of all the consistory members. Likewise the matter of church visiting must be done with both offices present together. Further, the obligations of a consistory to its ministers in material matters must be considered by both elders and deacons in consistory.

Harmonious Relations

Inasmuch as the consistory must lead the congregation, it is especially important that good relations exist among the various offices. Sometimes the relations between elders and deacons are strained a bit because deacons may feel that they hold an inferior office. This is not so!

Nevertheless, it is true that the deacons must report of their activities to the general consistory while the elders do not. Many deacons do not seem to understand the logic of this situation. Perhaps it would be better understood if both elders and deacons were to realize that the Bible places the government of the church squarely upon the elders. The fact that deacons must render a report to the elders in consistory in no way indicates any superiority of the elder‘s person or worth. It only indicates that the office of elder is broader in nature and function. As the late Rev. Martin Monsma wrote in his Revised Church Order Commentary:

The government of the Church has been entrusted by Christ to the bishops, shepherds, or elders. Consequently they also, according to Biblical precept and example, have supervision over the service of the Word and sacraments by the ministers and over the service of mercy by the deacons (p. 107).

That the government of the church has been entrusted to the elders in no way contradicts what was said above, namely that what is not assigned to either office becomes the mutual responsibility of the offices together. For in those matters where the office-bearers function as trustees for the congregation, they must work together. In those matters which pertain to the general supervision of the congregation, the elders must exercise the biblical task of oversight. When this is understood there should be no feeling of inferiority on the part of the deacons, nor of superiority on the part of the elders. There ought rather to be a mutual recognition of each one’s duties and a glorifying of God when working either together or separately.

Working together harmoniously elders and deacons, like the members of the church, will “grow up in all things into him, who is the head, even Christ; from whom all the body fitly framed and knit together through that which every joint supplieth, according to the working in due measure of each several part, maketh the increase of the body unto the building up of itself in love” (Eph. 4:15, 16).