The deaconate is the foundational priesthood ministry of the New Covenant Church of God without which none of the other Priesthood Orders can stand. Every Priesthood holder, no matter what Priesthood office they hold, is a Deacon or Deaconess, and cannot properly exercise their Priesthood without the discipline and skills of the Deaconate (see NC&C 113:2-61)).
It is a fundamental mistake, therefore, to look upon the ministry of the Deaconate to be inferior, say, to that of the Eldership, as some have been wont to do. And a careful perusal of the scriptures will reveal that it is as demanding as any other Priesthood Order, even if it is different (see NC&C 110:6).
It is also wrong to look upon the Deaconate as being an "unspiritual" ministry, as others are wont to look upon it, because most of its duties are apparently confined to temporal matters. And I use the word "apparently" deliberately because is reality that which is temporal in Christ is also spiritual. Many of the modern revelations have emphasised this fact. One of the best known ones, known by us as the Mary-Martha Principle (NC&C 66), points out that whatever is done in the Spirit of Christ is spiritual. The "Mary-Martha Principle", though directed principally to the sisters, is nevertheless applicable to all Church members, male and female, ordained and unordained, for its stresses that every godly activity leads to sanctification. Therefore whether it is a Deacon cleaning up a a hall after a meeting, or a Patriarch teaching the mysteries in the Temple of the Church of the Firstborn, the effect spiritually is the same, for both are justified and blessed by God, for both activities, when done with pure hearts, glorify God.
A Deacon or a Deaconess is setting as much as an example to the Church and to the world as any other Priesthood Officer. What is not important is that he is a "deacon" but that he is an ordained representitive of Christ. He is no less accountable than an Elder, a Pastor, or even the Presiding Patriarch. All have a defined stewardship and all are rewarded equally by a God who shows no partiality. The only difference between a Deacon and, say, an Elder, is that the latter has more responsibility. And it must be remembered that an Elder is, in any case, a Deacon himself.
The Deacon or Deaconess, like every other officer in the Church, must be tested or weighed (1 Timothy 3:10), be a diligent father or mother, have a good reputation with outsiders, be chaste, benevolent, and "hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (Ibid., v.9). You will notice in the New Testament that Deacons are invariably mentioned in conjunction with the Elders (e.g. Philippians 1:1) which suggests that in the early Church that both worked closely together. Without a doubt the Deaconate is a vital resource to the Pastorate, being executive officers, carrying out the practical day to day running of congregational affairs. Indeed one might say that the Deacons and Deaconesses are the "right hand men and women" of other Priesthood officers. They are arguably much like the wife in the husband-wife relationship in many respects.
Although I will examine in some detail the temporal responsibilities of the Deaconate in a moment I want to first emphasise what is immediately obvious as "spiritual" (remembering that whatsoever is done in the Name of the Lord is spiritual). Deacons have five principal spiritual duties:
They also have a secondary responsibility of leading meetings when higher Priesthood officers are not available .
- 1. To WARN
- 2. To EXPOUND
- 3. To EXHORT
- 4. To TEACH
- 5. To INVITE ALL TO COME TO CHRIST
These "Five Commissions", if I may call them that, belong to EVERY Priesthood officer in the Church! And if you examine them carefully, you will see that they actually cover ministry in totality. Therefore the Deacon, in having these Five Commissions, has an identical call to every Elder and Patriarch in the Church!
How, then, does he differ? He differs from these other Priesthood officers in that he has a speciality. And his speciality is in temporal affairs (NC&C 113:55-61). That does not mean that his only responsibility is in temporal affairs but that his principal responsibility is in temporal affairs. He has many jobs (which are detailed in the Priesthood Manual and the revelations) that include teaching the law of tithing to every member, collecting the tithes and offerings, preparing the meeting house and clearing up afterwards, preparing the Communion Table and the emblems and passing them round to the communicants, ensuring every family in his congregation is sufficient in temporal things (food, clothing, shelter, warmth, etc.), learning and teaching practical skills to children (both the Taphim and Alumim) and the adults, assisting in youth camps, setting a model example in cleanliness, orderliness and tidiness at home, or work, setting an example in modest and clean dress, etc.. In short, he is to present an excellent example in appearance, habits, organisation, industriousness and self-discipline, which is no mean task! And yet all of these are the very essence and foundation of every other Priesthood office.
It is therefore true to say that if a Priesthood officer is not manifesting the fruits of the Deaconate that he is not any other Priesthood officer either. It will be an increasingly common sight in the future, and is already happening now, to find Elders being released and called to be Deacons again -- to learn what they should have learned before or to relearn what they have forgotten. And this is no shame. For the ex-Elder is still ministering as an Elder, for he has the same Five Commissions as the Deacon, only his first responsibility will be to establish a firm temporal foundation.
There are some in the Church who have, it seems, been "mortally" wounded when released as an Elder, for example, to be re-called as a Deacon. This ought not to be so and is a testimony that the Priesthood has been seen as a rank or an office of prestige. But that is exactly what the Priesthood is not. For the Priesthood is a calling to service through the magnification of the gifts given the individual by God, which gifts come because of grace and not because of any particular merit. Thus many are injured in their pride and look upon their release as a "demotion" or a take it as a personal attack on their worth as persons. Such, I should hasten to say, is an insult to the Deaconate! No, an Elder or any other Priesthood holder who is released and called to be a Deacon should understand that this calling is for his salvation and is not a condemnation. It is an act of mercy for him and for the Church. For how can he serve the Church, and therefore his Saviour, if he does not have the proper Priesthood foundation?
If an Elder is released from his office to be a Deacon, he is still to "warn, expound, exhort, teach, and invite all to come to Christ". He is called to do what a Patriarch and a Deacon are called to do, no different. BUT he comes under a different Council or Order which regulates and controls his activities. He must learn discipline...which was probably why he was released as an Elder in the first place. He probably took his own counsel without considering the needs of the Body first. He probably acted on his own, independently of these set over him, having obtained a taste of power that comes from high Priesthood but no longer being willing to be subordinated to the proper authorities.
It is in the Deaconate that such discipline must be, and is, learned. The Deacons and Deaconesses Councils are (like other Councils), miniature replicas of the "Body". The Body of Christ exists on many levels, beginning with all true Christians, and then reducing to smaller and smaller units, the smallest of which is the local Mission or Colonial Council. It is in the Council or Order "Body" that new Priesthood holders must learn what it is to serve, and be one with, the larger community of saints.
And the Deacons (or Deaconesses) Council is the first Priesthood Council. It is here that all the foundational skills of ministry are learned. And they are learned through temporal application.
The Deacons Council has therefore one of the most sacred callings in the Church. And its leaders have one of the most important stewardships. They are, in short, to see that correct principles are put into action. They are to ensure that words and good intentions manifest themselves outwardly in good works. Or to put it another way, they are to ensure that the people are grounded in true faith.
Now what exactly is meant by this? Paul said that Deacons are to "hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" (1 Timothy 3:9). What is to "hold the mystery of the faith"? Well, everybody should know that faith without works is dead (James 2:20,26) but equally that "works without faith are dead". The Deaconate cannot "force" its quorum members to do good works -- these must flow naturally out a pure love in Christ, which means they must be converted (Matthew 18:3).
Occasionally a person will slip through the net into the Church without being properly born again in Christ. And he may remain undetected until he is called into the Deacons Council where he is expected to live a life overflowing with good works. If he is not born again he will be totally unmotivated to do the good works and will not be able to endure the discipline. What to the converted is a joy will become a terrible burden to him. The Deacons Councilss are therefore also places of sifting.
A person who is not born again cannot "hold the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience" because he doesn't know what the mystery of the faith is. Therefore how can he live with a pure conscience? He will be disorientated, confused, and unproductive in the Deacons Councils. He will eventually fall out of it, and eventually the Church, of his own accord. And this very pattern has already been followed by one or two people in the Church, and will almost certainly happen again.
A person who is born again in Christ will be overflowing with enthusiasm for the Kingdom and will be only too willing to put his hand to the plough. He is, in short, the ideal worker. Now he is not a preacher (unless he is a Pastoral Assistant) nor a scriptorian (unless he is a Teacher) necessarily, though he may be developing these skills. He will not therefore be a master practicioner in delivering sermons, nor will he necessarily be stilled in teaching and expounding the scriptures. And he might even be a little nervous about witnessing of Christ in public. An so, even though he will feel inadequate in these things, he will nevertheless have a desire to learn and to try. He will still be willing to accept himself and try again even when he makes mistakes (as he surely will). His secret is his possession of the Gift of the Holy Spirit which will be daily remoulding him from a carnal man into a spiritual one. He will be embarking on the greatest adventure of life -- the journey into the perfection of Christ.
The Deacon is not a superman. He is not a carpenter, electrician, computer expert, plummer, farmer, scientist, baby sitter, seamstress, theologian and prophet all rolled into one, though in reading his brief you might be tempted to think that he is! He will be many things, but not everything. That is why he belongs to a Body where these skills are shared. And that Body is the Deacons Council. It must be remembered, furthermore, that the Deacons Council is one of many councils and that there will be skills in all the others too, which may be utilised when they are needed. For these Councils will have been trained in the Deacons Council too and will have acquired many skills there.
Having excused the Deacon from being a superman (or superwoman) he is not given licence to just develop one skill. Diversification is a key to the Deaconate, and individuals must learn many skills in preparation for the tasks that lie ahead possibly in other Councils and as fathers and mothers.
The Deaconate is not, therefore, a "dumping ground" for other failed priests. It is an apprenticeship for life. Instead of being on the peiphery, as some are wont to view it, it is in the centre, and all the other Orders flow out from it. If the Deaconate is weak, then the Church is weak. There may be prophets, seers, and revelators in the Church but if there are no Deacons, then the Church cannot stand. If the prophets and seers are not Deacons -- if they are not built upon the foundation of the Deaconate -- then the chances are that there are not true prophets and seers. I would even go so far as to say that they aren't true prophets and seers. They may have the gift in rudimentary form but without the discipline of the Deaconate they will be open to deception and even spiritual destruction.
Every aspiring priesthood holder must go through the grist mill of the Deaconate. It is mandatory. There are no exceptions. Even the other Councils will receive instruction from the Deaconate from time to time and will be weighed annually as though they were Deacons in addition to being weighed for their specialist ministry.
All of this is not good news for the undisciplined and lazy -- unless they are willing to accept the challenge, bite the bullet, and get on with it. They may even need to examine their spiritual foundation. They may even discover that they have lost their First Love and have substituted Him for an image, having pushed out the real Christ deliberately (in a quest for power and superiority) or unconsciously (by shifting the emphasis away from Him and onto other things).
Since every Priesthood holder has a specialist ministry, there is a real danger of focusing on that specialist ministry at the expense of the fundamentals. Here every Priesthood holder must beware. That is why every minister of the Gospel has the same Five Commissions to WARN, EXPOUND, EXHORT, TEACH....and, most importantly of all, INVITE ALL TO COME TO CHRIST.
The zeal of every newly born-again member must be wisely channeled. He must not be so overweighed with responsibilities that he no longer has time to develop a personal relationship with Christ. He must have plenty of time to study, pray and worship. He must be in contact with his Heavenly Father on a moment to moment basis and must be able to find time alone with Him. He must always be reminded that it is God who empowers the Priesthood, and that without that close relationship with Him, the Priesthood ceases to be living and active but just an empty organisational shell, like any other man-made organisation.
Therefore the spiritual dimension of the Deaconate is the Deaconate's own foundation. Deacons and Deaconesses must be taught in the Schools of Israel, be faithful in congregating with the saints to praise and worship God whenever the saints meet, be involved in missionary work at every opportunity, respond enthusiastically and quickly to calls made by the Church of the Firstborn to attend the Temple, devote time to his family, further his education and work opportunities (with a view to releasing him to spend as much time in Kingdom work as possible and not to amass his own fortune), and to walk with Christ in everything he does.
Perhaps, after all, the Deacon or Deaconess is a superman or a superwoman. But if that is so, so is every follower of Christ, no matter what his or her Priesthood call. If he is in Christ, all of this will seem nothing, for he will know that he does all these things in the power of Christ, and not in his own strength. But if he is not in Christ, then he will surely be overwhelmed, and declare: "This is impossible."
Deacons and Deaconesses, yours is a sacred and noble call. It is the first and most important priesthood step to all the other priesthoods. Without this step, all the other priesthoods are beyond your grasp. So whether you are a newly called Deacon, or have been released from another Council, rejoice in the opportunity the Lord is giving you to be built upon the right foundation. There is no condemnation in the ministry of Christ, whatever it is, only glory.
To conclude, I will leave you with two questions: What is the "mystery of the faith" that Paul spoke about? And: Are you holding it in a pure conscience? Every born-again New Covenant Christian will know the answers to these questions for they will be revealed by the Holy Spirit to you. It is a question that will be asked every Priesthood holder from now on in the annual Day of Weighing. The answers will never be written down nor will they be spoken by way of instruction. Your interviewers will ask you but not confirm or correct your answer. These things are an "open secret" to all true Believers but an unfathomable mystery to those who know not Christ.
May the Lord bless you as you seek to magnify your calling with all fervour and joy in your hearts! Amen.