Deacons may soon be delegated to synod (the annual leadership meeting of the Christian Reformed Church). For over 150 years, only elders and ministers have been synod delegates. But if proposed changes to the Church Order are adopted at Synod 2015, at least 25 percent of the nearly 200 delegates at Synod 2016 will be deacons.
Synod 2013 proposed these changes to the Church Order after receiving a report called Diakonia Remixed from the Office of Deacon Task Force. The authors of that report envisioned a diaconate that departs quite dramatically from the status quo, a diaconate that is highly involved in community outreach, with the time and talent that takes.The task force recommended that the changes be adopted in 2015 and implemented in 2016.
However, Synod 2013 also decided that the report of the task force left some questions unanswered: In what ways can the agendas of the major assemblies be shaped for meaningful participation of deacons? What biblical and confessional basis exists for those tasks, which on the congregational level belong distinctively to the office of elder and the office of deacon, to be assigned collectively at classis and synod? What about the revitalization of the office of elder? In addition, while Diakonia Remixed offered resources and plans for revitalizing the office of deacon, Synod 2013 wanted similar resourcing for the office of elder.
To that end, it appointed a new group called the Task Force to Study the Offices of Elder and Deacon to build on the work of Diakonia Remixed. In addition to answering some of the questions raised, the new task force was also asked to address what Synod 2013 called “persistent concerns” about the perceived blurring of the lines distinguishing the two offices.
The report of the new task force was released last fall. In it, the task force noted that the New Testament “does not present us with a normative and rigid pattern of leadership.” Instead, the authors wrote, leadership “arose fairly spontaneously as called for in each new situation.” The authors suggest that the church must reexamine its traditional assertion, especially in its liturgical forms, that Acts 6 is the origin of an institutionalized office of deacon. “The assignment of specific tasks to distinct offices is for the church to sort out in its context for every new age,” the report states.
The report goes on to state that while the CRC currently structures local government that distinguishes between council, consistory, and diaconate, there is no such distinction when it defines the work of broader assemblies such as classis (regional groups of churches) and synod.
It concurred with the previous task force that delegation of deacons to those broader assemblies is not about equal representation but about full representation of the whole church. The task force also judged that no “changes, highlights, or broadening of the mandate of synod” are required to make inclusion of all officebearers meaningful and beneficial.
This task force also added a list of resources for elders, similar to the list of resources for deacons included in Diakonia Remixed.
The task force proposed wording changes to approximately 15 Church Order articles to bring about the changes it is recommending. It also recommended changes to the liturgical forms used for the ordination of elders and deacons.
If synod adopts the changes, delegations from each classis would consist of one minister, one elder, one deacon, and one additional officebearer from any of those three offices. Currently each classis sends two ministers and two elders.
Synod 2015 will convene in Sioux Center, Iowa, from June 12-18. The Banner will post articles on its website throughout the week and keep readers updated via Twitter and Facebook. There will also be a live webcast and press releases from CRC Communications.
About the Author
Gayla Postma retired as news editor for The Banner in 2020.