At the end of my last article about the Licensed Lay Deacon issue, I indicated that this time around I will talk about the history of deacons, something which I have already discussed a bit in my previous articles.  The office of Deacon is the oldest “auxiliary” (helping) office in the Church, and one which has blessed the Church greatly over the centuries.

As I noted previously, the Apostles originally instructed the Early Church to set aside seven men as deacons so that they could see to the fair distribution of food to the widows, freeing the Apostles themselves to serve the Church in more spiritual matters (Acts 6:1-4).  However, of the original seven apostles, we know that at least two (Stephen and Philip) preached and baptized in addition to their work of distributing to the widows.  Stephen in fact became the first martyr after his preaching in Jerusalem turned the Jews against him (Acts 6-7).  For his part, Philip was taken by the Holy Spirit to explain the faith to the Ethiopian eunuch (whom he then baptized), and then evangelized in Samaria (Acts 8).  So even though the Deacons were originally focused on “mercy works,” their work became much broader.

The Early Church continued to use deacons to primarily do mercy work, though this eventually expanded to include assisting in the distribution of the Sacrament.  During the early Middle Ages it was customary for the deacons to take the Sacrament to the shut-ins during the worship service while the bishop remained in his cathedral chair.

From here the office of deacon was eventually appropriated to become the introductory level of the priesthood (subdeacon and deacon).  In this form the “deacon” became something of a “trainee pastor,” similar to vicars in our usage, and similar to its usage today by the Catholic and Orthodox churches, as well as some of our own Lutheran partner church bodies.

That is the simplest history of the office of deacon:  it was originally created as an “auxiliary” office to help and support the Office of Public Ministry (represented by the Apostles in the Early Church and pastors today), but has grown to be something else in some usage, particularly in the context in which we are talking about it.

Personally, I would love to see us return as a church body to the idea of the deacon as an auxiliary office which helps and supports the Church through works of mercy such as calling on the sick and widows, organizing servant events, and the like.  Our Synod already employs a veritable cornucopia of auxiliary offices—Deaconesses, Directors of Christian Education, Directors of Christian Outreach, Directors of Parish Music, Teachers, and the like—that I don’t see the harm in including Deacons.

Based on my understanding of the Augsburg Confession (mentioned last time), the Licensed Lay Deacon as we use the term muddies the water when he is regularly preaching and administering the Sacraments (in other words when he is “the guy” who is officiating the majority of services).  He has not been called and ordained into the Office of Public Ministry as a pastor, and yet he is serving as such.  Consequently, the best way to resolve this situation is that “if a man is acting as the pastor, he should be ordained as a pastor.  If a man is not acting as the pastor (i.e. he is not serving “regularly” but only in emergencies), then he can be a Deacon as an ‘assistant’ to the Office of Public Ministry.”  We already permit broad variety in the ways in which our auxiliary offices interact with the Office of Public Ministry (D.C.E.s who teach, for example), so I would be comfortable with seeing a Deacon as an assistant to the pastor who helps him in the carrying out of his Office.  I think that would be “in good order” in circumstances where the Deacon is not acting as de facto pastor.

This is the way that I wrestle with this issue.  Am I correct 100%?  I don’t know; I welcome dialogue on this issue as we prepare to discuss it at the Convention.  If you disagree with me, please let me know why!

Now, let us close with prayer:

Lord of the Church, You provide Your Church with many different servants, all of whom can use their unique talents to serve in various ways.  We thank You for those who serve in auxiliary offices.  May they find fulfillment in their service and may Your Church benefit by it.  We pray in Jesus’ Name.  Amen.