Author Topic: Ordained Deacons  (Read 2135 times)

MaddogLutheran

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #15 on: April 17, 2018, 12:32:18 PM »
I don't really have any strong feelings about the transitional diaconate in particular, but I just don't think we should get carried away with offices that aren't recognizably biblical. Transitional deacon is sort of half biblical, namely the diaconal part is biblical. I want to be able to see ourselves when we read the scriptures, in that regard.
I'm sorry to come in here with something that may come off as disagreeable or argumentative, but I disagree that "transitional" deacons are somehow unbiblical.  Perhaps a better argument, that I imagine some Lutherans (but not me), might say is that splitting the office of holy ministry is un-Lutheran and perhaps also unbiblical.  I've read this debated in Catholic circles, from the opposite side:  that a permanent deacon is the odd-ball.

Whether one spends months in the office of deacon, or is immediately ordained to both and deacon and presbyter, the duties/responsibilities of the former is merely a subset of the latter.  So what is wrong with merely recognizing that time interval?  Frankly, while we Lutherans give our seminarian various titles when serving in parishes on their way to ordination (interns, vicars, etc), we could just as easily ordain them as deacons somewhere along the way (like Catholics do) before we allow them to preach.  Perhaps the reason we don't is that since we only ordain once (even as we have a muddled view of what ordination is), it leaves a permanent mark so to speak, so we don't want to administer it frivolously to all, lest some not pan out.

As I've heard some Catholics explain permanent deacons to skeptical audiences:  a deacon is a deacon is a deacon.

Sterling Spatz

Rather than unbiblical, which implies that it is contrary to scripture, I should have said that I see no evidence in the scriptures that one needed to be ordained a deacon as a step toward being ordained a presbyter. If you see that somewhere please point it out.

Also, I wonder what you mean that "the former is merely a subset of the latter". Read Acts 6. Notice that hands were laid upon the new deacons by the Apostles, not the presbyters. The diaconate preceded a Christian presbyterate. The church was still worshiping in the temple at this point so they had not yet "ordained" their own presbyters.

What I see is an emerging three-fold expression of the one ministry of Christ: Apostles to be succeeded by Bishops as the word of God goes forth and Christian churches are formed, Deacons who serve under and along side of the Apostle/Bishops, and lastly Presbyters (or what would become pastor/priests who served a congregation's pastoral needs and guided worship not unlike they had done in the Jewish Temple).

I'm sure that another set of eyes could see a different scenario emerging, but that's what I see when I read through the text.
Okay, I guess we should back up and first ask the question:  what is a deacon?

Where Lutherans "recognize" a three-fold ministry, I think we acknowledge that the distinction between a bishop and presbyter is different than between a presbyter and deacon.  For the former two there really is no difference at all.  For Lutherans, a presbyter is just a bishop lacking human arranged supervisory jurisdiction, whereas for other Christians a bishop has something "extra".  Both belong to the office of holy ministry, which particularly includes celebrating the Lord's Supper.   Both historically and biblically, deacons are not given that privilege--which is what I meant by my "subset" description.  As I understand the history of deacons, they were the service assistants of the bishops.  That service component originates with the bishop and therefore also resides with the presbyter.  But of course, some ELCA synods have authorized persons other than ordained pastors to celebrate holy communion, and that may be what some would wish our newly minted ordained deacons be able to do.

I recognize that not everyone views the office of holy ministry the same, and certainly not the office of the deacon (or deaconess).  The common theory of the 3-fold office with which I'm familiar is that each "higher" office includes the authority/responsbility of the preceding one.  I think that understanding for the bishop and deacon is supported by how the early church is described in the New Testament.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2018, 01:27:44 PM by MaddogLutheran »
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Eileen Smith

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #16 on: April 17, 2018, 01:08:02 PM »
As a deacon (through one of the several routes to the diaconate) I'll hold comments as I have a bit more curiosity than opinion.  I became a member of the ELCA shortly before the merger.  In fact, a number of deacons in NY in the AELC were rostered as AIMs in order for to stay on the roster with the merger.  In the AELC the deacon was accepted.  In the LCA not quite as well.  May I ask someone with both backgrounds why and why not?    I've no idea where other denominations such as ALC fell on this issue.  Thank you!

Richard Johnson

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #17 on: April 17, 2018, 01:37:15 PM »
As a deacon (through one of the several routes to the diaconate) I'll hold comments as I have a bit more curiosity than opinion.  I became a member of the ELCA shortly before the merger.  In fact, a number of deacons in NY in the AELC were rostered as AIMs in order for to stay on the roster with the merger.  In the AELC the deacon was accepted.  In the LCA not quite as well.  May I ask someone with both backgrounds why and why not?    I've no idea where other denominations such as ALC fell on this issue.  Thank you!

Well, that's really the root of the problem, or one of them. Both the meaning of the office and the terminology used was different in different church bodies. As far as I can recall, the ALC didn't really have the office of deacon as a form of ministry recognized by the wider church; "deacon" was a term used in some congregations to designate a variety of different local functions. I'm not sure about the LCA or the AELC--though it was the AELC that caused problems in the merger process because of their "minister" status for parochial school teachers. The merger commission ended up punting, acknowledging that they had no consensus and recommending that the new church set up a committee to study the matter.

The ELCA task force in 1991 proposed three options: (1) Three-fold ordained ministry of bishops, pastors and deacons; (2) Two-fold ministry of "Word & Sacrament" and "Word and Service" with only the former being "ordained" (the others being "lay ministry"); (3) Single office of ordained ministry (which was essentially the status quo).

The response from the church generally favored option 3, though the bishops favored option 2. The task force ended up recommending option 2, but with "Word and Service" ministers also being ordained. But then the Division for Ministry offered a different tweak: a single ordination rite for all, but then different "installations" for bishops, pastors, diaconal ministers. The churchwide assembly didn't quite buy that, and what came out was essentially a two-fold ministry: ordination to word and sacrament ministry, and a roster of lay ministers who were not ordained (but had various educational requirements, etc.)--and of course this meant keeping the plethora of different "lay ministries" pretty much intact.

In a nutshell, there were a cluster of issues going on here, of which the terminology of the office was only one. Really in my view the "dividing line" was between those who saw deacons (and associates in ministry, and deaconesses, and diaconal ministers) as "ordained ministers" or as "lay professional ministers." There were multiple side issues--what to call those in this office, how to enter them into this office, how to treat them when it comes to the Almighty Representational Principle, etc.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #18 on: April 18, 2018, 02:54:08 AM »
Presbyters were in existing long before the Christian church. They were the elders of the community, e.g., "elders" of Native American communities. Judaism had a council of elders (Luke 22:66; Acts 22:5). It's likely that they were originally people who had been around a long time who were thought to be wise because of their advanced age. How they morphed into priests is not so clear.

Acts 6:7 says that, "The word of God continued to spread; the number of the disciples increased greatly in Jerusalem, and a great many of the priests became obedient to the faith." Can one speculate that from those priests "obedient to the faith" arose the leaders of the Jerusalem Church?


ἱερεύς refers to someone who performs religious rites and duties on behalf of others. It was not limited to priests in the temple (which did not exist when Acts was written). The word is also used of "priests of Zeus" in Acts 14:13.

The leaders of the church in Acts 15:6 who gather to discuss the circumcision issue are called οἱ ἀπόστολοι καὶ οἱ πρεσβύτεροι. It is Peter and James who speak.

Paul names some of them in Galatians 2:9: James, Cephas, and John.

We know that apostles had to have been with Jesus throughout his public ministry. James, though not an apostle, was a brother of Jesus, who would have spent much childhood time with him. Leadership in Jerusalem seemed to be based on the amount of time one had spent with Jesus, rather than any previous roles in the temple.
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Brian Stoffregen

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #19 on: April 18, 2018, 02:58:26 AM »

As far as I can recall, the ALC didn't really have the office of deacon as a form of ministry recognized by the wider church; "deacon" was a term used in some congregations to designate a variety of different local functions.


Some ALC congregations had "elders," "deacons," and "trustees." There were essentially committees with different responsibilities: elders - education; deacons - worship; trustees - property.
"The church had made us like ill-taught piano students; we play our songs, but we never really hear them, because our main concern is not to make music, but but to avoid some flub that will get us in dutch." [Robert Capon, _Between Noon and Three_, p. 148]

J. Thomas Shelley

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #20 on: April 18, 2018, 08:05:00 AM »
Some ALC congregations had "elders," "deacons," and "trustees." There were essentially committees with different responsibilities: elders - education; deacons - worship; trustees - property.

Very common practice in the Reformed traditions.  Some denominations actually "ordain" their deacons and elders at the beginning of their terms.
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Eileen Smith

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #21 on: April 18, 2018, 01:10:12 PM »
As a deacon (through one of the several routes to the diaconate) I'll hold comments as I have a bit more curiosity than opinion.  I became a member of the ELCA shortly before the merger.  In fact, a number of deacons in NY in the AELC were rostered as AIMs in order for to stay on the roster with the merger.  In the AELC the deacon was accepted.  In the LCA not quite as well.  May I ask someone with both backgrounds why and why not?    I've no idea where other denominations such as ALC fell on this issue.  Thank you!

Well, that's really the root of the problem, or one of them. Both the meaning of the office and the terminology used was different in different church bodies. As far as I can recall, the ALC didn't really have the office of deacon as a form of ministry recognized by the wider church; "deacon" was a term used in some congregations to designate a variety of different local functions. I'm not sure about the LCA or the AELC--though it was the AELC that caused problems in the merger process because of their "minister" status for parochial school teachers. The merger commission ended up punting, acknowledging that they had no consensus and recommending that the new church set up a committee to study the matter.

The ELCA task force in 1991 proposed three options: (1) Three-fold ordained ministry of bishops, pastors and deacons; (2) Two-fold ministry of "Word & Sacrament" and "Word and Service" with only the former being "ordained" (the others being "lay ministry"); (3) Single office of ordained ministry (which was essentially the status quo).

The response from the church generally favored option 3, though the bishops favored option 2. The task force ended up recommending option 2, but with "Word and Service" ministers also being ordained. But then the Division for Ministry offered a different tweak: a single ordination rite for all, but then different "installations" for bishops, pastors, diaconal ministers. The churchwide assembly didn't quite buy that, and what came out was essentially a two-fold ministry: ordination to word and sacrament ministry, and a roster of lay ministers who were not ordained (but had various educational requirements, etc.)--and of course this meant keeping the plethora of different "lay ministries" pretty much intact.

In a nutshell, there were a cluster of issues going on here, of which the terminology of the office was only one. Really in my view the "dividing line" was between those who saw deacons (and associates in ministry, and deaconesses, and diaconal ministers) as "ordained ministers" or as "lay professional ministers." There were multiple side issues--what to call those in this office, how to enter them into this office, how to treat them when it comes to the Almighty Representational Principle, etc.

Thank you for this explanation.  I do think there may be valid reasons to have some sort of rite, be it ordination or not, for deacons and to place them all under one umbrella.  If we continue having synodical deacons, deacons, deaconesses there would need to be some basis of certification, e.g., education/experience.  In some respects, the role of the deacon related to service is defined by one's call, be it prison ministry, nursing home, social service, etc.  But as clergy find that their call doesn't hold their service solely in the congregation, the role of deacon is the same.  I consider myself a deacon; that is, 24/7.  If an opportunity for ministry arises I act.  A colleague died quite suddenly mid-air from NY to Brussels.  I received permission to use a conference room for a time of prayer and sharing.   I'm slightly uncomfortable using this word on a board most likely dominated by clergy, but deacons -- called to word and service (that is, outside of the church) -- do have authority in their role to carry out their task and perhaps ordination might foster that authority.  I am not speaking to pastoral authority in the congregation, just to be clear.

Just out of curiosity, is anyone familiar how the role of deacon is seen in the NALC?

Steven Tibbetts

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #22 on: April 18, 2018, 02:36:23 PM »
I'm slightly uncomfortable using this word on a board most likely dominated by clergy, but deacons -- called to word and service (that is, outside of the church) -- do have authority in their role to carry out their task and perhaps ordination might foster that authority.  I am not speaking to pastoral authority in the congregation, just to be clear.


In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches, deacons are clergy, as they are in Lutheran churches (such as the Swedish Church) that have adopted the 3-fold ministry.  With this proposal, it would be so in the ELCA, too.  FWIW, this pastor is perfectly comfortable with that.

Pax, Steven+
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MaddogLutheran

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #23 on: April 18, 2018, 03:11:02 PM »
I'm slightly uncomfortable using this word on a board most likely dominated by clergy, but deacons -- called to word and service (that is, outside of the church) -- do have authority in their role to carry out their task and perhaps ordination might foster that authority.  I am not speaking to pastoral authority in the congregation, just to be clear.


In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches, deacons are clergy, as they are in Lutheran churches (such as the Swedish Church) that have adopted the 3-fold ministry.  With this proposal, it would be so in the ELCA, too.  FWIW, this pastor is perfectly comfortable with that.

Pax, Steven+
Yes, and I am equally comfortable with that.  In this discussion, my prior comments were based on this assumption that ELCA deacons would be clergy--which is why we would be ordaining them, not just installing/commissioning/consecrating them.  And if they are clergy, I also assume that would include a liturgical role based on historic church practice.  But of course, if some imagine these deacons might be a poor man's pastor authorized to celebrate holy communion in places that cannot afford a pastor, then there could be some bumpy road ahead trying to ground their office in historic church practice.  OTOH, maybe I should be thankful if there is even that much clericalism to be found, since we already have "authorized" lay people celebrating communion in some corners of the ELCA.

Sterling Spatz
« Last Edit: April 18, 2018, 03:27:35 PM by MaddogLutheran »
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Eileen Smith

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #24 on: April 18, 2018, 03:33:13 PM »
I'm slightly uncomfortable using this word on a board most likely dominated by clergy, but deacons -- called to word and service (that is, outside of the church) -- do have authority in their role to carry out their task and perhaps ordination might foster that authority.  I am not speaking to pastoral authority in the congregation, just to be clear.


In the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches, deacons are clergy, as they are in Lutheran churches (such as the Swedish Church) that have adopted the 3-fold ministry.  With this proposal, it would be so in the ELCA, too.  FWIW, this pastor is perfectly comfortable with that.

Quite honestly, it's worth a lot!

Pax, Steven+

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #25 on: April 18, 2018, 06:51:55 PM »
Just out of curiosity, is anyone familiar how the role of deacon is seen in the NALC?

I am not a member of NALC, but I did notice this on their website: https://www.thenalc.org/certification-of-pastors-and-lay-ministers/. Ordained pastors, and lay ministers (associate in ministry, diaconal minister, deaconess). Someone in NALC perhaps can elaborate.

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Re: Ordained Deacons
« Reply #26 on: September 06, 2020, 04:29:35 PM »
Deacons ordained in Lund, Sweden this morning. You can skip the long introduction.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-3kTMiYB9Q8