Subscribe now

The deacon — biblical foundations for today’s ministry of mercy

By Cornelis Van Dam
February 2018 | Review by Matthew Cox
  • Publisher: Reformation Heritage
  • ISBN: 978-1-80178-511-4
  • Pages: 256
  • Price: 13.99
Buy this book »

Book Review

This valuable book seeks to restore the diaconate to its biblical purpose: not the maintenance of church buildings, but the care of the needy. Van Dam presents a solid scriptural basis for his case. He reviews Old Testament law, the teaching of Christ, and other New Testament passages which relate to provision for the afflicted.

He argues that it is the responsibility of every Christian and the whole church to love their neighbours, but deacons are there to step in when that isn’t happening. Van Dam presents the deacon’s work as an opportunity to demonstrate the love of Christ to those in need, including not only material poverty, but other vulnerabilities like loneliness, poor health, unemployment and family difficulties.

There is helpful discussion of practical issues, including the diaconate’s relationship with the eldership, the place of deaconesses (the author comes down against such), length of service, laying-on of hands, training, the place of state welfare and the risk of dis-incentivising those who aren’t helping themselves. These are important questions which prompt much fruitful thought.

For all its stimulating content, the book is hampered by its sheer verbosity. Its review of diaconal roles in church history is lengthy, yet somehow the reader doesn’t learn a great deal from it. Other parts feel like a machine gun pummelling of proof texts — I think the record was 25 references on p.9 — but without shedding much light on those passages.

The book hovers on the line between exhaustive and exhausting; it could have been half as long and just as useful. I’m not against long books, but at times the wordy style makes this vital subject dull.

Assuming a Presbyterian church government, Van Dam’s advice can be highly prescriptive. For example, he sets out a detailed geographical method of diaconal visitation, and even how deacons ought to pray during these visits. It’s hard to imagine what kind of diaconal superman could manage all the tasks he recommends should be carried out. These include systematic visitation of all local residents (whether church attendees or not), running conferences, assisting with job-hunting, welfare applications, debt management, raising money for international aid, providing pre-marital advice and supporting refugees. More counsel on how to prioritise these tasks would have been welcome.

In conclusion, this book is a hard-going and sometimes frustrating read. But it is worth persevering with to get the good meat off the bone. It is recommended for church officers, who will benefit from its positive biblical teaching. It will help them ‘obtain for themselves a good standing and great boldness in the faith which is in Christ Jesus’ (1 Timothy 3:13).

Matthew Cox

Bethersden, Kent

0 0 votes
Article Rating
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
0 Comments
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Book Reviews

Read our latest book reviews

Coping with Criticism: Turning pain into blessing
Mostyn Roberts

Have you ever faced criticism and found it painful and difficult to cope with? In this short title, Mostyn Roberts addresses this common problem. The book began as a paper written for a ministers’ fraternal, and was later expanded into…

See all book reviews
The History and Theology of Calvinism
Curt Daniel

This must be the most comprehensive study of the subject available today. It is difficult to think of any aspect of Calvinism that is not covered. It is divided into two major sections. The first covers the history, and ranges…

Searching Our Hearts in Difficult Times
John Owen

It is difficult to do this book justice in a review – the only way to grasp how helpful it is will be to read it for yourself. John Owen has a reputation for writing in a style that is…

An Introduction to John Owen: A Christian vision for every stage of life
Crawford Gribben

This unusual yet valuable book is not a biography of the influential Puritan. Rather its purpose – which it achieves capably – is ‘to discover the kind of life he hoped his readers would experience’ (p.13). Drawing on Owen’s extensive…