Christopher Chelpka

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James M. Wilson on The Office of Deacon

You may be familiar with Samuel Miller’s book on on the ruling elder. As far as I know he didn’t write a parallel work on deacons, but in 1869, such a work appeared, with a nod toward Miller’s work, written by James M. Wilson. It’s called The Deacon: An Inquiry into the Nature, Duties and Exercise of the Office of the Deacon, in the Christian Church. (Miller does address the distinction between elders and deacons in his book.)

I found a hard-copy of Wilson’s work this while perusing the shelves at RTS-Orlando. Yay for physical libraries! His book does as the title promises and includes tons of data from Reformed and Presbyterian history. He uses exegesis and historical examples to prove his points.

Here are a couple of things I noted:

Wilson is decidedly in favor of putting all the temporal needs of the church—both individual and corporate (my distinction, not his)—in the hands of the deacons, who are subject to the session. No trustees! But I wonder, does he really think that everything temporal belongs to the work of the deacons? This seems unscriptural and impractical. I don’t think I’m misreading him, but it’s hard to imagine he’d hold such an extreme position.

On the necessity of the diaconate, he says that ensuring that this ministry is completed well and according to the will of Christ is important and should not be neglected. Why? Because it “concerns, intimately, the activity and efficiency of the Christian church in the promotion of the great ends of her organization: the diffusion of the gospel in its purity; and the accomplishment of those works of charity and benevolence, by which she is to reflect before the world, and upon it, the image of the grace and compassion of her beneficent Redeemer.” (55)