Saturday, November 15, 2008

Ignatius and the Duty of a Deacon

Jesus Christ established the foundation of the Christian church with various callings and priesthood offices such as apostles, prophets, pastors, teachers and evangelists (Eph. 4: 11). While the New Testament does give some important information about the duties and relationship of these offices, Joseph Smith and the LDS church benefit from modern revelation which clarifies the operation of these callings in the Church of Jesus Christ today.

The LDS Church believes that with the martyrdom of the original Apostles, the Church of Jesus Christ fell into apostasy because the keys and authority of the priesthood given to man by God was lost from the Earth. While the apostasy was abrupt and complete by the 3rd Century AD, there are extra-canonical sources from the late 1st Century AD which give additional information on the priesthood offices of Bishop (episkopos), Elder (presbyter), and Deacon (diaconos). Many LDS General Authorities have said that LDS doctrine is closer to 1st-Century Christianity than 3rd-Century Christianity. Today we have a few of the writings of Polycarp, Ignatius, and Clement; who were Bishops in the early 1st-Century Christian church. While these 3 Bishops may not have known Christ personally, they knew and had served with many of the Apostles, and all 3 suffered a martyrs death for their testimony of Jesus Christ. While their words are not scripture, these Early Christian Fathers are well respected by the LDS and most Christian faiths.

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians contains a chapter discussing the duties of the Deacon in the Primitive Church and the relationship of the Deacon with the other offices of Elder and Bishop. Ignatius writes in Chapter II:

For, since ye are subject to the bishop as to Jesus Christ, ye appear to me to live not after the manner of men, but according to JesusChrist, who died for us, in order, by believing in His death, ye may escape from death. It is therefore necessary that, as ye indeed do, so without the bishop ye should do nothing, but should also be subject to the presbytery, as to the apostle of Jesus Christ, who is our hope, in whom, if we live, we shall [at last] be found. It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God. They are bound, therefore, to avoid all grounds of accusation [against them], as they would do fire.
According to Ignatius, the office of a Deacon was subordinate to that of the Bishop and the Presbytery. This also suggests in admonishing the Deacons to "do nothing without the bishop" that the Bishop had special authority or keys to authorize certain rites and service in the church. What do I mean? I mean that Deacons would have the responsibility and authority to participate in and administer certain church rites, but only under the direction and approval of the Bishop.

And this is how the priesthood authority in the LDS church operates. The Deacons and other offices in the Aaronic Priesthood are subordinate to the Elders of the Melchizedek Priesthood and under direct guidance from the Bishop. In fact, in the LDS Church there is a special relationship between the Bishop and the Deacons, the Bishop is the president of the Aaronic Priesthood. The Bishop is Chief Deacon. In contrast, the president of the Melchizedek Priesthood is the Chief Apostle or Prophet. Interesting that this passage would also make that relationship between the Elders and the Apostles as well as the Bishop and the Deacons by saying "do nothing without the bishop. And be ye subject also to the presbytery, as to the apostles ." While the Bishop and Deacons are related, so are the Elders with the Apostles.

And while those who have been ordained into the priesthood have the privilege and responsibility to participate and administer the ordinances and rites of the church, they can only do so under the approval of the Bishop. The authority over the approval of rites and ordinances constitutes the "keys of the kingdom." The Bible differentiates "keys" from the priesthood authority itself by teaching that while many disciples were given the "sealing power" that whatsoever they bound on Earth would be bound in Heaven (Matt. 18: 18), only the "keys" were given to Peter (Matt. 16: 19).

What was the primary responsibility of the Deacon in the primitive Church? I think Ignacius gives us the answer right here. "It is fitting also that the deacons, as being [the ministers] of the mysteries of Jesus Christ, should in every respect be pleasing to all. For they are not ministers of meat and drink, but servants of the Church of God." Replacing the word "mysteries" with "emblems" we see that the passage could be comparing the administration of the bread and wine of the ordinance of the Lord's Supper to the serving of worldly meat and drink. So, to me, it seems that this could be an exciting confirmation that Deacons in the Primitive Christian Church had responsibility under the direction of the Bishop to administer the Lord's Supper just as the Aaronic Priesthood of the LDS Church does today.
We can also compare the the duty of the Bishop and Deacon in the Aaronic Priesthood to the operation of the Priest and Levite under the Law of Moses. In the Law of Moses, the Priest who was a direct descendant of Aaron, would perform the actual animal sacrifice. The Levites, were to assist the Priest in the preparation for the sacrifice. In the same way, the position of the Bishop is akin to that of the Priest, except that the Law of Moses is fulfilled and there is to be no more shedding of blood. The Bishop doesn't perform his own sacrifice for the forgiveness of sins. Only Christ's atoning blood can forgive sin. Instead the Bishop presides over a Sacrament Meeting where those who hold the authority of the priesthood are blessed to administer the atoning blood of Christ's infinite sacrifice to the congregation through the ordinance of the Sacrament of the Lords Supper. And in parallel to the Levites in the days of Moses, the Deacons assist the Bishop in offering the body and blood of Jesus Christ symbolically through the blessing and passing of the Sacramental emblems to the congregation.

1 Clement 17 Quotes Isa. 60:17 "For thus saith the Scripture in a certain place, "I will appoint their bishops in righteousness, and their deacons in faith."

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallians Chapter III "In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church."

The Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans Chapter VIII "Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. . . It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize, or to offer, or to present sacrifice, or to celebrate a love-feast. But that which seems good to him, is also well-pleasing to God, that everything ye do may be secure and valid."
Epistle to the Antiochians Chapter VIII.—Exhortations to the presbyters and others.
Ye presbyters, “feed the flock which is among you,” (1 Pet. 2) till God shall show who is to hold the rule over you. For “I am now ready to be offered,” (2 Tim. 5: 6) that I “may win Christ.”(Phil. 3: 8). Let the deacons know of what dignity they are, and let them study to be blameless, that they may be the followers of Christ. Let the people be subject to the presbyters and the deacons. Let the virgins know to whom they have consecrated themselves.
Here it almost seems like the virgins refers to the young women of the church while deacons refers to the young men who are admonished to "study to be blameless." And again as in other places deacons are subordinate to the Elders. Ignatius suggests that there may be "study" or preparation required to advance from a Deacon to an Elder.

1 comment:

MainTour said...

The Deacons duty to collect Fast Offerings seems so out of date.

That commandment was given at a time when donations were physical collateral and needed to be hauled in wagons.

Now adays they make surprise visits on inactive members, asking for money. All active members include offerings in their tithing checks.

Can we get credit for Boy Scout food drives? Those seem to be a much better use of their time.

How can we ask SLC to review this policy?