The consistory has now twice published the names of the brothers who were elected and appointed to the office of elder and deacon in this church, to learn if anyone had objections to their ordination. Since no one has brought forward anything lawful against their doctrine and life, we shall now in the name of the Lord proceed to their ordination.
Let us first hear what Holy Scripture teaches about the offices of elders and deacons.
Already in the old dispensation the people of God enjoyed the leadership and guidance of elders.1 The Lord told Moses to gather the elders of Israel together in Egypt2 and to inform them of his promises to deliver them from bondage. While these elders were with Moses in the desert, the Lord told him to select from their midst seventy men to bear the burden of the people with him.3 Together with Moses these elders had authority to command the people.4 At the end of his ministry, Moses gave to all the elders of Israel the law to rule God's people.5 Once in the promised land, these elders fulfilled their calling in every city.6
In his unceasing care for his flock the Good Shepherd called apostles to be the foundation of his catholic church. The apostles, in turn, appointed elders in every church7 with the cooperation of the congregation. Apostles and elders gathered together to take decisions to which the churches had to submit.8 Paul charged the overseers to take heed to the flock in which the Holy Spirit had made them guardians. Peter admonished the elders to be shepherds of God's flock that is under their care.9
In his epistle to the Philippians, the apostle Paul addressed the saints together with the overseers and deacons.10 In order that these offices might remain, he also gave his fellow workers detailed instructions for selecting brothers to these offices of overseers and deacons.11
He directed Titus to appoint elders in every town. The New Testament calls these office-bearers not only presbyters or elders but also bishops or overseers as well as shepherds and guardians.
The office of elder is, therefore, one of authority given by Christ. Elders are to fulfil their duties by reminding God's people of his ordinances and by exercising discipline over the disobedient, by caring for the flock and defending the sheep against the dangers that threaten them.
As for their mandate, the task of the elders is, together with the ministers of the Word, to have supervision over Christ's church, that every member may conduct himself properly in doctrine and life, according to the gospel. For this purpose they shall faithfully visit the members of the congregation in their homes to comfort, instruct, and admonish them with the Word of God, reproving those who behave improperly.12 They shall exercise Christian discipline, according to the command of Christ, against those who show themselves unbelieving and ungodly and refuse to repent.13 They shall watch that the sacraments are not profaned.
Second, being stewards of the house of God,14 they are to take care that in the congregation all things are done decently and in good order.15 For this purpose they form, together with the minister of the Word, the consistory of the church. Together they shepherd God's flock that is under their care.16 They must prevent anyone from serving in the church without having been lawfully called.
Third, it is their duty to assist the ministers of the Word with good counsel and advice. They are also charged with the supervision over the doctrine and conduct of these fellow servants. They shall permit no strange teaching, so that in every respect the congregation is edified by the pure doctrine of the gospel. Therefore they must watch diligently that no wolves enter the sheepfold of the Good Shepherd.17
To do their work well as shepherds of God's flock, the overseers should train themselves in godliness and diligently search the Scriptures, which are profitable in every respect, that the man of God may be equipped for every good work.18
Concerning the ministry of mercy, assigned to the deacons, the Lord impressed upon his people Israel the obligation to show mercy to the needy.19 God repeatedly commanded that the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow might eat within their towns and be filled.20 In the old dispensation the needy and suffering were protected and provided for by God's fatherly love:21 His ordinances taught the covenant people to imitate that love as beloved children.
The Lord Jesus Christ, who has shown us the Father,22 came into the world to serve.23 In his mercy he fed the hungry, healed the sick, and showed compassion to the afflicted.24 Thus he gave an example, that his church should do likewise.25 The ministry of mercy, as assigned to the deacons, proceeds, therefore, from this love of our Saviour.
After the example of her Lord, the first Christian congregation took care that no one in her midst suffered want.26 To each was distributed according to need.27
Also today the Lord calls on us to show hospitality, generosity, and mercy, so that the weak and needy may share abundantly in the joy of God's people. No one in the congregation of Christ may live uncomforted under the pressure of sickness, loneliness, and poverty.28
For the sake of this service of love, Christ has given deacons to his church.29 When the apostles realized that they would have to give up preaching the Word of God if they had to devote their full attention to the daily support of the needy, they assigned this duty to seven brothers chosen by the congregation.30 It is therefore the responsibility of the deacons to see to the good progress of this service of charity in the church. They shall acquaint themselves with existing needs and difficulties, and exhort the members of Christ's body to show mercy. They shall gather and manage the offerings and distribute them in Christ's name, according to need. They are called to encourage and comfort with the Word of God those who receive the gifts of Christ's love. They shall promote with word and deed the unity and fellowship in the Holy Spirit which the congregation enjoys at the table of the Lord.
In this way God's children will increase in love to one another and to all men.31
Beloved brothers, you are about to enter upon your respective offices. We request you to answer the following questions before God and his holy church.
First, do you feel in your hearts that God himself, through his congregation, has called you to these offices?
Second, do you believe the Old and New Testament to be the only Word of God and the complete doctrine of salvation? Do you reject all doctrines conflicting with it?
Third, do you promise to discharge faithfully the duties of your office and to adorn it with a godly life—you elders in the government of the church and you deacons in the ministry of mercy? Do you also promise to submit to the discipline of the church in case you should become delinquent in doctrine or life?
What is your answer?
Answer: I do (to be answered by each personally).
The almighty God and Father grant you his grace, that you may faithfully and fruitfully discharge your offices. Amen.
You, elders, as good shepherds of Christ's flock and faithful watchmen over the house of God, be diligent in governing the church, in comforting the distressed, and in admonishing the wayward. Take heed that the congregation abide by the pure doctrine and lead a godly life. Shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly; not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Pet 5:2-4).
You, deacons, be faithful and diligent in the gathering of gifts and distribute them cheerfully to those who need assistance, especially to the widows and orphans. Do good to all men, especially to those of the household of faith.32 Support those who are burdened with cares or who are lonely. Give in your ministry of mercy a good example to the congregation of the service to which all are called by Christ Jesus.
Be all with one accord faithful in your offices. Hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.33 If you serve well, you will gain a good standing for yourselves, always have great confidence in the faith which is in Christ Jesus,34 and finally enter into the joy of your Master.
On the other hand, beloved brothers and sisters, receive these men as servants of God.
Respect the overseers who labour among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you; esteem them very highly in love because of their work.35 Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you (Heb 13:17).
Take care that the deacons have sufficient means to fulfil their ministry. Be good stewards of all that the Lord has entrusted to you. Remember Christ, your example in serving the church of God.
Since we are unable of ourselves to do all this, let us call upon the Lord our God.
Lord God and heavenly Father, it pleases you for the edification of your church to ordain overseers and deacons besides the ministers of the Word. We thank you that you give us men who are endowed with your Holy Spirit. Grant them more and more the gifts they need—wisdom, courage, discretion, and mercy—so that each of them may fulfil his office as it is pleasing to you.
Give your grace to both elders and deacons that they may persevere in faithful service, without being hindered by trouble and sorrow or by persecution of the world.
Grant that this congregation, over whom you have set them, may submit willingly to the good exhortation of the overseers and esteem them in love because of their work.
Give us ardent love for each other. Grant that we may cheerfully provide the deacons with sufficient means, so that the needy may be liberally supplied.
We pray that by the faithful service of everyone the kingdom of your Son may come and your name be glorified, for yours is the kingdom and the power and the glory, for ever.