This article discusses the relationship between service, office, gifts, authority and the priesthood of all believers.

Source: Diakonia, 1999. 4 pages.

Diakonia vs. Office

Recently several new books in the field of the "diakonia" have been published in The Netherlands which deserve attention. One of them is entitled "Handbook for Diaconiology: Introduction to the Theology of the 'Ministry of the Word' in all its Dimensions," written by Dr. T. Brienen.1 It is remarkable that whereas in the English speaking countries there is a general preference for calling this department of theological studies "pastoral theology" or "practical theology," Dr. Brienen specifically insists on the term "Diaconiology." In this respect he follows the line of thinking of the late Dr. A. Kuyper in his "Principles of Sacred Theology," who wished to posit also here the antithesis to current theologies at state universities. The Theological College of the Canadian Reformed Churches, the Theological Universities of the Gereformeerde Kerken in Kampen and of the Christelijke Gereformeerde kerken in Apeldoorn follow this line of thinking and terminology as well.

It is also noteworthy that Dr. Brienen argues for the replacing the word "office" with diakonia = "ministry". This point can be ques­tioned. Although Dr. Brienen evaluates vari­ous Bible translations and changes in meaning of words over the centuries, he fails to analyse the relationship between "office" and diakonia.2 It is true, every "office" is to be diakonia, but all diakonia is not necessarily an "office". Moreo­ver, the derivation of "special office bearers" is not clear.

Gifts vs. Office🔗

Another recent Dutch publication with refer­ence to "the office" is entitled "Reflections on the Office" by Dr. C. Graafland. What is intri­guing about this book are the church historical chapters (covering more than 200 pages). In these chapters Dr. Graafland describes and critically analyses the history of the concepts of "the office" before, during, and after the Re­formation, as well as "the office" in the Re­formed Church in the 16th through the 20th centuries. He shares many details particularly from the church of the Reformation. He sharply criticizes theologians such as Calvin, Beza, and later theologians. His basic criticism is that they have not listened sufficiently to Scripture. Instead, they concurred with tradi­tion or linked up with the needs of their context.

In a final chapter Dr. Graafland reflects on "the office" in the light of various passages in Scripture, particularly Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12-14. We have always been inclined to start in Ephesians 4. According to Graafland, we need to start in Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, for they lay out the charis­matic structure of the congregation. Only afterwards should we consider Ephesians 4 and the first letter to Timothy, which we should read within the charismatic structure of the congregation. According to him, these passages do not present "the office" as if the rest of the congregation were minor. Rather those passages precisely emphasize the con­gregation with all its gifts (charismata). To the extent that the church is to be governed, this government serves the proclamation, which appears to full advan­tage within and by the congregation. Although he is greatly impressed with the gifts that stand out in the church in Corinth, neverthe­less, according to Dr. Graafland, the New Testa­ment does not lay down general and identical pre­scriptions with regard to "the office" for all the congrega­tions for all times. Neverthe­less, in practice there has been a development in "the office". The pastor, elder, and deacon comprise the three offices. The question, according to Dr. Graafland, is whether we can bring these back to Scripture, particularly the New Testament. Should the church not be equipped with many more "offices" than these three? Would that not enrich the church? Should the charismata not be recognized and honored in the churches, and integrated into the theology of "office" in a way in which the "office" will function differently in churches?

Office and Gifts🔗

In response to Dr. Graafland, it seems to me that he singles out 1 Corinthians 12-14 too much and leaves out other New Testament passages. The New Testament clearly pictures the apostles as being more than only followers and believers. They had to be eyewitnesses in a specific office. Dr. Graafland ignores that Paul in 1 Cor 12-14 is correcting abuses.

Moreover, Dr. Graafland gives the impression that he wishes to draw the theology of "the office" from the whole Word of God, but he narrows it too much to the scheme of prophet­-priest-king. In the Old Testament there were also other 'positions' with reference to giving leadership and bearing authority (for instance, judge, elder), but he leaves them out.

What is an "office"? It is a task that Christ gives to men. These tasks clearly go back to Christ (Ephesians 4:11) and to the Holy Spirit (Acts 20:28). Officers perform this task in the framework of a special appointment. It is not an incidental function but an official task together with others (1 Timothy 4:14). Elders do not merely have a coordinating or administrat­ing task but also a pastoral task. Some elders are ap­pointed particularly as preachers and teachers (1 Timothy 5:17). Moreover, they do not only have a task but also authority (Luke 10:16; 2 Corinthians 5:20), for which they are to hold fast "the faithful Word" (Titus 1:9).

Finally, I wonder if Dr. Graafland does justice to the fact that the books of the New Testament were written in a period in which the church is developing out of a missionary situation into a more estab­lished church. It is therefore well possible that there are situations in the New Testament of 'newly-formed' congregations alongside somewhat more established congregations. Therewith the New Testament is not pointing in the direction of a pluriform development of being church which everyone could fill in as he pleased (more or less formal, more or less emphasis on "the office"), but rather in the direction of a development of a basic model (during his second missionary journey, Paul appointed presbyters everywhere), that co­hered with the synagogue and in principle is the same for all churches. The structures of both "the office" and the charismata in the congregation have their unique place.3

Priesthood of Believers🔗

Dr. Brienen and Dr. Graafland wish to place all the emphasis on the general priesthood of all believers. I agree that that concept is much richer than we usually are aware of. We need to bring out this biblical concept much more than we tend to do. A great deal more could be done in the congregation than we realize if we only would consider what God's Word says on this and go back to the ideal of the Reforma­tion. Over against the Roman Catholic Church teaching that the laity are dependent on the ordained priesthood, the Reformation confessed that we are justified by faith and not by the ordained priest. That opens a very wide perspective: the call of every Christian to serve his neighbor with the everlasting Gospel.

Nevertheless, when we fully activate the priesthood of all believers, we need to honour the boundaries of Scriptural possibilities. Office and congregation belong together. The office does not replace the congregation, as the Roman Catholic Church in fact did. But as long as the church is here on earth, it is in need of the special office, in accordance with Scripture.

It is remarkable that although the word "of­fice" does occur in extra-biblical Greek it does not occur in the New Testament. The word diakonia occurs in the New Testament. It occurs no less than 34 times. This indicates that "the office" in the congregation of Christ cannot be compared to anything else in society. It has a unique character.

The Root of Diakonia is in Christ🔗

That unique character is related to the fact that the root of all diakonia is in Christ Himself. "I am among you as one who serves" (= diako­noon) (Luke 22:27). As a servant Christ gives His life as a ransom in the place of many (Mark 10:45). Jesus' service is the ministry of reconciliation, for which He gave His life.

He calls His followers to "serve."

If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant (diakonos) of all.Mark 9:35; cf. Mark 10:42-44

It is impossible to belong to Jesus and not to perform this service. Each believer is to use whatever gifts he has received to serve others (1 Peter 4:10). The collection that Paul organized for the poor in the Jerusalem church, by the mission field, can be described as a "service" (Romans 15:25; 2 Corinthians 8:19, 20). In Hebrews 6:10 we read about ministering (diakoneoo) to the saints. Likewise, in Ephesians 4:12 we read that the ascended Lord has given apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers to prepare the saints for works of service (diakonias).

Diakonia in the Special Office🔗

It is remarkable that also the work of the special officebearers is described as diakonia. Peter in Acts 1:17 speaks about "this ministry" (diakonias) and in 1:25 about "this apostolic ministry" (diakonias). Likewise, Paul calls himself diakonos in 1 Corinthians 3:5 and 2 Corinthians 3:6. He calls himself a diakonos of God in 2 Corinthians 6:4 and in 2 Corinthians 11:23 and 1 Timothy 4:6 a diakonos of Christ. In Ephesians 3:7 and Colossians 1:23 he calls himself a diakonos of the Gospel. In Colossians 1:25 he calls himself a diakonos of the church. He calls the preaching of the Gospel "the ministry (diakonian) of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18). He describes his apostolic office as "ministry" (diakonian) (2 Corinthians 4:1; cf. 2 Corinthians 6:3). Diakonia therefore characterizes also the special office.

Diakonia with Authority🔗

The New Testament sees "the office" as diakonia with authority. That is in first instance the case with the Lord Jesus Christ. "The Son of man has authority to forgive sins" (Mark 2:10). The same word is used with reference to the disciples when

He sends them out two by two. Then He gave them authority over evil spirits.Mark 6:7; cf. 3:15

At the time of His ascension into heaven the Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples that "all authority" had been given to Him (Matthew 28:18). He in turn entrusted this "authority" to the disciples, because he who received them received Jesus Himself (Matthew 10:40). Similarly, Paul writes about "the authority" that the Lord gave him (2 Corinthians 10:8; 13:10). He brings out that authority when at the start of his letters he introduces himself as "the apostle of Christ" (Romans 1:1; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 2 Corinthians 1:1; Galatians 1:1, etc.). In view of that he urges the brothers at Corinth "to submit to such as these and everyone who joins in the work, and labors at it" (1 Corinthians 16:16) and admonishes the broth­ers in Thessalonica to acknowledge "those who are over you in the Lord" and to hold them in the highest regard (1 Thessalonians 5:12).

There is therefore "authority" joined to the special "office", but it should be clear that this "authority" may never be dictatorship. The special office bearer may not lord it over others in the congregation. Rather it is the "authority" of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven: if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.John 20:23; cf. Matthew 18:18

Diakonia therefore implies that as office bearers we have something to say (and do). The "authority' is related to the redemption that Christ causes to be ministered by the means of grace, in which the office bearers are given a function. This ministry is bound to Word and Spirit. The "office" is diakonia, because it may testify in word and deed of the redemption in Christ Jesus. Diakonia is the task and the authority to minister the redemp­tion to others, in the proclamation of the Word, in pastoral, catechetical, and diaconal work. The "office" is a task which can only be performed in the form of a servant.4

If we misjudge the character of "the office," then we assault the cause of Christ and lay violent hands on the sheep of His flock. If we lose sight of the "authority" of this diakonia, then we degrade the Word of Christ. Then we debase the "authority of Jesus" to something that is at our disposal and that the members of the congregation respond to as they please. We can bear the "office" only as servants of Jesus Christ. That service can only have signifi­cance if it is an instrument through which Christ ministers His redemption. That is the tension and the restriction. We are to be servants of Jesus Christ and serve persons for whom he has come to serve. There is no greater service than being an instrument of the Lord (the Diakonos) Jesus Christ, who was among His disciples as one who serves (= diakonoon) (Luke 22:27).5


  1. ^ T. Brienen, "Handboek voor de diaconiologie. Inleiding in de theologie van de "bediening van het Woord" in al zijn dimensies" (Heerenveen: Groen, 1999).
  2. ^ Quite often we have distinguished between "office" as the work to which the Lord calls us and for which he has given us gifts (charismata) and diakonia as characterizing the way in which the Lord calls us to do that work.
  3. ^ Dr. C. Graafland, "Gedachten over het ambt" (Zoetermeer: Boekencentrum, 1999).
  4. ^ Cf. J. P. Versteeg, "Nieuwtestamentisch profiel van de ouderling," in "Uit liefde tot Christus en Zijn gemeente: Een handreiking aan de ouderling," eds. D. Koole, W.H. Velema (Kampen: Kok, 1982), 15-19 (11-55).
  5. ^ Cf. J. P. Versteeg, "Ambt en charisma in de nieuwestamentische kerk," in "Ambtelijk Contact" 9 (November 1977), 116-120.

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