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The Deacon: The Biblical Roots and the Ministry of Mercy Today (Van Dam)

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Reformation Heritage Books
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The office of deacon is God’s gift to His church, but today it is often undervalued, misunderstood, and perceived to be of little importance. In The Deacon, the author considers the Old Testament background for this calling, the deacon in New Testament times and in church history, and the current function of the office. You will rediscover the high and privileged calling of deacons and come to a better understanding of what God requires of them.

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Table of Contents:



Part 1—The Old Testament Background

1. The Poor in Israel

2. Providing for the Poor

Part 2—New Testament Times

3. Christ’s Teaching on the Poor and Needy

4. Ministering to the Poor in Acts 6

5. The Office of Deacon

6. Female Deacon?

Part 3—The Office of Deacon in the History of the Church

7. The Testimony of the Early Church and the Heritage of the Reformation

8. Women and the Diaconate 

Part 4—The Current Functioning of the Office

9. The Official Position of the Deacon Today

10. Enabling and Prioritizing

11. The Diaconal Ministry within the Congregation

12. The Diaconal Ministry outside the Congregation

13. The Blessing of the Poor 

Questions for Study and Reflection

Resources for Further Study on Deacons



Cornelis Van Dam is emeritus professor of Old Testament at Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Ontario. He is the author of The Elder: Today’s Ministry Rooted in All of Scripture.



“Dr. Van Dam’s book is an excellent treatment of the work of deacons. Writing from a Reformed perspective, he discusses the biblical foundations (both Old and New Testament), church-historical developments, and practical aspects of the work of deacons today. I plan to prescribe this book as a textbook for diaconal studies at seminary. While the content is rooted in scholarly research, it is written in such a way that deacons, deacons-in-training, and interested church members will enjoy reading and studying the book.” — Arjan de Visser, professor of ecclesiology and diaconiology, Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary

“Deacons are Christ’s priestly heart and arms of mercy reaching to, embracing, and showing compassion to the poor and afflicted. Unfortunately, there are few helpful, compelling books on the deacon’s office today. This one is a notable exception. Drawing from his careful research in Holy Scripture and Christian history, Cornelis Van Dam lays out a clear and compelling case for what diaconal ministry should look like today. Highly recommended!” — Joel R. Beeke, president, Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary, Grand Rapids, Michigan

“Dr. Van Dam has provided the modern church with a much-needed work on the office of the deacon. In a day and age when pastors and their congregations are confused about what a biblical deacon does—and does not do—Dr. Van Dam brings clarity by providing the Old Testament background for the New Testament deacon as well as a treatment of the office of the deacon in the history of the church. This is a book for professors, pastors, seminary students, diaconates, and congregations. I highly recommend this timely work!” — Ron Gleason, senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church, Yorba Linda, California

“In Christian literature on the offices of the church, eldership has usually received the lion's share of reflection and discussion, an understandable situation in view of the amount of material on this subject in the New Testament. Yet the other New Testament office, the diaconate, is also an apostolic institution and well deserving of significant ecclesial reflection, especially in view of its service to the poor. This new study by Cornelis Van Dam provides such reflection, covering, as it does, the Old Testament roots of the office, the entire range of material about deacons in the New Testament, and the varied historical expressions of the diaconate. This is a solid, well-argued study that will be of great benefit to the church as a whole and to deacons in particular. Highly recommended!” — Michael A. G. Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“What are deacons? In a lot of churches, they are ‘junior elders.’ What is really needed is a fuller study of the office as it unfolds from the Old Testament into the New. Besides careful exegesis and a sharp eye for the unfolding drama of redemption, there needs to be a solid grasp of the historical development of the office in the church. Finally, we need the wisdom of experience in the life of actual churches to deal with issues that we face in churches today. All of these prerequisites are fulfilled in this immensely readable and wise volume. After serving us so well with his book on elders, Professor Van Dam now invites us to rediscover the potential of a biblically defined and robust diaconate. I hope this book enjoys the widest readership.” — Michael Horton, J. Gresham Machen Professor of Theology, Westminster Seminary California

“Cornelis Van Dam has done for the deacon what he did earlier for the elder: written an invaluable resource for anyone who wishes to have a biblically based, historically grounded, and eminently sensible contemporary description of the diaconate. I was impressed by the broad and up-to-date scholarship (both biblical and historical) on which it is based, the straightforward language in which it is written, and the practical good sense with which it is laced. Another one of the book’s strengths, given the author’s academic specialty, is that the Old Testament is not neglected. In fact, the eye-opening first part of the book is a short biblical theology of the diaconate, which sets the stage for the entire work. At the same time, Van Dam deals with a host of practical issues which confront the deacon in contemporary Western society. I personally found especially valuable his survey of the history of the diaconate, which shows considerable variation in practice not only in the history of the church generally but also within the Reformed/Presbyterian tradition. I recommend it warmly to a wide readership.” — Al Wolters, emeritus professor of religion, Redeemer University, Ancaster, Ontario

“Van Dam has provided the church with a very helpful contribution on an essential, though too often undervalued part of its life and ministry. Clearly written and well organized, The Deacon is marked by sound insight throughout in its treatment of the pertinent biblical materials and their theological implications as well as its observations on the office of deacon in the past. The practical instruction it provides for those serving as deacons is balanced and wise. I highly recommend it as a valuable resource both for deacons and for those interested in their work.” — Richard B. Gaffin Jr., professor of biblical and systematic theology, emeritus, Westminster Theological Seminary