THE REFORMATION AND THE DIACONATE
“No one in 1500 thought that by 1600 the church would be divided into Catholics, Lutherans, members of the Reformed tradition, plus other independent groups. Many in 1500 were interested in reform, but it was the reform of the church they knew to make it more akin to its origins, and so make European society more Christian”1.
Thus writes Ken Booth at the beginning of his overview of reform. An overview of the period is a good way for us to begin this topic so that we can see the changes in the diaconate in context.
An overview of the events leading up to and around the Reformation. For example,
‘Reform’ Unit 3, Chapter 6 in God’s Never-Ending Story by Ken Booth, available through Theology House, Christchurch
Among other things, the Reformation sought to end the powerful dominance of priesthood, monasteries and religious orders in the West. As welfare and community service roles were redirected some Protestant churches retained deacons as administrators of charitable aid while others involved civic authorities and laity instead.
Luther can be seen as leading the effort to return the diaconate to what he understood to be its biblical function: the administration of charity to the poor. In ‘A prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’ (1520) Luther writes:
And the diaconate is not the ministry of reading the Gospel or Epistle, as is the present practice, but the ministry of distributing the Church’s alms to the poor, so that the priests may be relieved of the burden of temporal matters and may give themselves more freely to prayer and the Word. For this was the purpose of the institution of the diaconate, as we read in Acts 6.2
However, for the most part, the Church of England, like Roman Catholicism, retained the liturgically - focussed deacon passing through a diaconate ‘stage’ on to priesthood. We turn now to our text to read Olson’s comprehensive summary of the changes of that period. As you read, you might find it helpful to identify two or three words that characterize the role of the deacon in each of the emerging branches of Christianity.
- Chapter 3. The Reformation
- Chapter 4. From the Protestant reformation to the Nineteenth century
Note that not all the reformers treated the diaconate in the same way. The effects of this diversity has significant implications for renewal today as ordained deacons and lay diaconal workers across denominations endeavour to reach common understanding on their ministry. Finally go back to Barnett for his discussion on the overall changing understanding of ministry and church.
- Chapter 7 Organism as the Principle of Renewal
Reminder: these worksheets require 2-3 SHORT answers each as part of an ongoing reflection on the material being read. Answers may be written out (two-three sentences at most ) and posted or, preferably, sent to me directly by email as soon as they are completed. Answers will not be graded but merit will be accorded upon satisfactory completion of all the worksheets.
Please answer as simply as possible and send each one as soon as you complete it.
- Note down one new thing you learned or were reminded of as you read Olson Chapter 3 on the reformation.
- In a few words summarize the two main approaches to the diaconate that emerged during the Reformation.
- Barnett writes of two ways of thinking of the nature and function of the Church (p.129). Which of these two is closest to representing your faith community or local church?
- Ken Booth, ‘Reform’, in God’s Never-ending Story, Module 3: The Story Continues, ( Christchurch: Theology House, 2004) p. 39
- Martin Luther, ‘A prelude on the Babylonian Captivity of the Church’ in Three Treatises, trans. by A W T Steinhauser, (Philadelphia: The Muhlenberg Press, 1947) p. 235.