Calvin on the diaconate as Christ’s spiritual government.
Yesterday I indicated that I would provide a few quotations from Calvin to demonstrate that he viewed the diaconate as part of Christ’s spiritual government, or as an expression of his spiritual kingdom. There are more, but given that these come from a work I hope to publish in an academic journal, I’ll leave it at this for now.
In the Institutes Calvin argues that the work of deacons is not to be understood as part of the civil government: “it was not secular management that they were undertaking, but a spiritual function dedicated to God” (4.4.5). He clearly places the deacons in the order of ministers that together make up the order of church government and he discusses the diaconate under the category of spiritual government, not civil government (4.4.1). Calvin’s insistence on this point is even clearer in his sermons on 1 Timothy 3:8-13, where he carefully distinguishes the civil magistrate from the deacon and places the latter in the spiritual government. “It is true that those who are in the office of justice also do God service … But these deacons appertain to the spiritual government which God has established.” In that sense preachers and deacons hold parallel offices. “Because the question touches the spiritual government which God has established among his, St. Paul wills that they who are ordained, whether to preach the Gospel or to care for the poor, be of unblameable life.”
Why does this matter? Justice for the poor is a fundamental concern of the kingdom of God. Indeed, it is so fundamental that for Calvin, and for the New Testament, it is the raison d’etre for the second most prominent office in the church.