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Editor's note: The year this CL was written is not known; it is believed to have been in the mid-1820s. - jrd

Circular Letter
The Georgia Association of Baptist Churches
By J. Lumpkin

The Duties of the Deacon's Office

Very Dear Brethren, -- As you expect an annual address from us, touching those things which may promote Zion's welfare, we deem it expedient to remind you of the duties attached to the Deacon's office. To this we are induced from a belief, that a want of due regard to the high character which this office sustains in the word of the Lord, in the choice of those who fill it, may, (if it has not already) become the heaviness of the Church. Supposing it possible that the Church should have brought down the standard in the choice of this class of her officers, is it not equally possible that the views of the chosen will also be limited in relation to their duty? It is more than possible, it is very probable. While we would hope better things, although we thus speak, we would entreat you to indulge us in reminding you of the sacred duties of this holy office. It originated after the day of Pentecost, when the number of the disciples increased, so that it was impracticable for the Apostles to attend to the secular concerns of the Church, and at the same time give themselves wholly to prayer and the ministry of the word; to meet the present exigency, and to give a precedent for their successors, they convened the multitude of the disciples, and laid before them this business, and advised them to select from among themselves, a suitable person of proper characters for this service. In as much therefore as the duties they were called unto, were prior to this time incumbent on the ministry, it was but reasonable that the character of the deacon should be the same as that of the minister in all points, except those which are inseperably connected with the ministry of the word. Those who were first appointed to this office were men "of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom," subsequent to this period none were admitted to this important trust, except those who were "grave," "holding the mystery of the faith in a pure conscience, ruling their children and own houses well, being found blameless." A person who on examination was found to possess these qualifications was put into this office, the duties of which are summarily comprehended in the words "serve tables," which is generally supposed to include the table of the Lord, that of the poor saints and the Ministers.

The particular crisis of time, and peculiar circumstances of the Church, most probably made the first of these duties more important than it now is, in this much favoured day and country, yet the obligation is the same and must remain. "The poor ye hare always with you." If then diligent search was made, by men possessing dispositions like Stephen and Philip, would there be none found who need relief? It is admitted by all, that a large proportion of those who receive the word with gladness are indigent, consequently we may expect at all times that the reason why those who are denominated poor are not relieved, is not because no such objects exist, but because duty is neglected.

On the requisite preparations for the table of the Lord, so well understood and universally practised, we deem it superfluous to remark; nevertheless the arrangements and manner of this solemn service, should be in exact accordance with the word of the Lord. As a denomination we have relied for the success of our peculiar opinions, much more on making all things according to the pattern given in the scriptures, than an ingenious gloss given to doubtful evidence, surely then, it believes those whose duty it is, to provide the elements, to receive them, again at the hands of the minister, and distribute them, to make such arrangements, and so to conduct this solemn scene, as shall tend to sustain the Church in her claims to peculiarity.

The last, but perhaps not the least difficult of these primary duties enjoined, is to provide for those who minister in holy things. That this is incumbent on the Church, and imperious, and that it is the business of those whose duty we herein point out to attend to it, we need not urge; the extent also of this provision is too obvious, to leave the mind under the shadow of a doubt. It should be such as to enable the minister of the Gospel to give himself, wholly to the duties of his office. We are aware dear brethren, that hitherto insuperable difficulties have attended the exertions which have been made to unfetter the ministry, and thereby more extensively promote Zion's best interests, fears have arisen, that liberal attention to this subject would make ministers vain. This is most probably used to evade duty. We cannot know what the effect would be until we have adopted the measure, and should we find this result, some expedient should be immediately resorted to, to free the Garden of the Lord, from such noxious weeds. But the man of God is not exalted in himself, when additional facilities are afforded him, for promoting the Saviour's cause. Every Minister of the Gospel should be regarded as a faithful missionary, whose all, is sacredly consecrated to the Lord. When you augment his one talent to a million, you produce in his views and feelings this change only, a sense of additional responsibility to Christ, and His Church.

Obstacles have attended the efforts which have been made to effectuate this much desired object, from the variety of grades of talent employed in the ministry, especially on the part of those who bear the appellation of unpopular preachers. If those who were otherwise, have rendered themselves so deservedly, by immoral conduct, or other improprieties let them be discontinued -- hence this objection is removed. But is it not brethren to be feared (we ask with much hesitancy,) that most of those to whom the objection applies, never were otherwise? That from some cause men have been admitted, or put forward to this important work, so deficient in education -- limited in information -- of such ordinary natural talents -- or mere novitiates in Theology, that the Saviour's cause suffers in their hands? Does it require a number of years of close application to the study of the law, to prepare a man for the bar? An equally laborious course of studies, is required to prepare a man to skilfully practice medicine, and even the mechanic must toil for years before he is master of his art, and shall the sole qualification for the ministry be a desirous mind, or a professed supernatural call, in giving credence to which, we must impeach the wisdom of the Deity? To the law and to the testimony -- there is neither precept nor example in the Bible which will sustain those who foster such a practice. Let such only be admitted to participate in ministerial functions as are able "rightly to divide the word of truth," or are of fair promise to become such by prayer, meditation, reading and labouring in word and doctrine, and the last mentioned objection will cease to exist. Do we consult and at any expense engage the ablest counsel to obtain or defend the rights of our perishable property? Do we not procure the most skilful Physician to prescribe for temporary relief of our decaying bodies? And can we be so indifferent to our eternal interests, as to have one to administer to the wants of our souls, who through his limited abilities may destroy, but cannot save? It cannot be.

Let the Deacons then be men of piety, zeal and wisdom, let them consider themselves assistants of the minister in his laborious duties, ascertaining who are in need of supplies for this life, or that which is to come, let them from the Church fund, by order of the body, furnish the table of the Lord, supply the poor saints, and so provide for the minister of their congregation, that he may be content to be the servant of the Church and people, for Jesus sake, the being qualified to speak a word in season and devoted to his work, his profiting will appear to all, an incalculable growth in those who now labour in word and doctrine might be expected. "A great company of the Priests were obedient to the faith," when the first Deacons faithfully did their duty, and the word of God increased, "and the number of the disciples multiplied greatly," even in "Jerusalem" the metropolis of Judea. Brethren Deacons "use your office well, purchase to yourselves a good degree and great boldness in the faith." Dear brethren of the Church in general, these officers are your servants to disperse your bounty; they cannot act without means, see then that they are so supplied, that nothing be found wanting. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.
JESSE MERCER, Moderator.
J. P. MARSHALL, Clerk.
[From Jesse Mercer, A History of the Georgia Baptist Association, Washington, GA., 1838. Scanned and formatted by Jim Duvall.]

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