Thursday, October 3, 2013

Death of the Bishop

Justice of God
There was a time in Christianity when regional pastors, called "Bishops" would spend most of their time articulating the precepts of the Faith, defending against heretical encroachment, and all around general exposition of historic Christianity. But now, those days are all but gone.  Instead pastors are too busy tending "local churches".  It would be too disruptive, too messy for a pastor to take on the heresies that batter the Church. Instead, individual "laymen" who come across these heresies are either left to fall prey to them or to battle them on their own without much support from the local congregation. Listen to this article: HISTORY OF THE BISHOP The role or office of bishop is often considered a Roman Catholic thing, but the English word is from the Greek word, episkopos which means overseer. It is where we get the word Episcopal. Biblically speaking, there appeared to be little to no distinction between an elder, a pastor, or a bishop. However, in due time bishops began to fill the role of regional pastor. Often, the early bishops were close followers of the apostles. Titus and Timothy might be considered the first bishops in that Paul left them in charge of appointing elders or local pastors for the churches in Ephesus and Crete. (1 Tim 1:3, Titus 1:5). Long before Rome became a central Christian city, other places had bishops. Perhaps the clearest distinction of the role of bishop is outlined by Ignatius, bishop of Antioch writing before 117AD. Ignatius wrote several epistles wherein he gives great deference to the role of bishop.
"In like manner, let all reverence the deacons as an appointment of Jesus Christ, and the bishop as Jesus Christ, who is the Son of the Father, and the presbyters as the sanhedrim of God, and assembly of the apostles. Apart from these, there is no Church." (Epistle to the Trallians 3:1)
Notice that Ignatius clearly distinguishes presbyters (elders), deacons, and bishop. So, we can see at this early date, even before the rise of Roman Catholicism that historic Christianity acknowledged the role of regional pastor or bishop. Notice also, that Ignatius says that without these roles or functions that then there is "no Church". Again, the role of bishop, which is sorely missing today, was considered crucial to the Church. Christian apologist, Justin Martyr writing before 165AD spoke of the "president of the brethren", which unlike a "session" of elders seems to have been more like our modern day pastor, or perhaps more like a bishop that would eventually be replaced by elders as the congregations grew in a region. (source) History reveals that these bishops were crucial to the proper functioning and defense of the Church. Without these bishops, many heresies would have prevailed against the Church. As time went on, the Roman Catholic system mixed with the Roman political system corrupted the role of the bishop. On the political side, the bishop began to act more like a Roman governor and on the ecclesiastical side came the concept of "apostolic succession". Whereas this term may originally have been innocent enough, meaning merely a stand-in for the role of apostle but without the inspiration, eventually the Roman Catholics consider "apostolic succession" to come also with inspiration or infallibility -- thus was born the role of pope. After the Protestant Reformation, the role and function of bishop was so aligned with the concept of pope or the papal structure that the role and function of regional bishop was all but abandoned at first. Some modern Protestant denominations do have bishops but they mainly function to ordain local pastors or elders. They are otherwise rarely in focus. But what I see as an overall problem with the "death" of the bishop is that as I said, local pastors are too busy with their congregations' day to day welfare to concern themselves with things like encroaching heresies (see 1 Tim 1:3). This leaves this task either undone or left to para-church organizations such as "counter-cult" ministries or so-called "discernment ministries". Individual Christians who become prey to cults and heresies are almost left to fend for themselves. Worse yet, a local pastor may simply tell a person who had fallen prey to a heresy that they should just get back into a local congregation and forget about the heresy and its effects -- almost an ostrich in the sand approach. And if the person continues to fight the heresy, the local congregation usually views them as disruptive and will not tolerate them within the congregation. Thus, such a person become disillusioned with Christianity as a whole. With the role and function of bishop all but abandoned, the Church has been suffering onslaught after onslaught of creeping "false doctrines". Those individual Christians who attempt to fight against these false doctrines are being told it is not their role or business and that they should simply get under the authority of the local pastor and forget that the sovereign God led them through that heresy for a reason. There is no bishop to carry out the role and function. The individual "laymen" is told he or she has no standing and thus heresy abounds.

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