Sunday, November 3, 2013

Reflections on the Episcopacy

Several responses to our recent blogs about reducing bishops and dioceses made the assumption that Episcopal Journey of Hope authors are against bishops.  Bishop Daniel Martins defended the "esse" of bishops by misquoting Ignatius of Antioch when he wrote, "where the Bishop is, there is the Church.  Actually, a more precise translation of Ignatius is this:  "Where the bishop is present, there let the congregation gather.  Just as where Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church."

This translation, which is more accurate than Bishop Martin's, leaves the traditional Ignatian teaching less precise and more open.  It introduces a more spiritual approach to the development of the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons.  For Ignatius, the authority of church officers is not derived from a chain of teaching chairs (Irenaeus) or from a succession of ordinations (Augustine) but from the fact that their offices are the earthly representation of a heavenly pattern.  This does not negate the fact that we Anglicans have inherited the Augustinian tradition and therefore, as Anglicans, we follow the Roman teaching.  At Episcopal Journey of Hope we are aware of this and we subscribe to the fact that bishops are essential to the life of the church.  We may question the number of bishops we have in TEC, but we do not deny the fact that Episcope is of the essential to the life of Anglicanism.

Recently I found a set of preliminary papers for the last Lambeth Conference, 2008, that were written by Anglican theologians throughout the world. In one of the papers, "The Significance of the Episcopal Office for the Communion of the Church, Inter Anglican Theological and Doctrinal Commission, October 2007," presented ten theses with explanations on the theology of the Episcopate.  I give the these to you without the theological comments.  You can find the entire text if you "google" theology of the episcopate.  It goes without saying that these theses were written for bishops and therefore present a bias in this regard.

Thesis One:  The Bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel into which the baptised are incorporated by God the Holy Spirit.

Thesis Two:  The bishop's evangelical office of proclamation and witness is a fundamental means by which those who hear the call of God become one in Christ.

Thesis Three:  The bishop is a teacher and defender of the apostolic faith that binds believers into one body.

Thesis Four:  The Bishop has oversight (episcope) of the household of God for the good order of the Church.

Thesis Five:  The bishop is called to coordinate the gifts of the people of God for the building up of the faithful for the furtherance of God's mission.

Thesis Six:  The bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel through care, encouragement and discipline of the pastors of the Church.

Thesis Seven:  The bishop serves the koinonia of the gospel through a ministry of mediation to recall the broken and conflicted body of Christ to its reconciled life in him.

Thesis Eight:  The catholicity of the episcopal office connects the baptised across boundaries of culture, class, gender, race and lands and enables the church to realize its oneness in Christ.

Thesis Nine:  The bishops serves the collegial life of the Church through the nurture of strong bonds with bishops of the Anglican Communion and those who share episcope in other Christian traditions.

Thesis Ten:  A diocesan bishop is given responsibility to episcope in the particular place where the bishop is the principal pastor.

While realizing that these theses represent the traditional Roman and Anglican nature of the Episcopacy, I personally reserve judgment on their theological significance.  There merely reflect the theology inherent in the Episcopal Ordination service. What is significant for Episcopal Journey of Hope is that they do not give a detailed format about how Episcopacy should function in modern society.  For us the hope for the church of the future is that at least in TEC we can reorganize our diocesan structures in such a way as to reflect the reality of our size.

For further information go to the Lambeth webpage:  Click on documents and scroll down to Section G:  Anglican Bishops, Anglican Identity, Section 104, The Service we Offer as Bishops.


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  2. Bob, thank you for continuing the discussion concerning the role of the Bishop; nowhere in the ten suppositions is there guidance for the Church when in decline. The National Church reports a five year decline of Active Baptized Members as follows: 2008 lost 59,457; 2009 lost 51,949; 2010 lost 54,436; 2011 lost 28,861; and 2012 lost 28,865. This is a net loss of nearly a quarter of a million members!!! Common sense suggests a downsizing of the number of bishops and dioceses by a dozen or more. After all, the bishop and staff are by far the most expensive item in the diocesan budget.