Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Can we have an episcopal polity without actually having bishops?
Loyal churchmen agree on the necessity of episcopal government for the English church; after all, it is this aspect of our polity that distinguishes true Anglicans from nonconformists and other evildoers. It would be preferable, however, if the English church could find a way retain its episcopal polity without having bishops. However respectable a bishop might be in his personal character, he is sure to give the wrong impression when he appears in a service to perform some ceremonial function. Clad in special garments and attended by specially-trained acolytes, the bishop appears for all the world as though he is a prelate with special spiritual powers rather than an administrator whose time would be better spent attending budget meetings and writing letters to the editor.
At first I was sure some Lutherans had infiltrated the ranks of the Low Churchmen or hacked into their web site. For, so surely does this paragraph capture the sentiments of Lutherans who would like to have a less democratic style of governance but without actually having bishops who say or do or act churchly, that I was sure some Lutheran spoofed me.
In the Missouri Synod we have those who be content with paper pushers (as long as the paper is being pushed in the direction they approve). Some speak of our District Presidents as glorified accountants or office administrators or meeting specialists. They even deny a DP the title "Pastor" until they actually have a call from a congregation (so I guess we cannot complain about Pastor Harrison in this way, what with his call and such).
At the very same time, however, these same folks decry the lack of attention given to those parishes and Pastors who wander from the accepted Synodical practice and teaching. "Do something," they cry! But to do something, these paper pushers must have episcopal authority (specifically, the authority to supervise doctrine and practice of those Pastors and parishes within their geographical boundaries).
We lament the plight of our Synod -- the diversity too diverse for many of us -- but the answer lies clearly in DPs acting episcopally -- that is paying attention to and addressing doctrine and practice within their areas of geographic responsibility. Do we really want men who will attend budget meetings, write letters, show up to preach at anniversaries, and read their parts in the rites of ordination and installation? Is that enough? I dare say it is not enough for either side of the LCMS spectrum. So, if that is the way it is, we must accord them some measure of episcopal authority (oversight) and pray that they will exercise this honestly, pastorally, with wisdom and discretion.
Leave the clerical collar and cope at home, we say. Come with humility when we call you. But when we need you, do not dilly dally. And when we deliver to you the great problems worthy of Solomon, you better figure out how to make us all happy. Or we will not send in the missions check this month. This is the not so subtle dilemma in which some of our districts and their presidents find themselves.
Personally, I would rather have someone who preaches, teaches, and practices faithfully and who calls the Pastors and parishes under his care to such faithfulness. Accountability is not a bad thing. In the end, if it takes some purple fabric, a good sized pectoral cross, and some authority to back up his words, I am willing to take it in order to get some visitation and supervision. Maybe the low church Lutherans fear this more than death itself but I welcome such godly leadership.