Friday, November 21, 2014
Having a bishop and/or the exercise of episcopal authority
That said, we do confer episcopal authority to a specific set of ordained men -- both on a national level and within mostly geographic districts. This ministry of oversight (though I detest our fear of using the term episcopal authority) is essential to any and every church body with integrity of doctrine and practice. They are not shift supervisors but exercise real episcopal authority over the doctrine and practice within their area of responsibility -- over both clergy and congregations.
Congregations are free to organize themselves as they will (within certain parameters) and to administer their own affairs as they choose (again within broad parameters) but we believe that doctrine and practice are not congregational or private but the most public expression of who we are as the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod. Therefore congregations and clergy voluntarily surrender a measure of their independence to live within the common confession and life of a church structure in which certain officers have authority over their doctrine and practice.
I personally think it is a bit of foolishness not to call them bishops. Others may disagree. What all agree upon is that having people called bishop is itself no guarantee of orthodoxy or faithfulness in doctrine and practice. What we should also be able to agree upon is that the episcopal exercise of such authority is essential to maintaining the bond of peace, sustaining the catholic confession, and practicing faithfully who we are. The problem here is not what you call them but whether or not they will act upon the authority invested in them to oversee the doctrine and practice of those within their responsibility. Sometimes those with the most hierarchical structure are positively abysmal at this oversight (thinking here the Episcopal Church). Sometimes those most adverse to calling them bishops act like them (thinking here a few of the most faithful District Presidents in the LCMS).
We have watched the Extraordinary Synod in Rome (which calls them bishops) and found, to our shock, that on some votes (120 to 60) a significant number of their overseers have some very different viewpoints on what is faithful doctrine and practice (the polarities between Cardinals Burke and Kasper are hard to miss). Indeed, one Roman Catholic commentator has suggested the most basic benefit of that Synod was to find out who is for us and who is against us. Therein lies the rub. You do not need to wear the title bishop to think that you have the right to depart from Scripture and the catholic tradition. It happens all the time.
None of us delights in those who use their authority to chafe and irritate but what the churches need now more than ever are faithful overseers (really, could we not just use the churchly term bishop?) who speak the truth in love to those tempted to surrender the truth for the sake of love. Rome needs them, Constantinople needs them, Canterbury needs them, and, guess what, St. Louis needs them. We need more than administrators but teachers and examples of the faith who will challenge us to be the best we can be, living in faithfulness to our confession and in fervent service and submission to the saving will of Christ. We need men who can say to the stupid stuff, "stop." We need men who can say to the distracted, "pay attention." We need men who can say to those who wanna be somebody else, be faithful to your confession. Period. We need men who can say to congregations "you cannot do that" and to clergy "enough already." And we also need men who can speak positively and passionately why we believe, confess, and teach this and why the world needs to hear it. When you get bishops like that, it matters less what you call them than you listen to them!