Thursday, January 24, 2019
Are they really bishops?
There are those in the Missouri Synod who insist we do not have bishops. I pray that they are wrong. I do not care if they wear cope and miter or carry a staff or have a ring to kiss but I do care that they take most seriously the role that they play in the unity of the church, the integrity of our doctrine and practice, and the good reputation of our church and her clergy before the world as much as within her people. I hope and pray that all those with loud protest against bishops are wrong. It is my daily duty and at every Divine Service to pray for Roger, my District President and bishop, who exercises this particular ministry of oversight and ecclesiastical discipline within the confines of my district. His job is difficult -- made even more difficult by our congregational structure as well as the independence and isolation of many within the district. I am sure that his plate is fuller than I even care to know but I daily rejoice that faithful men carry out this special duty among us and I am happy to call him my bishop -- no matter what the nomenclature of his official office.
We have all seen the breakdown of the episcopal office in Rome. Bishops in so many churches have become jokes -- from the infamous (James Pike and John Shelby Spong) to the embarrassing (Gene Robinson) to the scandalous (Theodore McCarrick). But the Episcopal Church and Rome are not alone in there need for real bishops. They have all the outward vesture and appointments of the office but they fail when they must stand for truth, for the integrity of what is believed and confessed, as teachers and preachers of the Word that endures forever, and as guardians of the sacred duty of maintaining this discipline among an increasingly undisciplined lot.
Rome is greatly concerned about form -- specifically the form of the consecration. Rome is all about proper order -- and that is important -- but what good is the form all nice and neat and wrapped up with a ribbon but without the ministry itself? Minus the ecclesiastical supervision, a Roman bishop is like a kid dressing up but not really a cowboy or firefighter or Jedi or whatever. Lutherans, in particular my own jurisdiction of the Missouri Synod, has always been suspicious of the accoutrements and title. Whatever. But without the ecclesiastical supervision, a Lutheran District President is but an elected paper pusher and business administrator, like a boss who imagines himself a captain of industry. The problem is that the Church is not a business and should not behave like one (though even in business there appears to be more accountability than you too often find in the Church).
We have got to stop squabbling about the word and the appointments of the office and realize and reclaim the essential and profound episcopal role. Call him what you will, he is key to the health of the faith inside the church and its good reputation before the world -- every bit as much as is every individual priest and pastor and perhaps even more so. So as we make our way through this new year, pray for the man who exercises this responsibility on your behalf for the sake of the church. Even better, let him know of your prayerful support. And do not shy from his ministry when it is directed your way. If we are being faithful, we have nothing to fear and everything to gain from him who tells those in our care and those in the community around us that we have done well as good and faithful servants of the Word, called and ordained, set apart and installed for the particular ministry of the Word and Sacraments of the Lord in this particular place.