Saturday, August 10, 2019

Early development. . .

According to Eusebius (early Church historian who lived 260-340), Ignatius was bishop in Antioch for nearly forty years. If we look at this timetable, that would mean he had been named bishop of the Church while at least some of the original apostles were still alive.  He was arrested and was sent off to his eventual martyrdom in Rome in 107 AD. Let me put it another way, this means that Ignatius was closer to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, to the apostles and their preaching, and to the earliest shape of Christianity and Christian worship than any of us are to World War II.  That is something to consider.

We are not without a written glimpse into the life of the early Church.  For example, the seven letters of Ignatius that survive give us a remarkable picture of what the Church looked like within two full generations of Christ on the cross, the written record of the Book of Acts, and the epistles of St. Paul.  So what did the congregations and the ministry look like?  Alrleady the Church had grown since the days of the apostles and Ignatius saw a Christianity that had spread over a good part of what we know as modern Turkey with congregations in most major towns.

The principal leader of these congregations was called “bishop” (from the Greek episkopos, often translated “overseer”).  Ignatius reports on his meetings with these bishops from each sizable town along his journey across Turkey.  While they certainly did act as individual congregations, they were also profoundly connected as members together of the Body of Christ. In contrast to the present day when churches are seen as clubs of people who like the same things, the early congregations may have been geographically separated but they were united in doctrine and life and their practices sought to manifest this unity.

The locus or point of this unity was in the office of bishop.  Indeed, the letters of Ignatius speak of the office and role of the bishop in ways that both surprise and perhaps shock the modern ear.  “It is essential to act in no way without the bishop,” Ignatius to the Trallians. “Obey the bishop as if he were Jesus Christ” (2:2, 1). “Do nothing apart from the bishop,” Ignatius to the Philadelphians (7:2). Ignatius to the Smyrnaeans: “You should all follow the bishop as Jesus Christ did the Father . . . Nobody must do anything that has to do with the Church without the bishop’s approval” (8:1).  From these references we can presume the apostles appointed these officers of the Church (as St. Paul himself references). Peter and the apostles at Jerusalem added to these offices by appointing deacons to assist them in the distribution to widows and poor (cf. Acts 6:1-6). St. Paul records those whom he placed in the churches that he founded (Acts 14:23, 2Tim. 1:6).  In particular, St. Paul references how these were set in office by the laying on of hands (ordination).  This apostolic custom (which does not at all minimize the importance of this rite or its impact on us today) eventually was fleshed out into the forms almost universally known among liturgical churches today.

However, in this early period, the terminology and shape of these ordained officers or ministers was not set but rather fluid. For example, St. Paul spoke of “bishops and deacons” (Phil. 1:1) but also mentions “apostles,” “prophets,” and “teachers” (1 Cor. 12:29). St. James spoke of “elders” (Jas. 5:14). In the Acts of the Apostles, we also find “elders” or “presbyters” (e.g., Acts 11:30). Sometimes these terms were used interchangeably (bishop and elder).  But by the second half of the first century the terminology seems to coalesce around a more consistent form and definition. We see this in the letters of Ignatius where he mentions an order of “bishops, presbyters, and deacons” (Trallians 3:2, Polycarp 6:1). The “bishop” seems to be universally the highest office in each local church and more universal. “Presbyter,” from Greek presbyteros and translated either “elder” or "presbyter" and “deacon” (the Greek diakonos usually translated simply deacon but meaning “servant” or “minister,” were lesser offices. The term “priest” (the Greek hierus) was not used frequently in the earliest days to refer to the presbyter.

Lutherans acknowledge the right of the Church to add offices and to distinguish them as they wish but still affirm that the basic office is bishop understood here not in the modern sense of larger geographical responsibility and authority but primarily in terms of the congregation and the other offices assisting the bishop (pastor).  In fact, in Missouri Synod history, there was in the beginning only ever one pastor of the congregation even though other ordained assisted the one pastor.


Anonymous said...

If only the Lutheran Church would return to having Bishops as the historical Church always named. (Instead of the unscriptural, modern business term 'President')

Wait for it... wait for it... And now here's Carl:

Carl Vehse said...

Rev. Peters' last paragraph is correct in its discussion of the bishop (pastor). Amplifying on the last sentence, if it is in reference to Missouri Synod pre-history, that is the Missouri Saxon history of 1839, in his Stephanite Emigration to America (trans, Rudolph Fiehler, 1975), Dr. Carl Eduard Vehse states:

"On 14 January, 1839, our first day in the Gulf of Mexico, and six days before our arrival in New Orleans, he [Martin Stephan] instructed his vicar to prepare a document by which in the name of his colleagues--the clergy who had preceded him in the ships Republic, Copernicus, and Johann Georg, and the candidates on the Olbers--the office of bishop was conferred upon him." [p. 7]

"Concerning the office of bishop, this he drew to himself actually in a surprise move on the ship Olbers. He represented: 'that it were necessary for maintenance of the church that he should take it over.' He had sermons preached to the congregation concerning this need, and in two days the bishop was made. This was done contrary to our symbolic books, for the choosing of a bishop is an adiaphora and condemned by Article X in the Formula of Concord if such a thing were urged as it 'necessary for the congregation.' In St. Louis he further maintained that the office of bishop is of divine institution and of higher status than that of preaching. This was directly contrary to the Smalkald Articles, of the Power of Bishops, Page 567, where it reads: 'Such distinction of bishops and parsons came entirely through human ordinance, for the office and charge is altogether the same. By divine ordinance there is no difference between bishops and pastors.' Such distinction has indeed been resisted but not firmly, and it is often tacitly accepted." [p. 100]

"On 30 May [1839], therefore 25 days after the first revelations, Stephan was deposed by the council of the reverend clergy, who actually were not of the clergy at all, but rather citizens and farmers, as we were, since they had relinquished their office in Europe and had no regular call, only the irregular one from Stephan." [p. 109]

Anonymous said...

Hey, Hey, I like Mr. Carl. He's much smarter than me. Nice post Pastor Peters.


James Kellerman said...

First Anonymous: The Missouri Synod term "President" isn't derived from business or government. If so, the German term used in the Synod back in the day would have been Präsident. Instead it was Präses (plural: Präsides), a German word derived from the Latin praeses, literally, "one who sits in front," i.e., "one who presides." It was always a churchly term and should be understood as such.

As to the original post, Pr Peters has done a good job of describing the polity of the post-apostolic era. The early church was congregational in polity (in that none answered to a regional bishop and certainly not to a pope). But it was also episcopal in that there was a bishop (what we would call a senior pastor) who governed the church. And since this bishop was a first among equals with the presbyters who served with him, you could also call the structure presbyterian.

Ignatius assumed that all the Christians in a particular town would assemble in only one location (one congregation) where the bishop and all his presbyters were. We haven't lived in that world for well over eighteen centuries. Thus, we quarrel over polity because we tend to latch onto one dimension of the ancient polity and neglect the others, such as when one assumes that a modern archbishop entrusted with three million souls functions in exactly the same way as a bishop of Ignatius' day who would have known everyone under his care personally.

Anonymous said...

President is NO WHERE in Scripture or the Lutheran Confessions. Bishop is a divinely established church office in holy writ. To deny that is to deny Scripture. President as pointed out in 2 previous posts is a term of the modern world. 100 people out of 100 people when they hear it associate it with the profane, secular world. How sad then as we in the LCMS call our leaders by that term. It was "made" into the vernacular of the LCMS really because of Stephan. It all comes down to this point: that many confessional Lutherans, as catholic in the historical Church, long for true Bishops in our polity in both name and deed.

Carl Vehse said...

As Rev. Petersen stated [1:00:13] at a 2018 Bugenhagen Conference: "I was sort of imagining a fantasy world where the DPs were bishops and acted as bishops."

For a Lutheran within the Missouri Synod, that is indeed a fantasy world!! The Missouri Synod has a congregational polity, so the Missouri Synod corporate leaders need a Romish episcopal set of titles like a fish needs a bicycle.

Although the Lutheran Confessions recognize "bishop" as another term for pastor, the title of bishop is not a suitable title for a corporate synod or district president, per se. This is because neither the synod nor district is a Scripturally-defined church.

In his 1985 CTQ article, "An Assessment of LCMS Polity and Practice on the Basis of the Treatise," Rev. George F. Wollenburg wrote (p. 102):

"It seems significant that the originaI name chosen by the founders of the Synod did not contain the word 'church': 'The Evangelical Lutheran Synod of Missouri, Ohio and other States.' The Synod was not the church. The Synod was a walking together of churches who found themselves united by a common confession. The churchly functions by which the church is identified (i.e., the administration of the means of grace) are not a proper function of a Synod. The Synod is not identified as a church because it does not, as Synod, possess the keys immediately as do the locaI churches. The Synod does not call men to administer the means of grace. The local churches or congregations do this. The temporary meeting of any group of individuals, even though it includes pators and members of local congregations, does not have the character of church. The call and election of the congregation, not ecclesiastical ordination, confers the pastoral office upon a man, and he is appointed through such a call and election to administer the means of grace publicly, i.e., on behalf of the church. Without such a call, even the person who has received ecclesiastical ordination acts only on the basis of his call into the priesthood of all believers, in the same manner as any laymen."

William Weedon said...

Walther in his intro to K&A punts to Gerhard and Chemnitz for “the rest of the story” on the Lutheran doctrine of the ministry. Here are some pertinent quotes from Gerhard:

We vehemently disapprove of the anarchy and disturbance of those who remove ranking (ordo) from the ecclesiastical ministry, since it is a source of discord and of every evil. In our churches we retain ranking among ministers and decree that this must be retained, so that some are bishops, some are presbyters, some are deacons, etc.—Blessed Johann Gerhard, On the Ministry II, p. 19.

Although there are diverse orders in the ecclesiastical ministry, nevertheless the power of ministry in the preaching of the Word and the administration of the sacraments and the power of jurisdiction, which consists of the use of the Keys, belong to all ministers equally. Consequently, the Word preached, the Sacraments distributed, and the absolution pronounced by him who has been legitimately called to the ecclesiastical ministry—even if he is in the lowest rank of the ministry—are just as valid and effectual as if they had been preached, distributed, and pronounced by the greatest bishop, prophet, or apostle.—Blessed Johann Gerhard, The Ministry II, p. 20.

The Church has been given freedom according to circumstances—namely, of time and of size—to establish more or fewer grades among ministers in any assembly.—Blessed Johann Gerhard, The Ministry II, p. 20.

We freely admit that, as regards the power of order, there is a difference between bishops and presbyters, and that with respect to it, bishops are above presbyters. As regards the power of jurisdiction, however, we do not acknowledge that there is by divine right some inequality between bishops and presbyters, because we can conclude the opposite from Scripture.—Blessed Johann Gerhard, On the Ministry II, p. 48.

Carl Vehse said...

The notion of Walther "punt[ing]" seems a little casual even for a sports-enthusiast like Walther, although he may have read about the verb, "punt," as the term first appeared in an 1845 Rugby, England, rule book. What Walther stated in his Preface was: "Of course, it was not our intention to give our Church's doctrine on Church and Ministry in its entirety; if desired, one will find this in the larger dogmatic works of the teachers of our church, among others [u. A.] in the masterworks of Chemnitz and Gerhard."

Later, in Der Lutheraner, Vol. 17, No. 8 (November 27, 1860, p.59) (included in The Congregation’s Right to Choose a Pastor, Fred Kramer, trans., Concordia Seminary Publications, 1997, pp. 57-8), Walther does refer to an excerpt from the Evangelienharmonie of Chemnitz, Leyser, and Gerhard, who compare "all the citizens of a free city of the kingdom" electing senators and a mayor to exercise the keys of the city in the common name of all, with the members of a church for the sake of good order,electing certain persons to whom they transfer the adminstration of the keys of the kingdom of heaven.

Walther then writes: "If we had been the first to write this, our opponents would cry murder against us. They would exclaim: There you see how the Missourians introduce their American democratic ideas into the church’s doctrine. However it is well known that neither Chemnitz, nor Leyser, nor Gerhard were Americans or democrats."

James Kellerman said...

Let me reply to Anonymous 10 August 2019 @ 11:26 p.m., who seems to be replying to me. As I pointed out earlier, the German term Präses is almost exclusively used in ecclesiastical circles. If you doubt me, see the German Wikipedia article for details. (It even mentions the Missouri Synod!) To say that "President" is a profane, secular term is to misunderstand what the Missourians were trying to do in the nineteenth century. "Präses" was standard textbook German terminology for Lutherans to describe their leaders. It wasn't particularly Waltherian. In fact, it would have been odd if they hadn't called their leader "Präses." Maybe, because the older meaning has been lost after the transition to English, we might considering updating the language. But let's not ascribe false motives to our forebears.

You go on to equivocate when you say, "Bishop is a divinely established church office in holy writ. To deny that is to deny Scripture." Yes, the office of bishop is a divinely established church office, but a New Testament bishop (or for that matter, an Ignatian bishop) is not the same as a diocesan bishop. Neither the New Testament nor Ignatius knows of a bishop who is not present at the gathering of all the faithful under his charge. Indeed, Ignatius argues that if one attends a Eucharist where the bishop is not presiding, one is attending a schismatic or even heretical gathering and one is not part of the church. By Ignatian or New Testament standards, there could be only one parish (to use an anachronistic term) per bishop. A New Testament "bishop" is the equivalent of today's (senior) pastor.

By the mid-second century the model of one bishop/one parish/one town couldn't hold up any more. The church was growing too fast. The church could have solved the problem by having as many bishops as parishes, but they thought that would impede the unity of the church. So they agreed that one bishop would be over all the faithful in a city or region, but the one congregation would be divided into several parishes, each of which would have its own presbyters. I don't think it was a bad solution--and certainly was not motivated by any evil intent. But let's not pretend that this new style of bishop was what the New Testament authors (or Ignatius) had in mind when they spoke of "bishops."

Even after the early church adopted diocesan bishops, it wasn't always in the form of the monarchical episcopate that came to dominate later history. In many places the presbytery wielded a lot of the power. See Tractate 61-62 to see how it was the presbyters, not the bishops, who appointed the next bishop of Alexandria--a practice that would not be countenanced by Luther's day.

So, no, real Lutherans aren't clamoring for bishops--at least not on confessional principle. We agree that there must be ecclesiastical oversight, and we reject the tyranny of bishops who go beyond their purview (as Augustana 28 elaborates). But beyond that, we have gospel freedom. Every polity has its strengths and weaknesses. Every polity has worked well for defending the gospel, and every polity has been corrupted by heterodox individuals. Unlike some, I would have no problems with pointy hats and curly sticks, but I also know that they are not a cure-all. Nor would they be New Testament bishops.