Saturday, May 11, 2024

A pastoral office. . .

The office of bishop has become in the minds of those inside and outside the church a largely managerial one.  That is part of the evolution of the office that has, in my mind, destroyed some of its best character.  The office of bishop is a pastoral one.  It is not some neat and tidy distinction that we use now to refer to pastors or priests and the presidents or bishops who administer regions instead of locales.  Indeed, the way we use pastor today has also forgotten its roots.  Pastor is less an office than a relationship and the pastoral relationship was in the New Testament bishop and elder/presbyter.  I would suggest that bishop is the ordinary word that is synonymous with pastor and that his office has been distorted over time and decidedly unpastoral.  We have bought into the managerial patterns of the civil realm and the business world to rob the office of bishop of what ought to be his most distinctive and visible role -- pastor, presiding in a place, preaching, teaching, and administering the Sacraments.

Scripture is insightful in sometimes seemingly hidden ways.  In the New Testament things got a bit blurred because the same people held different offices, complementary ones to be sure but different nonetheless.  The first bishops of the Church were the apostles.  They did not cease to be apostles when they became the bishops of the Church.  Jesus ordained them as bishops on the evening of that first Easter, breathing upon them the Holy Spirit and conferring upon them the Office of the Keys.  So after Judas hanged himself and the eleven found themselves with a missing man, they looked to Scripture and found not simply justification but the command to fill the office - another bishop. Luke speaks of this in Acts 1 and cites Psalm 109:8, Luke writes, "Let another one take his office."  In some respects, it could and should be said that they were not electing an apostle, so to speak, as they were electing a bishop.  Matthias was not called as they were by the Lord but they, as the council of bishops, filled the spot of Judas so that they were united as Christ intended in their episcopal service to the Church.  Their duties (bishop/elder/pastor/teacher) were not theirs to discern or invent but were rooted in the Lord's teaching and sent forth to act in His Name to call to repentance, to baptize, to absolve, and to preside at the Lord's Table -- in addition to preaching -- this is what we read in Matthew 28, Mark 16, Luke 24, and John 20, among other places.  We affirm that Jesus Himself instituted this office when he sent out the apostles as the church's first bishops, pastors, elders, and presbyters.

Both in the New Testament and in common usage today, we speak of the one office using various terms.  They are not different offices but different titles applied to the same office -- bishop, elder, pastor/teacher, (even evangelist).  By human distinction we confer on some specific responsibilities but this is not a divine distinction.  So when we give to some bishops (pastors) the responsibility of episcope over other pastors (and church workers), we are not conferring on them a different office but giving them different jurisdiction.  In the same way, apostles had universal jurisdiction and even Paul had jurisdiction beyond a single parish or geographical location while the elders (pastors or bishops) he appointed in the various congregations he established along the way had local jurisdiction.  The office was the same but where and how the office was carried out was different.  What is odd is how Missouri has made the office of district president to be less than a bishop in some respects (without altar or pulpit) and yet conferred a larger jurisdiction for the episcope (over a district of many bishops and congregations).  In effect, the district president is a bishop without pastoral authority.  How strange!  The repair of this lies not in more bylaws or regulations but in the simple act of restoring altar and pulpit to these men. 

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