Skip to comments.The Episcopate [ECUSA]
Posted on 04/25/2006 2:52:13 PM PDT by sionnsar
What sort of persons should be elected to the Episcopate? In the 36 years I was in the Episcopal Church (1969-2005), the typical career path for a bishop was to graduate from seminary, become an assistant at a large parish or cathedral, move on to their own parish, then to a corporate parish, and from there to the Episcopate.
On the way these clergy developed a profile that propelled them forward. The most important elements of this profile were administration, personnel management, program development, board memberships, and the ability to take mediating positions between conflicting interests. An ascendant career path with this sort of profile made sense to clergy and laity alike, and because of that, such persons were elected to the Episcopate where they drew salaries well beyond the clergy norm.
According to the 1662 English Book of Common Prayer, bishops are examined in eight articles prior to consecration. They are as follows: 1) The belief that they are called. 2) The belief that Scripture contains "all doctrine required of necessity for eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ." 3) A commitment to study Scripture and to pray, so as to "teach and exhort with wholesome doctrine." 4) A readiness "with all faithful diligence, to banish and drive away all erroneous and strange doctrine contrary to God's Word." 5) The denial of "ungodliness and worldly lusts," and a willingness to "live soberly, righteously and godly in the present world." 6) The establishment, as much as possible, of "quietness, peace, and love among all men," and the disciplining of the "unquiet, disobedient and criminous within your Diocese" (where the church is not established, this requirement would read differently). 7) A commitment to ordain clergy. 8) And finally, to "show yourself gentle, and be merciful of Christ's sake to poor and needy people, and to all strangers destitute of help."
The Prayer Book description of a bishop differs radically from the character of most bishops that I have known. Let me begin with the fact that bishops are called to holiness of life. This does not simply mean that they have gone on retreat from time to time, read the right spiritual books, and say their daily prayers, although all of this can be very important and to the good. It means, first and foremost, that the bishop is willing to follow Jesus, obey Scripture, and do so in ways that may cost. By cost, I mean loss of income, of status, of privilege, and of advancement. There is something suspect in a resume which shows a steady upward progress devoid of career decisions that diminish the prospects for further advancement. I would advocate electing bishops whose "careers" were like that of Jesus, persons who were willing to stand for truth against entrenched interests, who could preach and pray with authority, who were willing to serve the poor rather than the rich in a corporate parish, and who made career choices for the sake of the Kingdom rather than their own futures. Such persons would be real bishops.
Further, Episcopal salaries should not be exorbitant. I recommend they be paid somewhat less than cardinal rectors, enough to live comfortably but modestly. A sacrificial career path and modest living would characterize those bishops who have denied "ungodliness and worldly lusts," those willing to "live soberly, righteously and godly in the present world." A more modest salary would attract those who put the gospel and service about wealth and position.
Bishops are also called to be pastors. They are to foster "quietness, peace, and love among all men," to be "merciful of Christ's sake to poor and needy people, and to all strangers destitute of help." Persons aspiring to the Episcopate need to do more than develop programs for the poor with other people's money. They need to have directly lived among the poor, made sacrificial choices for the sake of the poor, choices that cut into their advancement, status, and income. That is true concern for the poor. That is walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
Moreover, in my view, bishops spend too much time in administration. They have, of course, critical administrative responsibilities, but administration is not prior to doctrine, to godliness, to sacrificial living, and to pastoral care. A great deal of administration can be delegated. Bishops need to content themselves with general oversight, delegating the rest to others.
Finally, the most striking difference between the Prayer Book description of a bishop and contemporary bishops is in the area of doctrine. Bishops are supposed to know doctrine, teach doctrine, and drive away false doctrine. Many bishops are hazy on doctrine at best, and at worst, perpetrators of false doctrine. When the culture was essentially Christian, bishops could perhaps get away with a certain degree of haziness. Not any more. Our culture is increasing pagan, and intellectually, we live in a post-modern age. Rapid cultural and intellectual changes have profoundly challenged the Christian faith and led to the present divide within the churches. The dividing line is doctrine. We either believe the great affirmations of the Nicene Creed or we do not. Persons who do not affirm the whole of the Creed, who do not accept the articles of Religion, who do not interpret Scripture in a creedal and orthodox fashion, who do not have a living knowledge of the tradition of the Church, and who are not willing to defrock clergy, including other bishops who teach false doctrine, should not be elected bishops in the Church of God. We need bishops who love, live, teach, and believe orthodox doctrine.
People are like sheep: they follow their leaders. When they see their "shepherd" living in affluence, pastorally remote, theologically hazy, and putting institutional advancement above the gospel, they will do the same, at home, in their church, at work, and in the larger society. What we need are shepherds, not hired hands. In the words of Jesus,
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. (John 10:11-12)
The Anglican flock in North America has been scattered and ravaged by wolves. Some of these wolves are bishops. If the flock is to be restored, if we are to have a renewed Anglicanism in North America, we need bishops who are true bishops, willing to lay down their lives for their sheep.
--The Rev. Robert J. Sanders, Ph.D. is rector of Christ the King Anglican Fellowship in Jacksonville, Florida www.christtheking.org. He is VirtueOnline's resident theologian
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