Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner

« Wise Words from Huw | Main | About Scripture »

March 26, 2004


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


Boy, do we need to hear that. I think some pastors would be surprised by how willing some folks in their congregations would be to follow heartfelt, scripture-centered leadership, if only it were offered.

John H

I agree entirely that faithful pastors should have authority and not be afraid of "getting fired" by offended congregations. Not sure bishops are the answer to that - bishops are great in theory, but the practice often leaves a lot to be desired (one word: "ECUSA". Two words: "Gene Robinson"). Episcopal authority can all-too easily detach itself from its Scriptural roots and become a free-floating authority operating in opposition to the voice of Christ in Scripture.

That's the context in which the Augsburg Confession and Apology were written, and that's the context in which many Anglicans now find themselves (one ECUSA bishop broke off from persecuting Bible-believing parishes in his diocese to inform the world that "The church wrote the Bible, so we can re-write it too"). Ultimately, having faithful bishops in charge may be a good thing; as I say, I have a theoretical preference for episcopal polity. But let's not romanticise episcopacy in practice.

Christopher Jones


I don't think much of the record of non-episcopal polities, either. Sola Scriptura applied in an individualistic way has led to a riot of Protestant sects, most of whom have abandoned the sacramental life of the Church, and many of whom (in my opinion) are rife with heresy of every description. It's true that the recent history of ECUSA is a poor advertisement for the episcopal polity, but in the grand scheme of Church history, that's very much the exception, rather than the rule.

The other great counter-example to episcopacy - the corruption of the Gospel in the mediaeval West which necessitated the Reformation - is an example not so much of the failure of episcopacy as of the failure that comes from abandoning the true episcopal polity. For the polity of the mediaeval Church was not the episcopal polity of the patristic period, but papalism, which was an abandonment of the principle of mutual accountability, which is an indispensable part of a true episcopal polity.

Mutual accountability is the key to any effective polity (episcopal or otherwise). The problem with the papal polity is that the Pope is accountable to no one; the problem with a congregational polity is that an individual congregation is accountable to no one. In the early Church, the bishop was accountable to his brother bishops, in particular to the synod of the province.

The glimmer of hope for Anglicanism is that it appears that the wider Anglican communion is in the process (albeit a slow and messy process) of calling ECUSA to account for its heresy and apostasy, and recognizing that ECUSA is no longer a part of the Church Catholic. (Sadly, this is happening more or less without +Cantuar himself, although at least he's not standing actively in the way of it.) What's happening in the Anglican Global South is pretty much exactly how the Church is supposed to regulate herself through the mutual accountability of bishops and provincial synods.

Josh S

Meyendorff's take on the role and function of the episcopate (and the apostolic succession) seems pretty well within the scope of Lutheran ecclesiology, since he keeps a pretty good balance between the congregation being the Church and clerical authority.

He should be burned.


Break out the pointy hats and I might be tempted by the LCMS... Seriously, I think this is all about right. I agree with most everyone, have nothing critical to say, and think that Ignatius of Antioch and Irenaeus of Lyons pretty much kick all our .... So, did I say I agree? I did? Good. Thanks...


Josh S

I would like to note, though, that "episcopal polity" is not a well-defined thing. Different groups do it different ways, and it gets even more diverse as you consider the entire span of church history (remember, bishops had armies once). Whatever church polity you go with, you have to avoid hierarchical tyranny and congregational anarchy.

Christopher Jones


you have to avoid hierarchical tyranny and congregational anarchy

Then the current LCMS flunks. It has both.

John H

Josh's comment on different definitions of "episcopal polity" makes a good point. In the Anglican context, historically bishops were seen as priests/presbyters set apart for a wider ministry, rather than as a separate order in their own right. In the 1552 Ordinal, deacons and priests/presbyters are ordained, whereas bishops are "consecrated" (i.e. set apart for a particular ministry).

There has been a move in later centuries, accelerating in recent years, to see bishops as being "ordained" to a different order. This is linked with various other unfortunate developments, such as seeing the bishop's role as one of "interpreting" (rather than proclaiming) the gospel, etc.

Thus episcopal polity in Anglicanism has had different meanings in 1604, 1704, quite possibly in 1804 and 1904, and certainly now in 2004.

Be interesting to see what a confessional Lutheran version of episcopacy would look like, though.

Christopher Jones

I wouldn't read so much into the verbal distinction between "ordination" and "consecration". The use of "consecration" to refer to the ordination of a bishop is just as common among Roman Catholics, and there's certainly no doubt that the episcopate is regarded as a separate "order" in their system.

I'd be more convinced of the point if I thought it was supported by the theology of Hooker and the Caroline divines. I doubt very much if King Charles would have been willing to be martyred for a purely "administrative" distinction.

Christopher Jones

Another thing, John:

The classic expression of the Anglican theology of holy orders is the Preface to the 1552 Ordinal:

It is evident unto all men, diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient authors, that from the Apostles' time there hath been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church: Bishops, Priests, and Deacons ... to the intent that these orders should be continued and reverently used and esteemed, in this Church of England, it is requisite that no man (not being at this present Bishop, Priest, nor Deacon) shall execute any of them, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted according to the form hereafter following.
[spelling and punctuation modernized]

This expression of the Anglican doctrine of ministry was published at the time in Anglican history when the influence of continental Reformed theology was greater than at any other time since. But it clearly teaches three distinct orders of ministry, and affirms the Church of England's intent to continue those three distinct orders. I know of no authoritative Anglican text, whether contemporary with the 1552 Ordinal or since, that backs off in any significant way from this endorsement of three distinct orders of ministry.

But then, I'm a Tractarian from 'way back.

Josh S

Jesus came to me in my closet last night and told me that the LCMS gets an F-quintuple-minus in everything pertaining to polity.

John H

But then, I'm a Tractarian from 'way back.

And I'm a bolshy, bishop-baiting, Bible-bashing, crypto-Presbyterian Church Society and Reform member from reasonably way back ;-)

Never been much impressed with "Charles, King & Martyr" myself. 'Fraid I was always a bit of a Puritan in that regard. "No Bishop, No King"? "Your terms are acceptable".

Christopher Jones

I see - a poor, benighted soul laboring under the misconception that the Church of England is, was, or ever could be a Protestant Church, rather than simply the Catholic and Apostolic Church in England.

Well, I guess that's OK, as long as you don't make the same mistake about the confessional Lutheran Church (g).

John H

Well... I feel I'm in fairly good company, given that another "poor, benighted soul labouring under the misconception that the Church of England is ... a Protestant Church" is the C of E's Supreme Governor, HM the Queen, who swore at her coronation to "uphold the Reformed Protestant Religion by Law Established".

Besides, wasn't the whole point of the Reformation (at least in its more "conservative" incarnations) precisely that "Protestant" churches were where one was now to find "the Catholic and Apostolic Church", following Rome's apostasy?


There y'all go again...sheesh, one little apostasy and it's like the only thing you want to talk about...

Christopher Jones

You know, John, I was just teasing. I was a cradle Episcopalian, and I always believed in the Catholicity of the Anglican Church. But I certainly recognize that it was also Protestant.

For me at least, it's only of historical interest. I left the Episcopal Church over 20 years ago when they abandoned Catholic faith and order by ordaining women to the holy ministry.

John H

I thought you might be teasing - but I still have memories of notices pinned-up by the doors of Anglo-Catholic churches solemnly pointing out that the word "Protestant" appears nowhere in the Prayer Book or Articles (about as persuasive an argument as the JWs pointing out the absence of the word "Trinity" from the Bible).

I left the Episcopal Church over 20 years ago when they abandoned Catholic faith and order by ordaining women to the holy ministry.

And, of course, abandoned the plain meaning of Scripture on the subject of women having teaching authority in the church.

It's an interesting reflection of the growth of evangelicalism (of a sort) in the Church of England that ten years ago, the arguments against women priests was dominated by "traditionalists" bemoaning the loss of "Catholic faith and order", with virtually no reference to Scriptural passages such as 1 Tim 2, whereas now that women bishops are being "discussed" (as if the outcome of these "discussions" were not a foregone conclusion), conservative evangelical opposition, based on Scriptural teachings, is a more significant factor than before. That is partly, of course, because many of the traditionalists have swum either the Tiber or the Bosphorus (though not as many as people expected).

The bulk of Anglican "evangelicals", however, think it'd be simply marvellous to have women bishops, after all women priests do such a good job, our last curate was a lovely young woman (particularly popular with the children), times have changed, dear old St Paul couldn't have predicted the changes in society - and above all, holding back women is a bad witness, hampers evangelism, can't have that now can we...?


My pastor, Allen Hoger, (Immanuel LCMS, Wichita, KS) wrote something similar I thought you might enjoy in LOGIA: Bishops for the Church: Apostolic Origins and Lutheran Affirmations. He wrote it in 1996 and you might be able to obtain a copy from the site: www.Logia.org

John H


Just read the following in Owen Chadwick's The Reformation. Would be interested to hear your thoughts on it:

To contemporaries the removal of episcopal authority appeared less revolutionary than it would appear to posterity. Several schools of the later Middle Ages attributed a theological importance to priest and to pope, but regarded a bishop more as an administrative officer than as an order of ministry integral to the Catholic Church ... Many theologians in the 16th century, whether reformed or conservative, assumed like many theologians of the 15th century that the priest or presbyter was the "essential" order of ministry. It might be inexpedient that a priest should ordain other priests, but there was no theological objection.

Christopher Jones


This is a notion that I have never heard before, and frankly I think it is nonsense. (Not that late mediaeval theologians were incapable of spouting nonsense - quite the contrary.)

No theologian - of any century - with the slightest knowledge of Church history could possibly regard "Pope" as a separate order of ministry. There is not, and never has been, any rite of ordination to the Papacy; a newly-elected Pope is "ordained" only if he is not already a bishop. And the canons of the Church, going back as far as historical records are extant, make clear that it is the office of the bishop, and only the bishop, to ordain all of the orders of the clergy.

It is one of the many deleterious effects of the doctrine of Papal supremacy that the meaning and purpose of the ministry of the local bishop is distorted if not altogether lost, because all real teaching authority is centralized in the Pope. It seems to me that the cockeyed understanding of the office of bishop that Chadwick describes is the result of just this distortion.

John Rutowicz

I was just surfing the web and was surprised to find my own paper referenced on this site. Thanks for the kind words. Who runs this page? Are you guys Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox? If you guys are not clergy, could I start a mission congregation with all of you? ;)

Pr. John Rutowicz

Christopher Jones

Pr Rutowicz,

Who runs this page? Are you guys Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox?

Here's the cast of characters:

  • I'm the proprietor of this particular weblog. My own theological position is "Anglo-Catho-Ortho-Lutheran". I've been a member of various denominations, but I've always been a Catholic Christian. I was a cradle Episcopalian, ten years Eastern Orthodox, and now an LCMS Lutheran.
  • Twylah is a Lutheran laywoman (LCMS, I think, but don't quote me). She has her own weblog.
  • John H is a Briton who is on his way from (low-Church) Anglican to confessional Lutheran (ELCE). He too has his own weblog.
  • Josh Strodtbeck (the Fearsome Pirate) needs no introduction to anyone who follows the Lutheran blogosphere.
  • Thomas is a sometime ELCA layman and seminarian who is on his way somewhere (Orthodoxy - probably; Rome - possibly; LCMS - probably not).
  • Ron Olson is an LCMS layman.

As far as I know none of us is an ordained pastor (I was a tonsured reader in the Orthodox Church, so technically I'm "minor clergy," but that's as close as any of us is to ordained). So yes, if you want to start a mission, that would be great. You can be a circuit riding preacher with stops in Lexington KY, Chelmsford MA, somewhere in the United Kingdom, and who knows where else.

John H

Are you guys Lutherans, Anglicans, Orthodox?

In Christopher's case, the answer is "yes". :o)

Christopher, thanks for your response to the Chadwick quote. If I was in the business of finding the views of "schools of the later Middle Ages" persuasive and compelling, I suppose I wouldn't be much of a Lutheran...

Dave H.

Man, did I arrive late to this conversation.

I am officially a member of the LCMS now for one week and I already think our poity is the most stupid, juvenile, goofy, American made system I have ever heard of.

John H. knows what I am talking about.

Bring back the Episcopacy!

The comments to this entry are closed.