Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Apostle Paul and Bishops or Elders? Does the Bible Really Say?

"This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you— if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it."
- Titus 1:5-9

One of the sharpest conflicts between Presbyterians and Anglicans in Great Britain was over the issue of church government. Presbyterians held - and still hold- that Christ, as Head of the Church, did not leave her to develop a government by accident or by tradition, i.e., that presbyterian government is according to jure divino, divine law. In contrast, most Anglicans believed that church government is not prescribed by scripture, and that the episcopal system developed organically, and should be maintained as an ancient tradition.

However, some supporters of prelacy hold that it, instead, is jure divino. They cite the use of episkopos in the Greek text as a command to have bishops. In their understanding, since both words are used in the Greek, episkopos ("bishops") and presbuteros ("elder", and transcribed into English by some as "priest"), then they must be separate offices, and both necessary to the Church.

However, in the text from Titus above, both words are used, presbuteros in verse 5, and episkopos in verse seven, as referring to the same person! It is on the basis of this passage that presbyterians hold that "bishop" ("overseer" in most modern translations) and "elder" actually refer to the same office, the former describing what he does, the latter describing what he is, older (see Titus 2:2-6). In fact, Paul's words to Titus here would make no sense if the two terms were not equivalent.

I think that this text makes it incontrovertible that presbyterian church government has exclusive claim to the status of jure divino, and prelacy is exclusively a human invention, in rebellion against the Head of the Church.

I do not attempt here to deal with the Roman doctrine of apostolic succession.

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