Saturday, July 5, 2014

I Peter 5:2, More Testimony from Scripture Against Bishops in the Church

The first three verses of the fifth chapter of I Peter have some serious implications for church government.

"So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly, not domineering over those in your charge, but being examples to the flock." [Emphasis mine]

The words translated here as "elder" and "fellow elder" are forms of the Greek word presbuteros. The word translated "exercising oversight" is episkopountes, a form of episkopos, from which we get the English word "bishop." So, it can be taken to be a message from the Apostle Peter to elders to "bishopize," if I may be allowed to make up a new word. The Apostle goes even further in II Peter 1:1, where he addresses Christians as "those who have obtained a faith of equal standing with ours..." While the Pope claims "the power of the keys" to include or exclude from the body of Christ whomever he chooses, the true apostle eschews any monarchical pretensions. If only the equality of all believers was the motto of the supposed heir of the throne of Peter, I would possibly give his faith a little benefit of doubt.

This seems to me to be a fatal blow to the episcopalian view of church government, as held by Anglicans, Eastern Orthodox, and Roman Catholics, all of whom hold to an office of bishop that rules over the church in a certain district.

This passage is especially destructive to the views of the Roman Catholic Church, which claims Peter himself as the beginning of their line of popes, the bishops of Rome. Rome claims that Paul was appointed by Christ in Matthew 16:13-20 to be the head of the Church, an office which he supposedly passed on to his heirs, the popes. However, in the passage here, we have Peter's own words stating that bishopizing is the work of elders. The New Jerusalem Bible, a Catholic translation, uses "elder" in  the passage, but then instructs the elders to "watch over" the church. The New American Bible, the main translation used by American Catholics, says "presbyters," refusing even to translate the term, with "overseeing." To my mind, that is a tacit admission that the American bishops are fully aware of the implications of this passage.

In addition to the positive assertions in Paul's letters, especially I Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9, we have here in I Peter the biblical basis for the system of church government commonly referred to as "presbyterian." It is neither "episcopalian" nor democratic. Church government is not an issue of choice. The Head of the Church has laid out how He intends to rule in His body, the Church. And the Pope of Rome is clearly the enemy of Christ's rule over that Church.

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