top of page

A Defense of the Episcopacy, part 1: Before the Law

Updated: Jun 29, 2021

Series note: This series on the Episcopacy will, Lord willing, be comprised of at least 6 parts, part two can be found here. A principle work that has been used for this work is Thomas Bilson's The Perpetual Government of Christ's Church.

Series Introduction

The episcopacy is that which separates Anglicans from other Protestant groups. To convince a Protestant of the necessity of the episcopacy will necessarily draw them to Canterbury. This is what lead me into Anglicanism out of Presbyterianism. Therefore, it is imperative that this form of church government be defended against those of congregational and presbyterian views.

At the center of this debate is the question of whether there is an equality or an inequality of ministers. "In Christ's church are there, by Divine right, levels of ministers by which some rule over others?" To answer this question is to answer this debate. Therefore this series seeks to show this thesis, that, in Christ's church, as seen under the old dispensation, the New Testament, and the history of the church, there is an inequality of the orders of Bishop and Presbyter by which the former rules over the later.

Historically this very question of the episcopacy led to a civil war in England. In the late 16th and early 17th centuries, there were debates raging within the Anglican church over the divinely appointed form of church government. One side pointed to the New Testament account where Bishops and Presbyters (Elders) seem to be the same office, but with different names. They cite St. Jerome to argue for a gradual development of the office of Bishop. The other side pointed to the historic practice of the church, reflected in the writings of the early 2nd century Bishop, St. Ignatius of Antioch to support their view.

This series of articles adds nothing new to that debate. Rather, this series seeks to synthesize in an orderly manner those best arguments which were given in the writings of my Anglican fathers in the faith.

Article Introduction

The first article in this series seeks to argue for the episcopacy by looking back into the Old Testament form of church government before the coming of the law, showing the continuity which the historic government of Christ's church has with what came before in pre-Mosaic dispensation.

What we see when we look at the government of the church is two trends. First, it is Patriarchial, the father is over his household as their priest, and the grandfather over the father, etc.. Second, that the firstborn son (or whichever son is blessed) is over his brothers as their superior.

The Household

First, we have the household. The individual household of father, mother, and children becomes the foundational unit for the pre-Mosaic form of church government. The father in this scheme of things acts as the priest of his own family, teaching, ruling, offering sacrifice, and blessing. In regard to teaching, it is written in Genesis that,

He [Abraham] will command his children and his household after him, and they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring upon Abraham that which he hath spoken of him.

There are multiple instances of offering sacrifice. An example can be found in the book of Job, where Job offers sacrifice for his family, as it is written,

And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them. And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.

This is also seen in the example of Noah, he offers sacrifice and then his family, and by extension, the future human race is propitiated, as it is written

And Noah builded an altar unto the Lord; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done.

Lastly, there are multiple instances of blessing which the Patriarchs perform on their offspring, first, Noah blesses Shem and curses Ham,

And Noah awoke from his wine, and knew what his younger son had done unto him. And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren. And he said, Blessed be the Lord God of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant. God shall enlarge Japheth, and he shall dwell in the tents of Shem; and Canaan shall be his servant.

The Larger Family