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A Defense of the Episcopacy, part 3: Pre-Pentecost

Series note: This series on the Episcopacy will, Lord willing, be comprised of at least 4 parts, part one can be found here, and 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

Part one of this series explored the government of the pre-Mosaic church, arguing that the church before Moses had a clear hierarchical bent to it, with loose "levels" or "grades" of priests. From this, it was argued that this form of church government was most consistent with the episcopal form which is the historical and Apostolic form of church government.

Part two completes what the first part started by looking into the form of church government which was in the remainder of the Old Testament, Mosaic and post-Mosaic. It investigated the Mosaic and post-Mosaic forms of government, the background to the historic Catholic form of church government begins to become more apparent. We see that Presbyterianism is contrary to it, rather than a development from it.

This article makes it into the New Testament. It focuses on the gospels, what government was instituted by Christ while he was on earth. From this we see again a "tiering" which takes place between different orders of priests. It also shows the concept of ecclesiastical hierarchy strongly, especially the principle of authority being mediated from the top of the hierarchy to the bottom of it, as is seen in St. Dionysius' Ecclesiastical Hierarchy.

Christ, the Head of Ecclesiastical Government

First, the entirety of ecclesiastical government is set on Christ's shoulders. He, in Himself, takes upon all of the various offices of the church and is described as such. First, He is described as the "Apostle," as it is written in the epistle to the Hebrews, "Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus." (Heb. 3:1) Second, He is described as the "Prophet," as is written by St. Luke in the Book of Acts, "For Moses truly said unto the fathers, A prophet shall the Lord your God raise up unto you of your brethren, like unto me; him shall ye hear in all things whatsoever he shall say unto you." (Acts 3:22) Third, He is described as the Evangelist, as it is written by the Prophet Isaiah, "The first shall say to Zion, Behold, behold them: and I will give to Jerusalem one that bringeth good tidings." (Isa. 41:27) Fourth, He is described as the "Bishop," as it is written by St. Peter in his first catholic epistle, 'For ye were as sheep going astray; but are now returned unto the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls." (1 Pet. 2:25) Fifth, He is described as the "Doctor" (Divine/Teacher/Theologian), as it is written in the Gospel according to St. Matthew, "Neither be ye called masters (teachers): for one is your Master (Teacher), even Christ." (Matt. 23:10). Sixth, He is described as the "Deacon," as it is written by St. Paul in his epistle to the Romans, "Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister (διάκονον) of the circumcision for the truth of God, to confirm the promises made unto the fathers." (Rom. 15:8)

This same concept is read throughout the NT and in the prophecies of the OT, that Christ also is the fullness and fulfillment of the OT offices. Before there were Apostles, there was "The Apostle." Before there were Prophets, there was "The Prophet." Before there were Evangelists, there was "The Evangelist." Before there were Bishops, there was "The Bishop.' Before there were Doctors of the church, there was "The Doctor of the Church." Before there were Deacons, there was "The Deacon." From Christ flows all of the offices of ecclesiastical government, and all ecclesiastical offices participate and stand In Persona Christi, receiving their authority from Him.

The Twelve

At a certain point in Christ's ministry, "The harvest truly is plenteous, but the labourers are few." (Matthew 9:37) Therefore, Christ "send forth labourers into his harvest." (Matt. 9:38) He chose out Twelve Apostles, as twelve new Patriarchs of the twelve new tribes of Israel, "And with you there shall be a man of every tribe; every one head of the house of his fathers." (Num. 1:4) He named these, not Patriarchs, but Apostles.