Series note: This series on the Episcopacy will, Lord willing, be comprised of at least 6 parts, part one 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.
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.
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.
This article will complete 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. When we investigate 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.
Whereas before we had the fathers of each family serve in a priestly function in the pre-Mosaic era, now, under the Mosaic rule, a certain tribe, the Levites, were to serve priestly functions. The first division which is made within the the Levites are between Levites in general (which has been historically identified with the Diaconate as in St. Jerome Epistle 146) and the Sons of Aaron (who are the priests) as in Numbers 3:6-10:
"Bring the tribe of Levi near, and present them before Aaron the priest, that they may minister unto him. And they shall keep his charge, and the charge of the whole congregation before the tabernacle of the congregation, to do the service of the tabernacle. And they shall keep all the instruments of the tabernacle of the congregation, and the charge of the children of Israel, to do the service of the tabernacle. And thou shalt give the Levites unto Aaron and to his sons: they are wholly given unto him out of the children of Israel. And thou shalt appoint Aaron and his sons, and they shall wait on their priest's office: and the stranger that cometh nigh shall be put to death."
The Levites were divided into Gershon, Kohath, and Merari, yet the sons of Aaron were placed over these groups,
"And when Aaron and his sons have made an end of covering the sanctuary, and all the vessels of the sanctuary, as the camp is to set forward; after that, the sons of Kohath shall come to bear it: but they shall not touch any holy thing, lest they die. These things are the burden of the sons of Kohath in the tabernacle of the congregation...Aaron and his sons shall go in, and appoint them every one to his service and to his burden...Take also the sum of the sons of Gershon, throughout the houses of their fathers, by their families; From thirty years old and upward until fifty years old shalt thou number them; all that enter in to perform the service, to do the work in the tabernacle of the congregation...At the appointment of Aaron and his sons shall be all the service of the sons of the Gershonites, in all their burdens, and in all their service: and ye shall appoint unto them in charge all their burdens. This is the service of the families of the sons of Gershon in the tabernacle of the congregation: and their charge shall be under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest. As for the sons of Merari, thou shalt number them after their families, by the house of their fathers; From thirty years old and upward even unto fifty years old shalt thou number them, every one that entereth into the service, to do the work of the tabernacle of the congregation...This is the service of the families of the sons of Merari, according to all their service, in the tabernacle of the congregation, under the hand of Ithamar the son of Aaron the priest."
For the Levites to aspire to the priesthood was a serious offense, we see this with the death of the rebel Korah,
"And Moses said unto Korah, Hear, I pray you, ye sons of Levi: Seemeth it but a small thing unto you, that the God of Israel hath separated you from the congregation of Israel, to bring you near to himself to do the service of the tabernacle of the LORD, and to stand before the congregation to minister unto them? And he hath brought thee near to him, and all thy brethren the sons of Levi with thee: and seek ye the priesthood also? For which cause both thou and all thy company are gathered together against the LORD: and what is Aaron, that ye murmur against him?
The Levites had a hierarchy among themselves, one over each of the three families, with one of the house of Aaron over them all,
And the chief of the house of the father of the Gershonites shall be Eliasaph the son of Lael...And the chief of the house of the father of the families of the Kohathites shall be Elizaphan the son of Uzziel...And Eleazar the son of Aaron the priest shall be chief over the chief of the Levites, and have the oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary...And the chief of the house of the father of the families of Merari was Zuriel the son of Abihail: these shall pitch on the side of the tabernacle northward.
Within the priests (the sons of Aaron) there was also a hierarchy. In the first place was the High Priest, who was the "chief over the chief of the Levites" as we saw in the previous section and had "oversight of them that keep the charge of the sanctuary." Further, he acted as judge "in all matters of the LORD."
Next to the High Priest was the "second in command" and the "third in command." The second was originally Eleazar (who later became High Priest himself). Eleazar was under Aaron, yet he was over Ithamar (who was chief over Gershon and Merari). For, Eleazar is given jurisdiction over his own family, Kohath, and by consequence we see that he is over Ithamar (the third) by the distinctions given to him, for instance, being called the "chief of chiefs."
Under these are the three prelates of the families which we spoke of. Under these are various "heads of the fathers" as we see in Exodus 6,
"And these are the names of the sons of Levi according to their generations; Gershon, and Kohath, and Merari: and the years of the life of Levi were an hundred thirty and seven years. The sons of Gershon; Libni, and Shimi, according to their families. And the sons of Kohath; Amram, and Izhar, and Hebron, and Uzziel: and the years of the life of Kohath were an hundred thirty and three years. And the sons of Merari; Mahali and Mushi: these are the families of Levi according to their generations. And Amram took him Jochebed his father’s sister to wife; and she bare him Aaron and Moses: and the years of the life of Amram were an hundred and thirty and seven years. And the sons of Izhar; Korah, and Nepheg, and Zichri. And the sons of Uzziel; Mishael, and Elzaphan, and Zithri. And Aaron took him Elisheba, daughter of Amminadab, sister of Naashon, to wife; and she bare him Nadab, and Abihu, Eleazar, and Ithamar. And the sons of Korah; Assir, and Elkanah, and Abiasaph: these are the families of the Korhites. And Eleazar Aaron’s son took him one of the daughters of Putiel to wife; and she bare him Phinehas: these are the heads of the fathers of the Levites according to their families."
The Post-Moasic Form
After the Mosaic form of government there is a further sharpening and developing of the form of government into a final form. This "final form" is outlined by Lancelot Andrewes in A Summary View of the Government both of the Old and New Testament whereby the Episcopal Government of Christ's Church is Vindicated:
Relation to the Government of the Church Catholic
From this we may draw parallels to the historic government of the church catholic. The High-Priest is Christ. The Second/Third-in-command are the Archbishops. The Princes of the Priests are the Bishops. The Priests are Priests. The Princes of the Levites are Archdeacons. The Levites are Deacons. The Nethinims are those in Minor Orders.
As we have seen, the government of the Mosaic and post-Mosaic church is also hierarchical. This too goes against the presbyterian church government, in support of the historic episcopacy. There is no hint of Presbyterianism present in the government of the Old Covenant church, the only valid development on the Old Covenant church is the episcopacy.