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A Defense of the Episcopacy, part 2: After the Law

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.


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.

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.

Under Moses

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."
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