The Bishopric: Analysis of the Office in Various Reformations
In the 21st century Church, many pastors and ministers hold the office of bishop in one capacity or another. Most people respect the office of bishop itself and recognize that being a bishop is a high honor, which inspires some ministers to desire the office of bishop, seeing the nobility and prestige of the bishopric. However, the office of bishop is often defined differently within various denominations. Bishops should at least have a general understanding of the different forms and levels of bishops within other reformations, allowing them to understand and respect the order and structure of other churches, regardless of how they might differ from their own reformation. This article gives an overview of the episcopacy and compares the office of the bishop as defined in the Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, African Methodist Episcopal, and Pentecostal churches. Overview of the Bishopric
The office of bishop in the Church takes different forms within various reformations, making it somewhat difficult to understand the exact meaning of the term bishop when applied to a particular leader within the Body of Christ. For example, Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee) refers to its entire body of ordained clergy as ordained bishops, regardless of their level of authority on a district, state, or national level. The differences between the various types of bishops are also somewhat ambiguous, making it difficult for lay members to decipher between the Episcopal offices. In addition, most denominations define the scope of a bishop’s authority and jurisdiction on their own terms, resulting in great ambiguity as to the exact role of the bishopric. However, most reformations acknowledge certain forms of the bishopric, giving the Church at large at least a semblance of continuity.
The bishopric has at least six common forms: suffragan bishops, jurisdictional bishops, which include auxiliary and diocesan bishops, ordinary bishops, co-adjutors, and presiding bishops. Suffragan bishops are considered honorary bishops, which is similar to someone who receives an honorary doctoral degree. According to Crew (2003), “Suffragan Bishops are elected with tenure for life without the right to automatic succession. As suffragans, they are always assistants, but can stand for election if nominated to be diocesan or coadjutor in any diocese.” In essence, suffragan bishops have the respect of a bishop without having the authority to engage in Episcopal duties such as consecrating a bishop. However, suffragan bishops can participate in the consecration of a bishop as an Episcopal witness, but not as a chief or co-consecrator.
Jurisdictional bishops generally take two forms: auxiliary and diocesan bishops. Auxiliary bishops oversee a specific task within a fellowship or reformation i.e. education, youth, music. Diocesan bishops, in contrast, are the chief overseers of a territory or region, known as a diocese, within a particular religious denomination or fellowship (Crew, 2003). A key point to note concerning jurisdictional bishops is that although they have Episcopal authority, their bishopric is limited to the prescription given by their reformation and can be terminated by the presiding bishop. Therefore, unless an auxiliary or diocesan bishop was previously honored as a suffragan, they technically cannot continue to use the title of bishop after being removed from their jurisdiction, whether task or territory, unless they have been reassigned to another area that authorizes them to continue to use the office and title of bishop.
Ordinary bishops, in contrast to jurisdictional bishops in both forms, are consecrated for life and are generally considered permanent bishops, since their bishopric is not limited to a particular task or territory. Normally, ordinary bishops have already served faithfully as jurisdictional bishops prior to becoming an ordinary bishop. A co-adjutor is an ordinary bishop with the first rights of succession under the presiding bishop. For example, if the presiding bishop retires or passes away, the co-adjutor would assume the role of presiding bishop. This helps to reduce the political bureaucracy that generally arises after the retirement or death of a presiding bishop, especially for those without a clear succession plan. Finally, presiding bishops serve as heads of organizations, reformations, or fellowships. The Bishopric in the Roman Catholic Church
The Roman Catholic Church is the largest and one of the oldest the religious bodies that embraces, at least in part, many of the basic tenets of the Christian faith. The term Catholic Church, which means universal church, was first used in 107 A.D. and became a common phrase within the writings of the early apologists and post-apostolic church fathers (Adherents, 2005). At the beginning of the second century, Ignatius of Antioch began to advocate the establishment of bishops to oversee the churches in different cities. In his letter to the Smyrnaeans, Ignatius notes the following:
Let all things therefore be done by you with good order in Christ. Let the laity be subject to the deacons; the deacons to the presbyters; the presbyters to the bishop; the bishop to Christ, even as He is to the Father (Preterist Vision, 2009).
As seen in his statement, Ignatius espoused a form of Church government that descended from bishops to presbyters (elders) to deacons to laity, which is reflective of the structure used in part by many contemporary Christian sects, including the Roman Catholic Church.
Most people are aware that the Pope is the head of the Roman Catholic Church; however, several misconceptions surround its hierarchy and bishopric. The common assumption is that the hierarchy consists of the Pope, cardinals, archbishops, bishops, priests, pastors, and deacons (Rudd, 2009). While these offices are certainly part of the Roman Catholic Church governance, the order is slightly different. The actual hierarchy consists of the Pope, bishops, and priests (Rudd, 2009).
The Pope, which means papa, is the clear head of the Roman Catholic Church, who is also known as the Patriarch of the west. The Pope actually holds three positions in the Roman Catholic Church: the priest who preaches at the pulpit of St. John Lateran Basilica on a day to day basis similar to other parish priests, the bishop of the diocese of the city of Rome, and the head of the universal church (Rudd, 2009). Additionally, the Pope is revered as the ruler of bishops, since all Roman Catholic bishops are under his authority (Rudd, 2009). In many respects, the Pope is similar to a presiding bishop who oversees a jurisdiction or diocese and yet serves as the senior pastor of a local assembly. Therefore, the Pope holds all three of the offices in the basic hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church: Pope, bishop, and priest.
The Roman Catholic Church has approximately 3000 mother churches, which is the Church where the bishop resides, who serves as the head of the diocese (Rudd, 2009). The bishops of the mother churches or cathedrals are assigned to a geographic territory i.e. diocese, although he may be assisted by other bishops who rank below him (Rudd, 2009). There is no difference in rank or power between a bishop and an archbishop in the Roman Catholic Church; an archbishop is merely a bishop who controls a larger than average territory or is located in a city of political importance, like a capital city of a state, province or nation (Rudd, 2009). Additionally, the term major-archbishop is simply a variation of archbishop (Rudd, 2009). Furthermore, the only person that can demote or remove a bishop from his position is the Pope, who appointed him in the first place (Rudd, 2009). While the Pope holds three positions in the hierarchy, bishops only hold two positions: bishop and priest.
Cardinals are bishops in the Roman Catholic Church; however, they have no power or authority over other bishops and priests (Rudd, 2009). The Pope chooses cardinal from among the bishops and archbishops of the Church to take on the title and additional responsibilities given to cardinals (Rudd, 2009). Specifically, a cardinal is one of a group of more than 100 prominent bishops in the Sacred College who advise the Pope and elect new Popes after a Pope dies (Princeton, 2009). In short, cardinals are bishops with additional privilege but do not rank over anyone outside of their own diocese (Rudd, 2009).
In the Roman Catholic Church, the title priest refers to the head of a parish or local congregation, who are often called reverend, pastor, priest, or father. These men are not bishops, but are under the authority of the bishop over the territory in which their parish is situated. The priest is accountable to only two men: his Bishop and the Pope (Rudd, 2009). A bishop from one diocese has no power or authority over a priest from a different diocese, which means that the only two men that can remove a priest are the bishop of the mother church or cathedral overseeing his diocese or the Pope (Rudd, 2009). In addition, the title monsignor is an honorary title given to a priest within a diocese in recognition of this contribution to the life and ministry of the Church (Rudd, 2009). The Bishopric in the Episcopal Church
The word Episcopal comes from the Greek word for bishop, which is reflective of the Church leadership of the Episcopal Church. While the Episcopal Church uses the office of bishop, the Church is not hierarchy in a traditional sense (McCall, 2008). Currently, the Most Rev. Dr. Katharine Jefferts Schori, previously Bishop of Nevada, serves as the twenty-sixth Presiding Bishop of The Episcopal Church (Episcopal Church 1, 2009). She is also the chief pastor to the Episcopal Church’s 2.4 million members in 16 countries and 110 dioceses (Episcopal Church 1, 2009). In addition, she is the ecumenical officer and primate, joining leaders of the other 38 Anglican Provinces in consultation for global good and reconciliation (Episcopal Church 1, 2009). According to the website of The Episcopal Church (2009), “Jefferts Schori was elected at the 75th General Convention on June 18, 2006 and invested at Washington National Cathedral on November 4, 2006.” Furthermore, The Episcopal Church elects a presiding bishop every nine years who represents the Church in the Anglican Communion and presides over the meetings of bishops, known as the House of Bishops (Episcopal Church 2, 2009).
The basic unit of ministry in the Episcopal Church is the diocese, which is a region of a reasonable number of Episcopalians presided over by a diocesan bishop (Episcopal Church 2, 2009). The diocesan bishop, who may be male or female, chooses and ordains priests and deacons to serve the parishes or local congregations of the diocese, which carry out the work of the diocese in their local communities (Episcopal Church 2, 2009). Although The Episcopal Church is governed by a Constitution and a set of canon laws, the diocesan bishop is the ecclesiastical authority in his or her particular diocese (Episcopal Church 2, 2009). Additionally, diocesan bishops of The Episcopal Church have no authority outside of their dioceses; however, they meet together twice per year to pray and make decisions about the life of the Church (Episcopal Church 2, 2009).
The House of Bishops, along with the House of Deputies, is composed of all bishops, active and retired, of the Church, which meets concurrently with the House of Deputies during General Convention and holds yearly meetings between conventions (Episcopal Dictionary 1, 2009). Every three years, delegations from all the dioceses, along with the House of Bishops, also gather to worship and pass legislation for the Church at the General Convention, where broad decisions are made about policy and worship (Episcopal Church 2, 2009). In some dioceses, the Bishop and Council is the group which exercises all powers of the diocesan convention between meetings of the convention, which normally consists of the diocesan bishop, bishop coadjutor, suffragan bishop, and a designated number of clergy and lay persons (Episcopal Dictionary 2, 2009). In addition, although the Bishop and Council have authority in the diocese, they may not elect a bishop, amend the constitution and canons of the diocese, take any action contrary to the actions of the convention, or elect any canonical officers of the diocese (Episcopal Dictionary 2, 2009).
The Episcopal Church recognizes at least four other classes of bishops, in addition to the presiding, diocesan, and suffragan bishop as outlined above: bishop coadjutor, provisional bishop, bishop visitor or protector, and bishop elect. The bishop coadjutor is an assistant with the right of succession upon the resignation of the diocesan bishop (Episcopal Dictionary 3, 2009). The diocesan bishop must consent to such an election prior to consecrating a coadjutor and state the duties which will be assigned after his or her ordination and consecration (Episcopal Dictionary 3, 2009).
Provisional bishops are authorized to serve a diocese when the diocesan bishop is unable to fulfill that ministry due to disability or judicial sentence (Episcopal Dictionary 4, 2009). Next, a bishop visitor or protector has an official, canonical relationship with the religious order and serves as guardian of the order’s constitution and arbiter of last resort for issues of conflict in the community (Episcopal Dictionary 5, 2009). Finally, a bishop-elect is a presbyter elected to the episcopate but not yet ordained and consecrated, which may also apply to a person who is already a bishop in one jurisdiction, but has been elected to another jurisdiction and has not yet been officially recognized and invested with authority in that diocese (Episcopal Dictionary 6, 2009). The Bishopric in the United Methodist Church
The United Methodist Church uses the office of the bishop; however, contrary to the Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions, the bishopric is more of an elected position than an Episcopal calling. Specifically, in the United Methodist tradition, bishops are not ordained as bishops, but are clergy elected and consecrated to the office of bishop who serve as a general superintendent of the entire church (UMC 1, 2009). Bishops also give general oversight to the worldly and spiritual interests of the Church (UMC 1, 2009). In addition, bishops are assigned by their jurisdiction to serve a geographical area for a four-year term (UMC 1, 2009). Currently, the United Methodist Church has 50 Episcopal areas in the United States and 19 Episcopal areas outside of the U.S. in which the Bishops and Episcopal Area Offices are grouped by Jurisdiction (UMC 1, 2009).
The Council of Bishops in the United Methodist church is made up of all active and retired bishops of The United Methodist Church, which meets twice per year to discuss matters relating to the life and direction of the Church (UMC 1, 2009). According to the Book of Discipline, the Church expects the Council of Bishops to speak to the Church to give leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships (UMC 1, 2009). Interestingly, U.S. bishops, who are elected during one of the five jurisdictional conferences held every four years in the United States, are also consecrated at the jurisdictional conference and are expected to report for work in their new areas on September 1st of the same year (UMC 1, 2009). Additionally, the President of the Council of Bishops presides over its meetings, but has no additional authority over the other members of the Council, making him more of a facilitator than a recognized hierarchal authority (UMC 1, 2009).
The selection process of the bishopric in the United Methodist Church is interesting, in that it selects bishops by nominations and council votes. In fact, any member of clergy at an annual conference is eligible to be elected a bishop, which commonly arises from nominations or endorsements of individuals, although not necessary for election (UMC 2, 2009). While the actual number of votes needed to elect a bishop is determined by each jurisdictional conference, the church’s Book of Discipline recommends that at least 60 percent of those present and voting be required to elect a bishop (UMC 2, 2009). Additionally, the United Methodist Church currently has 17 female bishops leading Episcopal areas (UMC 2, 2009). The first woman to be elected as a bishop was the Rev. Marjorie Matthews in 1980, who served the Wisconsin Episcopal Area before her retirement (UMC 2, 2009). Furthermore, U.S. bishops in the United Methodist Church receive the same salary, according to the formula set by the General Conference, which for 2008 was $120,942 along with being provided an Episcopal residence (UMC 2, 2009). The Bishopric in the African Methodist Episcopal Church
The African Methodist Episcopal Church has become a central organization within the Body of Christ, especially within the past decade. Prominent AME preachers, such as Jamal Harrison Bryant and Vashti Murphy McKenzie, have changed the perception of the AME Church for many people, especially within the Pentecostal Movement. Admittedly, the African Methodist Episcopal Church is not officially Charismatic, many of its key leaders are filled with the Holy Ghost with the evidence of speaking in other tongues, while others are at least sympathetic to Charismatic expressions of worship in the Body of Christ. Additionally, many reformations, particular those with Pentecostal roots, enjoy trans-denominational fellowships with Pentecostalism’s distant cousin.
The bishopric in the AME Church is much different than that of the United Methodist Church in many ways, particularly in the manner in which bishops are elected. In the UMC, bishops serve for a limit of two terms; but in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, bishops are elected for life by a majority vote of the General Conference which meets every four years (AME-Church, 2005). However, the Church requires bishops to retire following their 75th birthday (AME-Church, 2005). In addition, the Council of Bishops is the Executive Branch of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, which has the general oversight of the Church during the interim between General Conferences (AME-Church, 2005).
In reviewing the website for the African Methodist Episcopal Church, all of the bishops appear to be assigned over a particular conference, which is similar to a diocese or territory in the Roman Catholic and Episcopal traditions. Whereas most organizations have only one presiding bishop, the bishops who serve over a conference are referred to as presiding bishops in the African Methodist Episcopal Church, since they literally preside over a particular territory. Additionally, the organization has a group of individuals known as presiding elders, who serve as a go-between or liaison between the pastors and the bishops. Presiding elders are not bishops and have no authority as such. The Bishopric in the Pentecostal Church
The Pentecostal Church is probably the most difficult movement to define in terms of the bishopric, primarily since Pentecostal churches are a conglomerate of countless reformations rather than being a singular body of believers. Some examples of churches classified under the Charismatic/Pentecostal movement include Word of Faith, Classical Pentecostals, Oneness Pentecostal – Apostolic – Jesus Only Churches, Third Wave, Vineyard, Neo-Pentecostal, Full Gospel, and other non-denominational groups that embrace speaking in tongues and other gifts of the Spirit, including five-fold ministry offices. Therefore, the remainder of this assessment will simply review examples of the bishopric within prominent reformations in the Pentecostal movement.
The Assemblies of God, which is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the world, does not refer to its leaders as bishops at all. The head of the organization, Rev. George O. Wood, is called a General Superintendent, not a presiding bishop (AG, 2009). In contrast, the administration of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) at the international level is under the supervision of the General Overseer or Presiding Bishop, three assistants known as executive bishops, the secretary general, and eighteen councilors constituting the International Executive Council of the Church (Church of God, 2008). Interestingly, all male ordained clergy are referred to as ordained bishops, although the term does not imply ecclesiastical or Episcopal authority. While the Church of God (Cleveland, TN) recognizes their leaders as bishops on paper, most preachers refrain from using the title publically.
The Church of God of Prophecy, which came out of the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), like the Assemblies of God, refrains from using the title of bishop, but refers to its leader as the General Overseer and those directly under him as General Presbyters (COGOP, 2007). Like many organizations in the Pentecostal Movement, the Church of God of Prophecy experienced a Church split over the issue of make-up and ornamental jewelry, resulting in the formation of The Church of God. The Church of God also refrains from using the title of bishop to refer to its leaders as general overseers, auxiliary coordinators, ministry leaders, state and regional overseers, and national and territorial overseers (TCOG, 2008).
The common element shared by the Assemblies of God, the Church of God (Cleveland, TN), the Church of God of Prophecy, and The Church of God is that they are comprised of a predominately Caucasian constituency. In contrast, most organizations with a more dominant African-American composition tend to utilize the office and title of bishop. For example, The Church of God in Christ, the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Apostolic Assemblies of Christ, and the Pentecostal Church of the Apostolic Faith all use various ranks of bishops. In many Apostolic reformations, the title of diocesan is preferred over jurisdictional bishop, while the Church of God in Christ refers to their diocesan bishops as jurisdictional bishops. Additionally, each organization has varied standards of official attire for their bishops; however, the office of bishop is generally one of high regard. Conclusion
The title of bishop means different things within various reformations throughout Christendom. The Roman Catholic, Episcopal, United Methodist, and African Methodist Episcopal churches share both similarities and dissimilarities as it relates to the bishopric, yet in each reformation, the office of bishop is a high honor. In addition, the Pentecostal Church, with its myriad of organizations, fellowships, and reformations, is difficult to analyze; however, African-American Pentecostals seem to be more open to using the title and office of bishop than those in predominately White organizations. The clearest lesson is that no two organizations have the exact same rules, at least in most cases, yet bishops should have a cursory understanding of the episcopacy in other reformations, allowing them to interact with other sects while maintaining true to the order and disciplines of their own fellowship and leadership.
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