Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Ecclesiology (1) - Church Structure

The area in-between the *** are personal reflections and not properly arguments, so feel free to skip them.


I've now decided on my soteriology, an absolutely basic understanding that "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." (Romans 10:13), regardless of whether they are Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran, Reformed or (ana)Baptist. That most simple gospel, that if I ask God for forgiveness, for the sake of Jesus Christ, he will not withhold it from me, because he desires that all should be saved, over and above the retension of a visible unified Church. So I have accepted this much of the Reformation, that God freely offers his grace to any whom the Spirit regenerates. The fact that Paul could rebuke Peter on a gospel issue, means to me that soteriology must come first.

But now comes the next challenge must be dealt with: Ecclesiology.

1. Which style of Church Governance is correct?


This model has support from Acts 1, and the succession of Matthias to Judas "bishopric" in the King James, or apostolic office. What does that mean however? The Fathers seem to indicate that each city or geographic diocese (a Roman Province decided on by the Pagan Imperial powers) had a bishop who was a figure of unity. However, if Paul and Peter were both in Rome, then that raises questions about the nature of the rule of 'one bishop one diocese'. In fact, if the Pope has universal jurisdiction, then really there is either only one global diocese/bishop, or 2 bishops in every diocese (again going against Tradition).

Likewise, the Methodists made a strong argument. For example, Timothy was allegedly to be appointed as Bishop of Ephesus, this tends to be the Roman Catholic argument. However, look at 1 Tim 4:14 "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery (or priesthood)." If Timothy was given his ministry (bishop) by the laying on of hands by the presbytery/priesthood, this means his succession was passed on by the priesthood, and not by the Episcopate. This means, as the Methodists will tell you, that all that is required to make a church is at least 3 priests validly ordained in apostolical succession, and they could then vote in a bishop (in the Alexandrian and Nicene Tradition, which states that bishops must be elected). An interesting argument to be sure.

Anyone arguing for a congregationalist style of church government like the Presbyterians, Lutherans, and Baptists, would have to base their argument on the ecclesial 'popular sovereignty' of Christians. They argue (quite rightly in terms of linguistics) that 'ecclesia's (churches) were assemblies in ancient Greece. For example, in Athens, the Ecclesia was a group of around 5000 men who would elect a leader like Pericles. Baptists argue that their 'bishops' (pastors) are elected by the congregations and that the 'laying on of hands' really means the raised hands that were used in voting. While the burden of proof is on them to show the truth to this unsubstantiated claim, it is still one argument. The case can be made that Presbyter/Priest, and Pastor/Bishop are actually all equivalent terms, and that in the hierarchy there is only two offices: laity and pastorate/presbytery.

I accept the authority of Scripture, the Fathers, and Tradition, and so the second two sources seem nigh unanimous in their support for the episcopal system of governance. As St. Ignatius of Antioch so harshly warned "do nothing without the bishop", and the Didache and other early texts seem to make the sacramental validity of the Eucharist to be dependent on either the presence or permission of a bishop in the line of apostles. I don't believe Tradition teaches a Petrine supremacy of jurisdiction though.

So, that leaves the Anglican Church of Canada, the Orthodox Church in America, and the Anglican Network/Anglican Church in North America (Evangelical & Anglo-Catholic split). I think Eastern Orthodoxy has gone against Antiquity and Tradition (ironically enough) by calling early medieval teachings 'apostolic tradition' (and thus falling into a quasi-Roman gnosticism of 'the secret tradition of the apostles'). The Anglican Church of Canada has gone against nature and grace by blessing homosexual unions and supporting abortion, leaving me the Anglican Church in North America, of which I am currently seeking membership.

No comments:

Post a Comment