The advent of the coronavirus has thrown the normal practices of our society, including our churches, into disarray. The main obstacle the virus presents is the necessary prohibition of large gatherings. The EPC General Assembly (GA) normally has ~1,000 attendees and ~650-800 commissioners, far too large to occur if the bans on large gatherings are still in place at the time the GA is currently scheduled for mid-June. Rescheduling or cancelling the GA are certainly options, but a third consideration is a delegated assembly with representatives from each presbytery as participants…
Michael Bird provided an outline of the biblical and historical case for episcopacy, wherein “church governance centres on the bishop as the fulcrum of faith, order, and ministry…The diocese is the basic unit with a single bishop overseeing a number of priests and parishes. The bishop is distinct from and above the priests and deacons, who serve in an individual congregation.”
For this presbyterian, the strength of Bird’s position came down to two key arguments. First, that ἐπίσκοπος (episkopos, “bishop/overseer”) and πρεσβύτερος (presbuteros, “elder”) are not synonyms, but perionyms, meaning that their meanings overlap rather than being interchangeable. Citing the work of Alistair Stewart, Bird suggests, “that early congregations had a single episkopos, but when the many episkopoi of a city met together, they became a federated council of presbyteroi (emphasis original).” Second, that the apostles functioned as a college of bishops from which the episcopate is modeled and derives its legitimacy. There was originally a cohort of apostles leading the church in Jerusalem, then just Peter, James, and John, and finally, just James. “The Jerusalem church evolved from an authority consisting of apostles with elders and deacons, to a monoepiscopacy with the bishop acting as first among equals among the elders.”
So, the crux of the argument that precludes presbyterianism is that, a) ἐπίσκοπος and πρεσβύτερος are perionyms, and b) we see monoepiscopacy in scripture with James in Jerusalem, which illustrates the overlapping, and yet distinct, nature of bishops and elders.
I was left unpersuaded. This argument is begging the question. I acknowledge that Bird was providing a sketch of the alleged biblical and historical basis for episcopacy, and that some of the points he mentioned might not be his own position. In the same spirit, this is a sketch of why the biblical and historical argument for episcopacy is rejected by presbyterians…
An elder of the church who commits adultery should be permanently disqualified him from ever again serving as an elder of the church.
This statement may seem to contradict the Christian spirit of repentance, forgiveness, reconciliation, grace, and restoration, yet it remains the biblical truth.
1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1
In 1 Timothy 3:1-7, Paul lays out the requirements for an overseer/bishop of the church, repeated by him in Titus 1:5-9 for elders of the church. In both passages (1 Tim 3:2, Titus 1:6), Paul says that the officer of the church must be a μιᾶς γυναικὸς ἄνδρα, literally a “man of one woman”. This is commonly translated as “husband of one wife” (e.g. the CSB, ESV, KJV, NASB), but some translations have rendered it as “faithful to his wife” (e.g. NIV, NLT). Both of these translations get to an aspect of its meaning, but by themselves are inadequate in capturing the full sense of the phrase.
The idea in Paul’s requirement is not that an elder of the church is merely monogamous, but is faithful in his commitment to his wife. To be an elder you must be a man of one woman, and someone already an elder must remain a man of one woman.
Guy Waters’ essay at Reformation 21 earlier this month prompted my recent batch of posts on ministers taking exceptions (i.e. expressing disagreements) with their church’s doctrinal standards. In 1788, the American presbyterian church issued a statement of eight preliminary principles of church polity, generally attributed in authorship to John Witherspoon. These preliminary principles since then have either been explicitly part of the governing documents (as in the PCA) or been sprinkled throughout and affirmed in the governing documents (as in the EPC) of American presbyterian churches.
The second of these principle states,
As I mentioned in my previous post on exceptions, Michael Lynch argued that in the Reformation the personal views of ministers were subordinated to the confessions of the church. To become a minister of the church was to affirm the church’s doctrine, and Lynch argues, the church therefore had the right to prohibit a minister from teaching his conscience if it conflicted with the doctrine of the church. I think Lynch gets it wrong, since the Reformation-era churches would not allow a man to become a minister if he had any disagreements.
This can be seen in the rules for ordination in Scotland at the end of the Reformation. The ordinand was to be examined in “his knowledge of the grounds of religion [the confessional standards of the church], and of his ability to defend the orthodox doctrine contained in them.” At the installation service, the presiding minister was to “demand of him who is now to be ordained, concerning how faith in Christ Jesus, and his persuasion of the truth of the reformed religion [the contents of the Westminster Standards], according to the scriptures.” These are the ordination vows, to which the candidate was to answer in the affirmative. These processes assume agreement with the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, and do not leave room for exceptions…