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 Issues | Ministry | Woman Bishops

1. The nature and role of episcopacy (Bishops)

It is argued that Bishops as they exist in the Church of England today are simply Presbyters (priests) who are set aside  (consecrated) for a wider area of ministry.

Leadership in Scripture and the Nature of Christian Leadership

On the above page it is argued that:

Leadership is to be modelled on Christ

Leaders are to be servants

Leaders are shepherds

The leader is also a teacher

Leaders are to govern as stewards

Leaders are also to discipline

Leaders must bear the cost.


Wider leadership
Within an institution such as the church there will always be a need for leadership with a wider sphere of operation. This can take on many varied and different forms but for many in such wider leadership there is a problem that contact with people is decreased. Such a leader will usually meet and have contact with far more people but for much less time and in a much shallower way. This factor affects all sorts of leadership and can be a problem in a single congregation but I want here to focus on the
ministry of Bishops as it has developed. Parish clergy often complain that they don't get much care from Diocesan leadership, yet this is largely the nature of the thing, it is not the fault of the individual Bishop or Archdeacon. In the wider sphere leadership becomes more remote, but not removed.

In Scripture there is no distinction drawn between the office of a Bishop and the office of a Presbyter, they are the same. However, at the same time we can see in Scripture the seeds of later development and simple organisational dynamics make it more or less inevitable that some sort of wider leadership should emerge.  The formularies of the Church of England recognise this fact because they seek to do justice to our heritage without saying more than scripture allows.  Thus as they developed Bishops were Presbyters who were confered with or set aside for a wider area of ministry.

This distinction is also reflected in the primary titles used  in the Book of Common Prayer were we find the 'making or deacons', 'ordaining of presbyters' and 'consecration of bishops'.  Consecration means to set apart for a special use.

This being so the Bishop faces some particular problems in exercising a presbyteral ministry:

The leader is a servant. It is much more difficult to serve people in any tangible way if the leader has so little contact with them. Titles such as 'the servant of the servants of God' sound grand but they are difficult to model.
The leader is a shepherd. The bigger the flock the more difficult the shepherd finds it to pastor, he simply cannot do it himself. The sheep do not know the shepherd well and do not easily follow the call.
The leader is a teacher. Whilst Bishops and others have the immense opportunity of teaching large numbers of people it is difficult to teach in depth. They cannot follow up one to one, they rarely teach one group more than once or twice and they cannot know their hearers so well. There are some advantages in these things but overall the role of teaching becomes more difficult. That is the nature of the task, not the fault of any individual.

If these things are problems, then so too are the roles of governing and discipline. These tasks still fall to the wider leader and sometimes it is an advantage. Sometimes a decision has to be taken which is hard to take when we are close to those whom it affects. However, more often for government and discipline there are potentially serious problems. In the case of discipline, when it is exercised by a local leader it should be an act of love, of pastoral concern. For the wider leader, the desire may be
there, but it is far more difficult to do this, so it is easy for it to appear as discipline without love.

In order for them to be exercised properly the roles of government and discipline must be set in the context of loving service. For this reason we should be concerned about moving these functions too easily away from the local leaders in the Church. In an episcopal church, which recognises and values the role of Bishops we must nevertheless ensure that as far as possible leadership remains local. We should remember that the Church of England is not simply an episcopal church, it is more than that a national church and a parochial church. To use the buzz word, we need subsidiarity, if it can be done locally, it should be done locally.

It is often said that a Bishop is a focus of unity, and there is truth in this.

First, the Bishop is a focus of unity in that he is given the task of preaching 'the faith once revealed' to all the people whom he oversees.

Secondly, he is a focus of unity since he is given the special role of defending the faith against error and disciplining those who teach error.

Of course, when a Bishop himself teaches falsehood or accommodates error then he becomes a focus of disunity. Sadly this is becoming increasingly the reality. No amount of purple, fancy titles or exaggerated claims can make up for the divisions caused by Bishops who do not uphold the faith.


Church Society articles on Episcopacy

The Sacred Regiment of Bishops - Towards an Anglican Understanding. Churchman article by F. J. Taylor (1948)

The Anglican Pattern of Episcopacy. Churchman article by Rt Rev. J. W. Hunkin (1948).

Cranmer's Attitude to the Episcopate: Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Churchman article by Maurice Elliott (1995)


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2. Should women be Bishops

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Related Links
Consecration of Women Bishops
BulletNature and role of Bishops
BulletShould women be bishops?
BulletIssues to do with women bishops
BulletRochester Commission
BulletSynodical Process
BulletProvision for opponents

BulletSubmission 2009 (CS Council)
BulletSubmission 2009 (CS Trust)
BulletJoint Submission 2007
BulletJoint evangelical submission
BulletOpen letter to Bishops
BulletRochester Submission
BulletSubmission to Guilford Group
BulletPetition to Guildford Group
BulletSynod Briefing July 2006


Ministry Pages
BulletLay Office Holders
BulletClergy Discipline
BulletFalse Teachng
BulletClergy Terms of Service

Ministry - Other Sub Issues
BulletWomen Priests
BulletSenior Appointments

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