Apologetics is that branch of Theology that deals with the defense and establishment of the Christian faith. Therefore, my Apostolic Apology is in defense of the ongoing development of and the redefining of the episcopacy considering scriptural, biblical, and careful exegetical analysis. I use the term apostolic in its’ root form to refer to the teachings and practices of the early Christian Apostles, their disciples, who we later refer to as Church Fathers, and what later is referred to as Apostolic Tradition.
It is important that we face episcopal leadership with a clear head and develop an understanding that this episcopal mandate is serious and needed. The episcopacy has been somewhat of a curse because of the way it is been handled by corrupt and non-spirit filled leaders throughout the centuries. So, this subject should be approached from the standpoint that we develop the history, usage, and the very nature of what the episcopal mandate details.
During what we term the Apostolic and Sub-apostolic ages, the dynamics of the Holy Spirit leading, empowering, and mandating attention was powerful and necessary for the growth and development of the Early Church. In fact, the first two centuries could very well be termed the era of miracles. Especially, as we dissect the Apostolic Age. Let us keep in mind that there were no Church structures or an organized leadership structure. The Primitive Church was marked by the eye-witness accounts of the original Apostles to the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ; to the amazing identification of genuine love among its’ followers; and to the struggle of maintaining and enforcing strong fellowship in the midst of tremendous persecution.
In order to spread this newfound “Faith” believers had to relocate often but maintain a testimony of comfort and peace in the presence of hostile reception (Acts 8:1). This early band of believers faced two main issues that kept division in the ranks. Because this started out as a kingdom message the pressure was on to announce a continuation of the Jewish interpretation of kingdom. As a result, many of the first Christians were primarily Jewish and rejected Gentile converts to the new “Faith.” The Apostles emerged as a collegiate leadership in Acts 6; 8; 11; and 15 to settle the divisions. Later as bands of believers gathered in different locations and the core of the church turned Gentile things also shifted doctrinally, as society viewed Christianity as just another Jewish cult. In fact, it wasn’t until the late first century that Rome began to observe a distinction between Christians and Jews.
I must pause here and mention that the mandate of the Apostles was to spread the “Faith” not to govern the believers. So, we do not have a collection of churches formed by the Apostles as pastors or leaders in the NT. As a matter of fact, church history records the travels of the “twelve” as they went about spreading the “Gospel” throughout the known world. As they pioneered their missionary work, we really do not have any scriptural evidence churches were planted by them, but many were erected in their honor as many were martyred for their testimony.
In our canon, Paul is the model church planter and “bishop” through his preaching, teaching, and administration by epistles in and out of prison. Paul, however, was not governing church structures, but communities of believers discovering fellowship, relationships, discipline, and worship. It should be noted here that Paul was not able to be a general spokesman of the church of his day. He rejected being associated with the foundational Apostles out of humility and they did not trust him anyway.
Most of Paul’s teachings were later regarded as inspired because of the fruit of his labors and much of the NT is made up of his writings. I do not have time here to explore all the various dimensions of ideas or theories, but just let me address Ephesians 4:11 in context. Paul is not advocating a hierarchy of leaders, as much as he is developing a leadership flow from Jesus Christ. The theme of this chapter is unity, not authority.
Over the next couple of centuries, it was left to gifted teachers to advocate structured leadership as a result of the rapid growth of the church during adverse persecution and martyrdom. In Carthage, North Africa, early church theologian Tertullian is quoted as saying, “that persecution strengthened the church.” For those who wanted to be bishops in this era, it is historically recorded that you would be martyred as an example to stop church growth. Bishops and deacons emerged as the accepted leaders during this difficult period of growth and unrest.
However, with the collapse of the Roman Empire in 432 A.D., the church found itself as both the civil and the ecclesiastical authority of its day. So, with the decline of miracles and the rise of Organizational authority, the church was on a course in the West to diminish the power of the Holy Spirit guiding the process.
Over the next ten centuries between schisms and power plays the episcopacy became corrupt. Pope Leo IX in the 10th century, became notable for efforts to end the practice of simony (buying of religious offices). The name is taken from Simon Magus (Acts 8:18), who endeavored to buy from the Apostles the power of conferring the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
The episcopacy during the Medieval period became noted for corruption and wealth. The early Apostles criteria for church leadership in Acts 6, was that they are filled with the Holy Spirit. We do not see evidence of many pious episcopates throughout this era. The more world power church leadership obtained the more corrupt they became. The church started deteriorating from the inside and diminished the authority of the Holy Spirit. So, the reformers were crying for change in leadership styles and a return to Apostolic traditions and doctrine.
In our day, there is been a resurge of the episcopal and apostolic protocol in the church proper. The real issue is whether we want to lead or follow the Holy Spirit’s direction. In every generation, we are faced with a crusade to return to prior moves or operations of the church. But is there a mandate to look back or press forward? What really is the future for a church that has become more marginalized over the centuries as it has become the largest religion in the world by population? What is the Holy Spirit mandating for the future of a dead church? And are we ready for a change that may not fit our egos nor our empire aspirations?
I propose a different structural viewpoint that puts episcopal leaders in the position of servants, not royalty. As priests who are interceding for a lame church and seeking the “face” not just the “hand” of God in prayer and worship. Not replacing our High Priest as intercessor but assisting an effort to take earth to heaven as Christ succeeded in bringing heaven to earth. In a culture where everybody is attempting to be a spokesman for God, where are the priests who can appeal to the heart of God for salvation, healing, and deliverance in our day?
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