Going out on a limb with Bishops…

There was a bit of a discussion about bishops in Catholicism and Lutheranism on Weedon’s blog. I know we have been there before, and I thank Dr Tighe for his great information on this score, but I have just had another thought inspired by this exchange in the combox on the above blog.

Schütz said…
I am not quite sure, Pastor Weedon, how you can ignore Dr Tighe’s research in this area. It is fairly clear from what he has written here (and in what he wrote to me at What happened to Bishops under Luther that there were plenty of opportunities for the Lutherans in Germany as well as in Sweden to receive and continue the apostolic succession of bishops but that they intentionally decided not to. There was a real and intended rupture.

I am also convinced that while, in the NT, Episkopoi and Presbyters seem to be describing the same office, and while the situation was fairly fluid for the first century and a half at least, it is evident that the office we today call “priest/presbyter” is in fact derived from the office of episcopus–which has the fulness of the priesthood–rather than the other way around (as Jerome and Luther contended).

Accordingly Lutherans (LCMS and LCA) may imagine that a bishop in the Catholic Church equals a President in their church, when in fact the equivalent to a Catholic bishop in Lutheran ecclesiology is the ordained congregational pastor. The Catholic says that the Bishop has the fullness of the priesthood just as the Lutheran says the Pastor has the fullness of the ministry.

William Weedon said…

About the esteemed Dr.’s research, I merely remark that it is notoriously difficult to step back into history and sort out “what was possible” – because the way things look to us now and the way they appeared then to the people living through the events are two different things.

For me, I do not believe that the Confessors lied when they say they’d have preferred to avoid the “rupture” in canonical polity – even as they begged Rome not to cast them out.

I think, though, you misapprehend what the LCMS thinks of her President or District Presidents. While we acknowledge, to borrow a phrase, a primacy of honor, we do not believe or pretend that the fullness of the priesthood resides in them in any way other than that they are ordained pastors. We’d even say the same thing about the pope: he has the fullness of ministry imparted to him via his ordination to the ministry. Didn’t Rome even used to sort of imply this by using the term “consecrate” rather than “ordain” for bishops? His great commission from Christ is the same as every pastor’s: to proclaim the alone-saving Gospel and to serve out to Christ’s people the waters of baptism, use the keys to forgive and retain sin, and offer the Holy Eucharist.

In New Orleans, a pastor friend of mine went to a meeting at Tulane University. He wore his pectoral cross. A Roman priest noted this with slight displeasure and told him: “In my tradition, only a bishop wears a pectoral cross.” My friend, without missing a beat, came back with: “Yes, but in MY tradition, I AM a bishop.” Reginald Fuller is reported to have said in the Episcopal-Lutheran dialog: “The problem with you Lutherans is not that you don’t have bishops, but that you have too many of them.”

The big question always ends up circling around authority and specifically whether the Sacred Scriptures provide a complete revelation of the will of God to man. If so, then the three-fold office is of necessity of human origin – venerable and perhaps the very best form the office can take – but this human ordering of the office ought not be confused with the one divine office instituted by Christ Himself: to preach the saving Gospel and administer the Sacraments.

I agree with most of what Pastor Weedon wrote back. I agree with the bit about the Pope in Catholic ecclesiology being equal to the President/bishop in Lutheran ecclesiology. He is the “first among equals”.

But what about the “three-fold office is of necessity of human origin”? Hmm. Let me go out on a limb here and do a “what if” for a minute.

I think it is fairly clear from the pastoral epistles that the office of deacon is different from the office of “epsicopus”. This scriptural witness means we do have to accept at least a divine origin to the “two-fold office” of ministry, where the first office is the “episcopus/presbyter” and the second is the deacon. The basic distinction between the two is that the former is a priestly office and the latter is not.

Now, lets imagine a different world in which the “episcopus/presbyter” never splits into “episcopus” and “presbyter”. There would be a priest-bishop in every congregation, dioceses and parishes would be the same thing. They may choose particular priest-bishops to be metropolitans or patriarchs, but essentially they would be “first among equals”, rather than of a different order from the congregational priest-bishops. Such a Church would in fact look just like Lutheran ecclesiology.

In fact, Lutherans live as if this “make believe world” actually was the real world in which they live. But in the real world, the office of Bishop and the office of Presbyter split. Both offices were priestly, but only the office of Bishop had the fullness of the priesthood. [Nb. the change in language from “consecration” to “ordination” of a bishop was done precisely to clarify this point, which has always been the teaching of the Church.] Since you can’t give something you don’t have to someone, nor can you give up something that belongs to the essence of your office, it is evident that the new non-episcopal presbyters derived their authority and orders from the office of the episcopal presbyters.

This is how it happened in the real world, not in the “what if” world. The result is that Lutheran ministry (which derives from a non-episcopal presbyteral succession) has never had the fullness of the priesthood and were never able to pass it on. Their pastors are imagined to be “bishops”, but that is not the reality.

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