Wednesday, January 23, 2008

#7: Historic Anglicanism is episcopal and parochial

If you've just joined us, read the introductory posts HERE.

Dr. Barnett has written many books. Is the New Testament Reliable? is a good start to Dr. Barnett's work on the New Testament. But the book that I have kept coming back to over the years as a reference and a resource is Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity. Shameless plug.

Number 7 from Paul Barnett:
'Seventh, "historic" Anglicanism is episcopal and parochial, requiring that only those who are duly recognized by the bishop engage in preaching in the congregation and in ministering the sacraments among the people. The role of ordaining and licensing in churches is placed in the hands of the bishop. Provision is made for the deposition of "evil ministers", (Article 26) which regrettably, has been under-utilised. The existence of the episcopate has provided laity aggrieved with their ministers with a place of appeal, sometimes justified, sometimes not.'
The point here is that pastors are "men under authority". And that authority is local. A minister is not a law unto himself, and he is not to act as such. There is someone who, under Jesus, gave them the authority they have, and therefore they have someone to whom they are to 'report'. There is a path for discipline (as well as support). Churches that have pastors who have no authority over them are in great danger. (And by oversight, I don't mean a bunch of peers to whom they 'share' with occasionally).

But Dr. Barnett opens a door when he says that one aspect of the 39 Articles has been 'under-utilized'. That is, Anglicans haven't kept their own 'rules' (not just the one mentioned here).

The current mess in the Anglican church (and especially here in the US) has been, in part, a failure of the Bishops and leaders to be faithful the the Faith Once Delivered. If the Bishop is not faithful to the Scripture, then that means that Episcopos can't function properly.

That's called a crisis, as far as I can tell.

One of Anglican proportions.

Pic by Flickr by petervanallen.


sam said...

There is a path for discipline (as well as support). Churches that have pastors who have no authority over them are in great danger. (And by oversight, I don't mean a bunch of peers to whom they 'share' with occasionally).

I feel this being part of an independent evangelical church. I know my senior minister will discipline him but what happens if he needed discipling. I guess i will have to have look at our constitution.

I agree with Barnett when he says this is under-utilised. It's almost impossible to get rid of Anglican ministers (even in Sydney).

Whilst I understand the notion behind the bishop appointing people to preach and administer 'sacraments', I feel like we prevent our everyday common 'minsters' i.e. congregational members, from doing ministry (even though they may be godly men with gifts in these areas.

Mind you the Anglican church i used to attend in Sydney seemed to just ignore this... if i have understood it properly.

michael jensen said...

John Webster has a great essay about 'oversight' as something that the gospel itself generates. And it is a function that the church must have rather than a particular office. So that allows for flexibility of church polity, but insists on appropriate fields of reference and authority for churches. The independent temptation must be resisted.

I do think the problem with more baptist and presbyterian church polity is that the minister can be sacked on a whim of the congregation, and so must be tempted to become a crowd-pleaser. But episcopacy hasn't saved Anglicanism from becoming a frightful mess either.

Warren Dodson said...

Is there any tension between this point and #2? Is the episcopal form of church government required by scripture? If not, to what degree should elders or laity allow their consciences to be bound by the decisions of a bishop?

This post also reminds me of one of my disappointments with Anglicanism. Coming from a free church background, I was hoping that bishops would be involved in pastoring pastors. With so many parishes lacking a plurality of elders, I hoped bishops would have more of this function. Instead, bishops and pastors seem to often be quite lonely ministers. I wonder if a greater focus on pastor was part of historic Anglicanism.