10 - The Ministry Of Bishops
Updated: Jul 21
“And I believe one holy catholic and apostolic Church.
One of the main characteristics of the Church is that it is “apostolic”, from the Greek word apostello, which means ‘sending’
“Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. (Mt 10.40)
There is a sense in which the first ‘apostle’ is Jesus, since he was “sent” by the Father to make the Father known to us, to ‘explain’ the Father to us, as the Gospel of John says
“No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known” (John 1.18). – has explained him to us
But we also know that Jesus never wrote anything. The way in which he “explained” the Father was by creating a fellowship when he called twelve companions to follow him and live with him throughout his ministry, from the moment he was baptized until his Ascension.
Only one thing was required of them: to be with him, see what he did and hear what he said, and then be sent on their turn to become his witnesses.
This appears clearly in the first thing of the Apostles did immediately after Jesus’ Ascension. Judas was no more part of their group, and they needed to restore the number of twelve, which was important because it signified that the church was a continuation of the twelve tribes of the people of Israel. The Apostle Peter explained that to replace Judas they had to choose
“one of the people who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us, to become with us a witness to his resurrection.” (Acts 1.21f)
So the apostles first began to tell everyone about their experience and progressively started to write it down. We might think that this would have been enough to preserve their witness: leaving a written record of it, that which we call the New Testament.
However, what Jesus did and said could not be preserved only under the form of a written text. He had established a fellowship of which the apostles where the first members and the messengers. This is why wherever the apostles went, they founded churches, that is fellowships and established leaders.
These leaders became what we call bishops (from the Greek word epískopos, meaning "overseer") and this office was conferred to them through the laying on of hands:
Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you (1 Tim 4.14)
I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands, for God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control. (2 Tim 1.6f)
Thus, bishops are one of the ways in which the church is ‘apostolic’: they are the link between the apostolic fellowship founded by Jesus and our communities today and their main role is to make sure that the church remains connected to Jesus’ mission and testimony:
“That which we heard, saw with our eyes, looked upon and touched with our hands we proclaim also to you, so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ”. (1 John 1.1-4)
In this way, bishops also make sure that the churches throughout the world remain connected to each other, in communion with each other. In may ways bishops are connectors: they connect churches with Jesus and with each other.
This is how the Church of England understands the ministry of bishops
The historic episcopal succession is an expression first of Christ’s faithfulness to the Church, second of the Church’s intention to remain faithful to the apostles’ teaching and mission. It is a means both of upholding that intention and of giving the faithful the confident assurance that the Church lives in continuity with the Lord’s apostles and in anticipation of a glory yet to be fully disclosed.