[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
A BISHOP without a charge or cure, is like a husband without a wife, a contradiction in sense, if not in terms. There must be sheep before there can be a shepherd, and there must be a congregation before there can be an overseer. There must be work to be done before there is occasion for a workman. From all which it is plain there must exist a congregation of disciples before there is any office, officer, call, ordination, or charge concerning them. A bishop without a congregation, a president without a people, a teacher without pupils, is like an eye without a head, a tongue without a mouth, a hand without a body. From these incontestable dictates of common sense, if there were not a hint in the Oracles of Heaven upon the subject, it would appear that the existence of bishops or overseers was, in the order of nature, in the order of reason, in the order of God, posterior to the existence of churches or congregations. But the apostolic writings are as plain as the dictates of common sense upon this subject. They teach us that the office of bishops was the last thing instituted, or, in other words that the apostles and evangelists, had fulfilled their commission, i. e. had proclaimed the gospel, made disciples, baptized them, convened them, and taught them the Christian doctrine, before they suggested to them the necessity, utility, and importance of the office of a bishop. Thus we find the apostles in their subsequent or last visits to the congregations which they had planted, instituting, appointing, and giving directions concerning the bishop’s office.
From these premises it must follow that, as the enlisting of soldiers is previous to their training; the making of disciples, to teaching them; the gathering of congregations, to setting them in order; necessarily the bishop’s work is different from that of a missionary, a preacher, an evangelist, in the New Testament import of these terms. That the work of a bishop is different from every other work requisite to forming a congregation is self-evident from one fact, viz: That this work or office did not originate until congregations existed.
How congregations first came into existence, is one question; how they are to be brought into existence now, is another question; and what is a Christian bishop, or his work, is a question essentially distinct from both. To arrive at clear and distinct views on any subject, we must simplify, not confound; we must take one topic at a time; we must view it in all its bearings, and still keep it separate and distinct from every other.
We are now on the bishop’s office, as presented to us in the primitive congregations, and not the question how these congregations were gathered then, nor how congregations are to be gathered now. On these questions we have dropped some hints already, and may hereafter be more diffuse. We begin with a congregation such as that in Antioch, or that in Ephesus. The apostles and evangelists had converted, baptized, and convened the disciples in those places, had opened to their minds the Christian doctrine. In process of time they had so far progressed in this doctrine, as to be able to edify one another; some, as in all societies, progressed faster and farther than others. Some were better qualified to preside, to rule, and to teach, than others; and the constitution of man as an individual, and of men in society, is such as to require, for the sake of intelligence, order, peace, harmony, and general good, that there be persons set apart or appointed to certain functions, which are necessary to the good of the whole associate body. The exigencies [needs] of the congregations required this, both with regard to themselves and to others. Thus originated the bishop’s office.
The nature of the bishop’s office may be learnt either from the exigencies [needs] of the congregations, or from the qualifications by which the apostles have designated bishops. The qualifications which the bishop must possess show what was expected from him. These qualifications are of two sorts, such as respect the work to be done by the bishop and, secondly, such as respect the dignity of character which his prominence in the Christian congregation behooves him to possess. The former are those which some call gifts, or talents, of the intellectual order; the latter are endowments purely moral or religious. Those with which we are at present concerned are of the intellectual order. These are comprised under two general heads, viz. teaching and presiding [leading]. He must be qualified to teach, and be able by sound teaching both to convince and exhort those who oppose the truth. He must feed the flock of God with all those provisions which their exigencies require, or with which God has furnished them in the Christian institution. He must preside well. He is from office the standing president of the congregation; and it being requisite that he should be one that presides well in his own household, plainly imports what is expected from him in the Christian congregation.
In our ordinary meetings, according to the prevailing order in our congregations, we have no need of a president–we only desire and need an orator. Hence we have often been asked, what are we to understand by a bishop’s ruling or presiding well? I have generally replied, (perhaps rather satirically,) that the ancient congregations were not so well bred as the modern; that they were apt to ask questions and propose difficulties; and some arose to address their brethren in the way of admonition and exhortation; but that we Americans were a well bred people, had studied the etiquette of gentility in our meetings; and that our bishops needed not the qualifications of a president of a family, tribe, or community, no more than the president of the United States wanted a lifeguard in these peaceful times, or a shepherd a staff to guard his sheep when wolves and dogs were extinct.
In what are called “meetings of business,” once a month, or once a quarter, there is some apprehension that a president or “moderator” may be necessary, and the first thing done is to elect or appoint one; never considering or viewing the bishop as any more president from office than any other member, a positive and explicit proof that even the idea of presiding well is not so much as attached to the bishop’s office in these times, amongst the Baptists too.
A congregation of disciples, which is modeled upon the New Testament, will find that presiding well, is just as indispensable as teaching well, and that the prohibition of novitiates, or young inexperienced disciples, from the bishop’s office; is as wise a provision as any other in the Christian institution.
The bishop of a Christian congregation will find much to do that never enters into the idea of a modern preacher or “minister.” The duties he is to discharge to Christ’s flock in the capacity of teacher and president, will engross much of his time and attention. Therefore the idea of remuneration for his services was attached to the office from its first institution. This is indisputably plain, not only from the positive commands delivered to the congregations, but from the hints uttered with a reference to the office itself. Why should it be so much as hinted that the bishops were not to take the oversight of the flock “for the sake of sordid gain,” if no emolument or remuneration was attached to the office? The abuses of the principle have led many to oppose even the principle itself. We have said much against the hireling system, and see no ground as yet to refrain; so long as the salvation of the gospel, the conversion of the world, and heaven itself, are articles of traffic, and in the market, like other commodities, accessible to the highest bidder. The motto over the spiritual warehouses is, “The highest bidder shall be the purchaser.” And we are persuaded by a hundred venal prints, that if the church had the bank of the United States, that of London, and Paris, it could, in twenty years, convert the whole world, with the exception of a few millions of reprobates. I say while such is the spirit breathed from the pulpit and from the press, there exist ten thousand good reasons for lifting up our voices like a trumpet, crying aloud, and sparing not.
But to discriminate on this subject, and to exhibit where, and when, the hireling system begins; to graphically define, bound, and limit, beyond the power of cavil, on the one hand, and abuse on the other, has appeared to be a desideratum. While on the subject we shall make one effort here, subject to future and farther amendments, as circumstances may require.
A hireling is one who prepares himself for the office of a “preacher” or “minister,” as a mechanic learns a trade, and who obtains a license from a congregation, convention, presbytery, pope, or diocesan bishop, as a preacher or minister, and agrees by the day or sermon, month or year, for a stipulated reward. This definition requires explanation. That such, however, is a hireling, requires little demonstration. He learns the art and mystery of making a sermon, or a prayer, as a man learns the art of making a boot or a shoe. He intends to make his living in whole, or in part, by making sermons and prayers, and he sets himself up to the highest bidder. He agrees for so much a sermon, or for fifty-two in the wholesale way, and for a certain sum he undertakes to furnish so many; but if a better offer is made him when his first contract is out, (and sometimes before it expires,) he will agree to accept a better price. Such a preacher or minister, by all the rules of grammar, logic, and arithmetic, is a hireling in the full sense of the word.
But there are other hirelings not so barefaced as these, who pretend to be inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit to become ministers, and who spurn at any other qualification than the impressions and suggestions of the Holy Spirit, who are under an awful woe if they do not preach; and yet agree merely in the capacity of supplies, or preachers, to act the preacher for some small consideration. Upon the whole, I do not think we will err very much in making it a general rule, that every man who receives money for preaching the gospel, or for sermons, by the day, month, or year, is a hireling in the language of truth and soberness–whether he preaches out of his saddlebags, or from the immediate suggestions of the Holy Spirit.
The Christian bishop pleads no inward call to the work, and never sets himself to learn it. The hireling does both. The Christian bishop is called by the brethren, because he has the qualifications already. The minister says he is inwardly called, and prepares himself to be called and induces others to call him. The former accepts of the office for the congregation of which he is a member, and takes the oversight of them, and receives from them such remuneration as his circumstances require; and as they are bound in duty to contribute to him, not for preaching the gospel at all, for this they have already believed, enjoyed, and professed; but for laboring among them in teaching and watching over them, in admonishing them, in presiding over them, in visiting them in all their afflictions, and in guarding them against seduction, apostasy, and every thing that militates against their growth in knowledge, faith, hope, and love, and retaining their begun confidence unshaken to the end. The latter goes about looking for a flock, and when he finds one that suits his expectations he takes the charge of it for a year or two, until he can suit himself better. The former considers himself the overseer or president of the one congregation only who called him to the office, and that when he leaves them he resigns the office and is no longer president. The latter views himself as a bishop all his life. He was one before he got his present charge, and when he abandons it he is one still. He has been called by God as Aaron was, and remains a priest for ever. The Christian bishop was chosen and ordained from his outward and visible qualifications which the apostles described and required. The “minister” is licensed because of some inward impressions and call which he announces; or because he has been taught Latin, and Greek, and divinity, and because he can make a sermon, speech, or discourse, pleasing to the ears of a congregation or presbytery. Thus they differ in their origin, call, ordination, and work. Money is either the alpha or the omega, or both, in the one system. The grace of God and the edification of the body of Christ, are the alpha and omega of the other. Money makes, induces, and constitutes the one, unites him and his charge, dissolves him and his charge, and reunites him with another; again dissolves the union, and again and again originates a new union. Hence in the hireling system there is a continual tinkling of money, writing of new contracts, giving new obligations, making new subscriptions, reading of new calls, installing of old bishops, and a system of endless dunning. In the other, the love of God, the grace of Jesus Christ, who gave himself for the church, the eternal ties of Christian affection, the superior blessedness of giving to receiving, of supplying our own wants, of laboring with our own hands when it would be oppressive to others, either to relieve us or others, the example of Jesus who made himself poor, are the darling topics and the constant themes. That the bishop who thus labors in the word and teaching is worthy of double honor, and justly entitled to the supply of his wants, whether of food, raiment, or money, or all. Paul himself declares, and reason itself teaches; and those Christians deserve not the name, who would suffer such a bishop to be in need of any necessary good thing which they had in their power to bestow. If he wave his right to receive it, he is the more worthy; but the right exists whether he uses or waves it; whether it is or is not recognized by others. So says the Christian institution, so says reason, and so say I. But of the bishop’s office again.