[By Alexander Campbell, with emphasis added in bold by Scott Shifferd Jr.]
SOME of the populars sneer at the term bishop, as if the Spirit of God had not chosen it to designate the only legitimate “officer” in a Christian congregation, who is, from office, to teach and rule. They love Rabbi, Rabbi, or Reverend and Right Reverend, too well to lay them aside, or to exchange these haughty titles for the apostolic and humble name of overseer or bishop. And I see that some of the Baptists too, who love the present order of things, and who contend for the traditions of the fathers in the mass, in their editorial labors either capitalize, or italicize, or by some outlandish mark, erect a monument of admiration at every inscribing of the name Bishop. Yet their dear “Confession of Faith” says, p. 43.
“8. A particular church gathered and completely organized according to the mind of Christ, consists of officers and members; and the officers appointed by Christ to be chosen and set apart by the church, so called and gathered, for the peculiar administration of ordinances, and execution of power, or duty, which he entrusts them with, or calls them to, to be continued to the end of the world, are bishops, or elders, and deacons.”
Some again, because of the impieties of England and Rome in appropriating this term to a man who wore a wig, and a gown, and trappings, have considered it very profane indeed, to call any man a bishop who does not wear a wig and kiss the pope’s toe. But to those who have got an apostolic taste, the title or name of office which Paul and Peter adopted and designated is incomparably preferable to the prescriptions of Geneva or Westminster. I have lately heard that some Baptist teachers who at first recognized the “divine right,” at least of the name, and were desirous of coming up to the ancient model in all things, are now startled, if not considerably shocked, when saluted “Bishop;” but the term reverend can be heard without any nervous spasm. Perhaps this may be accounted for on good principles; and indeed, if so, it is the best argument we can find for giving an exclusive preference to the terms adopted and fixed by the Spirit of Revelation. The reason why they are startled at the title on this hypothesis, they see some incongruity in its application to them. There is no incongruity arising from their want of an academical education, from their being merely acquainted with their mother tongue, from their not having a doctorate or an honorary degree. It is not on this account they are startled or affrighted at being called Bishop. But they never read in the New Testament of a bishop of two, three or four congregations; of a bishop having the “pastoral care” of a church in Rome, and Corinth, and Ephesus–in Philadelphia, Pergamos, and Thyatira, at the same time. They might have read of a plurality of bishops in one congregation, but never of a plurality of congregations under one bishop. This they may have read in the history of diocesan episcopacy, but not in the history of primitive episcopacy. But some of them are startled perhaps, on another consideration. They were not made bishops according to law. Their declaration of a special call to some work entirely distinct from the bishop’s work, was the ladder which reached from the floor to the pulpit. And they do not read that any were made bishops in the hale and undegenerate days of the Christian kingdom, because of their having declared that they were inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit to take upon them the office of a bishop. In fine, there is no occasion for being particular or minute in finding out incongruities, which may appear to some a good and lawful reason why they should not be so designated. But they can discover no incongruity in being called minister, preacher or divine; for everyone that makes public speeches or harangues on religion, is so called by their cotemporaries. The term reverend, too, is become such common property, that the preacher of the dreams of Swedenborg, or the leader of the dance of a Shaker meeting is fully entitled to all its honors and emoluments–equally heirs to its privileges in this world and that which is to come. That some half dozen of Baptist preachers have become shy of the name bishop, for the reasons above specified, is, indeed, a good symptom in their case. It proves that their acquaintance with the ancient order of things is increasing, that they see a discrepancy between the ancient order and the present–between themselves and the bishops instituted and appointed by the apostles.
As to our Presbyterian brethren, they make little or no pretensions to the name. They are wise enough to know that it is unsuitable to their character; but they would have some to think, that their minister and Paul’s bishop are one and the same character.
Our Methodist friends have not quite forgotten the glory and majesty of the Lord Archbishop of York:–for even until this hour archepiscopacy has some charms in their eyes. In other words, a few of this brotherhood still like the remains of diocesan episcopacy. They seem to admire it, even in its ruins. I believe, however, such is the progress of light amongst this zealous people, that few, if any of their leaders, consider there is a divine right for either their bishops or form of church government, other than “vox populi, vox Dei.” Yet still their “church government” has too many heads, even when the horns are broken off.
The good old high church bishops are not within the sphere of comparison. There is no point of contact; no one side of the system that can be measured by any side of primitive episcopacy.
Our Baptist brethren began in the spirit, but ended in the flesh, on their adopting a species of presbyterial independency–licensing of preachers, and then converting these preachers into elders, with the exclusive right of administering “sealing ordinances,” and creating or finishing an order of its own kind.
But the fact is, very generally, that few of the leaders of religious assemblies seem to know, or are able to decide, whether they should be called evangelists, preachers, elders, bishops, or ambassadors; but the term minister or divine seems to embrace them all.
To many it seems but of little consequence to be tenacious of the name. Why not then call the leaders priests? Why not then call them astrologers, soothsayers, or oneirocritics, if the name be indifferent? Because, says one, those names are used to denote quite different characters. For the same reason, therefore, let the names which the apostles adopted be used in their own acceptation, and let those things, persons and offices which the apostles said nothing about, be named or styled as the inventors please, but call not bitter sweet, nor sweet bitter. Let as not call the messenger of a congregation, an elder. Let us not call a preacher, a bishop. Let us not call a bishop, a divine; nor a deacon, a ruling elder. In a word, let us give to divine institutions divine names, and to human institutions human names.
Were Christian societies to constitute Christian bishops, and to designate them by their proper title or name of office, many important results would exhibit themselves, amongst which, none of the least would be the leveling the haughty and supercilious pretensions of those who claim another office under this name, and designate themselves as the only persons to be so viewed and denominated.
Another happy circumstance resulting from this course, would be the discountenancing and suppressing the pretensions and enthusiastic conceits of those who are imposing themselves upon society, under the pretence that they are specially called and sent by the Holy Spirit of God to preach. If they are sent to preach, let them go to preach–but they can plead no right to officiate as bishops under the call to preach. If they are called to go and preach the gospel to every creature, they dare not, of course, refuse to go; nor dare they assume a work in relation to which they are not called, and to which no man was ever otherwise called, than as the brethren, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, called him. For amongst all the qualifications by which Paul would have a bishop chosen–the modern special call is not to be found–I again repeat, that the adoption of the course divinely recommended, would, in due time, suppress the impositions practiced upon the unsuspicious, by a class of raving, ranting mountebanks, who are playing themselves off as a kind of little half inspired ones, who just give to the people who they pretend they have got from heaven; and say that so clear is their divine mission and call, that eternal woe awaits them if they preach not the gospel.
The bishops of apostolic creation are sometimes called elders–because they were generally aged persons, and always amongst the oldest converts in the community in which they officiated. But the office is no where called the elder’s office. There is nothing in the term elder, which can designate the nature of any office. But the term bishop implies a good and arduous work. While on the term elder, it may be remarked, that there is no greater incongruity than to see a stripling or a young man from twenty to thirty, styled elder; and if the name does not suit his years, it is a very strong reason in favor of the conclusion that the office of a bishop does not.
Here I had intended to have called the reader’s attention to the call and appointment of a bishop–but circumstances beyond my control, forbid an effort of this kind for the present.