The Historic Episcopate -- By: J. C. Long

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 051:203 (Jul 1894)
Article: The Historic Episcopate
Author: J. C. Long


The Historic Episcopate

Rev. J. C. Long

THERE never was an institution on earth lasting through a long stretch of time without change. The change may be simply that of growth or that which comes from an adjustment to new circumstances. In these cases it is of a kind with the changes that come to individual men. The boy grows into the man; and the man adapts himself to the changing conditions of life. His continuity is not broken; his identity is not destroyed. Sometimes, however, institutions so change as to lose their original character. Their spirit changes; their functions change; they are not what they were.

The United States government furnishes an example of change of the first kind. Its power has increased, and the sphere of its operations has widened. Whereas it was the government of a new and weak people, it has come to be the government of a great and powerful people. It has to do things which its founders did not foresee; but these things are not alien from its spirit. It is the same government because it has kept itself in the line of normal development.

It would be easy to find institutions illustrating changes of the second kind; cases in which the servant has come to be the master; in which the temporary and occasional have come to be permanent; cases in which, if the original purpose and spirit have not been forgotten, the organization and methods have been greatly perverted. The Catholic Church, claiming to be always the same, has been the subject of changes

of this second kind. In its long history it has changed as a whole, and it has changed in its parts—especially has it changed in its organization. Its offices have multiplied and some of them have got to themselves new and strange functions. It is my present purpose to speak particularly of the office of Bishop as illustrating this change.

A bishop has not always been a bishop. As we know him he was not made or constituted or appointed. He was developed or evolved. Before he was a bishop he was something else. He was indeed called a bishop, but he was not a bishop as we know bishops, or as bishops have been known for centuries. He was an elder, or presbyter, or priest. He was not an elder with certain peculiar functions added: he was simply an elder: any elder was a bishop and any bishop was an elder. The two names designated the same person or office. The New Testament writers use them interchangeably. In Acts 20:28 the apostle calls all the Ephesian elders bishops. “Take heed,” he says, “to yourselves, and to all the flock, over which the Holy Ghost hath made you bishops.”1

visitor : : uid: ()