Leander Harding: Godly Bishops

Posted by Kendall Harmon

In what follows I am going to take it as established that the historic episcopacy is a continuation of the apostolic ministry which has evolved in the church under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and that therefore an episcopacy which has integrity and authenticity will be self-consciously seeking an ever greater conformity with the ministry of the first Apostles. One way of speaking about godliness in the episcopacy would to enumerate all the virtues that would go into a truly consecrated character. So we would speak of prayerfulness, learning, humility, the spirit of service, zeal for souls and so on. But how might a bishop find a way into these virtues? How can the motivation to grow in real godliness be sustained? I think by dwelling on the originating encounter with the crucified and risen Lord which propels the Apostles into their ministry. Essential to the ministry of the first Apostles is that they are witnesses to the resurrection and it is in the resurrection encounters that we should expect to find the distinctive shape and power of the apostolic ministry

Three locations dominate my thinking, meditation and prayer about the apostolic office. First there is John 20:19-23. The apostles are really cowering behind closed doors and the crucified and risen one appears to them. He shows them his hands and his side. They are glad when they see the Lord and he then says to them, “Peace be with you, As the Father has sent me even so I send you.” Then the Lord breathes on them and says, “Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.” To be an Apostle is to be one who is sent. Jesus is the Apostle of the Father and in his turn the crucified and risen one sends out his own apostles whose mission is to create by their witness a community of witness to the crucified and risen Lord and to the presence of his Spirit. At the heart of this witness is the extension of the reconciliation which has been offered to them. That the Apostles are given the authority to proclaim the reality of reconciliation and to distinguish false from true reconciliation is not some arbitrary power but a personal authority and knowledge that comes from their own actual personal redemption and what they have learned from welcoming and embracing the one who comes to breathe into them God’s peace.

The apostolic ministry originates in a personal encounter with the saviour. There is no way for these original witnesses to claim their vocation without looking upon the one whom they have betrayed and abandoned. They cannot be reconciled to him who holds out his wounded and glorified hands without embracing their own faithlessness and sinfulness. This dynamic is portrayed even more starkly in the encounter between Jesus and Peter on the beach in the twenty first chapter of St. John’s Gospel. Peter rushes to the beach where the Lord meets him over a charcoal fire and asks those excruciating questions, “Peter, do you love me?” There by that charcoal fire Peter must think of another interrogation and of his betrayal of the Lord. Peter can only answer the call to go and gather and feed the sheep by embracing the fire of his own sin. The connection between a personal confession of sin and the reception of the call to gather in and feed the flock of Christ that is being driven home to Peter on the beach in Galilee is there as well behind those closed doors in Jerusalem. The reception of the crucified and risen one’s commission to go and tell the nations begins necessarily with a personal sense of sinfulness and failure which is provoked by the sudden breaking in of the undeserved forgiveness of God. I am not speaking so much of a particular type of conversion experience but of the reality of knowing oneself as a betrayer and crucifier of the Lord and knowing oneself as the recipient of an undeserved and costly forgiveness. There is a place where shame and joy grow together, where a growing consciousness of the enormity of human sin and rebellion and a consciousness of the astonishing goodness of the seeking, searching, sacrificial love of God grow together. In this place which is at once a place of deep humiliation and deep peace, the words of the Lord “even so I send you,” can be rightly heard and when heard are an irresistible invitation to return love for love. Here the human race is being remade by a new genesis, a new inspiration of God’s Spirit. From this place the forgiveness of sins can be declared and the lost sheep of the Father gathered in. Here is the wellspring of godliness in the ministry of bishop and shepherd. The way into this place is the way of humility, of lowliness and of deepening repentance.

The third scriptural location I propose is suggested to me by Lesslie Newbigin. It is Paul’s encounter with the crucified and risen Lord on the road to Damascus, recorded in Acts 9. Paul is a persecutor of the church of God and is thrown from his horse by his encounter with the Lord. Lying in the dust he hears the Lord say to him, “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” Here we have the same revelation of sinfulness and of utterly undeserved love and forgiveness which strips Paul of any righteousness of his own. The disciples in Jerusalem, Peter on the beach and Paul on the road all share in the same humiliation which is at once an exaltation, in the same death which is at once life. In Paul’s circumstance an aspect of this originating apostolic encounter is made especially clear. In order to embrace his call to be an apostle, Paul must not only confess himself as God’s enemy but in order to grasp the wounded and glorified hand stretched out to him, Paul must also grasp the hands of those he has persecuted. Paul must recognize the nascent church as the body of Christ. Paul cannot be reconciled to God without being reconciled to God’s people. Paul recognizes that God is building a new people which shall be marked off not by the works of the law but by faith in the crucified and risen Messiah. Paul recognizes that God’s promise to recreate humanity, to reconcile the nations in a renewed Israel is coming true in and through Jesus. In Paul’s call we learn that to be a witness to the resurrection is to be at one and the same time a witness to the reality of the new Israel which is the body of the Christ.

Just these few encounters we have considered point us to elements that are at the heart of the ministry of episcopacy and which if they are held fast set a person on the same road toward holiness and godliness trod by the first Apostles. We learn that the apostolic ministry begins with a deep and personal apprehension of the forgiveness of sins by the crucified and risen Lord. That included in this forgiveness and reconciliation with God is the fact of the church and the body of Christ and that the new human life that comes in this encounter by the gift of the Spirit propels one into the life of mission, evangelization and witness.
The witness and authority of the original Apostles is intensely personal. They stand before the world as men personally convicted and personally redeemed by their encounters with the crucified and risen Lord. It is possible for us to distinguish between the evangelical concern for personal faith and the catholic concern for the body of Christ and for the apostolic ministry as a vital organ in the body of Christ, but these elements are encountered in the Bible always simultaneously as inextricably intertwined. The first Apostles are living proof and a sacramental sign of the forgiveness of sins, the reconciliation with God and the reality of the one body dependent on its one head, by their very presence. The message authenticates the person and the person authenticates the message.( It is of course possible for those who succeed in this office for this relationship between person and message to be impaired and this is perhaps the source of ungodliness in episcopal ministry.)
We come to our encounter with the crucified and risen one through the testimony of these original witnesses as that testimony is transmitted to us through the Word of God and through the succession of apostolic teaching and witness. The challenge for the contemporary bishop who wishes to stand in the shoes of the original Apostles is to dwell in and upon the Word of God in such a way that this originating apostolic encounter becomes real and personal and having once found this originating moment of encounter to return to it again and again and let it be the engine of the bishop’s teaching, preaching and witness. This call to return again and again to epicenter of the apostolic earthquake is a call to prayer and contemplation. It is a call to a life of study of the Bible and of the faithful teachers who by God’s grace make a faithful succession to the Apostles possible. It is call to mission, to evangelization, to invite others into this encounter (which is bound to come in different ways for different people) with the crucified and risen Lord.

This call is also a call to guarding the unity of the church. The new life with God which the saviour comes to bring us at so great a price is a new life with each other no less than with God. It is the restoration of God’s plan that he should be our Father and we should be his children and loving brothers and sisters of each other. At the center of the apostolic experience of forgiveness is the reality of the one people of God and the body of Christ. The Apostles witness to the reality of the forgiveness of sins not just as an idea, as a teaching of the master, but as something which he has accomplished by his costly work and which has now through the power of the resurrection and the gift of the Spirit appeared. The unity of the college of the apostles in witness and in love is part of the Gospel which they proclaim. The Bible already tells the sad story that this testimony can be marred by a lack of unity and by attempts to find the center of the church in anything other than the forgiveness of sins brought by the death and resurrection of the Lord. If the secret of godliness in the episcopacy is dwelling upon the personal invitation to confession and the personal offer of redemption given by the outstretched, wounded and glorified hand of the risen one, then the bishop seeking godliness will want to lead the whole church back to this one cornerstone that it might be built up in unity and by the Spirit of love which is breathed by Christ into his church at just this point. There must be an impatience with anything which would seek to define the church on any other basis and there must be a resolute resistance to any attempt to draw the church away from utter dependence on the actual death and resurrection of her Lord. A godly bishop is one who stands in the center of the church as an authentic and personal sign of the reality of forgiveness and new life with God and among people which comes through the utter dependence of the whole church upon its one head and upon the actual events of the death and resurrection of the Lord.


--The Rev. Leander S. Harding, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Pastoral Theology, Trinity School for Ministry

Filed under: * Anglican - EpiscopalEpiscopal Church (TEC)TEC Conflicts* TheologyEcclesiology

11 Comments
Posted June 26, 2007 at 12:44 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]



1. Deja Vu wrote:

I wish PB Schiori would have incorporated an understanding of this theology of redemption in her talk at Jamestown also posted here today.

June 26, 1:39 pm | [comment link]
2. David Keller wrote:

This is a great article.  Having read the one about KJS at Jamestowne, we now know that the Rev. Dr. Harding’s mission for the 21st century will be to rethink his certainty.  On further reflection, I wonder if KJS can you sue someone for not rethinking his uncertainty?

June 26, 1:43 pm | [comment link]
3. David Keller wrote:

OOPS—that should be not rethinking his “certainty”.

June 26, 1:44 pm | [comment link]
4. Jim the Puritan wrote:

I have come to the conclusion that the Bishops in ECUSA, not all, but many, many, many of them, are spiritually corrupt and under the power of Satan.  Some are actively working to destroy the Christian church, and have been doing so at least since at least the time of Pike.  Many others are weak and do not deserve the croziers they carry.  Instead of protecting the flock, they invite the wolves in.  Instead of saving the lost sheep, they look to protect their social position and retirements.  Although of course it is for the Lord to say, I think the responsibility and condemnation at the final judgment for the wearers of the purple will be severe, but for the same reason I see no way Christians can remain in this “church,” and I left almost ten years ago for a Bible-believing church.

June 26, 1:45 pm | [comment link]
5. mathman wrote:

Dr. Harding starts in a place which does not exist. His opinion that an historic episcopacy is the continuation of the apostolic ministry is not borne out by recent events. His notion that the integrity and authenticity of the episcopacy is to be conformed to the ministry of the first Apostles is similarly not supported.
Dr. Harding starts in the wrong place. The place to start is God. Frances Schaeffer wrote of <u>The God Who is There</u>. The God who Is (remember YHWH, I am) has spoken to us in intelligible, clear, and unambiguous speech, transmitted to us in the Scriptures. I suggest that we should begin our discussion there. There are a legion of so-called Christians who do not accept what the Scriptures say about the Scriptures, nor do they accept what the witnesses cited in the Scriptures say about the Scriptures.
Dr. Harding can meditate all he wants about the apostolic office. For those who refuse the Ancient Creeds, for those who refuse the name of Jesus, for those who refuse to accept the authority of Scripture, any such meditation is pointless.
A blunt and uncomfortable fact must be confronted. Consider Samuel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel. Consider Peter, John, Matthew, Andrew. Consider Saul of Tarsus. They did not seek Him. He sought them. He found them. He revealed Himself to them. Some of them fought. Some put up quite a struggle. Some had second thoughts.
But the fact of the matter is that IT WAS ALL OF GOD. No man (woman?) should simply put him/her?self forward as a prospective Bishop. Such a positioning is absurd. We term it called for a reason. Called carries (or should) the flavor of a confrontation, of an encounter, of an Holy outpouring.
And therein lies the difficulty. Those truly called to be Bishops are called because the finger of God has singled them out. Those falsely called have come because they thought it was a neat thing to do, or had a feeling that it was the right thing, or for other reasons.
One should become a Bishop only if one has no other choice.
Consider the early martyrs. Consider the martyrs of the early Anglican Church. Consider the situation in Africa today. Listen to the testimony of +Rukyhana. Listen to the testimony of ++Akinola. They didn’t choose. God chose them. And they will tell you so.

Go back to the history of the saints, Dr. Harding. Bishops today do not want the wounded and glorified hand of the Risen One. They want the chief seats at the banquets, the multi-colored robes, to be greeted in public as Reverend and Holy, to have the chief place in press interviews, to get the big salaries and the big houses.

John Wesley claimed a grand total of two silver spoons as his estate at his passing. What Bishop of TEc could make that claim today?

June 26, 2:07 pm | [comment link]
6. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

Leander, not suggesting that I am in your same league regarding intellectual or academic abilities, I was thinking recently along the same lines. 
My thoughts were along the lines of an ordered and non-ordered setting apart of “apostles” in the NT, as in the difference between these two further “locations” as you termed them:  Jesus’ identification of the 12 from the rest of the disciples (as in Luke 6:13, after a vigil of prayer), and the reliance upon the charism of prophecy in the setting apart of Paul and Barnabas as apostles from Antioch (in Acts 13:1f, recognizing the sub-ordering of Barnabas by the Jerusalem apostles to go to Antioch in the first place, in Acts 11:22).  Without belaboring, Jesus’ original action of identifying apostles has an inherent argument for “ordering”, as in authorized, valid, “regular”; the Antioch action was done without having received a directive from the Jerusalem base for either election or appointment, and thus non-ordered, and yet arguably with a direct connection to the Spirit of Jesus via prophetic word.
Whether ordered or non-ordered, both of these locations affirm your own first conclusion, that the apostolic ministry originates in a personal encounter with Jesus Christ.  The Church, however, living into its “ordered” ways, presumes (wrongly) the personal encounter with Jesus prior to any lesser ordination.  And the second mistake of the “ordered” Church (as in most “mainline denominations”) is to confuse apostle with over-seer (episcopos), although the two can be one.  What is evidence for one - the best and most successful of parish ministry, and/or specific ministry experiences, for the episcopate - overshadows the call for evidence of the calling of apostle, which to me, as you said, is the ministry of being sent, not only with the message of the resurrection, and for the teaching and guarding of the faith, but also one other thing, and that being “signs and wonders.”  Signs and Wonders cannot, of course, be the only affirmation of apostleship, because there will be others who are gifted in such ministries but are not called to be apostles.
But - and this is as far as I’ve gotten with this - besides the need to sort out the confusion between apostle and bishop (episcope), how do we incorporate into the calling process of a bishop (since that is the only “ordered” office of apostle we have right now) the questions of the evidences of signs and wonders?
And in case it needs saying, as Moses said when the complaint came, would that all of God’s people evidenced the signs and power of the Holy Spirit in their lives.
Any thoughts along this line, besides what you have already well-articulated?

June 26, 2:51 pm | [comment link]
7. dwstroudmd+ wrote:

Bishops are supposed to be godly?  in the ECUSA/TEC?  Is this, like, a new spiritual law, or what?

June 26, 8:37 pm | [comment link]
8. The_Elves wrote:

dwstroud, your comment really doesn’t fit the tone of the article or the rest of this thread.  Please can the sarcasm.  Thanks.

—elfgirl

June 26, 8:54 pm | [comment link]
9. Rob Eaton+ wrote:

I wanted to add to my comments in #6, that there was one period in PECUSA history when obvious Apostolic bishops existed, side by side with the more episcope bishops, and that was the era of the “missionary bishop”, beginning with Kemper Jackson, selected not by a diocesan entity, but by the House of Bishops directly.  Yes, they were ‘ordered”, but then in ministry they were “out there on their own”, for all intents and purposes.
I would suggest that is still a viable solution for the difficulties we are having in TECusa today.
RGEaton

June 27, 3:40 am | [comment link]
10. Freddy Richardson+ wrote:

Dr. Harding,

Thank you for a very thoughtful and timely article.  I will forward this to my bishop (+Bauerschmidt, TN) for his encouragement and edification, and I encourage others prayerfully to do the same.

June 27, 8:52 am | [comment link]
11. evan miller wrote:

Well, #10, I don’t think forwarding this to my formerTEC bishop, +Sauls, would do much good!  My current bishop, +Nathan Kyamanywa, of the Anglican Church of Uganda, models both the apostle and episcopos roles of a bishop quite nicely and doesn’t need my coaching.

June 27, 1:50 pm | [comment link]
Registered members must log in to comment.




Next entry (above): Anglican parishes no longer in Episcopal Diocese of Virginia Seek Funds For Lawsuit Defense

Previous entry (below): Paul Lauritzen: Daniel Callahan & Bioethics

Return to blog homepage

Return to Mobile view (headlines)