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Reference: Episcopalians


EPISCOPALIANS, those who maintain that bishops, presbyters, or priests, and deacons, are three distinct orders in the church; and that the bishops have a superiority over both the others. The episcopal form of church government professes to find in the days of the Apostles the model upon which it is framed. While our Lord remained upon earth, he acted as the immediate governor of his church. Having himself called the Apostles, he kept them constantly about his person, except at one time, when he sent them forth upon a short progress through the cities of Judea, and gave them particular directions how they should conduct themselves. The seventy disciples, whom he sent forth at another time, are never mentioned again in the New Testament. But the Apostles received from him many intimations that their office was to continue after his departure; and as one great object of his ministry was to qualify them for the execution of this office, so, in the interval between his resurrection and his ascension, he explained to them the duties of it, and he invested them with the authority which the discharge of those duties implied. "Go," said he, "make disciples of all nations, baptizing them, teaching them; and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. As my Father hath sent me, even so send I you. Receive ye the Holy Ghost," Mt 28:19-20; Joh 20:21-22. Soon after the ascension of Jesus, his Apostles received those extraordinary gifts of which his promise had given them assurance; and immediately they began to execute their commission, not only as the witnesses of his resurrection, and the teachers of his religion, but as the rulers of that society which was gathered by their preaching. In Acts vi, we find the Apostles ordering the Christians at Jerusalem to "look out seven men of honest report," who might take charge of the daily ministrations to the poor, and to bring the men so chosen to them, that "we," said the Apostles, "may appoint them over this business." The men accordingly were "set before the Apostles; and when they had prayed, they laid their hands on them." Here are the Apostles ordaining deacons. Afterward, we find St. Paul, in his progress through Asia Minor, ordaining in every church elders, ????????????; the name properly expressive of age being transferred, after the practice of the Jews, as a mark of respect, to ecclesiastical rulers, Ac 14:23. The men thus ordained by St. Paul appear, from the book of Acts and the Epistles, to have been teachers, pastors, overseers, of the flock of Christ; and to Timothy, who was a minister of the word, the Apostle speaks of "the gift which is in thee by the putting on of my hands," 2Ti 1:6. Over the persons to whom he thus conveyed the office of teaching, he exercised jurisdiction; for he sent to Ephesus, to the elders of the church to meet him at Miletus; and there, in a long discourse, gave them a solemn charge, Ac 20:17-35; and to Timothy and Titus he writes epistles in the style of a superior.

2. As St. Paul unquestionably conceived that there belonged to him, as an Apostle, an authority over other office-bearers of the church, so his epistles contain two examples of a delegation of that authority. He not only directs Timothy, whom he had besought to abide at Ephesus, how to behave himself in the house of God as a minister, but he sets him over other ministers. He empowers him to ordain men to the work of the ministry:

The things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also, 2Ti 2:2. He gives him directions about the ordination of bishops and deacons; he places both these kinds of office-bearers in Ephesus under his inspection, instructing him in what manner to receive an accusation against an elder who laboured in word and doctrine; and he commands him to charge some that they teach no other doctrine but the form of sound words. In like manner he says to Titus, "For this cause left I thee in Crete that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee," Tit 1:5. He describes to Titus the qualifications of a bishop or elder, making him the judge how far any person in Crete was possessed of these qualifications; he gives him authority over all orders of Christians there; and he empowers him to reject heretics. Here, then, is that Apostle, with whose actions we are best acquainted, seemingly aware that there would be continual occasion in the Christian church for the exercise of that authority over pastors and teachers, which the Apostles had derived from the Lord Jesus; and by these two examples of a delegation, given during his life time, preparing the world for beholding that authority exercised by the successors of the Apostles in all ages. Accordingly, the earliest Christian writers tell us that the Apostles, to prevent contention, appointed bishops and deacons: giving orders, too, that, upon their death, other approved men should succeed in their ministry. We are told that the other Apostles constituted their first- fruits, that is, their first disciples, after they had proved them by the Spirit, bishops and deacons of those who were to believe; and that the Apostle John, who survived the rest, after returning from Patmos, the place of his banishment, went about the neighbouring nations, ordaining bishops, establishing whole churches, and setting apart particular persons for the ministry, as they were pointed out to him by the Spirit.

3. As bishops are mentioned in the earliest times, so ecclesiastical history records the succession of bishops through many ages; and even during the first three centuries, before Christianity was incorporated with the state, every city, where the multitude of Christians required a number of pastors to perform the stated offices, presents to us, as far as we can gather from contemporary writers, an appearance very much the same with that of the church of Jerusalem in the days of the Apostles. The Apostle James seems to have resided in that city. But there is also mention of the elders of the church, who, according to the Scripture representation of elders, must have discharged the ministerial office, but over whom the Apostle James presided. So, in Carthage, where Cyprian was bishop, and in every other Christian city of which we have particular accounts, there was a college of presbyters; and there was one portion who had not only presidency, but jurisdiction and authority, over the rest. They were his council in matters relating to the church, and they were qualified to preach, to baptize, and to administer the Lord's Supper; but they could do nothing without his permission and authority. It is a principle in Christian antiquity, ??? ????????? ??? ????????, "one bishop, and one church." The one bishop had the care of all the Christians, who, although they met in separate congregations, constituted one church; and he had the inspection of the pastors, who, having received ordination from the bishop, officiated in the separate congregations, performed the several parts of duty which he prescribed to them, and were accountable to him for their conduct. In continuation of this primitive institution, we find episcopacy in all corners of the church of Christ. Until the time of the reformation, there were, in every Christian state, persons with the name, the rank, and the authority of bishops; and the existence of such persons was not considered as an innovation, but as an establishment, which, by means of catalogues preserved in ecclesiastical writers, may be traced back to the days of the Apostles.

4. Upon the principles which have now been stated, it is understood, according to the episcopal form of government, that there is in the church a superior order of office-bearers, the successors of the Apostles, who possess in their own persons the right of ordination and jurisdiction, and who are called ?????????, as being the overseers not only of the people, but also of the clergy; and an inferior order of ministers, called presbyters, the literal translation of the word ???????????, which is rendered in our English Bibles elde

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