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Rector’s Letter February 2020

Bishops and Elders

‘For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be above reproach.  He must not be arrogant or quick tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.  He must hold firm to the trustworthy Word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.’  Titus 1.7-9

As a new bishop is appointed, consecrated and installed for Down and Dromore I thought I would reflect on this order of ministry.

God has not specified the precise form which pastoral oversight should take – hence the divergence between various denominations and churches.  The emergence of three orders of ministry (bishops, presbyters and deacons) belongs to the beginning of the second century AD.  It is not specifically found in the New Testament, though we could say that Titus himself is a bishop in embryonic form, in that he had to supervise a cluster of churches in Crete and appoint their pastors.  In the New Testament episkopos (bishop) and presbyteros (elder) were two titles for the same office.

The godly character required for church leaders is found here in Titus chapter 1 (above) and also in 1 Timothy 3.1-13.  We are told that the man appointed to the pastorate must be self-controlled and disciplined.  He is to give evidence that he has been regenerated by the Holy Spirit and that his new birth has led to a new life.  The emphasis is therefore not on being a capable manager but on having a Christian character. Someone could be highly capable but if they are not demonstrating the fruit of the Holy Spirit their capability will actually be to the detriment of the church not its well-being.

He must be ‘above reproach’.  This does not mean that he is to be flawless – or no-one would be eligible for the role!  As John Stott puts it he should be of ‘unimpeachable’ or ‘irreproachable’ character.  He should offer no loophole for criticism.  Being a bishop is a public role and therefore the candidate’s public reputation is significant.

The main function of presbyter-bishops is to care for God’s people by teaching them the Word of God (v9).  Candidates for the pastorate are to hold firm to the ‘trustworthy,’ ‘sound doctrine’ of the Bible so as they can on the one hand give instruction and on the other refute false teaching.  The negative aspect of confounding error in the church is particularly unfashionable today but is absolutely essential.  Both the Lord Jesus and the apostles did it.

In these challenging times for God’s Church we need godly, faithful, missional, visionary leadership.  Please pray for David our new Bishop of Down and Dromore.

Sincerely in Christ,

Bill