Bishops, false prophets, false priests
by Peter Toon
There seems no doubt that an order of bishops was intended by the Divine Providence to continue and in part replace the work of the initial apostles of Jesus. This I argued in the book Who runs the church? Four views on Church government, (2004 Zondervan) . In the west there have been competitive forms of church polity since the 16th century - Presbyterianism and Congregationalism - but universally and generally the evidence seems to point to God's will being that of government by godly and learned bishops.
The massive Roman Catholic church and the widespread Orthodox church have never given up on bishops throughout their long history. However, what God has willed requires and expects those bearing the name and office of bishop do not always, even often, act in such a way as to suggest that they are true successors of the apostles.
We are all familiar with the vast amount of false religion, false prophets, immoral priests and compromised religion in the life of Israel and Judah, which is comprehensively described and announced in the Hebrew Bible. In the history of the church times of apostasy are not difficult to find, and the Protestant Reformers of the 16th century gave up on bishops because of their perception that these men had changed the nature of the Christian Church, faith and worship.
To denounce a period of church history because of bad bishops does not of course mean that all the bishops were apostate or immoral. There was always the righteous remnant which sought to believe, taught and confess and govern in the spirit of the early Church.
A serious question facing modern Episcopalians and Anglicans in the historic Anglican churches of North America (Anglican Church, Canada, Episcopal Church, US) : Does a sizeable proportion of bishops in these churches act more like the false prophets and immoral priests of Israel rather than in imitation of bishops of the early Church? In answer one may point with pain and embarrassment to what they believe, teach, confess, and do. Not a few have totally abandoned Christian sexual morality and allowing what the Old Testament prophets would call adultery and fornication etc., and worse still, celebrating it as holiness. Further, they have abandoned most of the basic and classic Christian dogma - e.g. the final authority of holy Scripture, the blessed holy and undivided Trinity, Christ as one Person made known in two natures, salvation solely and only by the cross, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and the great Christian hope of the universal resurrection of the dead and the everlasting life of the kingdom to come.
Nevertheless, they still put on a show of apparent Christian worship, using the Anglican common prayer tradition as though they believed at least part of it. But in fact it appears that what they really believe is that each Anglican bishop is the king of his castle and he alone develops and directs the apostate worship and immorality that characterizes his territory, choosing and training people to be of like mind. Working together these kings in their castles see themselves as inaugurating a new and relevant form of religion for the 21st century. In their ideology this is a new Catholicism because it is intended to be the new model and expression of the Christian religion of the whole world. This is entirely so different from the natural meaning of the Book of Common Prayer and the Bible that some of them go so far as to say that the millions of Anglicans of the past have not been real Anglicans at all. And anyone from the old guard who wishes to join the new guard of God's army must go through a full indoctrination.
So there is in the ACC and TEC a battle often beneath the surface going on for the allegiance of the diminishing Anglican fold; and that battle concerns two basically entirely different religions. In order to retain their physical assets the new guard will go to extraordinary lengths to retain property, even when none of their disciples uses it, which well illustrates how committed they to what one may call the world or this evil age.
[To what extent the new forms of Anglicanism of varying and competitive kinds are actually helping in this struggle for the true Anglican way is a subject for another day and the evidence is far from clear.]
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