COLUMBUS, OH: St. Paul addresses Convention on the character of a BISHOP. What does "husband of one wife" mean?
By Peter Toon
(The Rev. Dr. Peter Toon reflects on the thrice married, twice divorced, newly elected bishop of Northern California, the Rt. Rev. Barry Beisner and its implications from scripture and the church's tradition.)
Writing to Timothy, St Paul said:
"This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desires a good work. A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behavior, given to hospitality, apt to teach; not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous; one that rules well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity; (for if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the Church of God?)." [I Tim. 3:1ff.]
Here the Apostle writes of the Pastor of the congregation of Christ's flock. Thus this teaching applies both to those whom we call Bishops and those whom we call Presbyters (Priest).
The first thing to note is that Paul speaks only of a man being a bishop. In fact, it probably never occurred to him, despite the presence of pagan priestesses in the Mediterranean world, that a woman could or would ever be a pastor. So the current practice of the Episcopal Church in making women bishops and, at this Convention, of electing a woman as the Presiding Bishop must be very alarming and surprising to the Apostle as (presumably) he looks down from heaven.
Yet it is not every baptized, believing man that may become a bishop even though to desire to be a pastor is to desire a good thing. The man who may be appointed pastor has to fulfill certain criteria and to rise to certain levels of godliness before he is eligible for this vocation. Prominent amongst the criteria and virtues are those which relate to Christian marriage and a Christian home.
Here Paul assumes the following; that the Pastor will be once married; that he will be the godly head of the household and that in his marriage and family life he will set a good example.
But what is meant by "the husband of one wife"?
There are several possibilities: (a) that he will only have one wife not two or three; (no polygamy) (b) that he will have one and one only one wife during his life - or at least from the time he became a Christian; (no serial monogamy) and (c) that he will only have one wife at a time - he may remarry if his wife dies. The Early Church took St. Paul to mean that the pastor could marry only once as his marriage is a symbol of the marriage of Christ to his Bride (the Church). Over the centuries since the Reformation, Protestants have tended to take option (c) until very recent times.
Since the 1960s a growing number of Protestants have interpreted this text to mean that a pastor must only be the husband of one wife at a time; that is, serial monogamy is in order if it is practiced in a comely way. This approach arises in a western culture where divorce and remarriage have become very common. And not a few in the Episcopal Church have taken this line, even as they have taken the view that it is proper for a woman to be a pastor and to assume headship in the Church.
At the General Convention, which has no problem at all with women bishops (even though there is no scriptural justification for them) one man who had been elected Bishop of his diocese, Northern California, has not been given an easy time and his confirmation by the House of Deputies and the House of Bishops is not yet given and may not be given. His name is Canon Barry L. Beisner and the problem that he has is simple: he has been married three times and divorced twice and is now married to a divorced woman.
Though a majority in the Committee voted that he be commended to the General Convention a minority did not. They felt so strongly about their dissent that they issued A Minority Report (available on VOL). In this they wrote: "We are cognizant of the fact that the Episcopacy is the sacramental symbol of our unity with the apostles and the catholic Church throughout the world. The Bishop represents the Church to the world as well as to the faithful. He must, as St. Paul states, "be above reproach"(1Timothy 3:2)." And then various concerns are listed amongst which are:
* It is likely that the anomaly of a twice-divorced and thrice-married bishop may be broadly interpreted by the larger body of Christ, individual Christians, and even by peoples of goodwill in various non-Christian religions, that we in the Episcopal Church have weakened our teaching and commitment to the lifelong sanctity of marriage.
* It is likely in a time when so many in our nation are suffering because of the widespread fracturing of families, the approval of this election will send a confusing message to the members of our Church and to the unchurched in our communities. As the great Archbishop of Canterbury William Temple once stated, "The Church must be very clear in its public pronouncements so that she may be very pastoral in her application."
* It is likely that it may further strain "the bonds of affection" within the Provinces of the Anglican Communion, causing them to question our commitment to the teaching of Holy Scripture, our marriage rite, our Canons and the resolutions of prior General Conventions regarding the sanctity of marriage (i.e., that we believe marriage to be "a lifelong commitment").
Looking at these we have in all honesty to say that the Episcopal Church has most definitely weakened its [practical] teaching on marriage over the last forty years. Ever since its 1973 Canon on Marriage, the purpose of marriage as for procreation has been made optional. But what is of particular interest here is that it is envisaged that the consecrating of a man involved in serial monogamy as a chief Pastor will send yet another negative message to the Anglican Communion from the Episcopal Church. In 2003 the negative message was about Gene Robinson to be bishop. In 2006 amongst the negative vibes going to the Communion will be the very fact that the ECUSA actually considered making such a man as bishop!
Those who desire to be "orthodox" Episcopalians can surely learn from all this. In their ranks they can also surely take seriously the teaching of St. Paul as it relates to who is ordained and consecrated, and, as to whether clergy, who become divorced and as divorced remarry, ought to step down from pastoral ministry, so as not to present a confused example to the flock.
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