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Watson's Biblical & Theological Dictionary [1]

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,"  Matthew 28:19-20;  John 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, πρεσβυτερους ; the name properly expressive of age being transferred, after the practice of the Jews, as a mark of respect, to ecclesiastical rulers,  Acts 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,"  2 Timothy 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,  Acts 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,"  2 Timothy 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,"  Titus 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, εις επισκοπος μια εκκλησια , "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 επισκοποι , 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 πρεσβυτεροι , which is rendered in our English Bibles elders, persons who receive from the ordination of the bishop, power to preach and to administer the sacraments, who are set over the people, but are themselves under the government of the bishop, and have no right to convey to others the sacred office, which he gives them authority to exercise under him. According to a phrase used by Charles I., who was by no means an unlearned defender of that form of government to which he was a martyr, the presbyters are episcopi gregis; [bishops of the flock;] but the bishops are episcopi gregis et pastorum, [bishops of the flock and of the pastors.]

5. The liberal writers on that side, however, do not contend that this form of government is made so binding in the church as not to be departed from, and varied according to circumstances. It cannot be proved, says Dr. Paley, that any form of church government was laid down in the Christian, as it had been in the Jewish, Scriptures, with a view of fixing a constitution for succeeding ages. The truth seems to have been, that such offices were at first erected in the Christian church as the good order, the instruction, and the exigencies of the society at that time required; without any intention, at least without any declared design, of regulating the appointment, authority, or the distinction, of Christian ministers under future circumstances. To the same effect, also, Bishop Tomline says, "It is not contended that the bishops, priests, and deacons of England are at present precisely the same that bishops, presbyters, and deacons were in Asia Minor, seventeen hundred years ago. We only maintain that there have always been bishops, priests, and deacons, in the Christian church, since the days of the Apostles, with different powers and functions, it is allowed, in different countries and at different periods; but the general principles and duties which have respectively characterized these clerical orders have been essentially the same at all times, and in all places; and the variations which they have undergone have only been such as have ever belonged to all persons in public situations, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and which are indeed inseparable from every thing in which mankind are concerned in this transitory and fluctuating world. I have thought it right to take this general view of the ministerial office, and to make these observations upon the clerical orders subsisting in this kingdom far the purpose of pointing out the foundation and principles of church authority, and of showing that our ecclesiastical establishment is as nearly conformable, as change of circumstances will permit, to the practice of the primitive church. But, though I flatter myself that I have proved episcopacy to be an Apostolical institution, yet I readily acknowledge that there is no precept in the New Testament which commands that every church should be governed by bishops. No church can exist without some government; but though there must be rules and orders for the proper discharge of the offices of public worship, though there must be fixed regulations concerning the appointment of ministers, and though a subordination among them is expedient in the highest degree, yet it does not follow that all these things must be precisely the same in every Christian country; they may vary with the other varying circumstances of human society, with the extent of a country, the manners of its inhabitants, the nature of its civil government, and many other peculiarities which might be specified. As it has not pleased our almighty Father to prescribe any particular form of civil government for the security of temporal comforts to his rational creatures, so neither has he prescribed any particular form of ecclesiastical polity as absolutely necessary to the attainment of eternal happiness. But he has, in the most explicit terms, enjoined obedience to all governors, whether civil or ecclesiastical, and whatever may be their denomination, as essential to the character of a true Christian. Thus the Gospel only lays down general principles, and leaves the application of them to men as free agents." Bishop Tomline, however, and the high Episcopalians of the church of England, contend for an original distinction in the office and order of bishops and presbyters; which notion is controverted by the Presbyterians, and is, indeed, contradicted by one who may be truly called the founder of the church of England, Archbishop Cranmer, who says, "The bishops and priests were at one time, and were not two things; but both one office in the beginning of Christ's religion." The more rigid Episcopalians admit of no ordination as valid in the church but by the hands of bishops, and those derived in a right line from the Apostles. See Presbyterians .

6. The churches of Rome and of England are the principal Episcopalian churches in the west of Europe; and those of the Greeks and Arminians in the east; but, beside these, there are Episcopalians in Scotland, and in other countries, where, Presbyterianism being the establishment, they are, of course, Dissenters. Thus a Presbyterian is a Dissenter in England, and an Episcopalian a Dissenter in Scotland. There is also an Episcopalian church in the United States of America; but there being no established religion, there are, of course, no Dissenters. The Episcopal church in America is organized very differently from that in England. The following particulars are from the best authorities:—The general convention was formed in 1789, by a delegation from the different states, and meets triennially. They have eleven diocesses, two of which are without bishops, and are at liberty to form more in other states. The above convention consists of an upper and lower house; the former consisting of bishops, in which the senior bishop presides: they have no archbishop: and the lower, of the other clergy, and laymen mingled with them. There are also diocesan conventions annually, in which the bishop presides. The bishops have no salaries as such, but are allowed to hold parishes as other ministers; but it has lately been found more convenient in many states to raise a fund for the support of the bishop, that his time may be more at liberty for visiting the clergy.

They have neither patronage nor palaces, and some of their incomes are extremely small. The English Common Prayer Book is adopted, with the omission of the Athanasian Creed, and some other slight alterations. Subscription to the articles is not required by candidates for holy orders. The Methodists in America, also, form an episcopal church; but founded upon the primitive principle that bishops and presbyters are of the same order, although the oversight of presbyters may be committed to those who are, by virtue of their office, also called bishops.

[The Methodist Episcopal Church was organized in December,

1784. The fundamental principle on which the episcopacy of this church rests, is here correctly stated. It is proper to add to Mr. Watson's enumeration, that the Roman and Moravian churches in the United States are also episcopal; and that the statement that the bishops of the Protestant Episcopal Church receive no salaries as bishops, is not at present (1832) without exception. Their incomes, too, though doubtless extremely small compared with those of the bishops of the establishment in England, are not so, compared with those of other ministers generally in the United States.]

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [2]

members of those churches which adopt the Episcopal form of Church government. (See Episcopacy); (See Methodist Episcopal Church); (See Moravians); (See Lutheran Church); (See Church Of England); (See Protestant Episcopal Church).