A bishop (English derivation from the New Testament of the Christian Bible Greek ἐπίσκοπος, epískopos, "overseer", "guardian") is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight.
Within the Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican, Old Catholic and Independent Catholic churches and in the Assyrian Church of the East, bishops claim apostolic succession, a direct historical lineage dating back to the original Twelve Apostles. Within these churches, bishops are seen as those who possess the full priesthood and can ordain clergy – including other bishops. Some Protestant churches including the Lutheran and Methodist churches have bishops serving similar functions as well, though not always understood to be within apostolic succession in the same way. One who has been ordained deacon, priest, and then bishop is understood to hold the fullness of the (ministerial) priesthood, given responsibility by Christ to govern, teach and sanctify the Body of Christ, members of the Faithful. Priests, deacons and lay ministers cooperate and assist their bishop(s) in shepherding a flock.
The term epískopos (Greek: ἐπίσκοπος), meaning "overseer" in Greek, the early language of the Christian Church, was not from the earliest times clearly distinguished from the term presbýteros (literally: "elder" or "senior", origin of the modern English word priest), but the term was already clearly used in the sense of the order or office of bishop, distinct from that of presbyter in the writings attributed to Ignatius of Antioch  (died c. 110).
The earliest organization of the Church in Jerusalem was, according to most scholars, similar to that of Jewish synagogues, but it had a council or college of ordained presbyters (Greek: πρεσβύτεροι elders). In ( and ), we see a collegiate system of government in Jerusalem chaired by James the Just, according to tradition the first bishop of the city. In (), the Apostle Paul ordains presbyters in churches in Anatolia.
Often, the word presbyter was not yet distinguished from overseer (Greek: ἐπίσκοπος episkopos, later used exclusively to mean bishop), as in (, and ) The earliest writings of the Apostolic Fathers, the Didache and the First Epistle of Clement, for example, show the church used two terms for local church offices—presbyters (seen by many as an interchangeable term with episcopos or overseer) and deacon.
According to the view held unanimously among the Catholic writers, this does not mean that the episcopate, in the sense of the holder of the order or office of bishop, must have developed only later, or have been plural, because in each church the college or presbyter-overseers (also called "presbyter-bishops") did not exercise an independent supreme power; it was subject to the Apostles or to their delegates. An explanation suggests that the delegates were bishops in the actual sense of the term, but that they did not possess fixed sees nor had they a special title. Since they were essentially itinerant, they confided to the care of some of the better educated and highly respected converts the fixed necessary functions relating to the daily life of the community.
In Timothy and Titus in the New Testament a more clearly defined episcopate can be seen. We are told that Paul had left Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete to oversee the local church ( and ). Paul commands Titus to ordain presbyters/bishops and to exercise general oversight, telling him to "rebuke with all authority" ().
Early sources are unclear but various groups of Christian communities may have had the bishop surrounded by a group or college functioning as leaders of the local churches. Eventually the head or "monarchic" bishop came to rule more clearly, and all local churches would eventually follow the example of the other churches and structure themselves after the model of the others with the one bishop in clearer charge, though the role of the body of presbyters remained important.
Eventually, as Christendom grew, bishops no longer directly served individual congregations. Instead, the Metropolitan bishop (the bishop in a large city) appointed priests to minister each congregation, acting as the bishop's delegate.
Around the end of the 1st century, the church's organization became clearer in historical documents. In the works of the Apostolic Fathers, and Ignatius of Antioch in particular, the role of the episkopos, or bishop, became more important or, rather, already was very important and being clearly defined. While Ignatius of Antioch offers the earliest clear description of monarchial bishops (a single bishop over all house churches in a city) he is an advocate of monepiscopal structure rather than describing an accepted reality. To the bishops and house churches to which he writes, he offers strategies on how to pressure house churches who don't recognize the bishop into compliance. Other contemporary Christian writers do not describe monarchial bishops, either continuing to equate them with the presbyters or speaking of episkopoi (bishops, plural) in a city.
"Plainly therefore we ought to regard the bishop as the Lord Himself" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Ephesians 6:1.
"your godly bishop" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 2:1.
"the bishop presiding after the likeness of God and the presbyters after the likeness of the council of the Apostles, with the deacons also who are most dear to me, having been entrusted with the diaconate of Jesus Christ" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 6:1.
"Therefore as the Lord did nothing without the Father, [being united with Him], either by Himself or by the Apostles, so neither do ye anything without the bishop and the presbyters." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 7:1.
"Be obedient to the bishop and to one another, as Jesus Christ was to the Father [according to the flesh], and as the Apostles were to Christ and to the Father, that there may be union both of flesh and of spirit." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Magnesians 13:2.
"In like manner let all men respect the deacons as Jesus Christ, even as they should respect the bishop as being a type of the Father and the presbyters as the council of God and as the college of Apostles. Apart from these there is not even the name of a church." — Epistle of Ignatius to the Trallesians 3:1.
"follow your bishop, as Jesus Christ followed the Father, and the presbytery as the Apostles; and to the deacons pay respect, as to God's commandment" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnans 8:1.
"He that honoureth the bishop is honoured of God; he that doeth aught without the knowledge of the bishop rendereth service to the devil" — Epistle of Ignatius to the Smyrnans 9:1.— Lightfoot translation.
As the Church continued to expand, new churches in important cities gained their own bishop. Churches in the regions outside an important city were served by Chorbishop, an official rank of bishops. However, soon, presbyters and deacons were sent from bishop of a city church. Gradually priests replaced the chorbishops. Thus, in time, the bishop changed from being the leader of a single church confined to an urban area to being the leader of the churches of a given geographical area.
Clement of Alexandria (end of the 2nd century) writes about the ordination of a certain Zachæus as bishop by the imposition of Simon Peter Bar-Jonah's hands. The words bishop and ordination are used in their technical meaning by the same Clement of Alexandria. The bishops in the 2nd century are defined also as the only clergy to whom the ordination to priesthood (presbyterate) and diaconate is entrusted: "a priest (presbyter) lays on hands, but does not ordain." (cheirothetei ou cheirotonei)
At the beginning of the 3rd century, Hippolytus of Rome describes another feature of the ministry of a bishop, which is that of the "Spiritum primatus sacerdotii habere potestatem dimittere peccata": the primate of sacrificial priesthood and the power to forgive sins.
Bishops and civil government
The efficient organization of the Roman Empire became the template for the organisation of the church in the 4th century, particularly after Constantine's Edict of Milan. As the church moved from the shadows of privacy into the public forum it acquired land for churches, burials and clergy. In 391, Theodosius I decreed that any land that had been confiscated from the church by Roman authorities be returned.
The most usual term for the geographic area of a bishop's authority and ministry, the diocese, began as part of the structure of the Roman Empire under Diocletian. As Roman authority began to fail in the western portion of the empire, the church took over much of the civil administration. This can be clearly seen in the ministry of two popes: Pope Leo I in the 5th century, and Pope Gregory I in the 6th century. Both of these men were statesmen and public administrators in addition to their role as Christian pastors, teachers and leaders. In the Eastern churches, latifundia entailed to a bishop's see were much less common, the state power did not collapse the way it did in the West, and thus the tendency of bishops acquiring secular power was much weaker than in the West. However, the role of Western bishops as civil authorities, often called prince bishops, continued throughout much of the Middle Ages.
Bishops holding political office
As well as being arch chancellors of the Holy Roman Empire after the 9th century, bishops generally served as chancellors to medieval monarchs, acting as head of the justiciary and chief chaplain. The Lord Chancellor of England was almost always a bishop up until the dismissal of Cardinal Thomas Wolsey by Henry VIII. Similarly, the position of Kanclerz in the Polish kingdom was always a bishop until the 16th century. And today, the principality of Andorra is headed by two Co-Princes, one of whom is a Catholic Bishop (and the other, the President of France).
In France before the French Revolution, representatives of the clergy — in practice, bishops and abbots of the largest monasteries — comprised the First Estate of the Estates-General, until their role was abolished during the French Revolution.
In the 21st century, the more senior bishops of the Church of England continue to sit in the House of Lords of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, as representatives of the established church, and are known as Lords Spiritual. The Bishop of Sodor and Man, whose diocese lies outside of the United Kingdom, is an ex officio member of the Legislative Council of the Isle of Man. In the past, the Bishop of Durham, known as a prince bishop, had extensive viceregal powers within his northern diocese — the power to mint money, collect taxes and raise an army to defend against the Scots.
Eastern Orthodox bishops, along with all other members of the clergy, are canonically forbidden to hold political office. Occasional exceptions to this rule are tolerated when the alternative is political chaos. In the Ottoman Empire, the Patriarch of Constantinople, for example, had de facto administrative, fiscal, cultural and legal jurisdiction, as well as spiritual, over all the Christians of the empire. More recently, Archbishop Makarios III of Cyprus, served as President of the Republic of Cyprus from 1960 to 1977.
In 2001, Peter Hollingworth, AC, OBE – then the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane – was controversially appointed Governor-General of Australia. Although Hollingworth gave up his episcopal position to accept the appointment, it still attracted considerable opposition in a country which maintains a formal separation between Church and State.
Episcopacy during the English Civil War
During the period of the English Civil War, the role of bishops as wielders of political power and as upholders of the established church became a matter of heated political controversy. Indeed, Presbyterianism was the polity of most Reformed Churches in Europe, and had been favored by many in England since the English Reformation. Since in the primitive church the offices of presbyter and episkopos were identical, many Puritans held that this was the only form of government the church should have. The Anglican divine, Richard Hooker, objected to this claim in his famous work Of the Laws of Ecclesiastic Polity while, at the same time, defending Presbyterian ordination as valid (in particular Calvin's ordination of Beza). This was the official stance of the English Church until the Commonwealth, during which time, the views of Presbyterians and Independents (Congregationalists) were more freely expressed and practiced.
Catholic Church, Orthodox churches and Anglican churches
Bishops form the leadership in the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Oriental Orthodox Churches, the Anglican Communion, the Lutheran Church, the Independent Catholic Churches, the Independent Anglican Churches, and certain other, smaller, denominations.
The traditional role of a bishop is as pastor of a diocese (also called a bishopric, synod, eparchy or see), and so to serve as a "diocesan bishop," or "eparch" as it is called in many Eastern Christian churches. Dioceses vary considerably in size, geographically and population-wise. Some dioceses around the Mediterranean Sea which were Christianised early are rather compact, whereas dioceses in areas of rapid modern growth in Christian commitment—as in some parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South America and the Far East—are much larger and more populous.
As well as traditional diocesan bishops, many churches have a well-developed structure of church leadership that involves a number of layers of authority and responsibility.
- Patriarchs are the bishops who head certain ancient autocephalous or sui iuris churches, which are a collection of metropolitan sees or provinces. After the First Ecumenical Council at Nicea, the church structure was patterned after the administrative divisions of the Roman Empire wherein a metropolitan or bishop of a metropolis came to be the ecclesiastical head of a civil capital of a province or a metropolis. Whereas, the bishop of the larger administrative district, diocese, came to be called an exarch. In a few cases, a bishop came to preside over a number of dioceses, i.e., Rome, Antioch, and Alexandria. At the Fourth Ecumenical Council at Chalcedon in 451, Constantinople was given jurisdiction over three dioceses for the reason that the city was "the residence of the emperor and senate". Additionally, Jerusalem was recognized at the Council of Chalcedon as one of the major sees. In 692, the Quinisext Council formally recognized and ranked the sees of the Pentarchy in order of preeminence, at that time Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem. In the Catholic Church, Patriarchs sometimes call their leaders Catholicos; the Patriarch of the Orthodox Church of Alexandria, Egypt, is called Pope, meaning 'Father'. While most patriarchs in the Eastern Catholic Churches have jurisdiction over a "ritual church" (a group or diocese of a particular Eastern tradition), all Latin Rite patriarchs, except for the Pope, have only honorary titles. In 2006, Pope Benedict XVI gave up the title of Patriarch of the West. The first recorded use of the title by a Roman Pope was by Theodore I in 620. However, early church documents, such as those of the First Council of Nicaea (325) had always listed the Pope of Rome first among the Ancient Patriarchs (first four, and later five: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch and Jerusalem—collectively referred to as the Pentarchy). Later, the heads of various national churches became Patriarchs, but they are ranked below the Pentarchy.
- Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Rite Catholic sui iuris churches (notably the Armenian), roughly similar to a Patriarch (see above).
- A primate is usually the bishop of the oldest church of a nation. Sometimes this carries jurisdiction over metropolitan bishops, but usually it is purely honorific. The primate of the Scottish Episcopal Church is chosen from among the diocesan bishops, and, while retaining diocesan responsibility, is called Primus.
- Presiding Bishop or President Bishop
- These titles are often used for the head of a national Anglican church, but the title is not usually associated with a particular episcopal see like the title of a primate.
- Major archbishop
- Major archbishops are the heads of some of the Eastern Catholic Churches. Their authority within their sui juris church is equal to that of a patriarch, but they receive fewer ceremonial honors.
- Metropolitan bishop
- A metropolitan bishop is an archbishop in charge of an ecclesiastical province, or group of dioceses, and in addition to having immediate jurisdiction over his own archdiocese, also exercises some oversight over the other dioceses within that province. Sometimes a metropolitan may also be the head of an autocephalous, sui iuris, or autonomous church when the number of adherents of that tradition are small. In the Latin Rite, metropolitans are always archbishops; in many Eastern churches, the title is "metropolitan," with some of these churches using "archbishop" as a separate office.
- archdiocese. This is usually a prestigious diocese with an important place in local church history. In the Roman Catholic Church, the title is purely honorific and carries no extra jurisdiction, though most archbishops are also metropolitan bishops, as above, and are always awarded a pallium. In most provinces of the Anglican Communion, however, an archbishop has metropolitical and primatial power.
- Suffragan bishop
- A suffragan bishop is a bishop subordinate to a Metropolitan. In the Roman Catholic Church this term is applied to all non-metropolitan bishops (that is, diocesan bishops of dioceses within a metropolitan's province, and auxiliary bishops). In the Anglican Communion, the term applies to a bishop who is a full-time assistant to a diocesan bishop: the Bishop of Warwick is suffragan to the Bishop of Coventry (the diocesan), though both live in Coventry.
- Area bishop
- Some Anglican suffragans are given the responsibility for a geographical area within the diocese (for example, the Bishop of Stepney is an area bishop within the Diocese of London).
- Titular bishop
- A titular bishop is a bishop without a diocese. Rather, the bishop is head of a titular see, which is usually an ancient city that used to have a bishop, but, for some reason or other, does not have one now. Titular bishops often serve as auxiliary bishops. In the Ecumenical Patriarchate, bishops of modern dioceses are often given a titular see alongside their modern one (for example, the Archbishop of Thyateira and Great Britain).
- Auxiliary bishop
- An auxiliary bishop is a full-time assistant to a diocesan bishop (the Orthodox and Catholic equivalent of an Anglican suffragan bishop). An auxiliary bishop is a titular bishop, and he is to be appointed as a vicar general or at least as an episcopal vicar of the diocese in which he serves.
- Coadjutor bishop
- A coadjutor bishop is an auxiliary bishop who is given almost equal authority in a diocese with the diocesan bishop, and the automatic right to succeed the incumbent diocesan bishop. The appointment of coadjutors is often seen as a means of providing for continuity of church leadership.
- Assistant bishop
- Honorary Assistant Bishop, Assisting Bishop, or Bishop Emeritus: These titles are usually applied to retired bishops who are given a general licence to minister as episcopal pastors under a diocesan's oversight. The titles, in this meaning, are not used by the Roman Catholic Church.
- General bishop
- a title and role in some churches, not associated with a diocese. In the Coptic Orthodox Church the episcopal ranks from highest to lowest are metropolitan archbishops, metropolitan bishops, diocesan bishops, bishops exarchs of the throne, suffragan bishops, auxiliary bishops, general bishops, and finally chorbishops. Bishops of the same category rank according to date of consecration.
- A chorbishop is an official of a diocese in some Eastern Christian churches. Chorbishops are not generally ordained bishops – they are not given the sacrament of Holy Orders in that degree – but function as assistants to the diocesan bishop with certain honorary privileges.
- Supreme Bishop
- The Obispo Maximo, or Supreme Bishop, of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente is elected by the General Assembly of the Church. He is the Chief Executive Officer of the Church. He also holds an important pastoral role being the Spiritual Head and Chief Pastor of the Church. He has precedence of honor and prominence of position among, and recognized to have primacy, over other bishops.
- In Roman Catholicism, a cardinal, a title dating back to the 8th century, is a member of the clergy appointed by the pope to serve in the College of Cardinals. This body is empowered to elect a new pope in sede vacante, but cardinals over the age of 80 may not be electors. Cardinals serve as advisors to the pope and hold positions of authority within the structure of the Catholic Church. Under modern canon law, a man who is not a bishop who is appointed a cardinal must accept ordination as a bishop, or seek special permission from the pope to decline ordination. Most cardinals are already bishops at the time of their appointment, the majority being archbishops of important archdioceses or patriarchs, and a substantial portion of the rest already titular archbishops serving in the Vatican. Recent popes have appointed a few priests, most of them influential theologians, to the College of Cardinals without requiring them to be ordained as bishops; invariably, these men are near or over the age of 80, and consequently not eligible to take part in a conclave.
In the Eastern liturgical tradition, a priest can celebrate the Divine Liturgy only with the blessing of a bishop. In Byzantine usage, an antimension signed by the bishop is kept on the altar partly as a reminder of whose altar it is and under whose omophorion the priest at a local parish is serving. In Syriac Church usage, a consecrated wooden block called a thabilitho is kept for the same reasons.
The pope, in addition to being the Bishop of Rome and spiritual head of the Catholic Church, is also the Patriarch of the Latin Rite. Each bishop within the Latin Rite is answerable directly to the Pope and not any other bishop except to metropolitans in certain oversight instances. The pope previously used the title Patriarch of the West, but this title was dropped from use in 2006 a move which caused some concern within the Orthodox Communion as, to them, it implied wider papal jurisdiction.
In Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox and Anglican cathedrals there is a special chair set aside for the exclusive use of the bishop. This is the bishop's cathedra and is often called the throne. In some Christian denominations, for example, the Anglican Communion, parish churches may maintain a chair for the use of the bishop when he visits; this is to signify the parish's union with the bishop.
The bishop is the ordinary minister of the sacrament of confirmation in the Latin Rite Catholic Church, and in the Anglican and Old Catholic communion only a bishop may administer this sacrament. However, in the Byzantine and other Eastern rites, whether Eastern or Oriental Orthodox or Eastern Catholic, chrismation is done immediately after baptism, and thus the priest is the one who confirms, using chrism blessed by a bishop.
Ordination of Catholic, Orthodox and Anglican bishops
Bishops in all of these communions are ordained by other bishops through the laying on of hands. While traditional teaching maintains that any bishop with apostolic succession can validly perform the ordination of another bishop, some churches require two or three bishops participate, either to ensure sacramental validity or to conform with church law. Roman Catholic doctrine holds that one bishop can validly ordain another male (priest) as a bishop. Though a minimum of three bishops participating is desirable (there are usually several more) in order to demonstrate collegiality, canonically only one bishop is necessary. The practice of only one bishop ordaining was normal in countries where the Church was persecuted under Communist rule. The title of archbishop or metropolitan may be granted to a senior bishop, usually one who is in charge of a large ecclesiastical jurisdiction. He may, or may not, have provincial oversight of suffragan bishops and may possibly have auxiliary bishops assisting him. Ordination of a bishop, and thus continuation of apostolic succession, takes place through a ritual centred on the imposition of hands and prayer. Apart from the ordination, which is always done by other bishops, there are different methods as to the actual selection of a candidate for ordination as bishop. In the Catholic Church the Congregation for Bishops oversees the selection of new bishops with the approval of the pope. The papal nuncio usually solicits names from the bishops of a country, and then selects three to be forwarded to the Holy See. Most Eastern Orthodox churches allow varying amounts of formalised laity and/or lower clergy influence on the choice of bishops. This also applies in those Eastern churches which are in union with the pope, though it is required that he give assent.
Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Old Catholic and some Lutheran bishops claim to be part of the continuous sequence of ordained bishops since the days of the apostles referred to as apostolic succession. Since Pope Leo XIII issued the bull Apostolicae curae in 1896, the Catholic Church has insisted that Anglican orders are invalid because of changes in the Anglican ordination rites of the 16th century and divergence in understanding of the theology of priesthood, episcopacy and Eucharist. However, since the 1930s, Utrecht Old Catholic bishops (recognised by the Holy See as validily ordained) have sometimes taken part in the ordination of Anglican bishops. According to the writer Timothy Dufort, by 1969, all Church of England bishops had acquired Old Catholic lines of apostolic succession recognised by the Holy See. This development has muddied the waters somewhat as it could be argued that the strain of apostolic succession has been re-introduced into Anglicanism, at least within the Church of England.
The Catholic Church does recognise as valid (though illicit) ordinations done by breakaway Catholic, Old Catholic or Oriental bishops, and groups descended from them; it also regards as both valid and licit those ordinations done by bishops of the Eastern churches, so long as those receiving the ordination conform to other canonical requirements (for example, is an adult male) and an orthodox rite of episcopal ordination, expressing the proper functions and sacramental status of a bishop, is used; this has given rise to the phenomenon of episcopi vagantes (for example, clergy of the Independent Catholic groups which claim apostolic succession, though this claim is rejected by both Orthodoxy and Catholicism).
The Orthodox Churches would not accept the validity of any ordinations performed by the Independent Catholic groups, as Orthodoxy considers to be spurious any consecration outside of the Church as a whole. Orthodoxy considers apostolic succession to exist only within the Universal Church, and not through any authority held by individual bishops; thus, if a bishop ordains someone to serve outside of the (Orthodox) Church, the ceremony is ineffectual, and no ordination has taken place regardless of the ritual used or the ordaining prelate's position within the Orthodox Churches.
The position of Roman Catholicism is slightly different. Whilst it does recognise the validity of the orders of certain groups which separated from communion with Holy See. The Holy See accepts as valid the ordinations of the Old Catholics in communion with Utrecht, as well as the Polish National Catholic Church (which received its orders directly from Utrecht, and was—until recently—part of that communion); but Roman Catholicism does not recognise the orders of any group whose teaching is at variance with what they consider the core tenets of Christianity; this is the case even though the clergy of the Independent Catholic groups may use the proper ordination ritual. There are also other reasons why the Holy See does not recognise the validity of the orders of the Independent clergy:
- They hold that the continuing practice among many Independent clergy of one person receiving multiple ordinations in order to secure apostolic succession, betrays an incorrect and mechanistic theology of ordination.
- They hold that the practice within Independent groups of ordaining women demonstrates an understanding of Priesthood that they vindicate is totally unacceptable to the Catholic and Orthodox churches as they believe that the Universal Church does not possess such authority; thus, they uphold that any ceremonies performed by these women should be considered being sacramentally invalid.
- The theology of male clergy within the Independent movement is also suspect according to the Roman Catholics, as they presumably approve of the ordination of females, and may have even undergone an (invalid) ordination ceremony conducted by a woman.
Whilst members of the Independent Catholic movement take seriously the issue of valid orders, it is highly significant that the relevant Vatican Congregations tend not to respond to petitions from Independent Catholic bishops and clergy who seek to be received into communion with the Holy See, hoping to continue in some sacramental role. In those instances where the pope does grant reconciliation, those deemed to be clerics within the Independent Old Catholic movement are invariably admitted as laity and not priests or bishops.
Some provinces of the Anglican Communion have begun ordaining women as bishops in recent decades for example, the United States, New Zealand, Canada and Cuba. The first woman to be consecrated a bishop within Anglicanism was Barbara Harris, who was ordained in the United States in 1989. In 2006, Katharine Jefferts Schori, the Episcopal Bishop of Nevada, became the first woman to become the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church.
In the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada (ELCIC), the largest Lutheran Church bodies in the United States and Canada respectively and roughly based on the Nordic Lutheran state churches (similar to that of the Church of England), bishops are elected by Synod Assemblies, consisting of both lay members and clergy, for a term of 6 years, which can be renewed, depending upon the local synod's "constitution" (which is mirrored on either the ELCA or ELCIC's national constitution). Since the implementation of concordats between the ELCA and the Episcopal Church of the United States and the ELCIC and the Anglican Church of Canada, all bishops, including the Presiding Bishop (ELCA) or the National Bishop (ELCIC), have been consecrated using the historic succession, with at least one Anglican bishop serving as co-consecrator.
Since going into ecumenical communion with their respective Anglican body, bishops in the ELCA or the ELCIC not only approve the "rostering" of all ordained pastors, diaconal ministers, and associates in ministry, but they serve as the principal celebrant of all pastoral ordination and installation ceremonies, diaconal consecration ceremonies, as well as serving as the "chief pastor" of the local synod, upholding the teachings of Martin Luther as well as the documentations of the Ninety-Five Theses and the Augsburg Confession. Unlike their counterparts in the United Methodist Church, ELCA and ELCIC synod bishops do not appoint pastors to local congregations (pastors, like their counterparts in the Episcopal Church, are called by local congregations). The Presiding Bishop of the ELCA and the National Bishop of the ELCIC, the national bishops of their respective bodies, is elected for a single 6-year term and may be elected to an additional term.
Although ELCA agreed with the Episcopal Church to limit ordination to the bishop "ordinarily", ELCA pastor-ordinators are given permission to perform the rites in "extraordinary" circumstance. In practice, "extraordinary" circumstance have included disagreeing with Episcopalian views of the episcopate, and as a result, ELCA pastors ordained by other pastors are not permitted to be deployed to Episcopal Churches (they can, however, serve in Presbyterian Church USA, United Methodist Church, Reformed Church in America, and Moravian Church congregations, as the ELCA is in full communion with these denominations). The Lutheran Church–Missouri Synod (LCMS) and the Wisconsin Evangelical Lutheran Synod (WELS), the second and third largest Lutheran bodies in the United States and the two largest Confessional Lutheran bodies in North America, do not follow an episcopal form of governance, settling instead on a form of quasi-congregationalism patterned off what they believe to be the practice of the early church. It should be noted that the second largest of the three predecessor bodies of the ELCA, the American Lutheran Church, was a congregationalist body, with national and synod presidents before they were re-titled as bishops (borrowing from the Lutheran churches in Germany) in the 1980s. It must also be noted that with regard to ecclesial discipline and oversight, national and synod presidents typically function similarly to bishops in episcopal bodies.
United Methodist Church
In the United Methodist Church (the largest branch of Methodism in the world) bishops serve as administrative and pastoral superintendents of the church. They are elected for life from among the ordained elders (presbyters) by vote of the delegates in regional (called jurisdictional) conferences, and are consecrated by the other bishops present at the conference through the laying on of hands. In the United Methodist Church bishops remain members of the "Order of Elders" while being consecrated to the "Office of the Episcopacy". Within the United Methodist Church only bishops are empowered to consecrate bishops and ordain clergy. Among their most critical duties is the ordination and appointment of clergy to serve local churches as pastor, presiding at sessions of the Annual, Jurisdictional, and General Conferences, providing pastoral ministry for the clergy under their charge, and safeguarding the doctrine and discipline of the Church. Furthermore, individual bishops, or the Council of Bishops as a whole, often serve a prophetic role, making statements on important social issues and setting forth a vision for the denomination, though they have no legislative authority of their own. In all of these areas, bishops of the United Methodist Church function very much in the historic meaning of the term. According to the Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church, a bishop's responsibilities are
Leadership.—Spiritual and Temporal—
- To lead and oversee the spiritual and temporal affairs of The United Methodist Church, which confesses Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and particularly to lead the Church in its mission of witness and service in the world.
- To travel through the connection at large as the Council of Bishops (¶ 526) to implement strategy for the concern of the Church.
- To provide liaison and leadership in the quest for Christian unity in ministry, mission, and structure and in the search for strengthened relationships with other living faith communities.
- To organize such Missions as shall have been authorized by the General Conference.
- To promote and support the evangelistic vision of the whole Church.
- To discharge such other duties as the Discipline may direct.
Presidential Duties.—1. To preside in the General, Jurisdictional, Central, and Annual Conferences. 2. To form the districts after consultation with the district superintendents and after the number of the same has been determined by vote of the Annual Conference. 3. To appoint the district superintendents annually (¶¶ 517–518). 4. To consecrate bishops, to ordain elders and deacons, to consecrate diaconal ministers, to commission deaconesses and home missionaries, and to see that the names of the persons commissioned and consecrated are entered on the journals of the conference and that proper credentials are funised to these persons.
Working with Ministers.—1. To make and fix the appointments in the Annual Conferences, Provisional Annual Conferences, and Missions as the Discipline may direct (¶¶ 529–533). 2. To divide or to unite a circuit(s), stations(s), or mission(s) as judged necessary for missionary strategy and then to make appropriate appointments. 3. To read the appointments of deaconesses, diaconal ministers, lay persons in service under the World Division of the General Board of Global Ministries, and home missionaries. 4. To fix the Charge Conference membership of all ordained ministers appointed to ministries other than the local church in keeping with ¶443.3. 5. To transfer, upon the request of the receiving bishop, ministerial member(s) of one Annual Conference to another, provided said member(s) agrees to transfer; and to send immediately to the secretaries of both conferences involved, to the conference Boards of Ordained Ministry, and to the clearing house of the General Board of Pensions written notices of the transfer of members and of their standing in the course of study if they are undergraduates.
In each Annual Conference, United Methodist bishops serve for four-year terms, and may serve up to three terms before either retirement or appointment to a new Conference. United Methodist bishops may be male or female, with Marjorie Matthews being the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in 1980.
The collegial expression of episcopal leadership in the United Methodist Church is known as the Council of Bishops. The Council of Bishops speaks to the Church and through the Church into the world and gives leadership in the quest for Christian unity and interreligious relationships. The Conference of Methodist Bishops includes the United Methodist Council of Bishops plus bishops from affiliated autonomous Methodist or United Churches.
John Wesley consecrated Thomas Coke a "General Superintendent," and directed that Francis Asbury also be consecrated for the United States of America in 1784, where the Methodist Episcopal Church first became a separate denomination apart from the Church of England. Coke soon returned to England, but Asbury was the primary builder of the new church. At first he did not call himself bishop, but eventually submitted to the usage by the denomination.
Notable bishops in United Methodist history include Coke, Asbury, Richard Whatcoat, Philip William Otterbein, Martin Boehm, Jacob Albright, John Seybert, Matthew Simpson, John S. Stamm, William Ragsdale Cannon, Marjorie Matthews, Leontine T. Kelly, William B. Oden, Ntambo Nkulu Ntanda, Joseph Sprague, William Henry Willimon, and Thomas Bickerton.
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
In the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in the United States, bishops are administrative superintendents of the church; they are elected by "delegate" votes for as many years deemed until the age of 74, then he/she must retire. Among their duties, are responsibility for appointing clergy to serve local churches as pastor, for performing ordinations, and for safeguarding the doctrine and discipline of the Church. The General Conference, a meeting every four years, has an equal number of clergy and lay delegates. In each Annual Conference, CME bishops serve for four-year terms. CME Church bishops may be male or female.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
In The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the Bishop is the leader of a local congregation, called a ward. As with most LDS priesthood holders, the bishop is a part-time lay minister and earns a living through other employment; in all cases, he is a married man. As such, it is his duty to preside at services, call local leaders, and judge the worthiness of members for service. The bishop does not deliver sermons at every service (generally asking members to do so), but is expected to be a spiritual guide for his congregation. It is therefore believed that he has both the right and ability to receive divine inspiration (through the Holy Spirit) for the ward under his direction. Because it is a part-time position, all able members are expected to assist in the management of the ward by holding delegated lay positions (for example, women's and youth leaders, teachers) referred to as 'callings.' Although members are asked to confess serious sins to him, unlike the Roman Catholic Church, he is not the instrument of divine forgiveness, merely a guide through the repentance process (and a judge in case transgressions warrant excommunication or other official discipline). The bishop is also responsible for the physical welfare of the ward, and thus collects tithing and fast offerings and distributes financial assistance where needed.
A bishop is the president of the Aaronic priesthood in his ward (and is thus a form of Mormon Kohen; in fact, a literal descendant of Aaron has "legal right" to act as a Bishop after being found worthy and ordained by the First Presidency). In the absence of a literal descendant of Aaron, a High priest in the Melchizedek priesthood is called to be a Bishop. Each bishop is selected from resident members of the ward by the stake presidency with approval of the First Presidency, and chooses two counselors to form a bishopric. In special circumstances (such as a ward consisting entirely of young university students), a bishop may be chosen from outside the ward. A bishop is typically released after about five years and a new bishop is called to the position. Although the former bishop is released from his duties, he continues to hold the Aaronic priesthood office of Bishop. Church members frequently refer to a former bishop as "Bishop" as a sign of respect and affection.
Latter-day Saint bishops do not wear any special clothing or insignia the way clergy in many other churches do, but are expected to dress and groom themselves neatly and conservatively per their local culture, especially when performing official duties. Bishops (as well as other members of the priesthood) can trace their line of authority back to Joseph Smith, who, according to church doctrine, was ordained to lead the Church in modern times by the ancient apostles Peter, James, and John, who were ordained to lead the Church by Jesus Christ.
The Presiding Bishop oversees the temporal affairs (buildings, properties, commercial corporations, and so on) of the worldwide Church, including the Church's massive global humanitarian aid and social welfare programs. The Presiding Bishop has two counselors; the three together form the Presiding Bishopric.
New Apostolic Church
The New Apostolic Church (NAC) knows three classes of ministries: Deacons, Priests and Apostles. The Apostles, who are all included in the apostolate with the Chief Apostle as head, are the highest ministries.
Of the several kinds of priest....ministries, the bishop is the highest. Nearly all bishops are set in line directly from the chief apostle. They support and help their superior apostle.
Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee)
In the polity of the Church of God (Cleveland, Tennessee), the international leader is the Presiding Bishop, and the members of the Executive Committee are Executive Bishops. Collectively, they supervise and appoint national and state leaders across the world. Leaders of individual states and regions are Administrative Bishops, who have jurisdiction over local churches in their respective states and are vested with appointment authority for local pastorates. All ministers are credentialed at one of three levels of licensure, the most senior of which is the rank of Ordained Bishop. To be eligible to serve in state, national, or international positions of authority, a minister must hold the rank of Ordained Bishop.
Pentecostal Church of God
In 2002, the general convention of the Pentecostal Church of God came to a consensus to change the title of their overseer from General Superintendent to Bishop. The change was brought on because internationally, the term Bishop is more commonly related to religious leaders than the previous title.
The title Bishop is used for both the General (International leader) and the district (state) leaders. The title is sometimes used in conjunction with the previous thus becoming General (District) Superintendent/Bishop.
According to the Seventh-day Adventist understanding of the Doctrine of the Church:
"The "elders" (Greek, presbuteros) or "bishops" (episkopos) were the most important officers of the church. The term elder means older one, implying dignity and respect. His position was similar to that of the one who had supervision of the synagogue. The term bishop means "overseer." Paul used these terms interchangeably, equating elders with overseers or bishops (Acts 20:17, 28; Titus 1:5, 7).
"Those who held this position supervised the newly formed churches. Elder referred to the status or rank of the office, while bishop denoted the duty or responsibility of the office—"overseer." Since the apostles also called themselves elders (1 Peter 5:1; 2 John 1; 3 John 1), it is apparent that there were both local elders and itinerant elders, or elders at large. But both kinds of elder functioned as shepherds of the congregations."
The above understanding is part of the basis of Adventist organizational structure. The world wide Seventh-day Adventist church is organized into local districts, conferences or missions, union conferences or union missions, divisions, and finally at the top is the general conference. At each level (with exception to the local districts), there is an elder who is elected president and a group of elders who serve on the executive committee with the elected president. Those who have been elected president would in effect be the "bishop" while never actually carrying the title or ordained as such because the term is usually associated with the episcopal style of church governance most often found in Catholic, Anglican, Methodist and some Pentecostal/Charismatic circles.
Some Baptists also have begun taking on the title of Bishop. In some smaller Protestant denominations and independent churches, the term bishop is used in the same way as pastor, to refer to the leader of the local congregation, and may be male or female. This usage is especially common in African-American churches in the USA.
In the Church of Scotland, which has a Presbyterian church structure, the word "bishop" refers to an ordained person, usually a normal parish minister, who has temporary oversight of a trainee minister. In the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), the term bishop is an expressive name for a Minister of Word and Sacrament who serves a congregation and exercises "the oversight of the flock of Christ." The term is traceable to the 1789 Form of Government of the PC (U.S.A.) and the Presbyterian understanding of the pastoral office.
While not considered orthodox Christian, the Ecclesia Gnostica Catholica uses roles and titles derived from Christianity for its clerical hierarchy, including bishops who have much the same authority and responsibilities as in Roman Catholicism.
The Salvation Army does not have bishops but has appointed leaders of geographical areas, known as Divisional Commanders. Larger geographical areas, called Territories, are led by a Territorial Commander, who is the highest-ranking officer in that Territory.
Dress and insignia
Traditionally, a number of items are associated with the office of a bishop, most notably the mitre, crosier, and ecclesiastical ring. Other vestments and insignia vary between Eastern and Western Christianity.
In the Latin Rite of the Catholic Church, the choir dress of a bishop includes the purple cassock with amaranth trim, rochet, purple zucchetto (skull cap), purple biretta, and pectoral cross. The cappa magna may be worn, but only within the bishop's own diocese and on especially solemn occasions. The mitre, zuchetto, and stole are generally worn by bishops when presiding over liturgical functions. For liturgical functions other than the Mass the bishop typically wears the cope. Within his own diocese and when celebrating solemnly elsewhere with the consent of the local ordinary, he also uses the crosier. When celebrating Mass, a bishop, like a priest, wears the chasuble. The Caeremoniale Episcoporum recommends, but does not impose, that in solemn celebrations a bishop should also wear a dalmatic, which can always be white, beneath the chasuble, especially when administering the sacrament of holy orders, blessing an abbot or abbess, and dedicating a church or an altar. The Caeremoniale Episcoporum no longer makes mention of episcopal gloves, episcopal sandals, liturgical stockings (also known as buskins), or the accoutrements that it once prescribed for the bishop's horse. The coat of arms of a Latin Rite Catholic bishop usually displays a galero with a cross and crosier behind the escutcheon; the specifics differ by location and ecclesiastical rank (see Ecclesiastical heraldry).
Anglican bishops generally make use of the mitre, crosier, ecclesiastical ring, purple cassock, purple zucchetto, and pectoral cross. However, the traditional choir dress of Anglican bishops retains its late mediaeval form, and looks quite different from that of their Catholic counterparts; it consists of a long rochet which is worn with a chimere.
In the Eastern Churches (Eastern Orthodox, Eastern Rite Catholic) a bishop will wear the mandyas, panagia (and perhaps an enkolpion), sakkos, omophorion and an Eastern-style mitre. Eastern bishops do not normally wear an episcopal ring; the faithful kiss (or, alternatively, touch their forehead to) the bishop's hand. To seal official documents, he will usually use an inked stamp. An Eastern bishop's coat of arms will normally display an Eastern-style mitre, cross, eastern style crosier and a red and white (or red and gold) mantle. The arms of Oriental Orthodox bishops will display the episcopal insignia (mitre or turban) specific to their own liturgical traditions. Variations occur based upon jurisdiction and national customs.
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