In 1 Timothy today the qualifications of bishop are laid out. Among the requirements: to be married only once, managing his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way. This news may come as a shock to some who thought celibacy was always a requirement in the Roman Catholic Church. There are many things about the early church that look a bit different than today, for better or for worse.
The root of that word “bishop” is also the same word as how we get “presbyter”. And those of us who are Presbyterian know what it means to be a “presbyter” – we are each “little bishops”, providing oversight and leadership as we engage as presbyters in committees. And so in our system, both elders and ministers serve as presbyters, both being ordained, providing oversight to the churches, and in a very real sense, functioning as bishop.
In many other ways, the day to day work I engage in as the General Presbyter for this region, in another way, provides for the care for churches and ministers in the same way that other churches employ bishops. But we don’t have that. All leaders – all presbyters – are little bishops.
Qualifications of Deacons are also laid out in our passage today. Here too we get an image of the church as the household of God. This is of unfathomable importance in understanding the structures of the underground early church and its power struggles.
We live in a time when clergy sex abuse scandals abound. We have seen church officials struggle with standards, discipline, power, and boundaries.
I have often said that one of the main functions of the presbytery is to protect its churches and protect its ministers. For example: we require churches have adequate liability insurance; we require ministers to have boundary training; we teach safe practices; we work with our committees on ministry to enact discipline and structure and good matches between churches and ministers; we provide for ways for churches to care for their pastors and for pastors to effectively and safely lead their flocks.
This is something we did yesterday in Maumee Valley Presbytery as we adopted a Sacred Trust Boundary document, and the policies and procedures that will follow.
I am proud of how we function as Presbyterians. I suppose I am biased, but I believe it is the best system for our world. I like how we are organized. We put ultimate power in groups, not individuals. No one has absolute power. No one is exempt from oversight. There is a system of checks and balances.
Let us always strive to support one another, correcting each other where we need to, and protecting those among us as we strive for grace, blessing, and peace in this world that is hurting so much sometimes.