A Sermon preached at S. Paul's Pro-Cathedral, Wellington, on the 9th Sunday after Trinity, August 9th, 1925, on the occasion of the Consecration of the Right Reverend F. M. Molyneux, Assistant Bishop of Melanesia, by the Right Reverend Father in God, John, Bishop of Melanesia. From the Southern Cross Log.
"Let a man so account of us, as of the ministers of Christ, and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful." I Corinthians iv, 1-2.
In the rubric before the Offices for the Ordination of Priests and Deacons we read, "There shall be a Sermon or Exhortation, declaring the Duty and Office of such as come to be admitted to this Ministry; how necessary these Orders are in the Church of Christ, and also, how the people ought to esteem them in their Office." These things are also applicable to the Consecration of a Bishop, if not more so, and will serve to give us three subjects for our consideration to-day.
S. Paul here gives us what he thought to be the nature of the Episcopal Office, and, as we may suppose, the estimation in which he wished to be held by the Christians of Corinth to whom he stood somewhat in the relation of a Missionary Bishop to his people to-day. He was first of all a servant, but a servant of God rather than that of his followers, though he himself would have been the last to lay [170/171] claim to any kind of lordship over them, for in the second Epistle to these same Corinthians he speaks of himself with others as "your servants for Jesus' sake."
So, in a certain sense, he was the servant, as he felt, not only of God, but also of his flock for God's sake. But he speaks to them, both in this chapter and the next, not as a servant but as a master. How can we reconcile these two apparently contradictory aspects of the office of a minister in the Church of God?
If we consider the state of civil life in S. Paul's day, we shall see that these two ways of regarding this office do not so much contradict, as supplement each other.
In those early days all through the Roman Empire every office in the household of Roman citizens was performed by a slave or a freed man. The servant, who of his own free will elected to attend upon a master, was unknown in that time and empire. All work was done by the slaves, or, by those who having been slaves, had been granted a national freedom, but were still really dependent upon their former masters. The Pedagogue, whose duty it was to take care of the young Greek or Roman until he came to full age, was nearly always a slave. Yet he held a most important position in the household, and exercised an influence for good or evil over the child, or children, that were entrusted to him that can hardly be exaggerated. Here was one who, though a slave, yet held a position of authority and influence over those who here, as being the children of his master, in a very real sense his masters too. He was the servant of the children, even though in another equally true sense he was their master.
And so we get, I think, an illustration of the position of a Minister in the Church to-day with regard to God and His flock. As one appointed by God he has authority over us, and as dutiful sons of God we are bound to yield him respect and obedience, but as a responsible servant of God he is bound both to serve and to rule his people, whom God has for the time being entrusted to his care. He is both master and servant.
While seeing to it that he as the representative of God is not disregarded by his people, yet he must always bear in mind that he is chosen to serve and not to lord it over his Master's children. His position, if a commanding one, is none the less that of one under authority. He is a steward, but one that must be ready at any moment to give an account of his stewardship. He is master and servant at the same time, and as such must he frame his conduct and way of life.
Both servant and master. Here in a phrase, as it seems to me, is to be found summed up the position of a Bishop at the present day. And if he is to execute his trust to the fullest degree, both these qualifications must always be borne in mind by one called to this Office.
Does he feel a natural shrinking from responsibilities, sometimes almost too much to be borne alone? He must remember that he is a master, not of his own choice, but appointed by his Over-lord, Whom he dare not disobey. Does he, on the other hand, feel inclined to anger at the attitude of his charges? Do they seem to him to be too self-willed; too much inclined to lead rather than to be led? Let him remember that he is but a servant after all, who must consider alike the nature of his charges, and the wishes of their Father, to Whom he must one day give a full account of his every word and every action.
Sometimes he may feel that in his position it is his to give commands and his people have but to obey,--his the responsibility, not theirs: But not his the sole responsibility. We do not live in a society where anyone can hand over the whole responsibility for his soul to [171/172] another, and go carelessly along the road whither his inclinations lead him, saying "Well, after all, so and so is responsible, and not I."
No! as servants who are the guides of those who, at any rate potentially, are not only our equals but our betters, we cannot claim, we shall be very foolish to expect, unquestioning obedience from all or any of our people; but on the other hand we must not forget that after all we are responsible,--masters as well as servants, and if we cannot persuade, cannot convince by argument, or cannot feel that the matter in question is of less than vital importance, or may be left for a more convenient season, for a time when feelings are less exacerbated,--then we have the authority in the last extreme to order and to demand obedience in things lawful, as did S. Paul in the case of the Corinthians of his day.
Then, too, we would have men account of us as stewards, stewards of the mysteries of God, of whom it is required that we be found faithful.
A steward, again, is both master and servant, chief among--to a certain extent master over--his fellow-servants, but himself a servant after all. Bound to account to his master and theirs for his every word and action, and indeed only the master over his fellow-servants, in his capacity of representative of his and their common Lord.
And here we have another aspect of the work of one called to the Episcopate.
He is--he must live, and speak, and act as--a Representative of God, appointed by Him to speak with authority in His Name, and therefore bound to frame his daily life and conversation in accordance with so high a calling.
What, then, is the duty and the office of a Bishop in our Church to-day? Very much the same, indeed, as it was in S. Paul's day.
We find his duties very clearly set forth in this Service to-day. In the Epistle, in the questions the Bishop-elect is asked, in the Prayers and Exhortations which form part of the Service, we can hear them or read them for ourselves.
As to his Office: In our Church we hold him to be a successor of the Apostles. The writers of the Primitive Church, whose heirs we are, write in this view of the Episcopate. Indeed, in the earliest times the title of "Apostle" was given generally to all Bishops alike, and it would seem that it was not till many years had passed this name was reserved for those who were directly appointed by our Lord Himself, and the wider title of "Bishop" or "Overseer" reserved in turn for the first Order of the Christian Church.
As probably most of us know, at the very first there do not seem to have been any fixed titles for the Officers of the Church. Apostles, Overseers, or Elders seem to have been titles given to priests and Bishops (as we should now call them) alike. But as soon as the Church appears as an organized body we find the title of Bishop or Overseer reserved for the chief officers of the faithful, and that of Elder or Priest for the second, while the title of Deacon seems always to have been exclusively applied to the third Order of the ministry.
Bishops, then, are Overseers.
But this title postulates the existence of a Master to Whom the Overseer is responsible. Accordingly, we find that the Bishops were not regarded as the supreme overlords of their flocks, but always as Ministers and as Stewards, responsible to Him Who had appointed them to their office; Ministers and Stewards, not lords and masters, representative officials, not the supreme rulers.
Bishops then are persons who are responsible to Another for all their actions; and responsible to Whom? Responsible to Christ, the [172/173] Head of the Body, to Whom they minister. In practice, of course, every Bishop was, and is, responsible also to the Church, to the Body as well as the Head, that is to say a Bishop was subject to be called in question as to his teaching or manner of life by his fellow Bishops, and to be rebuked, or, even if necessary, to be deprived of his Office by them, but apart from this, as an individual and not as one of the whole joint episcopate, he was responsible directly to God alone. Theoretically the Bishop in his Diocese was an autocratic ruler, but only theoretically.
The Bishops of the early Church were fully conscious of the greatness of their Office, but still more of the responsibility of it. They therefore always associated their clergy with themselves in the government of their Dioceses. Hence arose in the very earliest times Synods and Councils, such as that at Jerusalem in the day of the Apostles themselves. No Bishop in those days would have dreamed of taking any step likely to affect his Diocese as a whole without first consulting with those qualified by office or ability to advise him. No Bishop should do so to-day. But, on the other hand, the ultimate responsibility was, and should remain, his, should he disregard the advice of those whom it is his duty to consult on matters of importance.
The idea that the Ministers of the Church are merely the servants of one supreme head on earth, or of the congregations to whom they minister, is never found in the Early Church, but is only the result of papal aggression on the one side, or the Protestant recoil from such aggression on the other. The Primitive Church knows no supreme head on earth, and no minister appointed by the congregation.
Though there may have been, and indeed were, many different ways of electing or choosing a minister, he was always authorized, or as we say ordained, by men who took their power directly, through their predecessors, from Christ Himself, and, in consequence, they are ultimately responsible to Christ, or to those who can trace their authority over them, to Christ.
How far is the Office of a Bishop necessary in the Church?
Now all those who believe that our Lord Jesus Christ founded a visible Church on earth to continue until His return, believe also that He gave certain gifts to that Church, which should continue in it. To His Apostles, first, He gave the power to do the works which He did, and if this power was to continue, it is clear that the Apostles in turn must have been able to hand on this power to successors; and as Christ delayed His return, those in turn must have been able to pass the power down to our own day, and on and on till He comes to resume the power on earth given Him by His Father. In a word--
"He formed One Holy Church to last
Till He should come again.
His twelve Apostles first He made
His Ministers of grace,
And they their hands on others laid
To fill in turn their place.
So age by age, and year by year,
His grace was handed on."
And for some fourteen hundred years no one doubted that this was actually the case, that the Apostles had handed on the power to the first Bishops of the Church dispersed abroad, from whom in direct succession the Bishops of each age could trace their .authority. It was only as a result of the revolt against the extreme claims and acts of aggression of the Bishops of one particular city that there arose anyone to question the truth or the rightfulness of this belief. We in our Church have always made this claim, and the rubric placed [173/174] separately before the various services of Ordination and Consecration to our Prayer-Book makes it very distinctly and unhesitatingly when it says, "It is evident unto all men that from the Apostles' time there have been these orders of Ministers in Christ's Church," and "no man may presume to execute any of them, except he were . . . by public prayer with the imposition of hands . . . admitted thereunto by lawful authority," which lawful authority it defines later on as "except he hath Episcopal Consecration or Ordination" where clearly two different forms of authorization are recognized, Consecration to the Episcopate and Ordination to the Priesthood or Diaconate.
The Office of a Bishop then is according to the teaching of our Church necessary to preserve the due continuance of the Sacramental Gifts given to the Church by our Lord. For the administering of the Sacraments is among the gifts that "no one is to presume to execute" except "he hath had Episcopal Consecration or Ordination."
And how is a Bishop to be esteemed?
I am sure that I am voicing the thoughts of each and every one of my Brothers in the Episcopate when I say that he desires only to be esteemed as one who, believing himself to be called of God to undertake a work far beyond his deserts or unaided powers, asks therefore for every help, human and divine, that he can obtain, and especially for the earnest unceasing prayers of every member of his flock in particular. And therefore now do I beseech your prayers on behalf of this our Brother, that he may be endued of God with the power of the Holy Ghost to fulfil the duties of his very high and very difficult post.
For that it is a very high post none may doubt.
He is called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus.
As we have seen, in the very early Church every Bishop was called by this title, and it can be claimed by every Bishop to-day: but especially does it describe the actual life and work of a Missionary Bishop.
As we read in the Acts of the Apostles and in S. Paul's Epistles, the Apostles of old were, above all, Missionary Bishops, busied in organizing and building up Churches in new places, ordaining Ministers, settling difficulties, making laws for the guidance of the newly converted, and generally ruling and guiding the growth of young Churches which they or others had planted.
And what is this but a description of the work of a Missionary Bishop to-day?
He, too, has to create a new Church, to lay the foundations upon which others in turn will build. He has to sow that others may reap, to look for little visible success here, perhaps, but to hope for a high reward hereafter if he faithfully discharges his duties on earth.
Few, I fear, adequately recognize how very important is his work.
For it is nothing less than the founding of new Churches in each land; and, humanly speaking, on his efforts, his zeal, and his wisdom rests the success or the failure of these Churches of the future. It is the future that will prove his work. To-day he works, as it were, in the thick virgin bush of one of the islands. His view hindered, his steps retarded, his vigour exhausted by his surroundings, but all the time conscious of the direction in which he intends to go, conscious that others will have to follow the path which he has selected; or, if he has erred, waste their time in seeking all over again the right way; and he is conscious, too, all the time, that he is a very inexperienced pioneer, and is ever assailed with the dreadful misgiving [174/175] that he may not be on the right track after all, and whether this be so or not the future alone can shew.
Or again he is the master-builder, but he can only lay the foundations,--that part of the whole completed Church of Christ which is hidden indeed, but upon which the stability of the whole depends. If his foundations are faulty on him will lie the blame of failure, and if his foundations are faulty, how will he dare face his people and his Lord at the Last Day?
To other Bishops it is given to build on foundations well and truly laid, to walk guided by precedents handed dawn, as in the Homeland, for more than a thousand years, and even in this country for more than a century. The Missionary Bishop has, perhaps, to select the very site of the building, or, at most, to lay the foundations, he has to create the precedents that shall guide or, maybe, hinder his successors to walk alone, or guided only by the Light vouchsafed him from above, or from the counsel of his fellow-workmen.
But this is not all! He may be called upon to found not only a new Church, but even a Nation. He is always the interpreter of civilization. He is the mediator between his people and the strangers of our race who dwell among them or rule over them, who will have to decide (with but little real knowledge) what to preserve, what to root out, of the midst of a mass of strange old customs. To him his people will look for a decision on every point that may perplex them, and from him they will expect an unequivocal answer. No wonder that such an one may wish to pause on the threshold of his work, to realize how dependent he must always be on the ever-present help and guidance of God, Who will not fail those who humbly and fearfully approach Him.
Few, without experience, can know how much a Missionary Bishop is thrown on his own resources, and how incumbent it is on him of all men to learn to walk hand in hand with God.
And so it is a very difficult work.
He will have to face a great loneliness of soul and spirit. Ha will miss all those exterior aids to the inner life which he finds in more civilized places, but so much the more will he be driven back upon the Only True Friend, on the Only True Source of power and holiness.
He will have to face ill-health.
If, as we pray may be the case, he is able to remain in these Islands for some considerable period, he must be the worse physically, for he cannot hope to escape the pestilence that walketh, not only in the noon-day, but day and night, morning and evening.
He will have to face, almost alone, responsibilities which those who live in civilized countries can hardly realize.
Here in New Zealand, if one is faced with a difficult question there are any number of men, older and wiser than ourselves, ready and glad to help and advise. The Missionary Bishop is alone. The very people who might advise him are they who have to look to him for guidance in difficulties which they themselves are unable to solve. He will have to remember that his decision, whatever it may be, may form a precedent for many years, and may affect people of whom he has never thought.
He will have to consider, not only those who seek his advice, but the very many who will be affected by it. He has to consider how old native customs and prejudices will be affected by his decisions, and how they will re-act on Government policy, and whether he has sufficient authority to make them accepted. And all this he will be called upon to do, to a great extent, alone and on his own responsibility.
 He will have to face discomforts, none of them very great perhaps, but when continually repeated, sufficient to hamper him far too much.
And he may have to face dangers.
But the effect of all these difficulties is only to throw him back, again and again, upon God, and thus he will find that his losses become very real gain.
Is it any wonder if at this time I most earnestly ask your prayers, for him who is to begin this life, fresh from civilization, and, of necessity unaware of much that the future has in store for him?
I beg of you to pray that now, and all through his life, he may be given those graces which alone will enable him to do this great work to which he has been called, as God would have it done.
That he may have courage and resolution; that he may have patience to bear with his native children; that he may be a peacemaker and a statesman; that he may be ever approachable and kindly to all; that he may be self-forgetting, cheerful, and optimistic; that he may be persevering, and ready to face responsibility; that he may have grace to resist those special temptations that attack all alike in tropical lands,--hasty temper, impatience and slackness; and that he may ever walk humbly with God, casting all his cares upon Him, and trusting to Him for the guidance and help he will need each and every day. And to you, my Brother in this work, I say, "Fear not, be strong and of a good courage, for He who is with us is greater than they that are against us."
"Now, therefore, O God, strengthen our hands!"