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A Bishop Among His Flock

By the Rt. Rev. Ethelbert Talbot, D.D., LL.D.
Bishop of Bethlehem, U.S.A.

New York and London: Harper and Brothers, 1914.

Chapter VI. The Church and the Ministry

IN our previous chapter we have seen that the Church is a divine institution and cannot be made by man. We have also learned that throughout the New Testament the Church is spoken of as one, and that the inspired writers laid great emphasis on keeping the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.

We are now prepared to dwell on a further mark of the primitive Church. Not only is the Church one throughout the world, but it is Apostolic. We say in the Creed, "I believe in one Holy and Apostolic Church." The Church stands not only for a definite faith, but for an equally definite and constituted order of ministers, coming directly from Christ, through the twelve Apostles and their successors, in unbroken line, through all the Christian centuries down to the present time. The Church believes not only in the necessity of a right faith in God and in Jesus Christ and in the Holy Bible, but also in the necessity of a divinely commissioned and ordained order of men to teach the faith, to bear witness to the faith, and to guard the faith throughout all ages.

No one will deny that the twelve Apostles were appointed directly by our Lord, and that He gave them all power and authority to carry on His work, and promised to be with His Church to the end of the world. We sometimes hear it said that one minister is just as good as another so long as he is a good man. We Churchmen reply that it is not a question of the personal goodness of the man. It is a question of the office, and the duly constituted authority to execute that office. In the town in which you happen to live there is an officer known as the postmaster. By the Constitution of the United States the sole appointing-power to a post-office is vested in the President. There may be in your town or city many other men just as good and just as well fitted to discharge the duties of that office, but the government, and the people as well, can only recognize as postmaster the man who has been appointed by the constituted authority of the President. So we Churchmen are taught to recognize and acknowledge as authorized to administer the Holy Communion and officiate in holy things only those who, by the constituted authority of the Church's ministry, have been ordained and set apart for that purpose. From the beginning of the Church's life on this earth no man among us has presumed to take upon himself the office of bishop, priest, or deacon except as he has been ordained and set apart by the bishops as successors to the Apostles.

For the first fifteen hundred years of the Church's existence it is impossible to show one Church on the face of the whole earth in which its ministers have not been set apart in this Apostolic way. We Churchmen regard ourselves as trustees or stewards of Jesus Christ, to sacredly safeguard and pass on, unimpaired, this Apostolic ministry or divinely constituted order of Church government. Do we say, then, that there are no good Christians outside of the communion and fellowship of our historic Church? Most distinctly we affirm just the contrary, and are glad to acknowledge that the free and abundant grace of God frequently overflows the legitimate channels of regular and constituted order. We are glad to recognize the Christian virtues and exemplary lives manifested by all who profess the name of Christ.

Moreover, in our practice we own every person--man, woman, and child--baptized with water in the. name of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost as a member of Christ's Holy Catholic Church. But it is one thing to be a member of the Church by baptism and quite another thing to be in full communion and fellowship with the Church through its ministry of reconciliation. It does not follow that because at the time of the Reformation, something over three hundred years ago, and very often since that time, a number of such baptized people have gotten together and voted themselves a Church, and declared themselves a regular branch of the one great, divine society, that act on their part creates any such regular branch or makes them a Church founded by Jesus Christ.

Again, all people born in the United States are citizens thereof; but if a number of Pennsylvanians should get together to-morrow and vote themselves a new state, that action would not make them a state of the American Union. Their officers would have no such powers or functions as those belonging to a real state. Some of us are Masons. It is well known that the only way by which a man, or a body of men, can become Masons is to receive that honor from those who, in turn, have received it in unbroken lineage and descent from the original founders of the order of Freemasons. So as we have received this ministry from our fathers, and they from their fathers, back to the very hands of Christ, we are stewards and trustees of the divine deposit. We cannot betray the trust committed to our care.

It will be seen, therefore, that the question of the ministry is that which constitutes the chief difference between the various Protestant bodies into which our American Christianity is divided and ourselves. While they differ among themselves in matters of detail as to how their ministers are ordained, speaking broadly, one theory governs them all. They have all broken off from the historical continuity or succession of bishops to which our Church has most scrupulously adhered through all the Christian centuries. These modern Churches have all come into existence since the Reformation in the sixteenth century. They all deny the necessity of confining the function of ordaining ministers to bishops, although they admit that this has been the invariable rule and practice which obtained in the whole Christian world up to the time of the Reformation.

By some of these churches it is claimed that the authority to make ministers comes directly from the congregation. If a young man feels that he is called of God to preach the Gospel, and to devote himself to the sacred vocation of a minister, and the congregation through its representative officers is convinced that this inward call is genuine and that he is a fit person for the work, he is solemnly set apart, or ordained by the vote of the congregation.

Their answer to the question, "How did our minister get to be a minister?" is that he first of all was called of God, and then, having been prepared intellectually and spiritually for the exercise of his office, he is inducted into it by the congregation. On the other hand, our Church holds and teaches, in common with the Greek and Roman branches of the historical Church, that the authority to ordain has been vested from the beginning of the Christian Church in an office called, at first Apostles, and then Bishops, or chief Pastors, and that they alone can confer the grace and power of Priesthood.

We agree with our brethren of other Churches that the inward call from God is the first requisite. But this inward call must be authenticated and countersigned and safeguarded by the laying on of hands of the Bishop. This solemn act of imposition of hands is sometimes spoken of as the outward call, or certification of the Church. Before the Ordination can take place the young man is supposed to be trained by a long process of education. He is to go through a college, or university, where he receives a thorough culture in the liberal arts and letters. He is then expected to enter a theological seminary, where for three years he pursues a course of sacred studies, including a knowledge of the contents of the Holy Bible, the philosophy of religion, the doctrines of the Bible, the history and teachings of the Church, the art of preaching, and, in short, such instruction as shall best equip him for the exercise of his holy calling. During the entire progress of his studies, moreover, he is required to present to the ecclesiastical authority such evidence and testimony as to his manner of life and character as may assure those who are responsible for him of his fitness to be ordained. The inward call, so vital and important, must be certified to and outwardly authenticated by the act of the Bishop in ordaining.

The Church teaches that the right to administer the Holy Sacraments and officiate in holy things, to preach the Gospel and administer the word of God, to have the delicate and difficult care of souls, is one involving great responsibility for the person who undertakes the work, as well as for the people among whom he serves. We, therefore, loyally insist, as Churchmen, on perpetuating this threefold ministry of Bishop, Priest, and Deacon, not because it is ours, but because it is not ours, but God's, committed to our trust to maintain and pass on as His sacred Stewardship. Along with this Apostolic ministry, coming down through the ages in unbroken continuity from Christ and the Holy Apostles, there has always been the Scriptural faith and doctrine, "The form of sound words," the proportion and symmetry of things essential to be believed, so vital to the wholesome life of the people.

When, sometimes, we are blamed for contending steadfastly for the faith once for all delivered to the Saints, and following in the footsteps of our fathers, we can at least reply in all charity that we have no moral right to give away or disesteem that which is not ours to surrender, but a trust which has been committed to our defense and keeping under the most solemn sanctions.

When our friends and brethren of other communions point to the evident blessing of God upon their present practice and systems, as shown by their numbers and their most praiseworthy achievements in Christian character and devout living, we can only thank God for all they have accomplished without that ministry which we have in trust. At the same time we can point, not with any feeling of self-complacency, but only with emotions of profound sorrow, to the unhappy divisions into which their systems inevitably lead. That these divisions sadly weaken the cause of Christ and delay the coming of the world's conquest of sin, they, with us, freely admit. We cannot but hope that the time is coming--nay, is almost here--when they will be able to see, as we see so clearly, that the same zeal and devotion which they now evince, if exercised in the one communion and fellowship of the faith and order of the Apostolic ministry, would bring forth even greater fruits of the spirit. In other words, it ought to be evident that the blessing of God, so far as He has vouchsafed that blessing, has been bestowed, not because of their failure to follow in the footsteps of the Church's long-established method, but in spite of that fact.

Finally, we thank God that He has vouchsafed to our Church, as representatives of the old faith, the grace to issue an invitation to all who acknowledge Christ as God and Saviour to prepare for a world's conference on Faith and Order. This invitation was sent forth about three years ago. Already favorable responses have been received from nearly all the post-Reformation Protestant Churches. They have appointed commissions to meet with us and to study the whole question of Christian unity. It is no exaggeration to say that at the present time thousands of earnest Christians are engaged in humble prayer to Almighty God that He may lead us all seriously to lay to heart the great dangers we are in by our unhappy divisions, and to seek His merciful guidance in helping us to find some way of healing the breaches in the body of Christ.

Meanwhile it is the plain duty of Churchmen to do all in their power to further among Christian people the spirit of forbearance and loving charity, that we may know one another better and cultivate that atmosphere of peace and good will in which alone any hope of abiding unity can be realized.

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