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Rights and Duties of Bishops

The episcopate is an office; and involves, therefore, the possession of certain rights, and an obligation to perform specific duties. If this were not the case, the office would be superfluous, and the officer himself a shadow. As these rights and duties necessarily involve each other, it will be unnecessary to treat of them separately. An enumeration of the various functions which have been appropriated to the office of a bishop by inspired authority, will sufficiently indicate both his rights and his duties.

1. It is appropriate to this officer of a Church, to administer the rite of baptism. This is evident from the commission of the Redeemer to the apostles, in which the same persons are empowered to preach and to baptize. Those who were "added to the Church" on the day of Pentecost, were first baptized by the apostles. Philip baptized the eunuch upon his own authority, as a Christian minister; and Paul refers to the ordinance, as administered by himself, in such a manner, as to show that he considered that he alone was charged with the responsibility of the act. Every minister of the Gospel is authorized, by the divine commission, to baptize. Although, for the sake of convenience, the applicant for the rite is examined before the Church, that the members may, at the same time, judge of his qualifications for Church membership, the authority to administer it rests with those to whom the commission of the Saviour has been delivered.

It is, therefore, the special duty of the minister to examine the applicant, carefully, with reference to all the points which are implied in a credible profession of faith in the Son of God. As one who watches for souls, it is incumbent on him to deal faithfully with those who seek baptism at his hands, and receive none who do not afford satisfactory evidence that they have "passed from death unto life." The temptation to relax the terms of admission to this sacred rite; to be satisfied with slight or equivocal evidence of a change of heart; and receive promiscuously all who apply, in order to augment the number of apparent converts and acquire the reputation of a highly successful preacher of the Word, is one to which no conscientious minister will ever yield.

2. Another prerogative of the bishop is the right to rule.

This officer of the Church is denominated an overseer?a ruler?terms which imply the exercise of authority in its government. 1 Thess. 5: 12, 13; Heb. 13: 7, 17, 24; Acts. 20: 17, 18, 28; 1 Tim. 5: 17; 1 Pet. 5: 1?3. This authority involves no legislative power or right; it is ministerial and executive.147 It is of much importance to understand the nature of the subjection which is enjoined by Christ to the pastor of a Church. From misapprehension on this point, many offences have arisen in churches. A pastor, on the one hand, is persuaded that he is to rule; on the other hand, the people know that he is not to exercise lordship; and mutual jealousies arise. He thinks he is only contending for the legitimate exercise of an authority committed to him for the good of the Church. They, on the contrary, conceive that in opposing him, they are only maintaining their just rights, and resisting clerical encroachments. He deprecates the confusion which may ensue from the want of pastoral authority; they fear the evils which priestcraft has so often inflicted upon the servants of Christ.

"But when we turn to the inspired constitution of the Church, and ascertain that a pastor is to execute only the laws of Christ; that his power is restricted within these wholesome and well-defined limits, all just grounds of jealousy are removed; he and his people are equally under obligation to the Redeemer. It is his duty to see that they obey, faithfully, the laws of his kingdom. He is to warn and rebuke the disobedient, and, if they prove obstinate and perverse, to bring their cases before the Church, for its solemn adjudication. Should it be objected that this leaves the Churches without a government sufficiently effective for the preservation of peace and good order, the only answer that can be made, is that no other government is warranted by Scripture."148

In virtue of his position, as ruler of the Church, the pastor possesses the right to preside at all its meetings.

3. The pastor, or bishop, is entitled to a competent temporal support.

It is one of the most obvious principles of reason and justice, that the laborer is worthy of his hire. This principle is universally recognized, in reference both to religious and secular concerns, and has obtained among all nations; for even idolaters and pagans support the ministers of their religion. It was enforced, by inspired authority, in the law of Moses. The tribe of Levi was set apart to the special service of the Most High, denied an inheritance in the land, and committed to their brethren for support.149

As the reason of this law is permanent in its character and equally applicable to all ages, the principle has remained unchanged, under the gospel dispensation. So the apostle argued, when he said to the Corinthians, "Do ye not know that they which minister about holy things [under the law], live of the things of the temple? And they which wait at the altar are partakers with the altar? Even so hath the Lord ordained that they which preach the Gospel should live of the Gospel.??150

The apostle here informs us that the right of the pastor to just compensation for his services, rests upon a divine statute. Of the enactment of it, we have an account in Matt. 10: 5?16. "The workman is worthy of his meat." This statute, originally applicable to the apostles, was afterwards extended to the seventy disciples;151 and Paul affirms that its obligation is perpetual, having reference to all, in every age, who are called to preach the Gospel. This law, or ordinance of our Lord, is clearly recognized in the teaching and practice of the apostles. "Let him that is taught in the word, communicate to him that teacheth in all good things.152

It is clear from these passages, that a minister of the Gospel has a divine warrant for claiming an adequate temporal support; and to deny it, is to contravene an express ordinance of Christ. It is equally clear that he is entitled to nothing more than a support. He is to live of the Gospel, not to accumulate property, and acquire an inheritance among his brethren. Having food and raiment, he ought therewith to be content, and not make his sacred calling subsidiary to his worldly interests.153

The possession of this right, on the part of the preacher of the Gospel, involves the corresponding duty to give himself wholly to the ministry. He must preach, teach, and exhort; visit the people of his charge, especially the sick; be ready, at all times, to aid them by his counsel and advice; detach himself, as far as practicable, from all temporal concerns, and devote his time and labor to the care of souls.

It has been remarked, in a previous chapter of this work, that a plurality of elders was customary in the apostolic Churches. This, if not universal, was, at least, quite common. Some of these elders seem to have combined a secular occupation with their calling as Christian ministers. Others devoted themselves entirely to the work of the ministry. It is probable that, at that early period, each Church needed several elders; whilst the poverty of its members generally, and the contributions which they were called upon to make to the relief of their persecuted and suffering brethren, at home and abroad, rendered them unable to furnish an adequate support for these elders. Hence, some of them resorted to secular pursuits for maintenance; and in thus adapting themselves to the exigency of the case, they followed the example of the apostles. The same course is lawful at the present day. The pastor of a feeble Church may properly derive his support, in part, from some secular avocation; but he is, in no case, to resort to it for filthy lucre?s sake. On the other hand, every Church, if able, is solemnly bound to sustain its pastor, so that he may give himself "continually to prayer and to the ministry of the word."

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