In the first of the two articles, I listed my (then) major objections to identifying district superintendents as bishops. Those objections were:
1.) Wesley's Intent
2.) Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism, and
3.) The Authority to Ordain
In the first article, I presented the basis and foundation of the Nazarene superintendency/episcopacy. In the second article, I addressed each of the three objections. The conclusion at which I arrived by the end of that second article was that I should change my position. I then agreed with some of my colleagues that, in the Nazarene system, the district superintendent should, indeed, be identified as a bishop (while the general superintendent would be akin to an archbishop).
Well, the debate has continued over these past six years. In 2012, I posted a picture of one Nazarene district superintendent (outside the United States) in a purple clerical (i.e., in bishop's attire). I can point to another d.s. (again, outside the U.S.) who has identified as "bishop" on his Facebook page. There is at least one d.s. inside the U.S. who is often referred to as "bishop" by pastors on his district.
However, I have become privy to new information, as well; information that has made me re-reconsider my 2011 conclusion.
First, I spoke with a prominent district superintendent who, himself, is often called bishop. I asked him about the title, and how he understood his role in relationship to the board of general superintendents. Most recently, I had the opportunity to ask this same question to one of our general superintendents. The answers that I received from both, were quite consistent.
The district superintendent indicated that during the orientation process for their new role, the board of general superintendents made it clear that the district superintendents operated under the authority of the general superintendents, as their assistants. (Understand, these are my words, not his. These are general recollections. He may have used more precise language.) - That sounds very much like the understanding of the original Methodist terminology of "presiding elder."
Likewise, when I spoke with the general superintendent, he clearly affirmed that the role of the district superintendent was that of assistant to, or extension of the general superintendent. The district superintendent, according to the understanding of the b.g.s., was certainly that of presiding elder, rather than bishop.
The other part that I found interesting (and exciting!) was that it seemed quite clear that the general superintendent with whom I spoke clearly understood that the general superintendents are bishops! In fact, he agreed that it would be a lot more clear to everyone (in and outside of the Church of the Nazarene) if we used that terminology.
Even in my original articles, I concluded that Wesley intended Coke and Asbury to be general
When addressing the Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism in my original articles, I continued to acknowledge that identifying district superintendents as bishops in the Church of the Nazarene would certainly complicate relationships among American Methodist denominations. While I listed a number of differences that already exist between the various Methodist bodies in the U.S., this change would certainly increase the number of those differences. Further, it would make our system unique among American Methodists and further distance us from our Methodist heritage.
Finally, there was the issue of The Authority to Ordain. It is clear that the authority to ordain is given to the office of the bishop. In the Church of the Nazarene, the general superintendent has the authority to ordain, not the district superintendent. I was frank in my article by saying that at that point I had difficulty in viewing Nazarene district superintendents as bishops.
And so, as I reflect back on my objections in light of my conversations with a district and a general superintendent, I have to say that I have been persuaded that my original opinion was correct. One thing that those conversations add to this whole debate is the fact that our general superintendents clearly believe that they are bishops and that our district superintendents are assistants to the general superintendents. That is to say, whatever one may wish, or whatever one may claim, the situation is that the Nazarene general superintendents are our bishops, while Nazarene district superintendents are not bishops, but rather assistants to our bishops . . . or, to use historic terminology, "presiding elders."
|Nazarene General Superintendents/Bishops|
*** My friend and colleague, the Rev'd. Tom Miles, just added a new piece to this issue, which I had not previously considered. He commented on Facebook: "Not only is authority to ordain an essential element of the office of bishop, but so is the authority for guardianship and interpretation of the faith. In the Church of the Nazarene, general superintendents alone have both those authorities." - Thanks, Tom, for that added insight! (Added, 9-15-17)