In that first post, I set out to show the basis and foundation of the Nazarene superintendency/episcopacy. There, I made clear that the superintendency within Wesleyan/Methodist denominations (including the Church of the Nazarene) constitutes the episcopal element of their government structures. - I will not rehearse that, here. (That's what the first post was for!)
In this, second part, I will be turning my attention to the view that district superintendents ought to be identified as bishops, and the three major reasons that I have opposed this position, holding that the designation of bishop belongs to general superintendents.
The three major reasons for my opposition to identifying district superintendents as bishops are:
1.) Wesley's Intent
2.) Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism
3.) The Authority to Ordain
As shown in the previous post, Wesley "ordained" Thomas Coke to oversee the Methodists in America, and instructed him to ordain Francis Asbury for the same oversight. The oversight that the two were to share was understood to be the general oversight of the people called Methodists in America. They were to be general superintendents, not simply district superintendents. While it turns out that Asbury truly became the bishop of American Methodists, the intent was that the two men would share this role . . . with Wesley, himself, still clearly exercising . . . (at least) parental authority. (cf. Wesley's letter, which accompanied The Sunday Service. It clearly shows Wesley's continued authority. He, after all, appointed Coke and Asbury and gave instructions concerning The Sunday Service, etc.)
The issue here is that Wesley intended Coke and Asbury to be general superintendents. Unlike the ordinal of the Church of England, Wesley did not make provisions for different levels of superintendents (the CoE's ordinal speaks of bishops and archbishops). - Admittedly, I have not done sufficient research into the history of the development of presiding elders/district superintendents, or the expansion of the general superintendency during Wesley's life. However, it seems clear enough that Wesley's intent was that the episcopal role would be expressed in the general superintendency.
With that in mind, I have consistently identified the general superintendency with the episcopacy, and I have rejected the idea that district superintendents should be identified as bishops.
But, is this valid?
Upon further reflection and "reconsideration," it can be said that Wesley, whatever his intent, did not ordain Coke or instruct that Coke ordain Asbury as general superintendents. The ordinal clearly shows that they were ordained simply as superintendents. There was no designation of general or district; just superintendent.
They were, of course, understood to be general superintendents, as the Book of Discipline clearly indicates to this day. However, the point is, it was Wesley's intent that the episcopal role be expressed in the superintendency, itself; the superintendency is what expresses episcopal oversight. He could not have foreseen the day when the United Methodist Church would have expanded the episcopacy so vastly with so many bishops. Nor could he have foreseen the day when the church would develop such a vast district superintendency to assist the bishops. Thus, Wesley simply spoke of the superintendency.
Therefore, it is not really fair to impose upon our current, developed situation the original intent of Wesley, who is not here to express what he would do in our situation. It is sufficient to say that, for Wesley, the episcopacy rested in the superintendency, pure and simple. Since the superintendency now consists of the general superintendency, as well as the district superintendency, it is legitimate to view the district superintendency as an expansion of the episcopacy. (In fact, even the UMC Discipline states that the district superintendency is an extension of the episcopacy.)
So, in my "reconsideration," I have concluded that the first of my three reasons for opposing the identification of district superintendents as bishops is not really valid.
But what about the other two reasons?
Ecumenical/Fraternal Relations Within American Methodism, and The Consistent Structure of American Methodism
Here, I have argued that American Methodism, across the board, has identified general superintendents, not district superintendents, as bishops, and it would confuse matters in relationship with our Wesleyan/Methodist sisters and brothers if we began to do something so inconsistent as speaking of district superintendents as bishops. - (I have consistently been an active supporter for better relations within the Wesleyan/Methodist family. By God's grace, I have played a significant role in the Church of the Nazarene joining the World Methodist Council, and I have actively sought the exploration of merger with The Wesleyan and Free Methodist churches, including the writing of General Assembly resolutions to that affect. Plus, I'm a Nazarene pastoring a United Methodist Church!) So, there is the ecumenical/fraternal relationship issue.
Again, I have not done the research on all of this, but . . . - At some point, early on, American Methodism developed the presiding elder as one who assisted the bishop in limited geographical areas. Obviously, as the name implies, this person was an elder who "presided" over what were eventually identified as districts. (Confessing, again, I don't know the details of this development in history).
Phineas Bresee, the principle founder of the Church of the Nazarene, served as a Methodist Episcopal presiding elder in both Iowa and California.
But, is this a valid reason for opposing the identification of district superintendents with bishops?
Then, there is the consideration of global Methodism. In the "mother church" of British Methodism, there is no episcopacy (at least not in terms of a superintendency). They maintain a conference that elects a president. If one were to look at the Methodist Church in Nigeria, however, one would see a very developed structure that would remind one of Anglicanism with its dioceses and synods, bishops, archbishops and prelate, etc. Global Methodism has clearly developed its structures in various ways. In fact, it has been truly stated that the episcopacy is not essential to Methodist structure, but rather, if there is an essential nature to a Methodist structure it would be some form of the connectional system (which, of course, underlies American Methodists, as well).
So, I am forced to conclude that, while identifying Nazarene district superintendents as bishops would be unique in America, it cannot be said that such uniqueness, alone, provides a valid reason for not doing so. This is especially the case when it has been clearly demonstrated, even in the UMC Book of Discipline, that the district superintendency is an extension of the episcopacy. In fact, chapter three of the UMC BoD, which covers bishops and district superintendents, is titled, "The Superintendency."
Well, upon further consideration, I have had to conclude that two of my arguments are really not sufficient to continue to deny that district superintendents are bishops. So now I turn to my last major reason for opposing the identification of district superintendents as bishops.
The Authority to Ordain
Let me state a couple of matters up front. I have no desire to discuss, at this point, Wesley's authority to ordain. For the sake of this article, it is my position that orders derived from him are valid, and that Nazarene orders are valid, as well. Anglican readers of this blog will disagree. Roman Catholic readers with disagree with the validity of both of our orders. - This article is not about that.
Second, it is clear, from Wesley, and within Methodism, that the right to ordain, in terms of transmission of orders, comes from the order of elder, itself. None of the American Methodists understand the episcopacy/superintendency to be a separate order. (Some may wish to argue that it should be, but that is beyond the scope of this article.) - Wesley, in his letter to the American Methodists, said, "Lord King's account of the primitive church convinced me many years ago, that Bishops and Presbyters (Elders/Priests) are the same order, and consequently have the same right to ordain . . ."
That does not mean that, within the structure of our respective denominations, any elder can ordain at his/her whim. Rather, it seems to be consistent among those Methodists that have a superintendency/episcopacy that the right to ordain lies with the general superintendent. That is, by virtue of his/her representative office, the g.s. has the authority to ordain. - Now, I believe it is the case in all of the American Methodist denominations (though I am not certain of this) that other elders are involved in the laying on of hands. - [As an aside, I had the privilege to attend ordination services this summer for United Methodists, Nazarenes and Wesleyans. The UM had representative elders join the bishop. The Wesleyans had their (ordained) ordination board join the g.s. And all of the Nazarene elders (and deacons!) present participated in laying on hands, with the g.s.] - However, it is the g.s./bishop, alone, who actually ordains.
Within the Church of the Nazarene, if the g.s. is unable to be at an ordination service he/she may designate another elder to ordain on his/her behalf, under the authority of the g.s.
Now, here is the issue. I understand the authority to ordain to rest in the episcopacy (again, as an office, not necessarily as a separate order; I'm not arguing that, here). And, I have no problem with the presiding general superintendent (the "senior superintendent," or, dare I say, "archbishop") having the right and authority to do the ordaining in a denomination, when present and presiding. However, on those occasions when the g.s. is unable to be at the service of ordination, if we are to consider the d.s. to be a bishop, it would seem to me that she/he ought to be the one to ordain (rather than, simply an elder designated by the g.s.).
- [I would love to hear from some Anglicans who have bishops, archbishops, etc. about how the authority to ordain works in that kind of "ranking" (for lack of a better word.]
I do not mind a "ranking" of authority (e.g., the g.s. "out-ranks" the d.s., and, thus, is the one who ordains), but if the d.s. is a bishop, she/he ought to specifically be identified in that "rank" with authority to ordain. - [As another aside, I do not yet know what I think about how the regional director fits into all of this. Frankly, I need to brush-up on exactly what that role is all about. Truth be told, I don't think we shoud have ever developed regional directors. Instead, I think we should have continued our pattern of expanding the number of general superintendents, but we now have what we have. I do know that regional directors are not identified as superintendents, nor are they elected by an assembly like the d.s. and g.s. - But I will leave aside the regional director, for now.]
Since the d.s. is not given explicit authority to ordain in the absence of a g.s., I have difficulty viewing them as bishops . . . at that point.
Perhaps, as we look forward (especially in terms of what kinds of resolutions might be written for 2013!), it might be best not to try to put forward anything that uses the term bishop (and certainly not archbishop!). - After all, the last time I tried that (in a footnote, even!), it didn't make it past our district committee! - I would, however, like to see a new sentence placed at the opening of our section on the district superintendent, as well as the section on the general superintendent, that simply states that the episcopal element of our representative government is expressed in terms of the superintency (or something like that). Such a statement (in both locations) would clearly state what many of us have been arguing all along. It has support in other parts of the Manual. It avoids the term, bishop (and certainly archbishop!), while retaining the terms, district and general superintendent. Yet, it would make clear that our superintendency is our expression of the episcopacy. (Still, frankly, I think it will take a lot of work to get this through district committees, not to mention G.A.)
The other thing that I think needs to happen is the changing of the paragraph that says that the g.s. can designate another elder to ordain under the authority of the g.s. I think, if we are going to identify the d.s. as bishop, we have to get the d.s. specifically in that paragraph. (With a corosponding paragraph under the duties of the d.s. that talks about ordaining in the absence of the g.s.)
So, here we are. Upon "reconsideration," it seems that I have changed my views. - Should I have changed them? Do my reasons for doing so make sense? Ought the rest of American Methodism change their terminology, as well? - What do you think?