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Austin Cline

Baptist Bishops Bucking Tradition

By October 4, 2003

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If you look around, you may find a lot of Baptist pastors taking on the title of "Bishop." This is a curious move because in Baptist tradition, there is no really justification for such a title - indeed, one of the things that the early Baptists objected to was the proliferation of church titles and a stratified church hierarchy.

The Philadelphia Inquirer reports:

Though Baptist traditionalists may lament the unorthodox new breed, they know their system of local autonomy prevents them from stopping the trend. If a pastor decides to take on the bishopric and his congregation goes along, outsiders - even Baptist leaders - can grumble and offer dissenting advice, but they cannot overrule the decision. The maverick pastors are taking on the bishop's mantle for varying reasons, in varying ways.
Riggins Earl, a theology professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center, which studies African American churches, believes many are caught up in "the celebrity culture" and aspire to be like televangelist-bishops such as T.D. Jakes and Eddie Long. "Bishop has a kind of ring of authority to it that many in this generation of leaders find highly exciting," Earl said. "It's a nationwide phenomenon in the black Baptist world."

Sometimes, these pastors only have a single church and a single congregation - yet they still call themselves bishops. For what point? It doesn't signify any great authority or any greater education. It's just a title, empty and meaningless because it doesn't communicate anything about the person that wasn't true before.

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Comments
May 27, 2009 at 9:19 am
(1) Ivan says:

As a Baptist seminarian, I totally agree with you. It is a meaningless title which happens to be trendy in some churches at the moment.

Theologically, though, these pastors do have a basis in the early churches. In the New Testament two greek words “episkopos” and “presbyteros” are used interchangeably to describe church leadership. They basically mean “overseer” and “elder” respectively.

Originally many churches had councils of bishops, but by the beginning of the 2nd century, most churches had one lead bishop. Eventually, as Christianity expanded when it became legal in the Roman Empire, each city had a bishop with presbyters over each church.

The point is, if one wants to look back at the first century of Christianity, you could be a local pastor and still call yourself a bishop (and be theologically sound).

September 27, 2010 at 10:23 am
(2) Lance says:

These new Baptist “bishops” also wear pseudo-Catholic cassocks (Roman collars, 33 buttons up the front, fancy trim) which is kinda crazy to see! It’s like a “pimped out Pope” look, which may appeal to the mostly lower class, uninformed congregations, but looks screamin’ ridiculous to everyone else. I’ve seen a black Baptist preacher dressed the the style of a Roman Catholic CARDINAL on local cable TV. Unbelievable !

October 22, 2010 at 1:38 am
(3) Anthony Vu says:

As we say it…Protestants are Catholic copy cats :)

April 5, 2011 at 2:22 pm
(4) Pharasee says:

You are right, judge a whole religion upon a few’s decision. I believe it is correct for me to say:
As we say it…Catholic are child molesters.

Titles are just title, as the bible teaches if 2 or 3 persons gather in His name, He will be there. All of these robes, hats,crosses, tittle, beads are simply nothing new, as they are just glimmering tombstone that is there cover the rotten corpses.

November 26, 2012 at 10:55 am
(5) Ray of England says:

So sad, why did we ever become nonconformists

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