I'm trying to get a clearer understanding on the distinctives of different church structures/governments and which is most biblical if there can be argued one. So I borrowed a book, Who Runs The Church: 4 views on church government.
It presents 4 models, Episcopalianism, Presbyterianism, Single-Elder Congregationalism, and Plural-Elder Congregationalism. The book is part of the Counterpoints series by Zondervan where on a particular theological point or doctrine, various different views are presented by different people, and each presenter also responds to other's views.
Of these 4 views, I am most interested in the Anglican way (Episcopalianism) and the Presbyterianism. I am hoping that reading this book will help me to get a better understanding of the two and that I can know whether my conscience would be clear to, well, pursue ordained ministry in the future.
I decided to read the 4 views as the proponents present them first, and go back to read their responses to each view. I'll try to record some of the learnings and summaries I get from the book here, and this is the first of several that may come.
So far, I've read the introduction by the editor Steven Cowan, and the Episcopalianism presented by the late Peter Toon. One thing that struck me was the fact that more than anything else, the most distinctive thing they proposed regarding the Anglicanism was the presence of bishops. I knew they existed in the Anglican church, but did not know what they did and what they signified, so it was a good learning for me. So here's my summary of Anglican church structure, what they do and why they do that way:
1) The English term may vary, but basically, a Presbyter/Elder/Rector leads a local church/parish.
2) While bishop may not interfere directly with the local ministry of a church he is not the direct member of, only a bishop(s) can ordain others to become a presbyter in the diocese(region) and have certain authority within it. (The Roman Catholic Pope's authority over all churches is rejected as a groundless claim both in history as well as in the bible.)
3) This allowed them to claim that they maintained the apostolic succession through ordination of bishops. In today's society where history isn't regarded so important, this might seem trivial, but I can see that this connection with the ancient church is somehow important.
4) A diocese makes major decisions in synod which comprises of three houses, bishops, clergymen (presbyters and deacons), and laymen. All three need to agree to make major decisions, while bishops or the archbishop have certain higher authority because of the nature of the offices they hold.
5) Still, archbishop is not the head of a local church.
6) The most important reasons for this structure seems to stem from two convictions Anglicans hold, a) the bible does NOT prescribe a church structure, and b) this structure is the way the church developed into for the first 5 centuries under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
7) Since the Anglicans do not insist that there is one true church structure that the bible prescribes, they seem to be more open to other forms of doing church compared to other denominations.
8) However, there are 2 main advantages of doing church this way: a) through hierarchy and singular leadership of a local church, they achieve ministry efficiency, while at the same time, b) they can combat heresies effectively. (Although, seeing how much of Anglicanism worldwide are plagued with liberalism, I am not so sure of the second point.)
After reading this chapter, I found it so persuasive, I felt I was ready to be an Anglican (oh, wait, wasn't I already one anyway?)
But then I started reading the Presbyterianism chapter, and before I got through first 5 pages, I felt this was IT. Presbyterianism all the way! Oh, dear, this isn't going to be easy. I hope I don't become a Plural-Elder Congregationalist just because that's the last chapter of the book!
Anyway, one note to myself at this stage.
The biggest issue that I have with the Anglican church is the fact that they do not have an official plural-elder leadership in a local church. It's not that the senior minister runs the church by himself, it doesn't work that way anyway. Any churches big enough all have "elder-like" people helping the senior minister in running of the church. But lacking the official recognition and appointments, the decision making power still solely rests on one minister in a local church in the end. I hoped Peter Toon would defend the Anglicanism regarding the plural-elder leadership in a local church, but it didn't touch that issue. I wonder if this would be addressed in other parts of the book.