the weblog of Alan Knox

What does a non-bishop oversee?

Posted by on Apr 26, 2007 in edification, elders, members, office | 9 comments

A few weeks ago, I posted a blog called “What does a bishop oversee?” In this post, I suggested that the επίσκοπος (episkopos) / επισκοπέω (episkopeo) word group, when used in Scripture for Christian leaders, should be translated “looking after people” or “being concerned about people” as opposed to “overseeing an organization”. I followed this blog with an example (a negative example, from my point of view) in a post called “The Church or the Organization?” I was surprised at the response to this blog post (three times the page views and comments of the next most viewed/commented post). I did not originally intend to discuss the church / organization dichotomy. Instead, I was heading in another direction, which began in a post called “Leadership, Obedience, and Authority…” I will continue in the original direction in this post, which is looking at Christian leaders and their function and operation among the church.

In this post, I would like to continue to examine the επίσκοπος (episkopos) / επισκοπέω (episkopeo) word group. Specifically, what does this word group mean for those who are not elders/bishops? Or, does it apply to non-elders/non-bishops at all?

Apparently, the author of Hebrews believes that this function does apply to all believers. For example, consider this passage:

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. See to it [from επισκοπέω] that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. (Hebrews 12:14-16 ESV)

If you need to check the context, read from Hebrews 12:1. It is clear from this context that all believers are in view, and all believers should be “looking carefully” (as the NKJV translates the participle επισκοπέω in 12:15).

Commenting on the word επισκοπέω in 12:15, William Lane says in the Word Biblical Commentary:

The call to vigilance expressed in επισκοπουντες [that is, the participle of επισκοπέω] refers not to some official expression of ministry but rather to the engagement of the community as a whole in the extension of mutual care (cf. 3:12-13; 4:1; 10:24-25). Christian vigilance is the proper response to a peril that poses an imminent threat to the entire community… In view of this very real danger, the members of the house church are urged to vigilant concern for one another. [451-52]

Thus, Lane understands the verb επισκοπέω to mean “to show vigilant concern”. This is very similar to the definitions that I suggested in my previous post (“What does a bishop oversee?“): “to look after” or “be concerned about”. In this case, it is clear that the object of concern is not an organization, but the people (that is, the church) themselves. Believers are to show concern for other believers so that they do not fail to obtain the grace of God, so that no root of bitterness springs up, and so that they are not sexually immoral or unholy.

If all believers are “to show vigilant concern” for other people, could it not also be that bishops and elders are “to show vigilant concern” for other people (Acts 20:28, 1 Peter 5:1-2)? Once again, I suggest that this is quite different than “overseeing an organization”; yet, this is the way the verb επισκοπέω is often presented when it comes to Christian leaders. Perhaps, elders are supposed “to show vigilant concern” for other people not because they are elders, but because they are believers. In fact, they should be more likely “to show vigilant concern” for others because they are supposed to be good examples of what it means to follow Christ and obey Him.

The important thing to realize in Hebrews 12:14-15 is that it is our responsibility to be concerned about one another. This is not only the responsibility of Christian leaders. However, we all realize that there are occasionally hindrances and obstacles that prevent us from showing proper concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Sometimes, those hindrances and obstacles are in our lives; sometimes, they are in the lives of others.

What are some of the hindrances or obstacles to showing vigilant concern for other believers? How can we overcome some of these hindrances and obstacles?


9 Comments

Comments are closed. If you would like to discuss this post, send an email to alan [at] alanknox [dot] net.

  1. 4-26-2007

    Alan, this is an excellent post. These are things that people in church leadership never share. You are taking God at His word and seeing how it turns our understanding upside down. Thank you for sharing this.

    I agree wholeheartedly that our focus must be the same focus Jesus had – the Father and people. And, we are all called to submit to one another – to put one another’s needs above our own – to lead by serving – to look after one another – to encourage one another on to love and good works – to meet together – to be Christ’s ambassadors/representatives – to make disciples of all.

    Fantastic post. I crave more!

  2. 4-26-2007

    Alan,

    It seems that scripture points to the entire church being very active in ministering within its body. In this case, that would be the looking after of one another. It is clear the the writers of the NT did not envision an all-powerful senior pastor who ran the show and/or was expected by the church to do the majority of the ministry. In light of what scripture says, what do we do about our seminaries? It seems that our six schools continue to graduate men who are headed toward being the powerful senior pastor. The graduates expect this and the churches expect this. So how do we exhort the seminaries to change? I know you are employed by SEBTS, but you can answer the question anyway.

  3. 4-26-2007

    Bryan,

    You said: “You are taking God at His word and seeing how it turns our understanding upside down.” Yes, I am seeing this at times. I believe Jesus turned things upside down, and since them, we have “righted” many of them.

    Eric,

    SEBTS is also teaching people to understand Scripture in context. This has caused many of us to question some of the applications (such as senior pastors, which you mentioned). I’m not ready to pronounce judgment (positive or negative) on seminaries. I think they are neutral.

    -Alan

  4. 4-26-2007

    Alan, I came across another interesting blog post that ties nicely with this one, EVERYONE PREACHES…EVERYONE IS CALLED. http://www.erguncaner.com/site/?p=154 It is wonderful to see how God is calling each of us in different areas, with a common thread, to reach the nations.
    Mary

  5. 4-26-2007

    Alan,

    Thanks for sharing these studies with us. I have often found in my own personal studies that we as the organization expect one thing from our leaders that we do not expect from ourselves… when in reality we should not see ourselves as an organization at all, but rather individuals that all have equal responsibilities to each other.

    God’s Glory,
    Lew

  6. 4-26-2007

    Mary,

    I agree with Dr. Caner that everyone is called to proclaim the gospel. Thank you for the link.

    Lew,

    You said: “…when in reality we should not see ourselves as an organization at all, but rather individuals that all have equal responsibilities to each other.” You’re jumping ahead of me. My main post tomorrow is about responsibilities. Thanks for the segue!

    -Alan

  7. 4-26-2007

    Alan,

    I suppose it is always good to read that with which one agrees, but I have to say how refreshing it is to read your post.

    We must lose the half-baked idea that elders are THE ministers. The ministry belongs to the whole Body, and, despite the rules of tradition, there is no area of ministry which is exclusive.

    All under the headship of one Lord, who is both Shepherd and King.

  8. 4-26-2007

    Aussie John,

    You said: “There is no area of ministry which is exclusive.” I am still studying, but as far as I can tell, you are correct. Elder are not supposed to function differently than other members of the church. I hope to continue studying and writing about this. Thank you for the encouragement.

    -Alan

  9. 4-27-2007

    Alan,

    I hate to take up this much space with quotes from other people. And, the number of times I keep coming back to Watchman Nee is going to make you, or someone else, think I am kind of like a Watchman Nee scratched record or something. But, the topics you bring up, and the topics about which Nee writes seem to coincide a lot. And, even though I don’t always agree with Nee about everything, I think his observations many times enrich the conversation. So, having said that, I believe Nee’s book The Body of Christ: A Reality goes along with much you are saying in this post. Here are a few of the “juicier” quotes:

    “No one can be passive in a meeting. Each person is a member of the body, and consequently no one can come to a meeting as a passive spectator. As we gather together we pray because we realize we are mutual members of the body of Christ. Whether uttered or unuttered, we nonetheless pray, for we want to supply life to the body.

    Some Christians are life-supplying members. When they attend a meeting, even if they do not open their mouths, their very presence lifts the meeting; for they are there supplying life, they are there swallowing up death. Once anyone discerns the body of Christ, he cannot fail to recognize himself as a member of the body.

    Because we are members of the body of Christ and members each in its part, we must seek how to help the body in gaining life and strength. In any gathering, even if we do not open our mouths, we may pray silently. Even though we may not speak, we can still look to God. This is body consciousness. If we have seen the body, we cannot say we are a person of no consequence. We will rather say: I am a member of the body, and hence I have a duty to perform. I have a wo0rd which I should speak, I have a prayer which I should utter. When I come to the meeting I must do whatever God wants me to do. I cannot afford to be a spectator. Such things as these are what we will say or do if we truly apprehend the body. And as we all function, the life of the entire gathering will swallow up all death. Many meetings fail to exhibit such power to overcome death for there are too many spectators.” (pp. 18-19)

    “If you really see the body of Christ you are conscious of the loveliness of God’s children, of the error of division, of the need for fellowship, and of the responsibility in you as a member of the body of Christ. All these facets of awareness are because of body consciousness. Moreover, as you are aware that you are in the body, you must become equally aware that you are under the authority of the Head. For whoever knows the life of the body of Christ and is conscious of being a body member will invariable sense the authority of the Head, who is Christ Jesus the Lord.

    We must not only submit to the direct authority of the Head, we need also to submit to the indirect authority of the Head. My physical hand is under the direct authority of the head of my body, but when my arm moves, my hand moves together with my arm – for my hand submits to the head through the arm. Consequently, whoever sees the body of Christ sees also the authority which God has set in the body of Christ for him to submit to.” (p. 20)

    “If we have now seen that the life of the body is communicative and mutually supplying, we should likewise begin to realize before God that we should not be simply those who consume life but even more so be those who supply life. If there are too few members to supply life in the body of Christ while at the same time there are too many member who wait to receive the life supply, the strength of the body will be exhausted. Accordingly, we ourselves need to pray for other people. God will use our prayer to supply life to other members. Whenever they have need, life will flow into them.” (pp. 88-89)