Should Bishops Be Imported? (Church Restoration Series VI) By Fr. Anand Muttungal
10 Dec 2011
It was considered that the origin of the Apostolate lies in the special vocation to lead the community. The Catholic Church from the beginning understood, a bishop as an ordained minister with fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders and is to "teach, sanctify and govern, (serve)", he must over-see preaching of the Gospel and education of faith in all its forms. Even though it remains unclear whether the “bishop” was appointed or ordained by the apostle Paul, or by any other apostle but it is clear that the head of the local church was called Bishop. And he was undisputed representative of the Apostles. The main considerations that mattered to be appointed as a bishop was his deep experience of God through Christ, role in building the local church, charismatic leadership to motivate the community, ability to proclaim, to defend the faith against schisms. He entrusted the financial management of the Church to the spirited laity and himself to the faith formation alone. The Church was completely managed by the local community. They encouraged believers to share their wealth with poor and needy. They envisioned the Kingdom of God and its justice as an all inclusive approach to the whole humanity. They understood it as the sole Mission of Christ. This continued till the Church became official religion of the Roman Empire.
History of the Church took a different mode with Emperor Constantine accepting Christianity. The conversion of Constantine helped develop a comfortable symbiotic relationship between the empire and the church. Christianity became the state religion by which it spread to all over the Roman Empire and to the neighbouring countries. It brought economical stability apart from the laity. Subsequently, the role of charismatic leadership of the local church began to wither-away. Now the Church began to set up administrative systems in the model of the state. The role model of the Church leadership began to change from shepherds to intellectuals and influential persons who took over the mantle of Church leadership. The officialdom of the Church separated them-selves from the laity and preaching of the Word of God was taken away from them. Many monasteries began to come up with the support of the royal families and influential persons to which some of their members joined.
As the Church developed its administrative systems parallel to that of the kingdoms, the bishops became very powerful. They were given sweeping powers in the matters of heaven and earth. They obtained legislative, administrative and executive powers. Princely titles were introduced to address them. The Roman Empire was divided into provinces with autonomous administrative system. So the kings and Governors wanted to have autonomous administrative units for the Church because people had complete obedience to their bishops. The kings and influential men began to exert pressure in getting their men appointed as bishops and abbots. This might have led to the founding of dioceses with autonomous powers.
The Church which is going through its worst of times has realized that distancing itself from the believers is the centre of all problems. Church is trying to go back to the Church of the believers of Christ that is read in the Acts of the Apostles. This historic turning back is very well experienced through the initiatives of Basic Christian Communities, Small Christian Communities, parish-pastoral councils, family units etc. If we look for a revival in the Church then the Church will have to get religious leaders with Charismatic leadership. Preaching the Word of God has to become duty of the laity guided by priests. Church should not look outside for any financial assistance. It is a clear example how the early Church dealt the Grecian Jews who complained that the Hebraic Jewish widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food. Then, the Twelve gathered all the disciples together and said, "It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.” So you select men with Spirit of Christ who could look after the managing of all earthly affairs. The Church will have to go back to the times of the Apostles in the management of the affairs of the Church and will have to put an end to importing bishops. The local Church will have to elect their shepherd based on their role in animating the local community of believers.