Walter Lowrie on Early Church Bishops

In Walter Lowrie’s “interpretation” of Rudolph Sohm, a very convincing case is made that the “bishop” in the early church was a local church, a congregational, minister whose primary job was to preside over the Eucharist, which was a communal feast.  He writes:

Both Gentile and Jewish usage required a president at the feast, and this was particularly the case with regard to Passover, from which the Eucharistic feast was derived.  In the Eucharist there were two functions especially that fell to the part of the president: namely, the breaking of the bread, and the thanksgiving prayer.

~The Church and Its Organization in Primitive and Catholic Times, p 268

He adds that this bishop was selected on the basis of a personal leadership charismata.  The office was necessary for order, and there was naturally a leader who best fulfilled the office.  In the absence of such a person, however, a layman could step up and fulfill the role.  Lowrie quotes Tertullian, saying:

Are not also we laity priests?  …When there are no clergy thou makest the offering and baptizest and art priest for thyself alone.  When three are present, there is the Church, although they be laymen.

~De exhort. cast. c. 7.

To dismiss ideas that this is simply an aspect of Tertullian’s sectarianism, Lowrie adds:

Tertullian does not contend for this principle, he merely assumes it as a premise for his argument: therein lies the proof that it was not an individual opinion of his own, nor a distinctive tenet of Montanism, but a commonly accepted position, a primitive tradition which had not yet been successfully impugned.

~Lowrie, p 269

Lowrie gives extensive treatment to Ignatius, showing that this view of the bishop, that of congregational Eucharistic president, is precisely what is meant and that this is something qualitatively different from the later metropolitan system of bishops as heads of a larger jurisdiction.  Lowrie writes:

We have seen, however, that the single bishop and the whole organization of which he was the head is explained by the nature of the Eucharistic assembly… For Ignatius, the single bishop is the correlative of a single Eucharistic assembly, and he avails himself of the unity of organization which actually existed to press the plea for unity of worship.  This is his great remedy for schism.  He urges this point in all his epistles– except in that to the Romans.  In Ephs. c. 20 he says: “Assemble yourselves together in common, … to the end that ye may obey the bishop and the presbytery without distraction of mind; breaking one bread,” etc. Ib. c. 5: “If any one be not within the precinct of the altar, he lacketh the bread of God.  For if the prayer of one and another hath so great force, how much more that of the bishop and of the whole Church…

…Let that be held a valid Eucharist which is under the bishop or one to whom he shall have committed it.  Wheresoever the bishop shall appear, there let the people be; even as wherever Jesus is, there is the catholic Church.  It is not lawful apart from the bishop either to baptize or to hold an agape.

~ p 295

That last quote of Ignatius presses the point home: the bishop was a congregational minister.  The activities of the church were to be done in his presence, just as the Church acts in the presence of Jesus, because the bishop was regularly present at the local church.  He was to be there for every baptism or agape, except in those cases when he appoints a representative.

When the episcopacy shifted to a metropolitan administrative office, the exception became the norm, and the bishop had to appoint permanent “representatives.”  But in so doing, the presbyters effectively became Ignatian bishops, though without the name and, in a fateful shift in doctrine, without the authority.

An Image of God

From my Sunday School notes, inspired heavily by Crispin Fletcher-Louis-

Exodus 28:5-14

They shall take the gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and the fine linen, and they shall make the ephod of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen, artistically worked.  It shall have two shoulder straps joined at its two edges, and so it shall be joined together.  And the intricately woven band of the ephod, which is on it, shall be of the same workmanship, made of gold, blue, purple, and scarlet thread, and fine woven linen.

Then you shall take two onyx stones and engrave on them the names of the sons of Israel: six of their names on one stone and six names on the other stone, in order of their birth. With the work of an engraver in stone, like the engravings of a signet, you shall engrave the two stones with the names of the sons of Israel. You shall set them in settings of gold. And you shall put the two stones on the shoulders of the ephod as memorial stones for the sons of Israel. So Aaron shall bear their names before the LORD on his two shoulders as a memorial. You shall also make settings of gold, and you shall make two chains of pure gold like braided cords, and fasten the braided chains to the settings.

An ephod is usually used to refer to a statue of a god (Judges 17:5; 18:14-20; Hos. 3:4; 2 Kings 23:7), and when the priest is decked out in full regalia, he is an image of God.

The ephod is also a warrior’s garment, and the priest is dressed for war.  The priests were also armed with spears, and they could kill anyone who attempted to enter into the holy places.

The Urim and Thummim are famously mysterious, but one of the best explanations comes from James Jordan when he points out that these correspond to the first and last letters of the Hebrew alphabet: aleph and tav.  Hebrew often uses the alphabet for ordering and numbering.  It does this in Psalm 119 and the book of Lamentations.  In Greek the Urim and Thummin would be translated as alpha and omega, the beginning and the end.  Jesus takes this imagery upon himself, as he is the great high priest.