The Boston Globe has an interesting story about how more Baptist ministers are taking on the title of bishop now. The trend is more prominent in African-American congregations.
Various reasons were given including competition from Charismatic church leaders with that title and the greater sense of responsibility for mentoring younger ministers. Some Baptist leaders, the article stated, embrace “apostolic succession” — belief in a direct line of spiritual authority from the Disciples of Jesus to current chosen church leadership.
(Or as I defined Roman Catholic apostolic succession on a seminary exam in 1979: It is the belief that “Peter progressively passed the papal promise of power to the prominent Polish Pope.”)
The term “Baptist bishop,” in my experience, has been used negatively to refer to some denominational leader who typically seeks more authority than he (always he) should get by virtue of his position.
Hierarchal leadership structures — especially ones that create wide gaps between clergy and laity in church policies and practice as well as biblical interpretation — have been widely rejected by Baptists.
It will be interesting to see if this new trend spreads among numerous Baptist groups or remains isolated with a few Baptist preachers here and there carrying staffs and wearing new rings.
At the least, this trend might add to the discussion of pastoral authority — something with which many Baptists have struggled.
Too often Baptist congregational leadership is reflected in the extremes of either a heavy-handed, authoritarian pastor who builds the congregation according to his wishes and around his personality, or a pastor whose leadership, despite significant training and experience, finds resistance at every little turn.
In dealing with most issues, the best answer to a good question is usually found between the extremes. However, finding a balance between “Baptist” and “Bishop” might be quite a trick.
Executive editor / publisher at Good Faith Media.