There is one verse that basically settles the issue of the prelacy for Christians—that is, for all for whom the Bible is authoritative in any sense whatsoever:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed.That’s 1 Peter 5:1.
The Protestants, during their Reformation, were like Jehu, who said to one of the pious Rechabites, “Come with me, and see my zeal for the Lord!” and yet of whom it is also written “Thus Jehu wiped out Baal from Israel. But Jehu did not turn aside from the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, which he made Israel to sin—that is, the golden calves that were in Bethel and in Dan.” Jehu did not overthrow the cult symbols which had come to symbolise the distinction between North Israel and Judah in the south. Like the Protestants, Jehu repeatedly referred to the expressed word of the Lord that he had heard from the mouths of prophets like Elijah:
Jehu said to Bidkar his aide, “Take him up and throw him on the plot of ground belonging to Naboth the Jezreelite. For remember, when you and I rode side by side behind Ahab his father, how the Lord made this pronouncement against him ”Moreover:
And the Lord said to Jehu, “Because you have done well in carrying out what is right in my eyes, and have done to the house of Ahab according to all that was in my heart, your sons of the fourth generation shall sit on the throne of Israel.”And yet of him it is also written “But Jehu was not careful to walk in the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn from the sins of Jeroboam, which he made Israel to sin.” The problem was not in implementing those things that he had heard with his own ears from the prophets, but in implementing those things which were already written down earlier by the prophet Moses. Moreover, Moses had required that this law not depart from before a king who has been raised up by God over His people; if Jehu had done so, he would have reversed the error of Jeroboam.
Now, many people would say “Oh, come on. He did enough! Does God require perfection only?” Yes. It is a grave error to think of God as one of us. He is not like us, given to accepting imperfection; otherwise it would not have taken Christ on the cross, and half-measures would be acceptable. But only such as are perfect may draw near; and this is why outside of Christ there is simply no hope or even the vaguest chance. “You, O Lord, are of purer eyes than to look upon evil,” to quote Habakkuk. He charged the ancient Israelites repeatedly with this sin, of thinking that He is like them, and tolerant of syncretism and half-assed efforts. And so, as He commended Jehu for obeying His word with regard to Ahab, and destroying the cult of Baal, so He began to diminish Israel’s territorial holdings as punishment, and charged Jehu with sin in not being careful to walk in His law with all his heart. This is the charge he lays on the Protestants.
In the past, the English attained to tortuous reformation, which involved Henry VIII, who had earlier been commended by the pope at the time (and awarded a title, fidei defensor, which the British kings still use today) for his attacks on sound Protestant doctrine. In those days, the papist romanists who held positions in the land either kept quiet or celebrated the counter-Reformation that their murderous king was heading. Then the king murdered another of his wives, and even the pope could not play along any more; so the king called up the prelates, and they laid out the 39 articles of the Church of England. These, since they are reformed in doctrine and are a repentance from the multitude of romanist and papist errors, are the breaking down of the cult of Baal, but the sin that the prelacy—the pope and all his hierarchy, down to the last bishop—had made the church to sin was not reversed; for that sin is the prelacy itself.
Of course the wicked prelates, who had quivered under their covers while the king murdered his wives, and were complicit in his opposition to Reformation, could not now be relied on to pursue such reformation as would indeed have them overthrown. They looked out first for themselves, rather than for the things of God; and this, the sin of Jehu, was central to the counter-Reformation response among the popes themselves, who the English prelates denounced. But the worst thing about them is that they take it upon themselves to represent and speak for the church as a whole, yet they are absolutely wicked from the heart out. If the church had no heresy of prelacy cast upon it, every man would have to walk before God by faith (for He sees the heart—1 Samuel 16), rather than before men (leading from this heresy to the auricular confession, which is a romanist lie). In the case where men walk by faith before God, they would need—like Jehu—to refer to the word of God, and then charge the king with wrong (as did John the Baptist) and also charge the prelacy with wrong (as did the Reformed presbyterians/“puritans”).
“The stone that the builder refused has become the head cornerstone.” All other points of the Reformation are about us and our comfort in the finished and perfect work of Christ; for even when we insist on the “scripture alone”, we do so because we know that all else will mislead us and be to our hurt. But contending for the presbyterial government of the church is all about the Lordship of Christ over His betrothed. Many a man will fight that their interests be safe, but the test of loyalty to Jesus Christ as Lord over all things will come, first, for the prelate when he has to confess that his very position is in error, and then, second, for the Protestant—Anglican or otherwise—who has to contend for an issue that is merely in the interest of Christ (the church, after all, is His betrothed, and not mine or yours); moreover, many Protestants rebelled against the leadership by elders, and went to the error of “independentarian” congregations, because that was in their interest (for don’t we like to decide for ourselves as we see fit in our own eyes?), but they ignored what was expressed as the desire of God’s heart.
You see, there is a common error of thinking of the church as a New Testament concept. Of course, all over the Bible, starting in Moses, the group of all the Israelites is called “all the congregation”, this word being the same one for “church” in translation; and the leadership thereof is explicitly under “elders”, this word being the “presbyters” in translation. The book of Ecclesiastes is named with the root word for “church” (“ecclesia”), but it is from the Old Testament. Moreover, the New Testament does not bother to define the church as doctrine; it just uses the word, expecting that there is an understanding of it already. The church could be referred to in the Gospels and the Epistles, without even being defined, precisely because it was known prior among the believers. The disciples knew what thing Christ meant when He said “ I will build my church ” This is why, for instance, Psalm 107 says:
Let them extol him in the congregation of the people, and praise him in the assembly of the elders.The presbytery is scriptural; the prelacy is heresy. The claim that the bishops are set forth in the scriptures is based on the fact that the word is from the Latin “biscopus”, which comes from the Greek “episcopos”. Of course, the epistles were not setting up an elaborate hierarchy, when they recognised that so common an office as the elder would have among it some who are overseers, which is what the Greek word means. This is best set forth by one verse (well, two), 1 Peter 5:1-2, which more than ends the debate:
So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you, exercising oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly.Note that this is Peter speaking, whom they claim is the beginnig of their heresy. Couldn’t he have said he speaks to them as “primus inter pares” or something? He says he is just an elder like them, even though he is one of the disciples. Then, incidentally, he requires all elders to be overseers, which would commit them to every single prelate being a bishop—an absurdity for them, but a fitting application of the overseer role on God’s part.
Peter, in the passages that precede, has been speaking to the whole church in general and telling them that their suffering and partaking in the sufferings of Christ is just normal for Christians; but now, in the fifth chapter, Peter is focussed on the elders of the church, and he presents himself as an elder whose Christian bona fides has already been tested and shown forth by the Lord, as he tells them is the normal lot of the Christian. But now imagine a pope, for instance, writing to all papist church leaders—he would never even dare to say he speaks to them as one of them, but rather would emphasise that he is speaking to them as a superior.
The Protestants have among them toleration for this evil heresy that demeans the rights of God over His church, and sets men up on a pedestal. The Protestants are not really reformed—not Reformed—unless they do not tolerate and commit this wickedness. So the Anglicans and other episcopalian Protestants are, in fact, Protestants; but they are not Reformed. They are Jehu; they are not David. The “congregationalist”, “independentarians” and other such wicked men were sent, as per Deuteronomy 7, to test our commitment to the Lordship of Christ: whether indeed we will cling to God and His Word with all our hearts, in spite of either apparent injury to our station, or the seeming inconsequence of the matter. The stone that the Protestant builders refused has become the touchstone. The presbyterian government system alone is scriptural, and that very much. The church is not Reformed, unless it is reformed in doctrine, worship, and government. It is sufficient that a church be reformed in doctrine (for then it would be scriptural through and through, and consequently presbyterian), but this being a case of Jehu-like weakness, this is a part that requires explicit mentioning even after we have mentioned the requirement that the church be reformed in doctrine.