Monday, January 26, 2015

Hard but Biblical Truth

While there have certainly been moments in the history of the Church in which some within our leadership have committed grave sins, the Holy Spirit always calls us back to our foundations. The Second Vatican Council, now maligned by some, was what the French would call a ressourcement, a return to our source.

Today's Memorial of Sts. Timothy and Titus, takes us back to the second great transition. The first was of course Pentecost, when after the ascension of Jesus, the Holy Spirit was poured out on those who had been with him, the witnesses of his ministry whom we call apostles. These apostles served as it itinerate preachers, never staying too long in one place but spreading the gospel as far as possible. St. Thomas would reach modern day India.

The second great transition in the structure of the Church was the need to establish stable leadership in each of the local communities. Today we celebrate two such leaders: Timothy and Titus.

Contrary to what I grew up with, these men were not self-appointed. They didn't decided one day that God had called them to the ministry, and set up a church. They weren't elected or hired by the membership. They were chosen by the apostle, in this case Paul, and empowered by him through the laying on of hands. They were designated as overseerers, episkopos in Greek, the source of our English word Bishop.

As the number of churches grew, they would require help and so I his letter to the bishop Titus Paul tells him:

The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders (presbyterois) in every town, as I directed you. Ti 1:5

It is worth noting even there that St. Paul tells St Titus to appoint them as he directed. No leader is elected or self-appointed. Leadership in the Church was never meant to be a popularity contest or an ego trip. There was from the beginning a hierarchical structure to the Church. Each leader called by one above him in the order.

While representative democracy may be the best form of governance for merely human society, the hard truth is that nothing in the Bible suggests that this is the form of governance God calls for in the Church.

I'm sure many American would have been happier if Paul had written to Titus,"The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and have the people in every town choose a presbyter from among their number." But he didn't.

A part of the reason I became Catholic was that the more I read the Bible the more I saw that the Catholic Church may have added uniforms/vestments, but apart from that, we have kept the Church that Jesus founded and the Apostles developed. The fundamental structure and teaching has remained unchanged.

Some may want some 20th century invention. And when it comes to technology count me in. I'm can't wait to see the new Apple Watch. But when it comes to my Christianity, I want the antique, I want something as close to the original as possible, a church with a clear linkage to those first Apostles.

Every religion has dark moments in its history. For us Christians, as long as we stay rooted we will always find our way home.