Bishops, Pastors, and Deacons in the Old Testament

There is conversation among our theologians about bishops (not just pastors, but chief pastors) and deacons and whether or not the three-fold office known to the Fathers is legitimate.  The conversation should not be about what is necessary insofar as salvation is concerned, for there is only one thing needful, and He is given through Word and Sacrament.  Pastors are necessary.  But even here necessary is not without measure.  For if a dying man confesses Christ having never met a pastor, but only having been instructed by his mother, then the Good Shepherd has been heard by His sheep and the lost has been found.  But this doesn’t diminish the necessity of pastors, who are given for the care and nurture of Christ’s people; those who administer the things of the Lord to His people.   So what of the three-fold office? Is it Scriptural?  I argue, yes. Is it necessary? I argue, yes.  Do we sin if we do not have it?  Does the aforementioned man sin because he did not have a pastor, but only his mother?  I think we speak too much of sinning by omission and commission, relegating sin to merely do’s and don’t’s.  What is sin but a guilty conscience before God?  So instead of talking about whether we’re sinning or not by receiving or rejecting the three-fold office, let us instead hear and consider the witness and example of the Scriptures and see if our conscience can be clear when and if we choose not to submit.  And let us throw off the ungodly burden of always finding what is necessary when all things in Christ are necessary.  To the Scriptures!

“You shall appoint judges and officers in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not pervert justice. you shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of the righteous. justice, and only justice, you shall follwo, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord you God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:18ff, ESV)

Is this ceremonial law?  Yes. But then, so is “take, eat; take, drink”.  Does this refer to Israel of the Old Testament? Yes, but then Israel is a type of the Church, as Jesus and the apostles make so very clear in passages such as 1 Corinthians 10-14, and John 10, among countless others.  Are we bound by this?  Yes, insofar as we are bound by the Scriptures to obey them, learn from them, and submit to them.

So what does this mean?  It means that judges and officers are pointed over all our towns that the Lord God has given His Son.  Jesus is the Judge over all the Church.  And He appoints judges and officers over all the towns in which His people are found.  They’re called apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers.  They judge, forgiving the sins of repentant sinners and withholding forgiveness from the unrepentant.  What else does St. Paul mean when he says to expel the immoral brother?  That’s a judgment.

So also, they are officers, doing the duty of the Office by preaching and teaching, baptizing, and making disciples.  So St. Paul says to Titus, “This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you” (Titus 1:5).  Sounds like Deuteronomy.

So in every town there are appointed judges.  Some towns are broken up into several towns, requiring more than one judge, but none of the people of God are left without overseers.  Those who do not attach themselves to the overseer are condemned already, having rejected the ministrations of their Lord.

Where do Bishops come in (that is, canonical Bishops)?  “’Look for able men from all the people, men who fear God, who are trustworthy and hate a bribe, and place such men over the people as chiefs of thousands, of hundreds, of fifties, and of tens. And let them judge the people at all times.  If you do this, God will direct you, you wil be able to endure, and all this people also will go to their place in peace.’ So Moses listened to the voice of his father-in-law and did all that he said.” (Ex. 18:21-22a, 23-24)  He who has ears to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the gatherings.


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