There are a variety of ways to consider what is a bishop. Churches from Rome and major Orthodoxy to tiny Protestant groups, as well as independent bishops aligned with just one small house church may carry the title bishop. Today, a look at those who require apostolic succession,
APOSTOLIC CHURCHES – Concerning bishops, nothing is clear cut once we get beyond the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. These two jurisdictions have bishops recognized as bishops with apostolic succession. Apostolic succession is a major preoccupation to churches and clergy which value and track it. It means that ordinations and consecrations can be traced back to the apostles by an unbroken line. Thus, their sacramental acts are valid. An act can be valid but irregular (i.e. – done but not authorized by Rome, ancient Orthodoxy, or a valid Anglican body.) One difference between Orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism is that Orthodoxy historically has been preoccupied with individual church body ethnic makeup. Rome and Lutheran scholars, for example, often charge Orthodoxy is beset with caesaropapsim. This short hand, believe it or not, for “the king should be head of the Church. Modern day examples (not an exhaustive list) include England where the queen is titular head of the Canterbury Anglican churches, the Soviet Union which oversaw all church life, and China, where today permission is required for a church to be public.
APOSTOLIC BUT SEPARATED – The Anglican Church is recognized as also having succession, but identified by Rome as separated brethren. In recent decades calls from several quarters question some recent Anglican orders because of possible heretical behavior. These may include acts by The Episcopal Church, a body of some Anglicans in the U.S.A. They have now an “impaired” relationship with Canterbury due to their ordinations and consecrations of gay, lesbian, as well as other female candidates as priests and bishops. Their status is yet to be decided by Canterbury. British Anglicans tend to talk such decisions to death before making any change to the status quo. This habit may be part of the psychology of an island nation where it is difficult to get away from each other.
APOSTOLIC SEPARATED GROUP TWO. There are other such churches. ICAN (begun by the Brazilian Catholic Apostolic Church calls itself the second largest Catholic Church after Rome. This church split from Rome during WW II over Vatican policies with Italy and Germany. It includes a number of national Catholic bodies worldwide. There are also other various national Catholic churches independent of Rome and each other. A large number of independent Orthodox bodies exist which are unevenly recognized by the traditional Orthodox bodies.
GROUP THREE. Technically, a single bishop may consecrate another as bishop. This has spawned a great number of Episcopi Vagantes, many totally independent bishops, They may be supported by a small group of churches, or even a single small body, but all claim apostolic succession due to the consecration by a bishop with valid orders.
Protestants are often surprised by the large number of independent Catholic, Orthodox, or Anglican bodies. While not so many as Protestant denominations, it causes much pastoral, administrative, and damage control efforts by the big three, as well as confusion among the membership.
Some may remember Mike Warnke, author of The Satan Seller. He developed a very profitable ministry sharing his time as a satanist, and then as a comic. His claims in the book and lectures later were documented in detail as false. He has developed in more recent years a very lucrative ministry to a handful of congregations with his 5th wife following his consecration by an Orthodox bishop as a bishop. It is an excellent example of an Orthodox episcopus vagans consecration setting up another Orthodox episcupus vagans, here Mike Warnke.
Next post will examine bishop lines not concerned with Apostolic Succession. Fr. Orthohippo