A revolution in language and dress demanded

     It was during Hooker’s days that a major innovation occurred in English Protestant theology regarding the ministry of the church. It was initially a mere linguistic thrust encouraged by new, democratic ideas. As such, it was relatively harmless but the movement quickly took over republican and oligarchic ideals which eventually meant the end of the English Church, the English way of life and the English form of government. Most of these would-be ‘reformers’ felt they were bringing more effective organizational methods from the Continent into Britain and even adopted Continental dress to stress their reforming fervor. Actually, their views were so insular that the Continent Reformers scarcely regarded them as worthy of study, never mind acceptance and Bullinger, Gwalter, Calvin and Beza warned them against splitting the Reformed churches and building an English sect based on false views of the Church and its ministry. It looked as though Beza would adhere to the party for a time until he found out that the English rebels had deceived him as Knox did Calvin in Frankfurt. Both he and Gwalter then protested strongly against this deceit. Martin Lloyd-Jones takes the side of these misled people in his book The Puritans, explaining with favour that they began the Cromwellian revolution which outlawed the English Church by violence and replaced it by a pseudo Continental-Scottish political pot-pourri. In other words, far from being a renewal in evangelical, Reformed religion, it became a totalitarian manifesto for absolute rebellion and revolution.

The office of a bishop

          Central to this revolution was an initial storm-in-a-teacup concerning the office of a bishop. Many in the Church of England were dismayed at certain un-biblical developments in understanding the duties of a bishop. Some, like Hooker, strove to combat such developments from within the Church. Others, like Thomas Cartwright, sought to introduce changes from a Non-conformist point of view without actually leaving the Established Church. Others, like Walter Travers, sought to combat the status quo independently with a Book of Discipline to replace the Prayer Book. He thought he could persuade Parliament to adopt his novelties. Still others, like the Anabaptists, campaigned from outside for the total abolition of the Church of England. By 1640, this movement was no longer striving for reforms but for what they called a ‘Root and Branch’ revolution to begin a new Church as if the old had become totally redundant and the Reformation failed.

     The major reason given for this new kind of church was a protest against the Church of England’s clergy, especially her bishops, many of whom were staunchly Reformed men but some sadly not. Making things as simply as possible and thus leaving themselves with little convincing argument, the Dissenters maintained that the ancient term ‘bishop’ was being misused so it should be abolished and replaced by a term which was free from unbiblical meanings. Their logic appeared to be that by changing the name one would magically change its abuses. They thus suggested terms such as ‘elder’, ‘presbyter’, ‘overseer’, ‘moderator’, ‘superintendent’, pastor’ or the Swiss and Irish ‘antistes’ which, they maintained, were correct translations of the Biblical word ‘episcopus’. Even today, most dictionaries, especially popular ones on the internet, will tell you that ‘bishop’, ‘overseer’, ‘pastor’ and ‘elder’ are pure synonyms but this is certainly not the case. It is because these terms obviously overlap that so much contention has been caused as each group strives to account for their different meanings purely in terms of their own, narrow, denominational understanding. Only when the terms are seen in their varied meanings can true, ecumenical discussion be centred on them. Of course, this debate had been going on for a long time within the Church of England and even Laud campaigned for a recognition of the term ‘Superintendent’ as being equal to ‘bishop’. Naturally, the Presbyterians rejected this move on the part of Laud as to them any other interpretation than a monarchical elder was a red flag for a mad bull. However, the German Councils of Leipzig and Hanau in 1631 and the French Council of Carenton in the same year, followed the Polish Consensus Sandomiriensis between the Lutherans, Reformed and United Brethren of 1570 and the ensuing 1573 Warsaw Confederation continued in the decisions of the 1636 Council of Thorn all granted religious freedom between Episcopalians, Presbyterians and Lutherans and worked for a full recognition of one another as sister churches. All these international councils in the 1630, based on older Reformed confessions were strongly influenced by the Church of England. Leaders here were Davenant, Hall, Usher, Morton, Bedell, Durie, and Du Moulin;1 Calixtus and Bergius being the main pillars of the Continentals. Even as early as 1619, when German Pareus heard that the Council of Dort was to be called, he complained that this was quite unnecessary as there were already many Reformed Confessions that could hardly be bettered. As things developed, many Reformed churches were not even invited to the Synod of Dort and the Canons decided upon were a disappointment to the old Reformed churches as they were too narrow and limited and fitted the Dutch situation the best.

Linguistic muddles amongst the Anabaptists

       In this search for a NewSpeak, it is interesting to note that, at the same time, the Anabaptists were arguing that the word ‘immerse’ should be used to translate ‘baptizein’ and not the word ‘baptize’. Of course, none of these terms really translated the Biblical words for bishop and baptism. It is, however, interesting to note that even the Baptists kept the office of a bishop, though slightly altered until long after the Great Rebellion and the office is being restored in the North American Baptist churches as a quick google through the Internet will show. Those who wished to keep the Biblical terms rejected such unnecessary changes as the original words had always been in common use. If they were being misused, was their argument, the misuse must be removed, not the mere name.

New connotations concerning elders allegedly Genevan or clearly RC

      Most of this NewSpeak was culled from alleged Genevan and Roman Catholic usage, forgetting that until the death of Calvin, Geneva had been looked on with great suspicion by the Reformed Swiss authorities who had taken Geneva from the grasp of Rome and introduced, mainly through the auspices of Bern, a Protestant Reformation to which Calvin, whom they appointed to office, never really attached himself. Furthermore, Calvin never covered his office with the title of ‘elder’. As Beza told the Scottish Assembly, neither he nor Calvin had founded and formed the Genevan church but it was Bern’s work. Anyway, Calvin was a convinced Royalist and wished for the Genevan Church to be under the jurisdiction of the French King and not become part of the Swiss Eidgenossenschaft.2 Rome dropped using the Biblical term ‘baptise’ in the third and fourth centuries as they had developed the superstitious idea that one could only be washed free of sin if one were wet all over. We remember how Tindal pulled the leg of those who thought they had not been baptized properly if a toe or thumb had not been drenched. However, neither Bern, Basle, Zürich nor Geneva held to the Church order which the English Dissidents demanded should be enforced on the Church of England. Their constant argument that they wished to do as Geneva did, was shown by Bullinger Gwalter and Beza to be wrong as the Swiss and the Genevans had quite different orders. Beza insisted that Geneva’s church order, especially as it was so misunderstood, was not up for emulation. A similar case was Andrew Melville’s insistence in Scotland that he was introducing French reforms but both Du Moulin and Beza had taught him otherwise. Indeed, there is no trace of evidence that Melville brought back from France and Switzerland the high theological qualifications his followers say he gained there. So, too, Knox’s alleged great learning cannot be backed up by evidence of any particular studies. Thus, the constant appeal of the anti-Episcopal English and Scottish lobbies to Geneva as the father of their opposition to the Church of England, was a step in either ignorance or what the Germans call ‘Volksverdummung’, or in modern English parlance ‘dumming people down’. As we know from Calvin’s correspondence with the Church of England, he held the English Church of his day in high esteem, as did Beza. Henry Bullinger, the leading Swiss theologian of the time, whom Beza asked to put in a good word for him in his correspondence with Queen Elizabeth, was called by John Jewel ‘The sole pillar of the Church of England’ and Whitgift against whom Cartwright and Travers contended, made Bullinger’s works required reading for all England’s clergy. Bullinger testified that John Jewel, Hooker’s teacher had helped more than any other man to spread the Reformation on the Continent. We also know through the work of John Durie that by the time of James and Charles, the Continental Lutherans and Reformed Churches were looking to the English Church for leadership.3 Sadly, prophets are not honoured in their own country and English people know more about Luther and Calvin than about the great English Reformers who quite surpassed them in character, virtue and learning.

     Hooker realized the folly of thinking one could ban abuses by using new names. As the budding Presbyterians were primarily arguing against history that history was on their side, Hooker, in his defence of the term ‘bishop’, defended the term historically as well as Scripturally. These arguments are found under the subheading ‘England always Episcopal’ in Book VII; Ch. i.4.4

Why change a system which works?

     Hooker thus argues that as churches all over the world have been ruled by bishops for fifteen hundred years, why change a system which has worked for so long and especially when it cannot possibly be argued that the appointment of bishops was not of God. Indeed, the first churches in England were Episcopalian long before either the Saxons and Normans came. Presumably this reference to the Celtic Church was to show that his opponents’ arguments that episcopacy was thrust on England by Rome who ‘evangelised’ the south Saxons and backed the Normans, was quite invalid. Episcopacy is older than the beginning of Rome’s power over England and survived after England became Reformed. So Hooker relates how history speaks of bishops being in England in the second century and British bishops represented the English Church at the Council of Arminium (Remini) in 359. When Augustine came to England, he found the Celtic Church, (which he nevertheless persecuted5), ruled by bishops. Hooker then traces the English episcopacy to his day and on this evidence declares:

     ‘O nation utterly without knowledge, without sense! We are not through error of mind deceived, but some wicked thing hath undoubtable bewitched us, if we forsake that government, the use whereof universal experience hath for so many years approved, and betake ourselves into a regiment neither appointed by God himself, as they who favour it pretend, nor till yesterday ever heard of among men.’

‘The bishops which now are, be not like unto them which were’

     Now Hooker takes up the cry of those who would substitute the terms ‘overlooker’ or ‘overseer’ or ‘presbyter’ for ‘bishop’. Of course, the first two terms were not particularly ecclesiastical as they could refer to a task-master or a slave-driver as easily as to a senior churchman. The term ‘presbyter’ is of course the long form for ‘priest’, a word Nonconformists usually reject as denoting a minister of the gospel. Again, it is Roman Catholic misuse which has put them off. We are left with the, according to Hooker, less negatively loaded word ‘bishop’ which also happens to be a word used in Scripture like ‘priest’ or ‘presbyter’. ‘Bishop’ and ‘priest/presbyter’, however, do not have the same connotation though their meaning overlaps at times. But here was the cry ‘Bishops are not what they used to be’, therefore they should be abolished. Now, nobody was as keen as reforming the office of bishop as Hooker. So, too, Hooker pointed out that those who came up with alternative suggestions were not always faultless in their characters themselves. Such mistrust might be shown correctly to today’s bishops as also to today’s overseers, superintendents, or moderators or, to use the extended pronunciation and spelling ‘presbyters’.

Were the Dissenters’ complaints valid?

     Nevertheless, we must ask if their complaints in Hooker’s days were true. We must remember, we are talking about the days of the Elizabethan Settlement when there were at least twenty-one, solid, sturdy Reformed men who were bishops of England’s major dioceses. If readers would care to look up the matter in my Troublemakers at Frankfurt, they will find brief biographies of these men. What Continental Reformed Church had such bishops as Sandys, Grindal, Coverdale,6 Cox, Jewel, Bale and dozens more? Modern critics of the 16th and 17th English bishops should look at the list of over 340 members of the Frankfurt refugee church during Mary’s evil reign, and those of the English churches in Arrau, Emden, Wesel and Geneva and then work out how almost all of these men of solid Reformed faith received authoritative posts in the Church of England and were happy to serve in such functions. Dissent has certainly never, ever, equalled such a number of sound, Reformed Episcopalian leaders whether Presbyterian, Congregationalists or Baptists, though they have had some great giants like Mather and Gill. Even the list of English refugee ‘Puritans’ during 1555-1559 said to have been compiled by Knox and Goodman at Geneva under the title Livre des Anglois presents us with a majority of men who were not the Dissidents they are said to have been but men who remained true to the Church of England. This list, however, must be used with caution as it also contains the names of delegates and visitors registered as members in several other refugee churches in Germany and Switzerland at the time. It also contains the names of Englishmen, not recorded in the church membership lists but who were merely on business in the City or merely passing through. Many church delegations and other agents were on the move through Europe during these days to organize a joint return of the English to England after their exile. Such as Bullinger were raising funds to help finance their home journeys.

Modern Presbyterians have altered the meaning of Puritan

     Modern Presbyterians declare that their Presbyterian Puritans were equally shining lights if not brighter than most of the around fifty Church of England sound ‘Puritans’ whose names are left to us. However, most of the names they present as Presbyterians such as Owen, the Nyes, Sibbs, Davenport, Ward, Goodwin, Meade, Marshall, Holdsworth, White etc., were not Presbyterians but men who were called ‘Malignants and Drunkards’ by the Presbyterians at the time. (See Baillie’s and Rutherford’s writings). Indeed, the Independents were arguably more Puritan than the Presbyterians. It was not the Episcopacy that troubled the Independents so much as the Monarchy and the House of Lords which they sought to abolish. The ‘Pressies’ of the day even objected to being listed as ‘Puritans’ and used the term ‘Puritan’ to denounce men whom they claimed were not true Protestants. Much of Presbyterian history has been altered and up-graded since those days. For instance, the Presbyterians were not on Cromwell’s side as they now boast but they literally fought him tooth and nail and refused to sign the ‘Engagement’ which acknowledged him as legal Protector of England, Ireland and Scotland. Indeed, the idea of the divine right of the Presbytery so common today was an invention of the 16th century taken over from the Roman Catholic view of Apostolic Succession and the ministry.

Examining the term ‘bishop’ historically

     Hooker now argues from the antiquity of the word ‘bishop’, admitting that the word is older than its Biblical usage and carried meanings wider than those meanings the Scriptures and later historical usage have applied to them. This goes also for the words ‘disciple’, ‘apostle’ ‘elder’, ‘deacon’, ‘pastor’, ‘angel’ and a host more terms taken over by the Church which were once used with various meanings other than those within Christian usage. A good illustration of what Hooker means is also found in the Biblical word ‘baptize’. There are some forty-odd different ‘original meanings’ of the term ‘baptize’ such as whelm, sink, submerge, dip, drench, flood, disable, flock, drown, cleanse, etc.. In the fourth century, those who believed the waters of baptism had sin-cleansing power, dropped the original Biblical word to baptize and began to use the word ‘immerse’, arguing that one must be washed all over to be clean. Hanging their theology on this one innovative but erroneous idea, the Baptists now insist that the only idea which suits their highly sacramental theology is baptism by immersion. We remember that Tyndale scolded those who felt the more water was used, the more successful the baptism would be. Of course, this ignored the fact that the New Testament uses words for baptism not found in secular literature and that, as in the case of ‘priest/presbyter’ and ‘bishop’, the Bible has a usage of its own and it is that usage which must be followed. Thus word such as immersed, sunk, drowned and drenched do not describe what Christ went through to display his righteousness gospel and example to us, whatever their meanings in extra-Biblical literature. Nor do they explain what Christ has done for us in salvation. It is also worthy of note that those who alter the meaning of baptism, usually do so to explain what they have done for Christ in obedience, or what works of Christian merit they have performed and not what Christ has done for them in offering them such a gospel.

     Hooker therefore argues that as God has not annulled the word ‘bishop’ from the Scriptures, and despite all attempts by human reasoning to erase it, we can guarantee that it is a word worth keeping in our Scriptural vocabulary, though we should be careful to keep a Scriptural meaning attached to it.

The office of a bishop

     What then is the office of a bishop according to Scriptural ruling and principles as seen by Hooker?

  1. A bishop is a minister of God

     A bishop is a minister of God to whom has been given the power of administering the Word and sacraments as a presbyter but also the power of ordaining ecclesiastical persons and being a pastor to pastors and laymen alike. He shares the former responsibility with all pastors but not the latter. During the Council of Dort, the Dutch clergy asked the Church of England representatives to tolerate their theoretical situation in which all presbyters were equal because the political situation demanded it in the Netherlands. The English and Scottish delegates replied that they could understand this but there was no such political restriction placed on the Churches of England and Scotland. This was before such a restriction was enforced via the Neo-Presbyterian rebellion in Scotland at the end of the 16th century and in 1643 with the outlawing and persecution of the Church of England under the Cromwellian Parliament.

          Hooker appears to believe that it is possible for bishops and other pastors to be given a universal ordination as a minister of God at large as foreseen by Bucer who influenced the English ordination service so much, but the usual ordination was limited to a church or diocese.

  1. The authority of a bishop

      The two major complaints against an Episcopalian rule were that bishops have too much power and are given too much honour. Obviously this is a relative, subjective factor and Hooker points out that those who rightly or wrongly bring forth this criticism nevertheless admit that there is an inequality in the churches in gifts, practical abilities, pastoral care, learning, devotion to duties and personal holiness. There are principle workers in every society who receive prominence through their deeds and abilities. Somebody must lead and others must follow. Appropriate titles are commonly used to express degrees in function in this way. It is thus allowable, lawful and good for such a system of degrees in responsibility to be honoured. Thus Hooker concludes:

‘That the Church of Christ is at this day lawfully, and so hath been sithence the first beginning, governed by Bishops, having permanent superiority, and ruling power over other ministers of the word and sacraments.’7

     The idea that bringing in a new form of Church government outside of the discipline of the Church as practiced for a thousand and a half years is shown to be folly by the practice of the Church of Scotland at the time of James VI. The Church during his rule had been peacefully established by the Reformation, spoilt only by Knox’s insistence that Elizabeth’s troops should be employed to keep that peace. Elders sat in a committee ruled by bishops elected out of them. Then came Andrew Melville and his doctrine of individual calling above the will of the Church. He thus declared himself to be of greater value and responsibility than either King or clergy and denounced the system of government in his church. His policy was that if a man felt moved by the spirit to take on church responsibilities, then let him by all means, providing he had the approval of Melville. Thus, when no ‘moderator’ was available for a General Assembly and Melville’s personal servant felt ‘moved by the Spirit’ to take on that bishop-like status, Melville felt moved by virtue of his own excellence to appoint his servant ‘moderator’ though neither he nor his servant had such church-given authority. There had been a misuse of powers in the Church of England but hardly of that kind or even to that extent.

The Apostles were the first bishops

      It is clear from the Scriptures, argues Hooker, that the Apostles were the first to adopt and utilize the old term ‘bishop’ for themselves and those whom they ordained and, indeed, were called such by the early church as Cyprian relates. The Apostles were in the first years of their ministry bishops at large but soon restricted themselves to certain areas for utilitarian reasons. For instance, Paul went to the Gentiles, Peter to the Jews, John became the Apostle of Asia and James served as the Bishop of Jerusalem. As James is so closely attached to Jerusalem and given the Roman Catholic bent for places rather than calling, they ought to have made James their first representative and not Peter who cannot be pinned down to any individual local church. When the Romanists came to Scotland, they were told that St. Andrew had been there before them and had been more faithful to Christ than Peter! So we see Paul and Barnabas doing the work of apostles after the decease of the two Jameses. Then, further bishops were appointed as the Church spread and the need widened, as also elders and deacons. Timothy and Titus were appointed bishops and thereafter came Linus, Simon and Polycarp (the latter ordained by John) etc. Hooker looks on this as God’s utilitarian strategy in building up His Church for further and wider work.8 By Jerome’s time in the fourth century, the Church had spread world-wide and rule by bishops, had remained as its stable organization. Jerome’s plea for bishops to be elected by the local elders and not taken from outside the local church, Hooker shows, is not a confession that there were no ruling bishops before as Dissenters state but that the church of Rome was setting the office of a deacon above that of an elder and Jerome wished to rebalance the scales. I remember a long talk with a dear Baptist friend who was a preaching elder and pastor. I asked him what his most difficult problem was amongst his flock. He answered that it was confronting the Deacons who were always telling him what he as an Elder should do!

The term ‘presbyter’ took on pagan usage earlier than ‘bishop’

     The term that was now sadly being misused from Jerome’s days on was ‘priest/presbyter/elder’ which had been dropped for the Latin ‘pontifex’ or ‘pontiff’, the name of the pagan sacral officials in the old Roman religions. Then came the reign of the Pontifex Maximus which really could be translated in modern Dissenting terms as ‘Chief Elder’. So we see that Reformation cannot come through merely changing names and apostasy is known under many otherwise orthodox titles. Augustine showed early Noncomformists that the rumour they were spreading that Councils had decreed bishops and not Christ was false as the early church universally was ruled by bishops before any international council was held. Elsewhere (so Hooker) Jerome shows how bishops have ruled the Church from the days of the Apostles as was also affirmed by second century Tertullian before him. As Hooker’s opponents were always quoting Calvin at him, Hooker pointed out that though Calvin had continued another kind of church rule in Geneva, which, by the way, had no antiquity to back it up, he nevertheless taught that the early Church was ruled by bishops appointed over elders.9

     Such thoughts as those outlined by Hooker above had already raised Cartwright’s criticism and were to enrage Travers, so their ideas of church order and discipline must be now looked at as also the alleged Scriptural arguments raised over the years for a rejection of the teaching that ruling bishops belonged to New Testament times and the early Church.

 


  1. Du Moulin held offices in both the French and English Churches.
  2. See my web-site essays ‘Thoughts on Church Government’ and ‘The Temple Church Controversy.’
  3. See the Parker Society Letters, my book The Practical Divinity of Universal Learning: John Durie’s Educational Pansophism and the eight volume work The Fathers of the English Church as ‘starters’ on the subject.
  4. In my two-volumed 1845 edition, Vol. II, p. 329 ff.
  5. My comment.
  6. Presbyterians often tell me that Coverdale was a Presbyterian as he refused an offer of a bishopric after his exile under Mary. However, Coverdale had been a bishop before and refused to become bishop again because of his age and work. Nevertheless, he was happy to have been a bishop and signed himself during Elisabeth’s reign ‘Quondam bishop’.
  7. Book VII, Ch. iii., p. 336.
  8. See Hooker’s footnotes for detailed sourcing of his work.
  9. Book VII, Ch. vi. 9, p. 356 with sources. Calvin called himself President of the church.