Is A Bishop Above A Pastor In Rank?

Feature Article Is A Bishop Above A Pastor In Rank?

Bishop and pastor are two words that are widely known throughout the world to refer to Christian leaders. While many think that the two words mean the same or refer to the same ministry office, others think they are dissimilar. The term pastor is found in both the Old and New Testaments of the King James Version (KJV), but bishop is found only in the New Testament.

Pastor: “And I will give you pastors according to mine heart, which shall feed you with knowledge and understanding” (Jeremiah 3:15). “And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers (Ephesians 4:11).

Bishop: “Paul and Timotheus, the servants of Jesus Christ, to all the saints in Christ Jesus which are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons” (Philippians 1:1). “This is a true saying. If a man desires the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work….how can he take care of the church of God?” (1 Timothy 3: 1-5).

There are Christian denominations including the Catholic Church, the Methodist Church and some Charismatic churches that call their specially-ordained leaders bishops. These denominations that are often run by Episcopal Church government or system of authority hold the view that a bishop is hierarchically above a pastor.

Thus, in such denominations, bishops have oversight responsibilities over pastors while pastors have oversight responsibilities over the church. In other words, bishops have the authority to ordain pastors and other Christian leaders. This is perhaps the reason many pastors and prophets of Charismatic churches especially in Africa arrange to be ordained as bishops. They see ordination of a bishop as an event that elevates above a pastor.

If truly and biblically, a bishop is above a pastor, then, Pastor Mensa Otabil, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome and other ministers who are addressed as pastors are 'small boys' in ministry. In other words, it will mean that these ministers do not qualify to ordain other leaders.

But these are fathers in the Christian faith overseeing mega churches with national if not continental or global influence. They comfortably and happily respond when they are called with pastor attached to their names. Perhaps, they know the biblical meanings of the words “bishop” and “pastor” or they do not care so much about hierarchical ecclesiastical titles used by some ministers of the gospel today.

I have been advocating the need for Christians particularly those in Africa to study. We should not be afraid to ask questions concerning many things churches do including titles men of God use. We must refuse to be ignorant Christians by spending quality time to read the Bible and other Christian books and articles. An ignorant Christian is a blind Christian who can easily be led astray.

Diligent studies will unravel the difference or similarity of the words pastors and bishops and whether or not a Christian addressed as a bishop is above a pastor in rank. The word “bishop” is derived from the Greek word “episkopos” which means overseer, superintendent or elder. And the word “pastor” comes from the Greek word “poimen”, according to Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament. It also means “shepherd”.

Thus, Kenneth E. Hagin, in his book, “He Gave Gifts To Men” states that “the bishop, overseer, shepherd, pastor and elder all describe the pastoral office.” He adds, “The bishop or overseer of the local church is the pastor.”

Moreover, in 1 Timothy 3:5, Paul clearly indicates that the bishop cares for God's church, the ecclesia, the congregation of Christian believers, the assembly of the elect of God, the community of called-out ones. It is biblically clear that a bishop does not care for pastors but the saints. Also, you can see that Paul does not include bishops to the list of ministry offices in Ephesians 4:11. He knows that pastor and bishop refers to the same ministry office.

In the English Language, the words; “happy,” “blissful,” “delighted,” “gratified” and “joyful” are different but they are synonymous or mean the same. Indeed, bishop and pastor are two different words, but they refer to the same ministry office.

They are not different but the same. It is, therefore, erroneous for any church or minister to think or teach that a bishop is hierarchically above a pastor in rank.

In any case, the attachment of hierarchical ecclesiastical titles to the names of Christian leaders is foreign to the Bible. Nowhere in the Gospels did the Lord Jesus Christ, the Head of the Church, introduce them into the Church for His ministers to use. Also, the foundational apostles including Paul neither used nor established any ecclesiastical hierarchy for the Church.

Consequently, Alexander Strauch points out that, “The modern array of ecclesiastical titles attached to the names of most leaders – reverend, archbishop, cardinal, pope, primate, metropolitan, vicar, canon, and curate – are completely missing from the New Testament and would have appalled the apostles and early believers.”

His views may be understood to mean that the ecclesiastical titles being used by most ministers today are unscriptural and quite contradictory to the instructions given by Jesus Christ to church leaders not to use self-exalting titles for distinction among those who have chosen to follow Him (Matthew 23:7-12). We should not confuse biblical truth with denominational traditions that often tend to serve the pride of men.

By James Quansah
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