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The American Church Dictionary and Cycopedia


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The name given to that form of Church government in which Bishops are the Chief Pastors with Priests and Deacons under them. The word is derived from the Greek Episcopos, meaning overseer; Bishop being the Anglicized form of the Greek word. Much controversy has been held in regard to Church government, as if the form was a matter of uncertainty, or not clearly revealed. The question can only be decided by first regarding Christianity as an institution, as the Kingdom of God, and then inquiring whether this Institution, founded by our Lord, has been characterized always by the same thing. In regard to Church government we find that the Church as an institution was always governed by Bishops, and that for 1500 years after Christ no Christian people recognized any other Ministry but that of Bishops, Priests and Deacons. Since the Reformation the controversy has come up and various theories, especially Presbyterian and Congregationalist, have been advanced. But even now the question of Church government may be considered as a matter of fact rather than of theory. If we take the whole Christian world of to-day, we find that the number of Christians is in round numbers five hundred millions. Of this number only one hundred million are non-Episcopal, so that we may conclude from the universal acceptance of Episcopacy before the Reformation and from the large preponderance of adherents to this form of Church government at this present time,—from these facts we may safely conclude that Episcopacy is in accordance with the mind of the Master. This, at least, is the conclusion of the best scholarship of the day, both Episcopal and non-Episcopal. For example, a non-Episcopal divine has set forth his conclusions in the following statement: "The Apostles embodied the Episcopal element into the constitution of the Church, and from their days to the time of the Reformation, or for fifteen hundred years, there was no other form of Church government anywhere to be found. Wheresoever there were Christians there were also Bishops; and often where Christians differed in other points of doctrine or custom, and made schisms and divisions in the Church, yet did they all remain unanimous in this, in retaining Bishops." So also, the historian Gibbon gives his conclusion as follows: "'No Church without a Bishop' has been a fact well as a maxim since the time of Tertullian and Irenaeus; after we have passed over the difficulties of the first century, we find the Episcopal government established, till it was interrupted by the republican genius of the Swiss and German reformers." (See MINISTRY, THE.)

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Bibliography Information
Miller, William James. Entry for 'Episcopacy'. The American Church Dictionary and Cyclopedia. 1901.

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