An online conversation with a bishop, friend, and colleague sparked a few thoughts about ministry, particularly the ministry of bishops. What I will say here applies to all of the "ordered" ministries of bishop, priest, and deacon, but also to the wider ministry of the whole people of God. Indeed, my fundamental thesis is that no ordered ministry properly functions apart from the people of God.
Drawing on the language of Trinitarian theology, one can say that any ordained ministry is coinherent with the other ordained ministries and with the ministry of the faithful. For the purposes of this brief reflection, I will focus on the episcopate, and its coinherence with the church. Certainly we've had enough of incoherent bishops of late, from the abreactions of Durham to the megalomania of Pittsburgh, as well as somewhat less than pellucid prose from the chair of Augustine.
The bishop is, first and foremost, also a priest and deacon — one of the best arguments against per saltum ordination lies in this coinherent reality. That is, the bishop exercises both the gathering and teaching ministries of the priesthood, as well as the missional and prophetic ministries of the diaconate — and note as well that all of these ministries subsist in relation to the whole people of God: calling together the assembly which is the church (the ekklesia), teaching and convicting them and leading them in prayer with boldness and spirit, and sending them forth to do the work of God in the power of that self-same Spirit. It all hangs together.
Or it hangs separately, as Franklin observed. For when any of the ordered ministers of the church takes it into his or her mind to be a loner, unless their witness is ratified by the Spirit acting in the life of the church, repenting as they did at the sign of Jonah (his preaching), the very singularity of the act, and the lack of reception, reveals the misguidedness of the solitary or schismatical motion.
This is one of the reasons that episcopal acts, even those undertaken by a validly consecrated bishop, are of no effect if exercised apart from the church. The "power" or authority of a bishop is not a personal power exercised for the church, but the corporate power of the whole church exercised through that person. This relates to the doctrines of the Incarnation and Atonement. As William Law pointed out, Christ did not suffer and die in our place (that is, we still all suffer and die) but for our sakes. He did this having assumed unto himself all of human nature; that is, our flesh and blood, from the womb of his Blessed Mother. He was not simply a representative human, but all of humanity itself, human Being itself, together with God's Being in one person.
So too with the ministers of the church, perhaps especially bishops who are called upon in many circumstances to be the voice of the church to the larger world (though I note that this is a ministry they share with deacons, and still as deacons, priests), it is vital they recall that they speak in the church's true accent, rather than merely their own. The bishop is coinherent with the whole body of the church, and acts not in its place, but as its instrument. One of the positive notes in the proposed Ridley-Cambridge draft of an Anglican Covenant, is the recognition of the role of bishop's personal ministry not only in Synod, but "collegially and within and for the eucharistic community." (3.1.2-3) The bishop is not a monarch, but a minister. His or her "power" is not magical and individual, but derives entirely from the larger church of which she or he is an integral part and organ. Otherwise it would be Harry Potter instead of Henry Potter!
The bishop acting outside or apart from the church as an episcopus vagans is like an electric fan unplugged from its source of power. Its blades may show some signs of movement in a strong wind, but are of no effect in actually generating a breeze. And the same is true of any minister, ordered or lay, who amputated from the body of fellow-believers attempts still to function as an organ of the body.
We are, in the long run, all in this together. Lone wolves go hungry. And shepherds are nothing without their sheep.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG