On Bishops

salzburgbishopThis will be pretty stream of consciousness but the last few days (since Sunday) I have been thinking about our Bishops in the Church. In the New Testament we read that "[a] bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach (1 Tim. 3:2). I realize that not everyone in the Church is blessed with a bishop that meets these qualifications. However, I am grateful that I have experienced this in the Church. All of the bishops that I have had, whom I can remember, have met this description. In fact, most of them have even met the last of these criteria in that they have been apt to teach.

In this picture, I am standing with two such bishops. In the middle stands the Bishop of Salzburg (of the Salzburg city ward, that is), August Schubert. I spent some time with him last August, when this picture was taken, and was reminded of his aptitude for enthusiasm in teaching and in inspiring those he taught from when he was my mission president in Berlin a decade ago. I remember clearly the first sermon he ever delivered at a mission conference when he replaced President Wunderlich. He spoke globally, of Elders of Israel holding the line against an ever encroaching secularism and influence of the world. He almost mystically invoked images of disciples of Christ pushing back spiritual darkness and leading people to God’s light. He radiated similar enthusiasm for discussing the Dead Sea Scrolls and the Qumran Community last summer when I spent nearly a week with him in his haunts in Bavaria and Salzburg. I was very pleased to learn he was bishop there.

On the far left of the picture, to Bishop Schubert’s right, is another bishop with an aptitude for inspirational and equally academic, rigorous teaching. BYU Law Professor John W. Welch was at that time also bishop of his Provo ward. We were in Salzburg on the occasion of the Qumran/Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit that was travelling around Europe and attracting many people interested in the devotion and life of those people. Bishop Welch was there to teach them about many of these things and to expand their understanding about the relevance of the religious devotion of such an extinct community in our lives today, as Latter-day Saints and as adherents of other religions.

It is wisdom in the Lord that an aptitude for teaching be listed as a biblical qualification for the office of bishop. A bishop is charged with the spiritual and temporal needs of his congregation. What better way to fulfil both roles than through teaching about the Gospel and the Kingdom? By equal measure, it is difficult to quantify the damage that can be done by a bishop devoid of the qualifications listed in the New Testament or who acts contrary to God’s law or teaches false doctrine. Responsible, as they are, for a measure of inspiration and revelation within their particular priesthood stewardship, their apostasy or abusive of power can devastate many individuals and indeed whole wards.

I have often wondered what end it serves to continue to have lay bishops in the Church. My guess is that the system of lay responsibility in the Church is what ties us together and gives us the potential to become a Zion society, if we can ever aspire to it. Absent this (sometimes annoying, sometimes frustrating and tiring) aspect of the Restored Gospel, would we cease to feel ownership for this project; cease to dedicate ourselves to the building up of the Kingdom of God on Earth?

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10 Responses to On Bishops

  1. john f. says:

    (Bonus points for anyone who can identify the cd in Bishop Schubert’s hands.)

  2. Interesting point that it is responsibility that binds us together in this enterprise.

  3. Tigersue says:

    I’m glad to see you comment about Bishop Welch. He is my parents bishop and they have been lucky to have had really good bishops the past few years. One in Bishop Welch and another in Bishop Don Parry another marvelous man with the capability to teach and love. Sadly they we hurt badly by a former bishop who refused to help them in a time of need because they were inactive. It was truly sad to see and it has effected them to this very day. What a difference it would have made to have that bishop treat them with love and compassion instead of crass inconcern for their temporal needs. It took a lot of courage to ask for help and it was blatently refused.

    That being said, I try hard to not be too critical of the position these men hold they are doing the best they can with what they are given.

  4. My Bishop is awesome and looking up to the Bisopric I sure thank God I am blessed as a member of the Church to be led by such great men! :)

  5. Chad Too says:

    When I was first called into a Bishopric a few years back the Timothy scripture you cite was the first thing the Bishop asked me to study and learn to live. Thanks for the great reminder.

    Also, I just toured a Qumran/DSS exhibit here in NC a couple of weeks ago. I don’t know if it was the same one you were connected with, but regardless I’d enjoy a separate post about your experiences.

  6. Ann says:

    John F., oh, my, heck, I had no idea you were so YOUNG. I have kids your age! No more thinking of you as a peer, laddie. Now, go brush your teeth. And eat your spinach…

    Good post, BTW.

  7. Michael says:

    Ann,

    Who do you think are into this blogging? Did you think they were all over 40 and well seasoned in age and experience? They are all just young ‘uns. That is why so many of them are still attending university.

    The older and more sane ones don’t have the technology skills or the patience to rehash the same issues over and over again.

  8. john f. says:

    Ann, yeah, I get that a lot. I look pretty young.

    But Michael, I am not still a university student.

  9. Jordan F. says:

    John:

    Nice post.

    By equal measure, it is difficult to quantify the damage that can be done by a bishop devoid of the qualifications listed in the New Testament or who acts contrary to God’s law or teaches false doctrine. Responsible, as they are, for a measure of inspiration and revelation within their particular priesthood stewardship, their apostasy or abusive of power can devastate many individuals and indeed whole wards.

    I can attest to this. I have seen it happen, unfortunately, and the results can be devastating for generations.

  10. Matt Elggren says:

    When I was a missionary in the Germany, Munich mission (95-97), then President Schubert was president of the Munich Stake which included the Salzburg ward. At his invitation, we had lunch and dinner at his spa/resort several times…where we conducted firesides for his guests. He is a remarkable man of faith and the only member I recall from my mission who simply had no trepidation for sharing the gospel.

    Thank you for the post and for bringing back the memories, John.

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