On Bishops

May 31, 2006

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?

The Pope at Auschwitz/Birkenau

May 30, 2006

Pope_at_birkenau_3 This is a great picture of the Pope on his four-day visit to Poland this week (ht: Die Welt).   Die Welt provided informative coverage of this event.   On the last day of his stay in Poland, he visited Auschwitz and Birkenau.  After walking under the infamous Arbeit macht frei gate of Auschwitz, he briefly met with 32 former inmates assembled there.  He prayed before the wall where thousands of prisoners were gunned down in a bid at extermination.  In this picture, the Pope is in the neighboring Birkenau death camp where he prayed at the international memorial for victims of the death camps.  As the newspaper pointed out, this photo is rich with poetic significance considering the rainbow in the background.  Die Welt noted its biblical symbolism of a covenant between God and man but did not elaborate beyond that.  More specifically, it signifies the divine promise of never again with regard to genocide by universal flood (Gen. 9:13-16).

God has kept His promise that "the waters shall no more become a flood to destroy all flesh."  Unfortunately, humanity has not been so willing to join together in such a covenant among themselves never to let the atrocities of Auschwitz, Birkenau, and other Nazi death camps happen again.  In the former Yugoslavia, Rwanda, and elsewhere, people still pursue genocide and extermination of those considered subhuman because of religion or ethnicity.  Too many people, unforunately, are still abandoned by God and betrayed by humanity, as Elie Wiesel noted of the situation of himself and his fellow victims while prisoners in these death camps.

My guess is that even in the Millenium, when Christ himself shall reign personally on the Earth, we will never really understand life in the telestial world as we look back from a more peaceful state of being.