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?