1. Is it in the Bible?
2. What do we believe it means?
A bishop is a church leader who oversees a larger congregation than a pastor, or perhaps has authority over a group of churches.
3. What does it really mean?
It is interesting to notice how the protestant definition of "bishop" is not any different than the catholic definition. this should tell us that noting has really changed in he church in the area of human government for centuries. In the catholic hierarchy, a "bishop" is a position of authority which is higher than the local parish priest/pastor. At the tiem of the reformation a bishop was qa very important part of government, not only in the church, but in the king's government.
King James, (who reigned shortly after the reformation of Henry 8) had a group of bishops who were governors over areas of the land. They had tremendous authority over the common people,and collected taxes for the king, through the system of the church. This authority was supposedly from God--every bit as much as the king "had the rule" "over" his "subjects" who had to "submit to this authority" (the king lived in buzzword heaven!)
Now let's think a moment. If you were translating a Bible for King James (and you did not want ot loose your head--literally!) it would behoove you to work these words and concepts into the Bible wherever possible. We have seen that many of these buzzwords are subtle mistranslations. these words "fit" the experience of the King James translators. To them, a "bishop" was someone who had an "office" in the government. The bishops were like governors, under the authority of the king. Rulership, taxes, authority--that is what a "bishop " was in the day of King James, and although the KJV translators did a wonderful job in most areas of their work, they could not help but translate their experience into the Bible translation.
The problem we have today, is that many of these words and phrases continue to re-enforce and shape our existing ideas of how the church should work.
So, what was a bishop in the times of the Bible?
Simply, an anointing, a ministry, of leadership, within the simple system of meeting in small groups in homes. A "bishop" was someone who had fellow believers meet in in ther home.
It was not all that we believe it to be. It was not permanent. In the small group operation of Christians, any person could be chosen at any time, by God, to lead. However, at the next meeting (of a group of equals!) someone else might be chosen by God to lead.
It is interesting to notice how tradition and experience lead us to misunderstand the Bible.
(Ac 20:28 Take heed therefore unto yourselves, and to all the flock, over the which the Holy Ghost hath made you overseers, to feed the church of God, which he hath purchased with his own blood.
This is an often used quote, used to re-affirming our tradition of rulership in the church. The word "overseer" is the same Greek translated as "bishop" elsewhere. When our experience reads this quote, we believe the Bible is saying that God appoints certain people to have authority over others. But the Bible is speaking through the experience and operation of the 1st century church--not the 21st century church!
The Bible is simply mentioning that God the Holy Ghost (thru prayer and the Spiritual gifts) will choose leaders at various times. Leaders of small home meetings. But "leader" is a ministry and not a permanent position or title of authority over other believers. It is what jesus said it is...
25 And he said unto them, The kings of the Gentiles exercise
lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them
are called benefactors.
26 But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve.
27 For whether is greater, he that sitteth at meat, or he that serveth? is not he that sitteth at meat? but I am among you as he that serveth.
28 Ye are they which have continued with me in my temptations.
29 And I appoint unto you a kingdom, as my Father hath appointed unto me; (Luke 22:25-29)
A little extra understanding about bishops and elders.....
5 ¶ For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest
set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in
every city, as I had appointed thee:
6 ¶ If any be blameless, the husband of one wife, having faithful children not accused of riot or unruly.
7 For a bishop must be blameless, as the steward of God; not selfwilled, not soon angry, not given to wine, no striker, not given to filthy lucre;
8 But a lover of hospitality, a lover of good men, sober, just, holy, temperate;
9 Holding fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers.
10 For there are many unruly and vain talkers and deceivers, specially they of the circumcision:
11 Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre's sake. (Titus 1:5-11)
If we look at these verese and compare them with 1timothy 3, we will see an interesting consistency. these are the requrements for being a "bishop". Look closely. this advice is saying to tkae any believers who are older ("ordain elders") and give them the jjob of being bishops. Notice the plural--"bishops". So many people read this and thin the Bible is saying that Paul is saying to take one person and make them a leader with authority over a geographic area. the key word in these verse is "any".
Paul is saying here that "anyone" who fits this description should be made a bishop.
Paul was interested in making as many home meeting places as possible. Of course these meeting places should be in homes which are safe, secure, not with unruly children, operated by people who are not drunken, or doing the work for greed.
These verses, the whole "title" of bishop or elder are really all about having home meetings for Christians, run by people who are qualified---but many houses of God. Notice how he says there are some who have been evil and "subverted whole houses".
Part of the operation of Christian leaders is to release other leaders--in fact to qualify "any" who can meet these simple requirements.