Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Episcopal Baptists

Another sign that the Apocalypse is upon us. Baptists claiming to be bishops. Not only taking the title, but walking around with miters and zucchettos on. It seems to be all the rage, though, according to the Boston Globe via Clerical Whispers.

The title of bishop, accompanied by such emblems of authority, was uncommon among hierarchy-spurning Baptists until recently, but it is being adopted by a growing number of Baptist pastors, most of them African-American.

Borders and other new bishops have acquired some of the ceremonial garb — croziers (pastoral staffs), zucchettos (skullcaps) and chasubles (robes) — that their spiritual forefathers left behind when they broke from the Church of England in the 17th century.

Some, including Borders, have even embraced the doctrine of apostolic succession — the belief in an unbroken line from Jesus’ apostles to today’s bishops.

I wonder what the "Trail of Blood" folk are thinking about this.

The naming of Baptist bishops, which remains controversial among some traditionalists, is a departure for a church descended from the Puritans.

Baptist denominations do not have strict hierarchies; congregations are independent churches whose pastors are hired and fired by vote of the congregation.

“As late as the 19th century, a Baptist would have thought a preacher who wore a robe was being like a Catholic, and therefore terrible,’’ said Paul Harvey, a historian at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

No freaking joke, Paul. As a guy who grew up in a predominantly Baptist family and community, I cannot put into words how freaky this development is. Or depressing. What precisely are the forces driving this push for bishoprics?

But in recent years, that has begun to change. Scholars cite a number of reasons: Baptists, like other Christian denominations, are facing heavy competition from independent churches, particularly those run by charismatic pastors who use the title of bishop to establish authority and build their personal brand.

The title is increasingly being used more formally in African-American Baptist churches, where the practice of calling senior pastors bishops has been unusual.

African-American Baptist ministers have historically been powerful figures in their communities and pillars of their congregations; some see the title as a recognition of that role.

“I think we see this emergence in spiritual leadership from a people who have known oppression,’’ Borders said. “It’s a self-identification that we’re gaining; it’s a valuing of our own leadership.’’

And in some cases now symbolic garb and elaborate rituals are accompanying the title.

That’s now possible because the 400-year-old fear of an all-powerful hierarchy has faded into a distant memory, and it now feels “safer to borrow and reappropriate historic practices that once were considered to be theologically problematic,’’ said James Farwell, professor of religious studies at Bethany College in West Virginia.

In a nutshell, it's marketing and something that is for the pastor's "self-identification." The theological problems (i.e.- the truth or falsity of the issue) are secondary. It's all about the Almighty Me.

And who governs the use of such title? Nobody seems to have a problem with the fact that no such authority exists.

With no established denominational hierarchy to bestow the title, Borders and others in the new generation of Baptist pastors look to a variety of authorities for validation.

“In my eyes, he was already bishop,’’ said Gillian Thomas, an associate minister at Morning Star.

“He has earned it. We are honoring him by recognizing in a formal way who he really is to us and who we believe he is to the city.’’

In an ornate ceremony in Memphis, where at one point he lay on the ground prostrate to demonstrate deep humility, Borders was consecrated bishop by the International Bishops Conference USA, a small and relatively new organization with members from a variety of Christian denominations.

The article mentions Paul's writings to Timothy and Titus as the Scriptural defense these guys are using for their position. It's interesting how they seem to ignore that you didn't just "become" a bishop. You had to have the authority granted to you from another who held such authority. The grant of authority here is clearly just their own. How awful to appropriate something like the episcopate simply because you feel like it.


Andrew said...

This is not actually that new, maybe amongst Baptists proper but various Black Churches have been doing this kind of thing for a while. Many of them wear all sorts of combinations of Catholic, Eastern Catholic/Orthodox, Anglican and "traditional" Protestant going out garments from clerical suits and tricked out cassocks. They even use fiddlebacks and Eastern vestments to preach in.

Personally, I think they just finally figured out that all that Catholic stuff looks a whole lot more blingin' than any silly choir robe or gaudy suit does.

Throwback said...

It's more the Baptist angle that's weird for me than anything else.

"Bishop" TD Jakes has been around for a while, for example.