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Bishops in the Black Church Part 6

by Lewis Brogdon | Jul 11, 2013

At this point, I wanted to invite various leaders in African American churches to comment on this issue and its relevance for the Black Church today. Here is what two ministerial colleagues of mine have to say.

Rev. Norman Williams
Pastor of Cane Run Missionary Baptist Church, Louisville KY
3rd Year M.Div. Student at Louisville Seminary

Traditionally Baptist Congregations have been known for their autonomy and Congregationalist style of Church government. We have taken pride in the fact that the "power is in the pew." Most Baptist churches are stand alone organisms that are loosely connected to other churches through voluntary associations. Sadly, this has left some pastors and churches to deal with the pressures and struggles of ministry alone. This has also left them struggling with feelings of helplessness and isolation.

In 1994 a new paradigm emerged under the leadership of Reverend Paul Sylvester Morton of the Greater St. Stephen Baptist Church, in New Orleans, LA. This new paradigm offered Baptists new choices that have provided some churches the support system that the Episcopal form of church government and fellowship can provide. What we have begun to witness is that many black Baptist churches are seeking out fellowships like Bishop Morton's Full Gospel Baptist Fellowship International that foster a closer relationship between churches and accountability amongst Pastors, while allowing the churches to remain autonomous.

I have met pastors both young and old that recognize the benefits of a closer alliance with other like minded churches. These types of relationships can provide a greater more organized atmosphere of sharing, support, fellowship, and encouragement. It also provides pastors with a much needed system of accountability and brotherhood that in some cases has been missed. 

Many have said that the new phenomena of Baptist Bishops are just a fad and that it is against everything that Baptist stand for. However I think this discounts the move of the Holy Spirit on the heart of those churches and pastors, and it denies the essence of what Baptists are about. Baptist has traditionally been champions of the freedom of every congregation to choose its own destiny according to the word of God.

An embracing of the Bishopric also provides black Baptists another very important benefit that has been missing in some cases. It provides Baptists with a connection to ancient church traditions and liturgies that can enrich our worship and connect us to our brothers and sisters throughout Christendom.

I think it is vital to understand that the emerging paradigm in no way will replace the traditional existing organizations and methods employed by so many Baptists. It will however provide options and alternatives for churches that desire a break from the previous method of "doing church."

Bishop Frederick M. Brown
Faith Center Church, Bluefield WV and Charlotte NC
Presiding Bishop of Communion of Covenant Ministries International 

Titles have always been a major component of African culture which ultimately defined African American Culture. From Kings to tribal leaders on to house Negroes and field Negroes, status was established by titles. Early on we were taught to honor, respect and reverence, titles such as Mother, Father, Mr., Miss, Reverend, etc. In our fraternities, sororities, and religious affiliations alike, we were taught rank and order by Titles. Now we have this emergence in our religious institutions of titles such as Bishop that through the thoughts of novice brings higher level of authority, prestige, and rank. The challenge we are facing in our culture with this emergence is the lack of understanding through title holders that do not meet the qualifications, responsibility or accountability of the Episcopacy. The Holy Bible is not completely clear on the appointment to the office of Bishop which means it is more of an appointed office than a calling. To properly understand this office a proper research of early church history and Catholicism is required. The biblical office according to five fold ministry would be that of the early Apostles and establishes Apostolic succession. We are challenged in the scriptures to identify "trees by the fruit they bear" not by people with flashy titles but no works to substantiate (see Matthew 7:16-20). In my opinion, our lack of interest and involvement in religious educational systems and "itching ears to hear" without qualifications and requirements have created this monster. There is nothing worse than doing it right but being destroyed by those who are doing it wrong. It is not until the true Fathers of our faith, spiritual and religious leaders coupled with a forum of educators stand and require accountability, credibility, and integrity that we will see change in this senseless trend. 


Lewis Brogdon

          Lewis Brogdon is the
          Director of the Black
          Church Studies
          program at
          Louisville Seminary
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