Bishop Paul’s letter

Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand

‘So, you’re a bishop? Good job! …’

In 2023, three of our LCANZ District Bishops will be handing on the work of bishop to another. In Western Australia, Bishop Mike Fulwood will be concluding his service as bishop. In the South Australia – Northern Territory District, Bishop David Altus will be concluding his service. Finally, in the Lutheran Church of New Zealand, Bishop Mark Whitfield will be concluding his service. In all three cases, these ‘Servants of the Word’ are asking the Lord to guide them as they consider what service they will next undertake in the Lutheran Church.

What does a bishop do? In our church’s constitution and by-laws, both for the LCANZ and its districts, there are extensive guidelines to answer this question. The repeated words you find there, are that a bishop shall ‘exercise oversight’ with specific reference to doctrine and practice in the church. There are also descriptions of the various administrative responsibilities of a bishop, and this includes the expected list of meetings he must attend.

The opening duty listed for a bishop in our church is significant. It declares that the bishop shall, ‘preach, teach and administer the Sacraments in accord with the Confession of the Church, exercising this ministry in congregations in consultation with the congregation and pastor concerned’. As people of the Lutheran witness to Christ Jesus, we expect our bishops to be busied with our God’s means of grace. We expect our bishops to be preaching and teaching, and administering the sacraments, that they would be active in the mission of God to bring life, salvation and the forgiveness of sin.

In St Paul’s first letter to Timothy, chapter three, we are taught a simple expression about the work of a bishop. In the King James Bible of 1611, verse one of this text reads, ‘This is a true saying, “If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work”’. More modern translations read, ‘desires a noble task’. There is a potential hidden danger with that translation ‘noble task’. A church leader ought not suppose that the service of bishop is somehow elevated above, or more ‘noble’ than the service of any other sisters and brothers in Christ.

There is a profound key for us to properly understand the work of a bishop in this very scripture passage. This is something you discover in the two words in the Greek New Testament that are translated as ‘noble task’ or ‘good work’. Those two words appear together in another place in the New Testament.

Matthew 26:6–13 tells the story of the woman who pours expensive ointment on our Lord Jesus when he is in the house of Simon in Bethany. The disciples criticise her, calling her action a waste of money. But our Lord defends the woman and declares that ‘she has performed a “good work” for me’ (Matt 26:10). These are the same two Greek words we find in 1 Timothy 3.

A bishop serves his Lord. This is the good work. Like the woman at Bethany, the bishop is focused on the revelation that our Lord Jesus is the promised Messiah. The story of the woman in Bethany occurs just before the crucifixion of our Lord. A bishop of the church is busied with preaching Christ and him crucified, for the salvation of the world.

So please pray for our three districts of Western Australia, South Australia – Northern Territory and the LCNZ, as they ask the Lord to provide them with a man to undertake the ‘good work’ of serving as District Bishop from 2023. Please also pray for the pastors who are nominated for this role, that they would know how to best offer their gifts in service to their Lord in the cause of the gospel, listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd. Finally, please ask for the Lord’s blessing on our bishops who are continuing in 2023: Bishop Robert Bartholomaeus, Bishop Lester Priebbenow, Bishop Mark Vainikka and Assistant Bishop Neville Otto.

Bishop? Good job!

In Christ,

Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name.

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