I’ve just had a frustrating conversation with an arch-Evangelical, who uses the scriptures to prove that we should not have bishops.
By the ‘canon of scripture' we mean the choice of books incorporated into the Bible.
When the emperor Constantine took the Imperial throne, there was no canon, though it’s true that some measure of consensus did exist. It was essential for the emperor to unite Christendom because a united Church could offer stronger backing to his throne than could a Church fighting itself, a church in disarray.
So Constantine assembled a vast assembly of Bishops to settle ‘once and for all’ the question of the canon of scripture. He invited all the bishops of the ancient world, to sit in grand session. The most wide-ranging was the Council of Carthage (sometime called the Third Council of Carthage) which issued its final choice concerning the canon of scripture the Bible on 28 August 397. The primary source of information about this council comes from the later Codex Canonum Ecclesiæ Africanæ. The main section starts “It was also determined that besides the Canonical Scriptures nothing be read in the Church under the title of divine Scriptures …”
Only anointed Bishops were chosen as delegates. Before each session, these Bishops attended a Eucharist led by one or more of the Patriarchs. They then sat in adoration of the blessed sacrament for an hour. Only then were the delegates allowed into the chamber. Before voting on the books, one at a time – each after its own debate – the bishops fasted and wore their robes.
Some evangelicals say we don’t need bishops, we don’t need robes and vestments, that the Eucharist is a cerebral exercise of remembering. How ironic these assertions are made by appealing to a canon of scripture decided in the sacramental, clerical way it was.