Names of God: Bishop of Souls

Bishop of Souls
by Ben Gibson

I Peter 2:24-25

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness by his wounds you have been healed. For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of your souls.”

For those Christians in lower church settings, the language of a Bishop can seem, at best, foreign and, at worst, unduly hierarchical. If we live in a world where we recognize the priesthood of all believers, what good does it do to talk about a Bishop overseeing our souls? To the Reformed, the mention of a Bishop may conjure images of top-down power, of separation from the local church, and of gaudy robes and vestments.

Yet, this is the very language taken up by the apostle Peter to describe Christ’s relationship to diasporic early Christians, spread far and wide throughout Asia Minor. What does this name mean about who Christ is and who we are in relationship to Him?

The Greek translation of this name “Bishop” is episkopos. The root, skopos, we might recognize as the English word “scope” while the prefix epi serves as an intensifier, heightening the significance of the rest of the word. R.C. Sproul helpfully indicates that this word, Bishop, is meant to indicate one with intensive oversight. Having lived and worshiped in the Episcopal Church for several years now, I have experienced the beauty and difficulty of a Christian community organized in this regard. There is an immense comfort in knowing that there are individuals within the church, dedicated to a pastoral function for the entire church: serving as a pastor to pastors as they lead their flocks. But in our fallen world, to have an individual with this level of authority and oversight has and can lead to abuses and separation. Seemingly, no individual can, or should, bear the weight of overseeing and pastoring the souls of so many.

In this Lenten season, though, we are assured of Christ’s continuing work in our lives. He has not simply died for our sins, but he has been raised to pastor, shepherd, and oversee our souls in this world. Through Lent, the call is to put aside areas of obstacle and temptation within our lives. As the redeemed, we are not cleansed by the blood of Christ and sent on our merry way. We have one who continues to look into our very souls, gently correcting, convicting, and encouraging. Lent represents a call to deep vulnerability in knowing and naming our sins. But this is not done apart from one who knows us, cares for us, and guides us. We have a Bishop of our souls.

Lord, give us the grace and strength to gives ourselves over to the painful but healing process of offering our souls up to the intense observation of one who has seen and borne all our sins and pain. May we return to His pastoral care, day after day.

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