Bishop in Non-Denominational Church?

In the wake of Obama’s election, I saw several interviews with Bishop T.D. Jakes, founder of the non-denominational The Potter’s House church in Dallas.

Undoubtedly Bishop Jakes is a distinguished religious leader, but my general understanding is that Bishops are clergy of denominations who supervise dioceses or similar regions composed of mutiple individual churches within the denomination.* Bishop Jakes, on the other hand, seems to be the pastor of just a single church not affiliated with a particular denomination, much less a hierarchical one.

So, how is it that Bishop Jakes (and other Bishops of non-hierarchical churches I’ve heard of) is a Bishop?

  • Though the leaders of local congregations of the Mormon church are known as Bishops, the church believes in universal (at least male) priesthood, and actually ordains all men as priests within the church, so having the local leaders of the congregations including multiple priests referred to as Bishops follows a similar concept.

Frankly, the answer here is that since it’s his church, he can give himself whatever title he wants to - assuming his congregation will go along with it.

Also, he has a half-dozen pastors working with him, according to the church’s website. So there is a hierarchy here, though a small one.

It’s because he can only move diagonally.

For what it’s worth, the title “bishop” appears several places in the King James Version of the Bible (such as Philippians 1:1 and 1st Timothy 3:1-2), as a translation of a word that literally means “overseer” (assuming my sources are correct). So the early, New Testament-era church had “bishops” (as well as “deacons” and “elders”)—or at least, that’s what the KJV translators called them.

Right. He uses “Bishop” to communicate that he outranks and has authority over the other ministers in his church.

Bishop translates episkopos, meaning “overseer” – the man who was Senior Pastor over the church in the metropolis of a given area, and in charge of the presbyters working its daugher churches in the surrounding countryside. As time passed, that mother church became a cathedral, the bishop moved into the role of “supervisor of other clergy” exclusively, and the historic tripartite ministry of bishops, priests/pastors/elders, and deacons came into place.

Lots of smaller denominations have chief honchos of their larger member churches called bishop for just this reason – and because it sounds impressive.