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Bishop is the highest priesthood office of the Aaronic priesthood in the Latter Day Saint movement. A bishop is usually the leader of a local congregation of church members. The Latter Day Saint concept of the office differs significantly from the role of bishops in other Christian denominations, being in some respects more analogous to a pastor or parish priest. Each bishop serves with two counselors, which together form a bishopric.

The role of a bishop varies in the different Latter Day Saint denominations; however, they derive from a common history.

History of the office

Edward Partridge became the first man ordained to the office of bishop in the early Latter Day Saint church on February 4, 1831. The duties of the office were to oversee the temporal affairs and accounts of the church. Partridge emigrated to the church's growing colony in Jackson Countymarker, Missourimarker, and continued to act as "First Bishop" of the church there. Newel K. Whitney was then called to be "Second Bishop" to oversee the temporal affairs of the church in Kirtlandmarker, Ohiomarker. When Partridge died in 1840, Whitney became the First Bishop and George Miller later became the Second Bishop.

When the Latter Day Saints were headquartered in Nauvoomarker, Illinoismarker, the membership was separated into "wards" or geographical precincts and a bishop was called to oversee the temporal affairs of each ward. The role of the "First Bishop" was expanded to preside over bishops of the various wards and thus over time became known as the office of the Presiding Bishop. The role of the "Second Bishop" in Nauvoo was to assist the First Bishop and to preside over the quorum of high priests.

After the 1844 succession crisis, the offices of bishop and presiding bishop developed separately in the various resulting denominations of the Latter Day Saint movement.

Bishops in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

In the largest Latter Day Saint denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), bishops are called from among the members of a local congregation, known as a ward, and traditionally serve, without pay, for four to seven years (the actual length of service can vary). A bishop must be a married high priest in the Melchizedek priesthood. The bishop acts as the Presiding High Priest of the ward. A bishop simultaneously serves as the president of the Aaronic priesthood and president of the Priests Quorum in the ward. In a branch, the branch president fulfills the same functions as a bishop; however, a branch president does not need to be a high priest.

The Bishop is often called "the father of the ward" as he is the priesthood leader who is most intimately involved with individual church members. The bishop is not paid for the time he devotes to serving his ward. All ward and stake level callings in the LDS Church operate as a lay ministry; members donate their time to perform the duties assigned with each calling.

The immediate priesthood leader of the bishop is the stake president, who provides direction, training and counsel to the bishops of the wards within his stake boundaries; the stake president is assisted in these duties by two counselors and the Stake High Council. The calling of each bishop must be approved by the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles.

Duties

The bishop holds the primary responsibility for everything in the ward, both spiritually and temporally, and has wide discretion in his calling with little oversight. Although he can delegate specific assignments to his counselors, the ultimate responsibility falls to him. His duties include presiding over and conducting meetings and worship services; serving as president of the ward's quorum of priests; acting as a "Judge in Israel" or "common judge"; providing temporary financial relief for ward members; serving as the presiding high priest of the ward; and organizing and managing the ward's auxiliary organizations. After being called, a bishop is ordained a high priest (if he does not already hold that priesthood office) and then ordained a bishop and set apart as the bishop and presiding high priest of the ward. He is also given the priesthood "keys" which authorize him to serve as a representative for the Lord in performing his duties.

  • Conducting services — Each Sunday, the bishop is responsible for organizing the primary worship services, called sacrament meeting. The bishop and his counselors select speakers from among the members of the ward, assigned high council speakers, and, on occasion, guest speakers. Infrequently, the bishop or his counselors also speak in sacrament meeting. A member of the bishopric conducts the meeting, introduces the speakers and occasionally concludes the meeting with a few remarks. Once each month, normally the first Sunday of the month, a "fast and testimony meeting" is held and no specific speakers are assigned. Instead, those attending the ward that day are invited to stand and bear testimony of the Savior and His work and influence.
  • President of the Priests Quorum — The bishop is the president of the Aaronic priesthood and the Priests Quorum in the ward. He selects two priests to serve as First and Second Assistants to the bishop. The bishop is responsible to prepare each priest to worthily serve as a missionary and to prepare to receive the ordinances of the temple. He is also responsible for the spiritual and temporal learning of every young priesthood holder. As president of the Priests Quorum, he is responsible for new member baptisms and missionary work in the ward.
  • Judge in Israel — Members are interviewed by their bishop in order to receive a temple recommend. The bishop signs the recommend to indicate that the member is following basic tenets of the church and is worthy to enter the temple. Additionally, members seek out guidance from the bishop in overcoming personal challenges. Serious sins must be confessed to the bishop who helps members through the repentance process. In some cases, the bishop presides over a church disciplinary council where the outcome can include admonishment, probation, disfellowshipment, or, excommunication depending on the severity of the sin and the attitude of the wardmember. Additionally, the bishop also has the authority and duty to counsel members on spiritual matters, and sits as a “common judge” in the event of disputes between wardmembers. Bishops typically withdraw from involvement in matters which have been taken to the law.
  • Provide temporally for the members of the ward — Bishops also have the responsibility to oversee the payment of tithes and offerings in a ward, including the duty to accurately account for all money donated within his ward. The bishop also has the authority to authorize financial assistance, specifically the disbursement of fast offerings donated to help the poor, and other assistance to wardmembers according to the guidelines of the church. The other assistance a bishop can provide is "in kind" assistance in the form of food and household goods from the bishop's storehouse (which is managed by the Presiding Bishop (see below). The bishop disperses funds, authorizes distribution of food from the bishop's storehouse, or provides other appropriate assistance after evaluating the needs of the family and the resources available in his ward.
  • Serve as the presiding high priest for the ward — As the presiding high priest, the bishop leads meetings and has the priesthood authority to issue callings, approve the performance of ordinances such as baptisms and the administration of the sacrament. The high priests that reside in several wards that form a stake are part of a quorum led by the stake president. In each ward the high priests are organized into a Group. In the ward, the bishop gives direction to and coordinates the efforts of the High Priest Group leader and the Elders Quorum president in performing their duties.
  • Organize and manage the other organizations in the ward — The bishop is responsible for calling the president of each auxiliary organization. These organizations are: Sunday School, Relief Society, Young Men Presidency, Young Women Presidency, Primary, Aaronic Priesthood Quorums and Young Women Class Presidencies. Additionally, he approves the recommendations made by each auxiliary president for 2 counselors, a secretary, instructors (if applicable) and other callings within the organization. In doing this, the bishop manages the time donated by members of the ward.


Presiding Bishop

See also: Presiding Bishop: Latter Day Saints


The LDS Church also has a Presiding Bishopric which oversees the temporal affairs of the church (including its Welfare Services) and provides assistance and instruction to the various bishoprics worldwide. However, there is no ecclesiastical or priesthood reporting relationship as the bishop's immediate ecclesiastical priesthood leader is the stake president.

Levitical bishops

According to Latter-day Saint scripture, a bishop does not need to be a high priest nor does he need counselors if he is a Levite and a direct descendant of Aaron, Moses’ brother. In the LDS Church, there has never been a bishop selected under this doctrine, and such a bishop could not fulfill all the duties enumerated above (such as serving as the presiding high priest of the ward).

Bishops in Community of Christ

In many ways bishops of Community of Christ continue to resemble those found in the church prior to the death of Joseph Smith, Jr. They are not pastors or branch presidents, but financial officers and ministers of stewardship. While in theory a literal descendant of Aaron could hold this office, no such claim has ever been made, and therefore all bishops are members of the high priesthood, as a high priest can serve in any "lesser office". All bishops are members of the Order of Bishops, with presidency vested in the Presiding Bishopric (consisting of the Presiding Bishop and two counsellors).

While all bishops are attached to a congregation (in the sense that every member of the church has a home congregation), bishops are not congregational officers, but preside as financial officers over larger jurisdictions, or support those who do. For example, each mission center will have a bishop in charge of all the finances of that area, who may or may not be assisted by other bishops. Likewise, some nations have a national bishop, and, historically, stakes also had bishops. Consequently, this makes the office of bishop somewhat uncommon. In recent years, some mission centers have been fortunate to have multiple bishops, in order to help promote the various ministries associated with good stewardship.

Other bishops have been appointed as "field bishops" who are assigned to assist one of the twelve apostles. The Presiding Bishopric is also regarded as the presidency of the entire Aaronic priesthood. Bishops in general are therefore sometimes seen as ideal resources to provide support and mentoring to local members of the Aaronic priesthood.

References




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