“The changing attitude of those who left the Historic Church, toward the Apostolic Ministry is, to say the least, remarkableand instructive.
(a.) First they revered the Episcopate, longed to retain it, and when they found they had lost the Apostolic Succesison, sought earnestly to recover it. It is well known how Luther and Melancthon believed in Episcopacy. Their confession of faith [Augs. pt. 1, art. 22], speaking of bishops, says: ‘The Churches ought necessarily and jure divino to obey them.’ Melancthon wrote : ‘I would to God it lay in me to restore the government of bishops. For I see what manner of Church we shall have, the ecclesiastical polity being dissolved.’ Beza protested [in his treatise against Saravia] : ‘If there be any (which you shall hardly persuade me to believe) who reject the whole order of Episcopacy, God forbid that any man of sound mind should assent to the madness of such men.’ Calvin, in his commentay on Titus (I.5), admits that there was no such thing as ‘the parity of ministry.’ Again he says: ‘If the bishops so hold their dignity, that they refuse not to submit to Christ, no anathama is too great for those who do not regard such a hierarchy with reverence and the most implicity obedience.’
Says Blondel,a learned Presbyterian: “By all we have said to assert the rights of the Presbytery, we do not intended to invalidate the ancient and apostolical constitutions of Episcoapl pre-eminence, but that wheresoever it has been put down or violated, it ought to be reveretly restored.’ … And there is something touching and pathetic in the reply of Dr. Bogermann, President of the ‘Synod of Dort,’ to the English visitors (sent over by King James I.) when they reminded him that the Reformed Christians in Holland had not retained the Episcopate. ‘It is not permitted us,’ said he, ‘to be so blessed’-‘Nobis non licet esse toem beatis.’ It is also well known that Calvin, Bulliner, and other Protestant leaders wrote to King Edward VI, in 1549, with a view to securing the Episcopal succession from England. The letter fell into the hands of some Roman Catholics, who forged a haughty and contemptuous reply.
Such testimony might be multiplied to any extent. Grotius, Blondel, Chamier, DeuMouline, Cessaubon, Beza, Bucer, Le Clerc, Baxter, Doddridge, and many more, yielded to the unanswerable argument for the universality of Episcopacy in the early days, and used to place its origin either with the Apostles, or at least as far back as A.D. 150. And it has been shown that if Episcopacy prevailed then it must have prevailed from the begining, for no such stupendous revolution could have taken place within fifty years of St. John’s death.
(b.) Then came a period of blind self-vindication, when the Protestant organizations having (as a temporary expedient) set up a non-Episcopal ministry, seemed bound to give it a sort of ex post facto justification and validity by boldly asserting that it was, forsooth, the primitive order, and that Episcopacy or prelacy ( as they preferred to call it) was a corrupt and tyrannous ursurpation. This assumption had to be backed by the most arbitrary exegesis of Holy Scripture, and the most amazing handling of the Fathers imaginable-it was indeed translating them ‘by the hair of the head over to the side of Presbyterianism.’ This process reached its climax in the early part of this century when Dr. Miller (for example) blindly and recklessly proclaimed that ‘for the first two hundred years after Christ’ Episcopacy was unknown to the Church, but that ‘toward the close of the third century’ (Hear it, ye that have sat with me at the feet of St. Paul and St. John, Ignatius, Ireneaus, Tertullian, Cyprian!!)-‘toward the close of the third century prelacy was gradually and insidiously introduced.’ (!)
Again he says: ‘We find no evidence whatever within the first four (!) centuries that the Christian Church considered diocesan Episcopacy the Apostolic and primitive form….It is not true that any one of the fathers within the first four centuries does assert the Apostolic institution of prelacy.’ Dr. McLeod, of New York, even claimed that the sin of Episcopacy was so great that no bishop could be a minister of Christ, and that all ordinations by bishops were null and void.
(c.) The extreme anti-historical, anti-catholic, anti-scriptural position of Dr. Miller and his school has no given way to a sounder scholarship among the Dissenters, and a better, though not yet perfect, appreciation of the overwhelming evidence on the side of primitive Episcopacy.
Dr. Schaff, a scholarly Presbyterian divine, and a profound student of Church History, in speaking of the Angels of the Seven Churches, frankly remarks: ‘The impartial reader must allow that this phraeseology of the Apocalypse already looks towards the idea of Episcopacy in its primitive form; that is, to a monarchial concentration of governmental power in one person, bearing a patriarchal realtion to the congregation, and responsible in an eminent sense for the spiritual condition of the whole. This view is confirmed by the fact that among the immediate disciplies of John we find at least one-Polycarp-who, according to the unanimous tradition of Irenaeus (his own discipline, himself a bishop), of Tertullian, Eusebius, and Jerome, was, byApostolical appointment, actually bishop of Smyerna, one of the seven churches of the Apocalypse. Add to this statement of Clement of Alexandria, that John, after his return from Patmos, appointed bishops; the epistles of Ignatius at the begining of the second century, which already distinguished the bishop from the prebytery at the head of the congregation, and the three orders pyramdically culminated in a regular hiearchy;…and we assuredly have much in favor of the hypothesis, so ingeniously and learnedly set forth of late by Dr. Rothe, that the germs of Episcopacy are to be found as early as the close of the first century, and particularly in the sphere of the later labors of St. John…In addition to this, however, the Episcopal system was simultaneously making its way also in other parts of the Church…
If now we consider the fact,that in the second century the Episcopal system existed as an historical fact whole Church, East and West, and was unresisitingly acknowledged, nay, universally regarded, as at least indirectly of divine appointment, we can hardly escape the conclusion that this form of government grew out of the circumstances and wants of the CHurch at the end of the Apostolic period, and could not have been so quickly and so generally introduced without the sancitn or at least the acquiescence of the surviving Apostles, especially John who labored on the very threshold of the second century, and left behind him a number of venerable disciples. At all events it needs a strong infusion of skepticism, or of traditional prejudice, to enable one in the face of these facts and witnesses to pronounce the Episcopal government of the ancient Church a sheer apostacy from the Apostolic form, and a radical revolution.’ [Schaff, Apostolic Church, 539-541]
Again Dr. Schaff says: ‘It is a matter of fact that the Episcopal form of government was universally established in the Eastern and Western Churches as early as the middle of the second century.'” Rev. Arthur Wilde Little, Reasons for Being a Churchman, (1890), pp.177-182