Charismatic and Pentecostal bishops hailing from the West African region have expressed concerns about a “proliferation of self-appointed and unqualified individuals” to the office of bishop. In response to this phenomenon, key clergy holding that high office in have established the Inter-denominational College of Charismatic Bishops (ICCB) with the mandate “to restore sanity, dignity and uprightness to this noble and sacred office,” and to “validate those considering elevation” to the high ecumenical post,” the body has said.
Comprising bishops from Liberia, Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the United States of America (USA), the ICCB aims to establish chapters in every country in the ECOWAS region.
The ICCB Liberia chapter, launched last Monday at the Philadelphia Central Church in Congo Town, Monrovia, inaugurated the corps of officers elected to preside over the newly organized body of bishops in Liberia.
Describing the evolution of this vision during the Liberia launching, ICCB Board Chairman, Bishop Nathaniel Zarway, Sr. of the Greater Refuge Temple (Liberia), said “the idea of the College has been contemplated for a couple of years.” The point of decision, he said, came last November in Sierra Leone, where he and other bishops convened to preside over the consecration of their new peer in the cloth, Bishop Akintayo Sam Jolly.
Liberia was duly represented there, as Bishop Zarway, Dr. George D. Harris of the Philadelphia Central Church; and Bishop Darlingston G. Johnson of the Bethel World Outreach Ministries International represented three of the five bishops selected to consecrate the new bishop.
The day after that event, said Bishop Zarway, the Liberian bishops and their counterparts from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and the USA convened to discuss the need for a sub-regional College of Bishops.
“The ICCB was established in Freetown, Sierra Leone, on November 30, 2015,” he said. The Sierra Leone chapter was also inaugurated on that date, while the Liberian members were mandated, according to the ICCB Chairman, to establish the Liberia chapter.
The founding meeting also unanimously selected Bishop Johnson, the founder of the College, to serve as its International Chairman in Maryland, USA, where the international headquarters would be located, the Chair noted.
Why a College of Bishops?
Explaining the purpose of the ICCB, Bishop Zarway noted the potential damage that “self-appointed and unqualified individuals …can have on the progress of God’s work in the world.”
In response to this ill, the ICCB’s objective is to serve as an authenticating body, consecrating those deemed worthy of the bishopric, and providing needed training opportunities for those poised to assume the office. The college will also create a sense of community among bishops whereby they can benefit from guidance and mutual support to uphold the biblical standards of anointing, order, service and dignity that characterize the bishopric. The task of correcting the errors that have brought the bishopric and into disrepute is also deemed a key component of the College’s core business.
Addressing those gathered for the College’s Liberia Chapter launch – and especially the young men and women in the congregation who seek to assume clerical office – Bishop Zarway stressed the need to prioritize character over charisma. He added that whereas “the desire for personal gain taking precedence over the desire and the need for personal spiritual development, and whereas the quest ‘to do’ has replaced the need ‘to be’, we thought it necessary to establish a governing council that will serve not only as a conduit through which these shortfalls and abuses can be addressed, but also to provide the requisite exemplary leadership that will raise the standard of excellence, dignity and accountability within the body of Christ.”
“Whenever you stop learning, that’s when you start dying,” he said.
Those inducted to lead the Liberia chapter include: Bishop Dr. Nathaniel N. Zarway, Chairman; Bishop George D. Harris, co-Chair; Bishop M. Wolo Belleh, Secretary General; and Bishop Matthew Kantan, Treasurer. Many other bishops, including Bishops John Kunkun and J. Allan Klayee have signed onto the ICCB Liberia chapter as members.
Bishop Johnson briefly spoke on the theme, “Establishing the Episcopal Order” from the biblical text: Titus 1:5-13. He encouraged pastors neither to belittle their call in any way, nor to consider themselves to “be self-made or self-appointed.” Instead, he urged the clergy to go through the tests of “character, consecration, conduct, reputation and confrontational tests.”
President Sirleaf, who graced the program, promised that the government of Liberia will do its part to work with the ICCB. “We have chosen you to set the path,” she told the council, “we can only commit to you that we will do our part to work with you.”
A bishop, according to Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is “one having spiritual or ecclesiastical supervision: as an Anglican, Eastern Orthodox, or Roman Catholic clergyman ranking above a priest, having authority to ordain and confirm, and typically governing a diocese.”
The office was originally established during the proliferation of the Christian Church during its early stages, after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, chronicles in the New Testament of the Holy Bible.
At the time of the bishopric’s establishment, the Church was united, with its members operating as a single body. At present, numerous denominations exist, defined by doctrinal, procedural, cultural, and often political differences that prevent mutual accountability in any form.
At present, it is unclear how widespread the issue of illegitimate bishopric consecrations is, and whether the ICCB’s mandate will expand to include oversight of other clerical positions such as pastors and apostles, some of whom may also be “self-made”.
It also unclear whether sitting Bishops across the ICCB’s member countries and beyond – such as Bishop David Oyedepo of Nigeria –will now be expected to submit themselves to the ICCB’s vetting process in order to validate their claim to their posts. If so, a following question would be whether non-compliant or non-member Bishops would face the consequence of non-cooperation in the body of Christ across the sub-region.
Such widespread submission to the body would prove powerful in ushering a sea change in the culture of the Church in West Africa, where some of the world’s poorest countries (Liberia included) have churches on every block.