There are a lot of titles being used in African-American churches these days. It used to be the only black churches that had bishops were the AME and other Methodist, Episcopalians, and COGIC. Today with the modern interpretations of the “Five Fold Ministry,” it is not uncommon to see apostles, prophets, and bishops in both traditional and non-denominational congregations. It is also not that uncommon to hear of bishops claiming that they have apostolic succession, tracing their ordination all the way back to the Apostles Peter and Paul. It is not my wish to discuss the validity of these claims. But if you are suspicious and weary of so many ministers making so many of the same claims and using so many of the same titles, I suggest reading the works of the men who were taught by the apostles and handed their wisdom down to generations of truth seekers.
Each and every volume of The Early Church Fathers is online and can be read free of charge. If you are Orthodox, chances are there is a set of these books in your parish library. You can purchase the entire set, or get paperback and electronic versions of such writers as Athanasius and John Chrysostom. Together with the Bible, these writings can give a broad background of the world of the first Christians, their challenges, and what was so life changing about their doctrine that they preferred death to abandoning their faith.
The fact that men such as Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp sat at the feet of the likes of the Apostles John and Paul gives us a deeper insight on how Christians saw themselves. For example, in Clement’s letter to the Corinthians the early church saw themselves as a united entity where competitive egos and personal rivalries were not to be tolerated. As Clement was a contemporary of Paul, his epistle does resemble and frequently quotes from the Apostle’s work. Athanasius, who was the hero of the First Ecumenical Council, stood firmly on the principle that was handed down from John’s Gospel that Jesus was co-existent, co-equal, and co-substantial with God the Father. Continuing in line with this truth, the Alexandrian Bishop included that Gospel in his list of 27 books that should be read in the churches in his jurisdiction. This list was canonized as the New Testament at the close of the 4th century. Thus these bishops, deacons, and priest were not driven by any new revelations. They merely stood on what was handed down to them and what was believed by all Christians in all other places. Ancient monastic wisdom from the Desert Fathers and the Philokalia are also full of spiritual wisdom that is accepted by the monks who lived in the second century Egyptian wilderness to the believers on 31st and Troost in Kansas City.
Take the time to seek timeless doctrine, faith, and wisdom. There is great value in old books.