Apostolic Succession Part III – Unity and the Gospel

I began by writing about seeing the roots of Apostolic Succession in the New Testament and the early years of Church history.  In the next post I talked about the grace of Jesus imparted to his Church through the sacrament of Holy Orders.  In this final post, I am going to briefly explore two of the more functional aspects of Apostolic Succession.

Apostolic Succession Manifests and Preserves Unity

Of all the different models of Church government out there… why this one?  Why is it so important that it be structured in this way?

One does not have to look very long at the Protestant Church to see that one of the fruits of rejecting the Episcopate has been division and doctrinal variation.  Of an estimated 33 000 Christian denominations worldwide 94% of them are Protestant.

What does Apostolic Succession have to do with unity?

In the New Testament, there is a very close relationship between the Apostles and the Church.  It is the Apostles who write congregations to bring encouragement, or correction, or to expound on matters of doctrine.  In every case, it is taken for granted that the local congregation has some relation and responsibility to the whole and that they are submitted to the authority of the Apostles who are able to address them in the name of the larger Body.

It is absolutely inconceivable that a church could form and remain in any way independent of the Apostles or the wider Church.  It is the Apostles that tangibly hold the Body together.

We see this vividly in Acts 8.  Philip has preached the gospel to Samaria, and the Samaritans have received the message and been baptised… but something is missing.  Someone is missing.

These new believers did not receive the Holy Spirit.

Yikes!

Why would God withhold his Spirit from them?  That doesn’t seem to be in line with his nature.  Jesus told us in Luke 11 that God loves to give the Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is regularly spoken of in terms of having been promised (John 14:25-26 and Acts 2:38-39 for example).  God has promised the gift of the Holy Spirit.  So why does he delay the gift of the Spirit in this case… what is he waiting for?  Whatever it is, it must be pretty serious.

In Acts 8:14-17 we read about Apostles Peter and John going out from Jerusalem to meet up with the Samaritans.  When they do, something wonderful happens:

Then they laid their hands on them and they received the Holy Spirit.

Acts 8:17

You may recall that the Jews and the Samaritans did not have a great relationship.  That’s probably putting it a little mildly….  So, what do you think would have happened if the Samaritans had received the gift of the Holy Spirit apart from the Apostles in Jerusalem?  The Samaritans would have had a claim to unity with Christ while remaining at enmity with the Body of Christ.

That is not an option.

There is no such thing as an independent Christian community.  The very idea of it is a contradiction of terms.  There is One Body, and fellowship with that Body is expressed through incorporation into the Apostolic community that Christ established to be his witnesses.

Part of the responsibility of bishops in Holy Orders is to continue to function in this role to hold the Body together.  Submission to apostolic authority ensures unity.

Additionally, Apostolic Succession is a witness to continuity – unity through time.  It expresses that the one Body of which we have become a part, existed long before our own conversion took place.  Our faith is not subjective or individualized. This Body that we have become a part of has one continuous life that we all share in which is connected to the actual historic events in the life of Jesus Christ of Nazareth.  The Apostles and the bishops which succeed them are the visible link to the historic events; agents of unity and continuity.

Apostolic Succession Expresses and Safeguards the Gospel

Ignatius, in the epistle to the Smyrnaeans, chapter 8, says:

Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop . . . so that everything that is done may be secure and valid.

In preserving unity, the Episcopate is also a safeguard to the very message of the gospel.  The gospel is central to all that the Church is and does, including its structure.

How does the structure of Apostolic Succession reflect the gospel?

For this we need an example.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is addressing a problem which is, in part caused by individualization of the gifts of God.  The Corinthians were abusing the spiritual gifts to the detriment of the local church.  Individual desires were being elevated above the corporate well-being of the community.  The result was chaotic and poorly representative of the gospel.

Paul’s solution is largely to remind them of proper church order.

He esteems Christ as the foundation and the supreme head (1:24, 3:11, 11:1, 15:27, etc.); he reiterates the role of apostles as servants, ministers, and officers of the Church, (4:1-13, 9:19-27, 12:27-30, 16:1-4, etc.); and their own place as members of the Body of Christ under apostolic authority, (1:10, 3:1-4, 4:14-16, 12:12-31, 14:12, etc.).

When the order of the Church is compromised – when the individual is elevated above the corporate – the very message of the gospel is distorted and deprived of its power.  The Corinthians learn to live the gospel again by looking to the organizational structure of the Church.  It is the place of Christ that must be exalted, not that of individuals, however gifted they might be.  And it is the responsibility of the apostolic oversight to ensure that the gospel remains pure.

Within this apostolic structure, it seems to me that the roles themselves also bear the marks of Christ.  As members of the Body, the Corinthians are directed to love their brothers passionately and self sacrificially – not unlike the way Christ has loved us.  Love for others takes precedence over love for self.

And the Apostles… well, as much as the apostolic office is honoured and respected, it is not one to be envied.  The trials that Paul faced were not unique to him, but were common – even expected in apostolic ministry.

We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

1 Corinthians 4:13

The apostolic office is an office of humility and servitude.  An office that willingly shares in the suffering of Christ for the sake of his glory and exaltation in the world.  The order set out in the early church embodies the message of the gospel to such an extent that Paul can say “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (11:1).

Summary:  Apostolic Succession manifests and preserves unity and continuity in the Body of Christ; as well as safeguarding and expressing the gospel message.

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  1. “When the order of the Church is compromised – when the individual is elevated above the corporate – the very message of the gospel is distorted and deprived of its power.”

    You make a very valid point. And Jesus was concerned about the tendency to elevate individuals, which is what He was making clear when He said this: “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers.” Matthew 23:8

    This is all precisely why the picture at the link pasted in below, of Todd receiving worship and adulation from men, is so disturbing, telling, and why, in saying what you have above, whilst supporting hierarchical fallacy is such utter hypocrisy.

    Practice what you preach. You claim it is wrong to elevate people, but then make yourselves important, claim clergy are somehow elevated above laity. What is biblically accurate, is that the entire body of Christ are clergy, not merely the perceived elite, vetted by the Catholic Church:

    “But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light:”
    1 Peter 2:9

    “Ministerium”, not “magesterium”. Your church has gone totally off the rails, and I pray God opens peoples’ eyes regarding what it is you’re really doing there.

    Rather than calling people clandestinely, to try to find out information about me, because I am warning people about your false doctrines, your church should address the contradictions to scripture you are constantly making. You could start with addressing the verses I’ve posted here that contradict your practices, rather than trying to shame me into silence.

    Via Apostolica should publicly denounce The Roman Catholic Church to show where they stand. If you can’t do that, you’ve sold out to idolatry and are no longer in Christ’s service. Apostolic Succession is and always will be heretical.

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    • “You make a very valid point.”

      Thank you Robin.

      “This is all precisely why the picture at the link pasted in below, of Todd receiving worship and adulation from men, is so disturbing, telling, and why, in saying what you have above, whilst supporting hierarchical fallacy is such utter hypocrisy.”

      +Todd is not receiving worship and adulation from men. That is a picture of the consecration ceremony in which he was made a bishop. It’s like any ordination ceremony really, but it contains a lot of elements that are rich with Tradition, so it looks a little different.

      “You claim it is wrong to elevate people, but then make yourselves important, claim clergy are somehow elevated above laity.”

      We don’t claim that clergy are elevated above laity. One of the main roles of the clergy is to spur on the laity to the work of participating in Christ’s mission and ministry. The clergy are members of the Body of Christ, just like everybody else, and each individual has a unique charism from God to build up the Church and advance Jesus’ Kingdom. No member of the Body is more or less important than any other.

      “Your church has gone totally off the rails, and I pray God opens peoples’ eyes regarding what it is you’re really doing there.”

      If we have gone off the rails in some way, I trust that in God’s grace, he will bring us back. Thank you for your prayers.

      You are obviously from the Lethbridge area. What church do you attend, Robin?

      “Rather than calling people clandestinely, to try to find out information about me”

      I don’t know what you’re talking about, but I’ve done no such thing.

      “Via Apostolica should publicly denounce The Roman Catholic Church to show where they stand.”

      It is Jesus’ job to judge who belongs to him, and who doesn’t. Not mine. But I certainly would not denounce the Roman Catholic Church. I have many beloved brothers and sisters in that Tradition.

      “If you can’t do that, you’ve sold out to idolatry and are no longer in Christ’s service.”

      That’s quite a strong statement Robin. I’m genuinely sorry that you feel that way, but I can’t imagine why you feel justified to say such a thing. In any case, thank you for your concern.

      May the Lord guide our wayward hearts and minds to worship him alone and keep us in his service always.

      “Apostolic Succession is and always will be heretical.”

      Why do you believe that? Admittedly, my posts are not comprehensive, they are fairly introductory; but I feel like I’ve put a considerable amount of effort into showing that this was the practice of the Church since its inception; that in this practice Jesus conveys his grace to his People; and that some of the expected fruits of this practice are Church unity and doctrinal clarity.

      I haven’t seen anything from you that supports your assertion.

      Liked by 2 people

  2. Amos,

    Your female pastor (1 Timothy 2), Marsh, contacted a friend of mine, digging for information. She didn’t contact me. Stephen Barbour did, though, privately. Essentially accusing me of making false statements. Have I said anything Biblically inaccurate? If so, please show me how, but please use scripture.

    There is difference between condemning all Catholics, and denouncing their idolatry and false doctrine, as an organization.

    Where do you stand on the papacy and worship of Mary? You understand the Immaculate Conception refers to Mary’s birth, and not Christ’s, I assume. Do you support that doctrine, for example?

    I think you should be up front with your people about how closely aligned they are passively with the Roman Catholic Church, by necessity of their lead pastor being consecrated into the historic episcopate.

    Would you promote unity with idol-worshippers?

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    • “Stephen Barbour did, though, privately. Essentially accusing me of making false statements.”

      I’m not sure what Stephen said to you, but at least he is willing to go to the source of information to find out if it’s true or not. There’s nothing clandestine about that. That’s called integrity. On the other hand, Robin, you have posted a lot of blatantly false information about us in a public forum today, and to my knowledge you have done nothing to confirm your accusations before levying them. What’s more, you have shown no signs of changing your opinions now that I have corrected you on several fronts. I feel like you’re not actually listening to anything I’m saying, you’re just talking over me.

      What’s the real problem here, Robin? I doubt very much that it has anything to do with Episcopacy.

      “Where do you stand on the papacy and worship of Mary?”

      This is another example of a false accusation. Catholics don’t worship Mary, Robin.

      I know this, because I used to think they did. One day, it occurred to me that although I was very sure of that belief (much like you are now), I had never bothered to ask a Catholic about it, and that didn’t really seem fair. After all, if I was going to accuse someone of idolatry – a pretty serious accusation – it seems like I should at least have the decency to ask them why they’re being idolatrous and give them a chance to explain themselves. Do you know what I found, Robin? Catholics are as insistent that they do not worship Mary as some Evangelicals are that they do. Now that seems a little silly to me. Who would be better informed to tell me what’s really going on? Probably the Catholic. Definitely the Catholic. I had a lot of repenting to do about that one. Slander is not something to be taken lightly and by propagating a false belief about Catholics I had engaged in slander. I hadn’t bothered to even find out if my belief was true or not, and it turns out I was wrong. Whatever it looks like to you, Catholic devotion to Mary is essentially (in its essence) different than the worship given to God. (CCC 971).

      What church do you go to, Robin? We certainly have differences in the way that we worship Jesus, but perhaps if we can get together in person, or if I can meet with your pastor, we can clear up all these strange misconceptions that you have and we can find unity in our common desire to see Jesus glorified. Would you be willing to take the time to find out if what you believe about us is true before bringing accusations against us? Would you be willing to focus on what unites us rather than what divides us? Whatever differences we have, surely we can agree that the grace of Jesus is enough to help us overcome them so that we can work together to build his Kingdom.

      Have a blessed Lord’s Day tomorrow.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. “May the Lord guide our wayward hearts and minds to worship him alone and keep us in his service always.”

    Amen to that.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Rather than re-invent the wheel, here is an exposition of some of the reasons Apostolic Succession is heretical. I posted this before, on the first instalment of this theme, despite what you’ve said about my not providing anything to back it up.

    http://www.gotquestions.org/apostolic-succession.html

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  5. Amos… You make assumptions here. You assume that I have not researched and studied what I’m talking about. You also assume that you know better because you spoke to a Catholic. I was raised in part Catholic, so by your standards, I guess I know better on that topic. That standard aside, I choose to accept what the Word
    of God says. I have no interest in meeting with you – nor keeping the pretense of unity with those who don’t seemingly believe what the Bible says.

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  6. Fair enough, here are some more or the same references. Please explain how it is that Mary is “ever-virginal” when she had children after Jesus.

    There really is no point in continuing this, as you support heresy, clearly.

    https://carm.org/catholic-mary-summary

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  7. I am in no way associated with Via, and I probably ought to leave this well enough alone but… I assume the picture is supposed to be damming because of the vestments and such, and while Jesus did criticize the Jewish priesthood/leadership for the sin of pride, you might consider that the temple priests of the old covenant were required to use fancy vestments and symbols of leadership, by God himself. It was an interior attitude our Lord was criticizing.

    As to Mary, can you prove from the bible that Jesus had siblings by way of Mary? And if you are going to refer to that word ‘until’ in Mt. 1:25 I don’t think that means what you think it does, especially in light of 2 Sam. 6:23.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “But he (Joseph) did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a Son. And he gave Him the name Jesus.” Matthew 1:25

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      • I am going to reply to this but it will be my last comment on the subject because 1 I feel like it is a hijacking of this post, and 2 I don’t think you will change your mind.

        Really, I preemptively dealt with this in my comment above. That verse can be seen as evidence against the perpetual virginity of Mary, but it isn’t proof, in that there is room for doubt. (I also must point out “consummate the marriage” is a rather loose translation of the NIV what it actually says is “Knew her”) Rather than hashing this point out myself I will let St Jerome (400s AD) reply for me.

        “Our reply is briefly… the words knew and till in the Holy Scripture are capable of a double meaning. As to the former, he (Helvidius) gave us a dissertation to show that it must be referred to sexual intercourse, and no one doubts that it is often used of the knowledge of the understanding, as, for instance, the boy Jesus tarried behind in Jerusalem, and his parents knew it not. Now we have to prove that just as in the one case he has followed the usage of Scripture, so with regard to the word till he is utterly refuted by the authority of the same Scripture, which often denotes by its use a fixed time, but also frequently time without limitation, as when God by the mouth of the prophet says, (Is 46:4) ‘Even to old age I am he.’ Will He cease to be God when they have grown old? And the Savior in the Gospel tells the Apostles,(Mt 28:20) ‘Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world’. Will the Lord then after the end of the world has come forsake His disciples, and at the very time when seated on twelve thrones they are to judge the twelve tribes of Israel will they be bereft of the company of their Lord? Again Paul the Apostle writing to the Corinthians says, ‘Christ the first-fruits, … For he must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet.’ What does he mean then by saying, ‘for he must reign, till he has put all enemies under his feet?’ Is the Lord to reign only until His enemies begin to be under His feet, and once they are under His feet will He cease to reign? Of course His reign will then commence in its fullness when His enemies begin to be under His feet.” -Jerome against Helvidius

        If the perpetual virginity of Mary is heretical then I am in good company since it was the universal belief of all orthodox (and I’m using that term as broadly as possible) Christians up to and including the protestant reformers.

        “Christ . . . was the only Son of Mary, and the Virgin Mary bore no children besides Him . . . I am inclined to agree with those who declare that ‘brothers’ really mean ‘cousins’ here, for Holy Writ and the Jews always call cousins brothers.” Martin Luther, sermon on John 1-4, year 1539

        “there have been certain folk who have wished to suggest from this passage (Mt 1:25) that the Virgin Mary had other children than the Son of God, and that Joseph had then dwelt with her later; but what folly this is! For the gospel writer did not wish to record what happened afterwards; he simply wished to make clear Joseph’s obedience and to show also that Joseph had been well and truly assured that it was God who had sent His angel to Mary.” John Calvin, sermon on Mathew 1, year 1562

        I could go on but I’ll let it rest here.
        Robin, God bless you, I wish you the best. If you wish to discuss this further you can click on the link on this comment and contact me if you would like, but I suspect we must disagree on the issue and continuing will not bear much fruit.

        Liked by 1 person

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