Thursday, December 4, 2008

Apostolic Succession

Before investigating the Catholic Church, I have never heard of Apostolic Succession.  From my experience of church, if God had a "calling" on your life, that was enough.  Sure, you  may have gone to Divinity School to get some religious education (and even that was optional), but past that, there was nothing that prevented you from proclaiming yourself to be a preacher, convincing other people in the community of the same idea and open up a brand new church.  After all, that is how the early church did it right?  Wrong - but growing up, no one ever taught me otherwise.

Apostolic Succession refers to the unbroken line of authority given by God to the Apostles throughout all of history to every Deacon, Priest and Bishop in the Catholic Church today.  Catholics believe that every member of the clergy, can legitimately trace their lineage of authority back to the Apostles and Christ Himself through the Sacrament of Holy Orders.  Only Bishops have the ability to confer Holy Orders.  Since we can historically show that there is an unbroken line of Popes (Bishops of Rome) from Pope Bendect XVI to St. Peter, we believe that the line of Christ given authority still exists in the Catholic Church today.

The Eastern Orthodox Church can also claim this as well.  The Eastern Orthodox Church was the first major schism from the Catholic Church which occurred around 1054A.D.  They are still considered Catholic and they still enjoy a valid preisthood through Holy Orders.  Their Bishops can trace their line of Authority through the same list of Popes as well.  (There is also some debate as to whether or not Anglican Churches can claim this as well, but I have heard different things from both Anglicans and Catholics, so I am not really sure if they can or not.)

Since Martin Luther was a Catholic Priest, he did have a valid priesthood.  However, since he was excommunicated and he was not a Bishop, he did not have the authority to pass on Holy Orders to anyone else.  Because of those two facts, Lutherans do not share in this blessing.  And as you can imagine, none of the Protestant denominations share this blessing either.

Christ created a Church based on the Twelve Apostles and told them:

I tell you the truth, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.(John 13:20)

Those Twelve Apostles (minus one), then continued Christ's work of appointing others into positions of leadership:

For it is written in the book of Psalms, Let his habitation be desolate, and let no man dwell therein: and his bishoprick let another take. Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. (Acts 1:20-22)

Here we see in the first chapter of Acts, just after the recording of Jesus ascending into heaven, they are putting someone in charge.  Evidently, it was pretty important.  Not only that, but they reference the departed seat of authority with the term bishoprick which is where we get the term Bishop.  Why didn't I see this before as a Protestant.  If you are interested in seeing more evidence of the different roles in the Church and the Biblical basis for them, please read Bishops and Priests and Deacons...oh my.

There is over 2000 years of evidence of Apostolic Succession.  The only time that this belief was ever challenged was during the Reformation, which is only 500 years or so old.  The reason why this was challenged was because if Luther, or anyone else for that matter, was ever going to say that the Catholic Church was wrong, they had to cast doubt on the authority given to Her by Christ.  If the Reformers were going to preach Sola Scriptura, they had to deny Apostolic Succession and the authority that comes with it.

Recently, I had a conversation with a Protestant friend of mine, and while he agrees that the Catholic Church was the only Church for the first 1500 years of history, he asked if they had the authority, was that authority was ever lost.  This is a valid question.  My response is if the authority was ever lost, then Jesus must have lied when He said:

When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future. He will bring me glory by telling you whatever he receives from me. (John 16:12-15)

...and we all know that Jesus can't lie.  As a matter of fact, if He ever did lie, it would instantly become the truth because not only does he speak the truth but He is the Truth.

I pray constantly for the reunification of the Body of Christ.  I hope that this post helps everyone understand more about the Catholic faith, because it is our faith - Protestant and Catholics alike.  It is what Jesus left for all of us, and Apostolic Succession is just one of the many blessings that He intended for us to enjoy.

God Bless you all...

1 comment:

Willison said...

Nice post, Carlus. I drove by a church the other day called the "New Apostolic Church". I about drove off the road laughing. What committee thought through that name???