Apostolic Succession

Apostolic Succession

Apostolic Succession is the concept in Christianity that the succession of bishops, in uninterrupted lines, is historically traceable back to the original twelve apostles [Oskar Sommel, Rudolf Stählin Christliche Religion, Frankfurt 1960, 19] Within Catholic Christianity it "is one of four elements which define the true Church of Jesus Christ" [Oskar Sommel, Rudolf Stählin Christliche Religion, Frankfurt 1960, 19] and legitimizes the existing sacramental offices, as it is considered necessary for a bishop to perform legitimate or "valid" ordinations of priests, deacons, and other bishops. Apostolic succession is transmitted during episcopal consecrations (the ordination of bishops) by the laying on of hands of bishops previously consecrated within the apostolic succession. The Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Catholic Churches, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Anglican Church and the Old Catholic Church all claim apostolic succession, as do Lutheran Churches in some Scandianvian countries. Due to the sacramental theology of these churches, only bishops and presbyters (priests) ordained by bishops in the apostolic succession can legitimately celebrate or "confect" several of the other sacraments, including the Eucharist, reconciliation of penitents, confirmation and anointing of the sick. "Apostolic succession" is an important dividing line to those who claim it: The lack of it is the main reason why Protestant communities are not considered "Churches" by the Orthodox churches and the Roman Catholic Church. ["Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church", published July 10 2007. [http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church] ]

Apostolic succession is claimed by virtually all churches except most of Protestantism. This includes the Assyrian Church of the East, the Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria, the Armenian Apostolic Church, the Greek Orthodox Church, the Russian Orthodox Church, the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, the Eastern Catholic Churches, the Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox churches. Apostolic succession is claimed by many smaller Churches like the original Thomas Christians in India, the Old Catholic Church and the Polish National Catholic Church, with 60 000 members. [Encyclopedia of American Religions, J. Gordon Melton, editor. 6th Ed., 1999. pp 93-94.] The churches of the Anglican Communion also claim apostolic succession. While their claim is recognized by some Eastern Christian churches, it is not officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church, based on Pope Leo XIII's papal bull "Apostolicae Curae". However, since the promulgation of "Apostolicae Curae", Anglican bishops have acquired Old Catholic lines of apostolic succession recognized by Rome.

Eastern Orthodox theology and ecclesiology teaches that each bishop is equal to the other bishops, even the Ecumenical Patriarch, who is "first amongst equals." The Roman Catholic Church and many early Christian writers teach that Jesus Christ gave Saint Peter a unique primacy among the apostles, which has been passed on in the office of the Papacy.

"If the very order of episcopal succession is to be considered, how much more surely, truly, and safely do we number them from Peter himself, to whom, as to one representing the whole Church, the Lord said, ‘Upon this rock I will build my Church’ . . . [Matt. 16:18] . Peter was succeeded by Linus, Linus by Clement, Clement by Anacletus, Anacletus by Evaristus . . . " (St. Augustine; Letters 53:1:2 [A.D. 412] ).

"The Lord says to Peter: ‘I say to you,’ he says, ‘that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my Church, and the gates of hell will not overcome it. ... ’ [Matt. 16:18] . On him [Peter] he builds the Church, and to him he gives the command to feed the sheep [John 21:17] , and although he assigns a like power to all the apostles, yet he founded a single chair [cathedra] , and he established by his own authority a source and an intrinsic reason for that unity. . . . If someone [today] does not hold fast to this unity of Peter, can he imagine that he still holds the faith? If he [should] desert the chair of Peter upon whom the Church was built, can he still be confident that he is in the Church?"(Cyprian of Carthage; The Unity of the Catholic Church 4; first edition [A.D. 251] ). [http://www.catholic.com/library/Peter_Successors.asp early Christian writings on papal succession]

Apostolicity as doctrinal continuity

While many churches within the historical episcopate argue that Holy Orders are valid only through apostolic succession, most Protestant Churches would deny that the apostolicity of the Church rests on an unbroken episcopacy. They generally hold that one important qualification of the apostles was that they were chosen directly by Jesus and that they witnessed the resurrected Christ. According to this understanding, the work of these twelve (and the Apostle Paul), together with the prophets of the twelve tribes of Israel, provide the doctrinal foundation for the whole church of subsequent history through the Scriptures of the Bible. To share with the apostles the same faith, to believe their word as found in the Scriptures, to receive the same Holy Spirit, is the only sense in which apostolic succession is meaningful, because it is in this sense only that men have fellowship with God in the truth (an extension of the Reformation doctrines of "sola fide" and "sola scriptura"). The most meaningful "apostolic succession" for most Protestants, then, is the faithful succession of apostolic teaching. There is, of course, much disagreement among various Protestant churches about the exact content of apostolic teaching. In addition, Protestants state that the teaching of apostolic succession did not arise until 170–200 A.D. [http://mb-soft.com/believe/txo/apossucc.htm Apostolic Succession ] ]

It is worth noting, however, that the First of the Epistles of Clement which is commonly dated to the first century and claims to be written by the Church of God in Rome which was established by the apostles presents a belief in apostolic succession as do also the Epistles of Ignatius of Antioch. Also worth noting is the fact that others beside the twelve apostles and Saint Paul are called "apostles" in the New Testament. Also noteworthy is the fact that the Apostle Paul, though given spiritual authority directly by Christ, did not embark on his apostleship without conferring with those who were apostles before him as he notes in his Epistle to the Galatians. By contrast, some Protestant charismatic and restorationist churches include "apostles" among the offices that should be evident into modern times in a true church, though they never trace an historical line of succession or attempt to confer, like Paul, with those who were "apostles" before them. It is frequently the case that the founders or senior leaders of a restorationist church grouping will be referred to as the apostles. Church planting is seen as a key role of these present-day apostles, but the concept of apostolic succession which protected the faith and inter-communion of the Christian churches through the first three centuries of persecution and cross-cultural, translinguistic evangelism has been lost in these new movements.

Those who hold to the importance of episcopal apostolic succession would counter the above by appealing to the New Testament, which, they say, implies a personal apostolic succession (from Paul to Timothy and Titus, for example) and which states that Jesus gave the Apostles a "blank check" to lead the Church as they saw fit under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. [Matthew 18:18 and Acts Chapter 15, for example] They appeal as well to other documents of the very early Church, especially the Epistle of St. Clement to the Church at Corinth, written around 96 AD In it, Clement defends the authority and prerogatives of a group of "elders" or "bishops" in the Corinthian Church which had, apparently, been deposed and replaced by the congregation on its own initiative. In this context, Clement explicitly states that the apostles both appointed bishops as successors and had directed that these bishops should in turn appoint their own successors; given this, such leaders of the Church were not to be removed without cause and not in this way. Further, proponents of the necessity of the personal apostolic succession of bishops within the Church point to the universal practice of the undivided early Church (up to 431 AD), from which, as organizations, the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox (at that point in time one Church until 1054, see Great Schism), as well Oriental Orthodox and the Assyrian Churches have all directly descended.

At the same time, no defender of the personal apostolic succession of bishops would deny the importance of doctrinal continuity in the Church.

*These churches hold that Christ entrusted the leadership of the community of believers, and the obligation to transmit and preserve the "deposit of faith" (the experience of Christ and his teachings contained in the doctrinal "tradition" handed down from the time of the apostles, the written portion of which is Scripture) to the apostles, and the apostles passed on this role by ordaining bishops after them.

Roman Catholic, Orthodox theology additionally hold that the power and authority to confect the sacraments, or at least all of the sacraments aside from baptism and matrimony (the first of which may be administered by anyone, the second of which is administered by the couple to each other) is passed on only through the sacrament of Holy Orders, and an unbroken line of ordination of bishops to the apostles is necessary for the valid celebration of the sacraments today. Roman Catholics recognize the validity of the apostolic successions of the bishops, and therefore the rest of the clergy, of the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Old Catholic, and some Independent Catholic Churches. Since 1896, Rome has not fully recognized all Anglican orders as valid. The Eastern Orthodox do not universally recognize Roman Catholics, Anglicans or any other group as having apostolic succession. Until the time comes when the practices of the Orthodox Church are unified, the validity of any priest's ordination will be decided by each autocephalous Orthodox Church. [4] Neither the Roman Catholic nor the Orthodox Church recognize the validity of the apostolic succession of the clergy of the Protestant churches, in large measure because of their theology of the Eucharist.

The traditional doctrine

As a traditional ecclesiastical doctrine, apostolic succession provides an historical basis for the spiritual authority of the bishops of the Church (the "episcopate"). Apostolic succession is usually described as the official authority that has been passed down through unbroken lines of successive bishops beginning with the original Apostles selected by Jesus, or on a similar basis. Put another way, bishops (in churches subscribing to the doctrine) are only created bishops by other bishops; thus, every bishop today is the end of an unbroken line of bishops, extending all the way back to one (or more) of the Apostles, through which authority descends.

This doctrine is claimed by the ancient Christian Churches (the Roman Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, the Oriental Orthodox), and other ancient Churches, and as well as by the traditional Episcopal and other Anglican Churches, and by several of the Lutheran Churches; it is referenced favorably by other churches. Some Protestant churches do not accept this doctrine as it has been commonly described, but rather will redefine it in a different way. [Such Protestant reform Churches define apostolic succession as a continuity of the "teaching" of the Apostles (see below).]

Papal primacy is an issue different though related to apostolic succession as described here. The Catholic Church has traditionally claimed a unique leadership role for the apostle Peter, believed to have been named by Jesus as leader of the apostles and as a focus of their unity, became the first Bishop of Rome, whose successors accordingly became the leaders of the worldwide Church as well. Churches not in communion with Rome do not agree completely or at all with this Catholic interpretation.

The literature on this traditional doctrine is substantial. Many inferences from it may be drawn. [For example, the unbrokenness of apostolic succession may be significant because of the promise made by Jesus Christ that the "gates of hell" (On June 29 2007 the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, under the prefecture of Cardinal William Levada explained, why apostolic succession is of great importance to the Catholic Church ["Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church", published July 10 2007. [http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church] ] The Vatican was asked, why the Second Vatican Council and all Catholic statements since the Council, do not consider Protestant Christian Communities as "Churches".The Vatican responded that "according to Catholic doctrine, these Communities do not enjoy "apostolic succession" in the sacrament of Orders, and are, therefore, deprived of a constitutive element of the Church. These ecclesial Communities which, specifically because of the absence of the sacramental priesthood, have not preserved the genuine and integral substance of the Eucharistic Mystery cannot, according to Catholic doctrine, be called "Churches" in the proper sense". ["Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church", published July 10 2007. [http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/congregations/cfaith/documents/rc_con_cfaith_doc_20070629_responsa-quaestiones_en.html Responses to Some Questions Regarding Certain Aspects of the Doctrine on the Church] ]

In Roman Catholic theology, the doctrine of apostolic succession states that Christ gave the full sacramental authority of the church to the Twelve Apostles in the sacrament of Holy Orders, making them the first bishops. By conferring the fullness of the sacrament of Holy Orders on the apostles, they were given the authority to confer the sacrament of Holy Orders on others, thus consecrating more bishops in a direct lineage that can trace its origin back to the Twelve Apostles and Christ himself. This direct succession of bishops from the apostles to the present day bishops is referred to as apostolic succession. The Roman Catholic Church also holds that within the College of Apostles, Peter was picked out for the unique role of leadership and to serve as the source of unity among the apostles, a role among the bishops and within the church inherited by the pope as Peter's successor today.

These churches hold that Christ entrusted the apostles with the leadership of the community of believers, and the obligation to transmit and preserve the "deposit of faith" (the experience of Christ and his teachings contained in the doctrinal "tradition" handed down from the time of the apostles and the written portion, which is Scripture). The apostles then passed on this office and authority by ordaining bishops to follow after them.

Roman Catholic theology holds that the apostolic succession effects the power and authority to administer the sacraments except for baptism and matrimony. (Baptism may be administered by anyone and matrimony the couple to each other). Authority to so administer such sacraments is passed on only through the sacrament of Holy Orders, a rite by which a priest is ordained (ordination can be conferred only by a bishop). The bishop, of course, must be from an unbroken line of bishops stemming from the original apostles selected by Jesus Christ. Thus, apostolic succession is necessary for the valid celebration of the sacraments today.

The unbrokenness of apostolic succession is also significant because of Jesus Christ's promise that the "gates of hell" [ In other words, Methodists understand apostolic succession as being rooted within the Presbyterate. This does not mean, however, that all elders may ordain; quite the contrary: only those elders who have been elected and consecrated as bishops can further the apostolic succession through the ordination of bishops, elders, and deacons within the United Methodist Church. In this way, the United Methodist episcopacy functions as if it were within the historic episcopate.

Accepting, but moving beyond this position, a few Methodists do affirm that their bishops stand in a form of the historic, as well as theological, Apostolic Succession (i.e., in the Anglican fashion); their argument is that Wesley's ordinations, and therefore the subsequent line of Methodist bishops, are legitimate due to the critical nature of the circumstances extant at that time. Some Methodists even make an appeal to the "Erasmian consecration," which asserts that, while on a visit to London in 1763, the Greek Orthodox bishop of the Diocese of Arcadia, Crete, secretly consecrated Wesley to the episcopacy. That Wesley actually met with Bishop Erasmus during the bishop's visit to London is not questioned; what is questioned is that Erasmus did more than simply "confirm Wesley in his ministry among the Methodists in England and America." When Wesley was asked by a clergyman if Erasmus of Arcadia had consecrated him a bishop, he said: "I cannot answer you." [ [http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/mreview/1870/A_%201878_%20Was%20Wesley%20Ordained%20Bishop%20by%20Erasmus_%2088-111.htm Wesley Center Online: The Methodist Quarterly Review 1878] ] Another source states that when Wesley was asked if Erasmus had made him a bishop, he offered no personal response but, rather, took the unusual course of authorizing a representative to reply that he had not requested episcopal consecration within the Greek Orthodox line. Many take this as a sufficient denial, but those who believe that Wesley was actually consecrated make the following arguments to the contrary:
#Wesley personally remained silent on the subject,
#Wesley took the unusual step of having someone to speak on his behalf, and
#Wesley "never actually denied being consecrated a bishop," what he denied was "requesting" consecration from Erasmus.

Contrary to the "Erasmian consecration" stands the undeniable fact that, beginning with the American Revolution in the 1770s, Wesley did request episcopal consecration for several of his preachers and, indeed, for himself, so as to provide sacramental ministry for the Methodists in the break-away colonies. Opponents of the possibility that John Wesley had been consecrated a bishop by Erasmus of Arcadia argue that if Wesley had already been consecrated a bishop by Erasmus, he would have not requested such consecrations for others or for himself. The Greek Orthodox Bishop, Erasmus of Arcadia, is said to have ordained several Methodist lay preachers during Reverend John Wesley's absence from London in 1764, [ [http://www.mun.ca/rels/meth/texts/origins/earlym2.html Hans Rollman: Early Methodism in Newfoundland] ] notably, Reverend John Jones. [ [http://rylibweb.man.ac.uk/data1/dg/methodist/bio/bioe.html The Methodist Archives Biograpical Index: Erasmus] ]

Nevertheless, the "Erasmian consecration" remained a very popular argument throughout much of the 1800s and, while still garnering a following among some proponents today, it is not accepted by a majority of Methodists nor even by most of those who affirm a form of Apostolicity for their bishops. Interestingly enough, Wesley's consecration as a bishop by Erasmus of Arcadia is affirmed by "Unity Catholic Church", an Independent Catholic Church. [ [http://www.unitycatholic.org/page11.html Unity Catholic Church: Constitution] ]

Protestant Churches against traditional Apostolic Succession

Contra: Doctrinal continuity important, the Ecclesia not

Institutional background

Many Protestant Churches, especially those following the Magisterial reformers, e.g., John Calvin (1509-1564), deny that the apostolicity of the Church rests on an unbroken episcopacy. In general, while Protestant Churches seldom refer to traditional post-Apostolic (ante-Nicene) doctrine, they will accept such claims advanced by the ancient Churches, as supportive evidence for their (Protestant) understanding of Scripture. Among the non-Calvinistic (Reformed) Protestant Churches, e.g., most of those following Martin Luther (1483-1546), many are, to a degree, similar; nonetheless, some Lutheran Churches claim for their bishops the ecclesiastic authority of traditional Apostolic Succession (see "Lutheran Churches"). Of course, the more moderate "Protestant" Churches claim such traditional authority as well, but with some redefinition of the terms used.

A Protestant Reformation definition of Apostolic Succession

Protestants may hold that one important qualification of the apostles was that they were chosen directly by Jesus and that they witnessed the resurrected Christ. According to this understanding, the work of these twelve (and the Apostle Paul), together with the prophets of the twelve tribes of Israel, provide the doctrinal foundation for the whole church of subsequent history through the Scriptures of the Bible. These Protestants say that to share with the historic apostles the same faith, to believe their word as found in the Scriptures, to receive the same Holy Spirit, is the only sense in which "apostolic succession" is meaningful, because it is in this sense only that men have fellowship with God in the truth (an extension of the Reformation doctrines of "sola fide" and "sola scriptura"). The most meaningful "apostolic succession" for many Protestants, then, is construed as the faithful succession of apostolic teaching.

Many Protestants point to the fact that when leadership in the Bible became disobedient or strayed from his command, God would then bestow that position upon an individual who was more obedient to his will regardless of any claim that any other person would have through tradition. An example of this would be when King Saul of Israel was removed by God due to his disobedience so that King David could assume the throne. Protestants see apostolic succession in much the same way. In the view of many Protestants apostolic succession is not a matter of tradition, rather it is a matter of God safe-guarding his church by means of bestowing authority to those whom best exemplify sound doctrine.

In addition, many Protestant "contras" state that the teaching of Apostolic Succession did not arise until 170-200 A.D.

In the centuries following the Protestant Reformation, most debates about apostolic succession in the West concerned the Roman Catholic Church's claim that apostolic succession, as traditionally defined, was essential for valid Christian ministry. Protestants denied this and asserted that the traditional definition of apostolic succession was not revealed in the Bible, but was formulated later by the post-apostolic church.

In the 20th century, there has been more contact between Protestants and Christians from Eastern traditions which also claim apostolic succession. While other denominations, such as various branches of the Eastern Orthodox Church, use the doctrine of apostolic succession in their apologetics against Protestantism, many Protestants now feel that the claims made by advocates of apostolic succession have been proven false by the fact that multiple churches claim to have apostolic succession, and the traditions and doctrines of these churches are at odds with each other. According to some Protestant apologists, apostolic succession is a failed theological hypothesis and continued debates about it are no more meaningful than debates about whether the Earth is flat. Among the reasons cited by some Protestant apologists for the doctrine's failure:

* Different churches that claim apostolic succession insist that they alone are the true Church, and other apostolic churches are false. [For example, see "An Orthodox Response to the Recent Roman Catholic Declaration on the Church," available online at http://www.uocc.ca/PDF/faithandspirituality/An%20Orthodox%20Response%20to%20the%20Recent%20Roman%20Catholic.pdf. In this article, Metropolitan Kirill of the Russian Orthodox Church dismisses the Roman Catholic Church's claim to be the one true church and states, “The Orthodox Church is, according to Apostolic Succession, successor and heir to the old, undivided Church. Which is why everything contained in the Catholic document rightfully applies to the Orthodox Church.”]

* The doctrines of the various churches are often as different from each other as Protestant doctrines are from Catholic or Orthodox doctrines. For example, Oriental Orthodox churches define the union of divine and human natures in Christ differently from the dual-nature doctrine held by Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, and reject church councils that the other churches regard as foundational to their religion. [Oriental Orthodox, available online at http://orthodoxwiki.org/Oriental_Orthodox] The Eastern Orthodox define the relationship of the Holy Spirit to other members of the Trinity differently than Roman Catholics (see Filoque). Roman Catholicism has innovated doctrines of Purgatory, Original Sin, Papal Infallibility, and the Immaculate Conception of Mary, which are rejected with varying degrees of vehemence by other apostolic churches. The Syriac Orthodox Church rejects the doctrine of Transubstantiation, the dogma that the bread and wine used in the Eucharist is transformed into the literal body and blood of Christ during Mass, and believes that the bread and wine are only symbolic. [ [http://www.jacobitesyrianchurch.org/faith.htm Jacobite Syrian Christian Church :: ] ]

* Many of the practices of the various churches are mutually contradictory. Eastern and Oriental Orthodox churches perform confirmation, which they call chrismation, on infants immediately after baptism, while the Roman Catholic Church delays the rite until adolescence or adulthood. The Roman Catholic Church insists (although not as a matter of faith) that in general, for the [Latin Rite] , priests be taken from the unmarried (though married priests are rarely allowed if they were originally ordained in other traditions following Apostolic Succession, such as Anglicanism or Lutheranism), while the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic churches permit married men into the priesthood. Some Oriental Orthodox churches, like the Egyptian Copts, insist that parish priests must be married. Universally, monastics, by virtue of vocation, and bishops, by virtue of tradition, are only taken from widowers or the never-married. [ [http://www.coptic.net/EncyclopediaCoptica/ Encyclopedia Coptica: The Christian Coptic Orthodox Church Of Egypt ] ]

* Apostolic churches cannot agree on issues as basic as the contents of the Biblical canon. The Eastern Orthodox churches believe that the Septuagint is divinely-inspired and authoritative, while the Roman Catholic Church uses Hebrew manuscripts of the Old Testament, and to some extent, the Latin Vulgate, as its canon. The Ethiopian Copts include books in the Biblical canon that no other church recognizes, such as the Book of Enoch. [Ethiopian Old Testament Canon, available online at http://gbgm-umc.org/umw/bible/ethold.stm]

According to Protestants, it is self-evident from these facts that claims regarding the necessity of apostolic succession to preserve Christian orthodoxy are false. Continued debates regarding the doctrine would therefore be meaningless, because of the doctrine's failure as historical fact.

Protestants also criticize these churches for being linked to particular nations or ethnic groups. Most apostolic churches are explicitly ethnic or nationalistic in character, and their institutions' names reflect this. The Roman Catholic Church is headquartered in Italy, dominant in southwestern European nations or their former colonies, and most Popes have historically been Italians. Other churches also note their nationalistic scope in their names - some examples include the Russian Orthodox Church, the Assyrian Church of the East, and the Polish National Catholic Church. While some of these churches, particularly the Roman Catholic Church, have made substantial missionary efforts beyond their original countries, their entrenched traditions and terminology make it difficult for these churches to be truly universal in scope, which suggests that none of the apostolic churches are truly "catholic" or "universal" like they claim. [Searching for the True Apostolic Church: What Evangelicals Should Know About Eastern Orthodoxy, available online at http://www.equip.org/atf/cf/%7B9C4EE03A-F988-4091-84BD-F8E70A3B0215%7D/DE177.pdf]

A traditionalist response to the redefinition

Commentary on semantics and on concord

The above "contra" position clearly rejects Apostolic Succession as traditionally understood (see above "The Traditional Doctrine"). Yet the "contra" position goes on to articulate an entirely new and completely different definition of Apostolic Succession, one that references loyalty to the "teaching" of the apostles. Thus "succession" would not in any way refer to which person will next occupy a leadership position in the church and its theological character, but instead refer to the theological understanding of the church based on its teachings. Of course, each church freely defines or redefines for itself its own understanding of any theological term it uses; in which case, confusion may result if it is not remembered that the same word or phrase may mean something entirely different.

Disagreement is common among the various Protestant reform churches as to the interpreted content of the Christian "teaching" that commands loyalty. Disagreement also can result among traditionalists as to the identity of bishops under Apostolic Succession, but this rarely happens. However, traditionalist Apostolic Succession does result in an ecclesiastical structure that provides the medium for settling many difficult matters regarding the interpreted content of Christian doctrine or teaching.

cripture and the understanding of the early Church

Those traditionalists who hold to the importance of episcopal apostolic succession may counter the "contra" paragraphs above by appealing to the "New Testament". These Scriptures imply a personal apostolic succession (e.g., from Paul to Timothy and Titus). Traditionalists say that in the "New Testament" Jesus gave the Apostles authority to lead the Church as they deemed proper under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. [E.g., "Matthew" 18:18; and, "Acts" Chapter 15.]

Traditionalists may appeal as well to other documents of the very early Church, especially the "Epistle of St. Clement to the Church at Corinth", written circa 96 AD. In it, Clement defends the authority and prerogatives of a group of "elders" or "bishops" in the Corinthian Church which had, apparently, been deposed and replaced by the congregation on its own initiative. In this context, Clement explicitly states that the apostles both appointed bishops as successors and had directed that these bishops should in turn appoint their own successors; given this, such leaders of the Church were not to be removed without cause and not in this way.

Further, proponents of the necessity of the personal apostolic succession of bishops point to the universal practice of the undivided early Church, from which, as ecclesiastical organizations, the Catholic, the Eastern Orthodox, as well Oriental Orthodox, and the Assyrian, Churches have all directly descended.

Common ground

One reason often given for traditional Apostolic Succession is the need for institutional continuity so that Christian doctrine, not only the written texts (pre-Gutenberg (1397-1468) an important consideration) but also their proper orthodox interpretation, could be better maintained. Many Protestants "contra" to traditionalist Apostolic Succession would not deny the importance of continuity and consistency in the true interpretation of Christian doctrine. At the same time, traditionalist defending Apostolic Succession would agree that ecclesiastics should remain orthodox in their teaching.

Charismatic and Restorationist new "apostles"

It is worth noting that some Protestant charismatic and restorationist churches include "apostles" among the offices that should be evident into modern times in a true church, though they never trace an historical line of succession. It is frequently the case that the founders or senior leaders of a restorationist church grouping will be referred to as the apostles. Church planting is seen as a key role of these present-day apostles.

Latter-day Saints (Mormons)

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints--also, sometimes referred to as "Mormons" (more properly, Latter-day Saints)--has a similar, but unique, position in relation to other Christian denominations.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe that Jesus Christ directs his church at all times through revelation to a prophet of God. However, individuals are entitled to revelation only for that calling over which they have authority. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints teaches that everyone is entitled to revelation concerning themselves; a head of household is entitled to revelation for his or her family; a bishop has the authority to receive revelation concerning the congregation over which he presides (a ward). Only ordained apostles have the authority from the Lord to receive revelation for doctrine for the entire church. An example of what The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints calls church-wide apostolic revelation can be found in sourcetext | source=Bible | version=King James | book=Acts | chapter=10 | verse=1 | range=-48 where Peter had prayed and received revelation from God that the gospel could now go forward to the Gentiles as well as the Jews. [Although The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is at times compared to the Gnostics, who felt free to modify existing scriptures, this restriction greatly limits how existing doctrine can be modified. In general, a doctrinal change must be proposed by the President / Prophet, approved by the General Authorities, and sustained by the general body of the church before becoming official doctrine.] Hence, the scripture where Christ says "upon this rock I will build my church" is interpreted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as a reference to "revelation":

"When Jesus came into the coasts of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, saying, Whom do men say that I the Son of man am? And they said, Some say that thou art John the Baptist: some, Elias; and others, Jeremias, or one of the prophets. He saith unto them, But whom say ye that I am? And Simon Peter answered and said, Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven. And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."
sourcetext | source=Bible | version=King James | book=Matthew | chapter=16 | verse=13 | range=-18

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that when Christ asked his disciples who they think he is, Peter had the right answer because he prayed and received revelation: "Blessed art thou, Simon Bar-jona: for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, "but my Father which is in heaven." They believe that when Christ said "upon this rock I will build my church", the rock of which he was speaking was "revelation". The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that certain aspects of the church will change over time. For example, at one time Christ said not to preach to the Gentiles, and later Peter was given a revelation when it was time to start. [sourcetext | source=Bible | version=King James | book=Acts | chapter=10] The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that the need for constant ongoing revelation is critical to conduct the affairs of the church.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that Christ chose apostles and gave them the authority to receive revelation for the church by the laying on of hands. It further teaches that the apostles passed this authority onto others by choosing and ordaining new apostles by the laying on of hands (such as Paul and Matthias). Those individuals then had the appropriate authority to receive revelation for and officiate over the church in that office at that time:

"And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles."
sourcetext | source=Bible | version=King James | book=Acts | chapter=1 | verse=24 | range=-26

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that an apostasy occurred, where the apostolic authority was taken from the earth at some time after the original apostles. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints refers to the resultant loss of revelation and falling away from the teachings of Jesus Christ as the Great Apostasy. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that this was predicted when Amos said that there would be a "famine of hearing the words of the Lord" in sourcetext | source=Bible | version=King James | book=Amos | chapter=8 | verse=11, and by Paul when he was talking about the second coming "that day shall not come, except there come a falling away first" in sourcetext | source=Bible | version=King James | book=2 Thessalonians | chapter=2 | verse=3.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains that the authority from God needed to be restored to the earth, which took place when God the Father and His son, Jesus Christ, appeared to Joseph Smith, Jr. near Palmyra, New York in 1820 and called Smith as a prophet to restore Christ's church to the earth with correct doctrines and practices.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that near the time that Smith formally organized The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1830, the apostles Peter, James and John appeared to Joseph Smith and Oliver Cowdery, laid their hands on Smith and Cowdry and restored to them the apostolic authority to govern the church. [sourcetext | source=The Doctrine and Covenants | book=Doctrine and Covenants 27 | verse=12] , and that Smith was visited by other heavenly messengers at different times, each one conferring upon him the particular authority or keys for which they had stewardship. For example, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints maintains that John the Baptist restored the Aaronic Priesthood to Smith and Cowdry, Peter James and John restored the Melchizedek Priesthood to them, with other heavenly messengers such as Moses and Elijah restoring to them the keys to the gathering of Israel and the sealing power of Elijah. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believes that Smith was given the authority like the apostles of old, to confer to others specific priesthood authority by the laying on of hands. It further believes that all of the various keys of this authority have been and are passed on to worthy, male members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints according to their particular offices. In this way, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints claims that apostolic authority was "restored" to the earth through the original twelve apostles and apostolic succession continues today through the ordination of new apostles as the older apostles pass away.

Interpretation of "Gates of Hades" scripture

Some churches believe the promise of Christ "to build His Church" against which "the gates of Hades shall not prevail" has remained in force throughout the centuries. The Roman Catholic Church holds that part of this protection of the Church is guaranteed to all churches who submit to the supreme headship of the Bishop of Rome. The Orthodox Churches of the East, however, see this protection as guaranteed through continuance of the bishops and the faithful in the communion of the Faith as they continue in the unity of the Faith according to the traditions of the Church as they have been passed down in the Church through consistent belief and practice. All the Churches in the Unity of the Faith, under the oversight of legitimate bishops who are in communion with one another, preserve the authentic apostolic tradition and do not subtract or add to it by creating new dogmas or denying the continuing work of the Holy Spirit in illuminating the one Deposit of Faith delivered once and for all to the saints.

It may also be noted that, since it is the gates of Hades which are mentioned (rather than the Church's or Heaven's), the passage may suggest that "Hades" is on the defensive, fighting a losing battle against the Church's inroads.

See also

* Twelve Apostles
* List of Bishops
* Valid but illicit
* Episcopi vagantes
* Independent Catholic Churches
* Old Catholic
* New Apostolic Church

References

Sources and external links

* [http://www.revneal.org/Writings/methepisc.htm Methodist Episcopacy: In Search of Holy Orders (1990)] by Gregory S. Neal
* [http://www.revneal.org/Writings/apostoli.htm Methodist Apostolicity] by Gregory S. Neal
* [http://wesley.nnu.edu/wesleyan_theology/mreview/1870/A_%201878_%20Was%20Wesley%20Ordained%20Bishop%20by%20Erasmus_%2088-111.htm "Was Wesley Ordained By Bishop Erasmus?" "The Methodist Quarterly Review" (1878)]
* [http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf01.ix.iv.iv.html Against Heresies, Online-text] , Irenaeus, "Against Heresies"
* [http://www.catholic-pages.com/pope/hahn.asp Scott Hahn on the Papacy] by Scott Hahn. Discusses "the "chamberlain" of the royal household of ancient Israel" or "Prime minister" of the "house of David" ( [http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Hebrew/heb.cgi?number=04668&version=kjv Isaiah 22:22] ) vis-à-vis "Dynastic Succession" .
* [http://www.lcms.org/ca/www/cyclopedia/02/display.asp?t1=a&word=APOSTOLICSUCCESSION Christian Cyclopedia article on Apostolic Succession]
* [http://www.wikichristian.org/Apostolic_Succession Views on Apostolic Succession at WikiChristian]
* [http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01648b.htm Apostolicity in the Catholic Encyclopedia]
* [http://acschurch.org/Who%20We%20Are.htm Apostolic Catholic and Spiritual Church]


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