Apostolic Succession; Jesus’ investment in our past, present, and future.
Apostolic succession is the succession of bishops, in uninterrupted lines, which is historically traceable back to the original twelve apostles.
Is this a scripture based belief or tradition or both?
The clearest place in the bible showing apostolic succession is in Acts 1:15-26. In verses 15-19 Peter is explaining Judas’ death and in verse 20 he says “His office let another take.” The KJV version says “his bishoprick let another take”. In verse 21-23 Peter is explaining what requirements a person should have to take Judas’ place and in final verses read Acts 1:24-26 ‘And they prayed and said, “Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which one of these two thou hast chosen to take the place in this ministry and apostleship from which Judas turned aside, to go to his own place." And they cast lots for them, and the lot fell on Matthi'as; and he was enrolled with the eleven apostles.’ So very clearly we see that apostles had offices that needed to be replaced. Another verse showing the office of bishop is 1 Timothy 3:1 ‘The saying is sure: If any one aspires to the office of bishop, he desires a noble task.’ St Paul instructs Timothy on apostolic succession in 2 Timothy 2:2 “and what you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” So in this last verse we have 4 generations of apostolic succession. Starting with Paul to Timothy, from Timothy to faithful men, and from faithful men to others.
Now is the apostolic succession thing really necessary? Can’t we just take the bible and prayerfully read it and teach what we read?
To see if apostolic succession is necessary we need to look in the bible to see if Jesus gave authority to the apostles. Bear with me as we quickly go through some scripture verses.
John 20:21-23 Jesus gives authority to forgive sin, Matthew 16:16-19 Jesus gives authority to bind and loose on earth that would be bound and loosed in heaven, Matthew 18:18 authority to bind and loose, Matthew 28:18-20 authority to teach and baptize, Luke 10:16 and 1 John 4:6 authority to speak for Jesus.
So yes Jesus did give the apostles authority and we even see it in action in Acts 15 at the council of Jerusalem. Acts 15:24-29 “We have heard that some went out from us without our authorization and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said. So we all agreed to choose some men and send them to you with our dear friends Barnabas and Paul men who have risked their lives for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell.”
In these verses it is important to note that in verse 24 people went out to teach the faith without authorization from the apostles. Also see (Romans 10:15 “how can they preach unless they are sent”) We also see in these verses that they exercised binding and loosing that the gentile Christians do not need to follow the law of Moses and be circumcised but need to abstain from eating meat from strangled animals, from blood, and from food sacrificed to idols.
So now that we see authority given and exercised we need to ask the question: Were the things that needed authority to do meant only for the first century or was it to last until the second coming?
So going back through those verses quickly: Yes forgiveness of sins would last until the second coming. What would be the point fulfilling old testament law of confession to priests (Leviticus 5:5-6) by giving the apostles the authority to forgive sin if confession was to cease with the last apostle? Authority to bind and loose refers to teaching and interpretation of scripture similar to the halakhic pronouncements made by Pharisees concerning the laws not written in jewish scriptures. Jesus himself tells the people in Matthew 23:3 “practice and observe whatever they tell you” speaking about what the Pharisees say. So yes we need someone to authoritatively interpret the scripture and to tell us what is spiritually good for us and what isn’t and it needs to last until the second coming. The authority to teach and to baptize. We talked about teaching but what about baptizing. Without baptism we are not born again (John 3:5), something Jesus says we need to enter the kingdom of heaven. Since getting to heaven would be the entire point of Jesus coming then yes we need baptism to last until the second coming.
So now that we see that authority passed from Jesus to the apostles and the need to be continually passed throughout the generations, the question is now: How does this authority get transmitted to the following generations?
The answer is through the laying on of hands at ordination.
1 Tim 4:14 “Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.”
1 Tim 5:22 “Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.”
2 Tim 1:6 “For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.”
If you think about it, in many protestant denominations in order to become a pastor one needs to either be ordained by someone, by a group of ordained persons, or deemed knowledgeable by college courses in the particular faith tradition and is approved by a panel of church members . So how far back in history can this ordination or type of ordination be traced? At some point in time someone appointed themselves with the authority to teach and ordain. I realized this along with all the other converts to the Catholic Church. My Mennonite tradition only went back to the 16th century.
Is apostolic succession a Catholic thing or do other groups have it also?
There are a number of Eastern Orthodox who have valid apostolic succession. These group’s hold most if not all of the Catholic doctrines except they no longer recognize the Primacy of Peter and his successor having preeminent authority over the other patriarchates. Since they have valid apostolic succession they have valid sacraments. Here is a list of some the Orthodox churches that claim apostolic succession with the apostles.
The Patriarchate of Constantinople claims unbroken succession to the Throne of Saint Andrew.
The Greek Orthodox Church of Alexandria claims unbroken succession to the Throne of Saint Mark
The Russian Orthodox Church claims unbroken succession to the Throne of Saint Andrew
The Armenian Apostolic Church claims unbroken succession to the Thrones of Saint Bartholomew and Saint Thaddeus (Jude)
The Coptic Orthodox Church of Alexandria claims unbroken succession to the Throne of Saint Mark
The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church (Indian) claims unbroken succession to the Throne of Saint Thomas
The Orthodox Church of Cyprus claims unbroken succession to the Throne of Saint Barnabas
The Ethiopian Orthodox Church claims succession to the Throne of Saint Philip
The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem claims succession to the Throne of Saint James the Just
What do the early church fathers say about apostolic succession?
Quite a bit but here are some of the quotes.
Irenaeus of Lyons [120-180 AD] Adversus Haereses (Book III, Chapter 3)
….Church founded and organized at Rome by the two most glorious apostles, Peter and Paul; as also means of the successions of the bishops. For it is a matter of necessity that every Church should agree with this Church, on account of its preeminent authority -- that is, the faithful everywhere -- inasmuch as the Apostolic Tradition has been preserved continuously by those who are everywhere. The blessed apostles, then, having founded and built up the Church, committed into the hands of Linus the office of the episcopate. Of this Linus, Paul makes mention in the Epistles to Timothy. To him succeeded Anacletus; and after him, in the third place from the apostles, Clement was allotted the bishopric.…
To this Clement there succeeded Evaristus. Alexander followed Evaristus; then, sixth from the apostles, Sixtus was appointed; after him, Telephorus, who was gloriously martyred; then Hyginus; after him, Pius; then after him, Anicetus. Sorer having succeeded Anicetus, Eleutherius does now, in the twelfth place from the apostles, hold the inheritance of the episcopate. In this order, and by this succession, the ecclesiastical tradition from the apostles, and the preaching of the truth, have come down to us.
Irenaeus of Lyons [120-180 AD] Adversus Haereses (Book IV, chapter 26)
"[I]t is incumbent to obey the presbyters who are in the Church-those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the apostles; those who, together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth, according to the good pleasure of the Father. But [it is also incumbent] to hold in suspicion others who depart from the primitive succession, and assemble themselves together in any place whatsoever, either as heretics of perverse minds, or as schismatics puffed up and self-pleasing, or again as hypocrites, acting thus for the sake of lucre and vainglory. For all these have fallen from the truth"
Jerome, St [347-420 AD] Against the Pelagians (Book I)
"Far be it from me to speak adversely of any of these clergy who, in succession from the apostles, confect by their sacred word the Body of Christ and through whose efforts also it is that we are Christians" (Letters 14:8 [A.D. 396]).
Augustine of Hippo, St [354-430 AD] Against the Epistle of Manichaeus called Fundamental
"[T]here are many other things which most properly can keep me in [the Catholic Church's] bosom. The unanimity of peoples and nations keeps me here. Her authority, inaugurated in miracles, nourished by hope, augmented by love, and confirmed by her age, keeps me here. The succession of priests, from the very see of the apostle Peter, to whom the Lord, after his resurrection, gave the charge of feeding his sheep [John 21:15–17], up to the present episcopate, keeps me here. And last, the very name Catholic, which, not without reason, belongs to this Church alone, in the face of so many heretics, so much so that,
although all heretics want to be called 'Catholic,' when a stranger inquires where the Catholic Church meets, none of the heretics would dare to point out his own basilica or house" (Against the Letter of Mani Called "The Foundation" 4:5 [A.D. 397]).