All right, this one’s an eye-opener for me. Question: what’s the big deal about apostolic succession?
For those of you who were raised in Reformation-based denominations, you’ll need a quick definition. Apostolic Succession: Down through the centuries, some churches have ordained clergy by a bishop’s laying-on of hands. Supposedly these churches have kept records as to who laid hands on whom, going all the way back to one of the 12 apostles (usually Peter). If you can prove your “pedigree”, your spiritual lineage so to speak, back to an apostle, then you are part of the apostolic succession.
All modern-day priests and bishops in the Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches stand in a direct line of hands-on-heads from Jesus to one of His apostles and so on down through the ages. And in theory this supposedly carries with it the authority of Jesus, passed from one person to the next… and it is by this authority that people perform ministry in the church. (as illustrated below: a bishop lays hands on a priest while the Holy Spirit dove hovers overhead)
OK, so what I just found out this week is this: people began paying attention to apostolic succession back in the mid-100’s AD. Back in those days the point was NOT to decide who had the authority to run the church; not all church leaders were in the succession, and they weren’t required to be. Instead apostolic succession was used to help answer early heresies, particularly from the Gnostics who claimed to have “secret revelations” from God. (Side note: Gnostic-like heresies can be found today in the New Age, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormon movements.)
The early church’s answer was: if there are any “secrets” to know, Jesus would have told his apostles, who then would have told the leaders of the local churches (called bishops in those days). When asked, all the bishops who had been appointed by apostles agreed that no “secrets” had been handed down to them.
“…[T]he issue was not that every church could prove its apostolic origins, but rather that they all agreed on the one faith, and could jointly prove that this faith was indeed apostolic.” — The Story of Christianity, Gonzalez, p. 66
So what apostolic succession is really all about is this: anyone who teaches what they have received from the apostles is in the succession, and anyone who teaches things they did not receive from apostles is not in the succession. Man, could this revolutionize modern-day Catholic and Anglican churches or what?