Jesus did not build a Church so that it would last a single generation; He promised He would be with her until the end of time, with you always (Matthew 28:20), so thathe who receives you [the Apostles]receives me (Matthew 10:40; cf. Luke 10:16; John 13:20). Legitimate clergy via maintenance of the hierarchy through apostolic succession is the manner in which Jesus intended to perpetuate His Church, which you must admit to on some level, for without Catholic apostolic succession, the world would not have the Bible as you know it today. Additionally, the worldwide Church would not have doctrine, for it is not the Bible that declares doctrine but a living Church. Even the popular Protestant proof-text which is used as a catch-all argument for Protestantism’s particular premises regarding the supremacy of Scripture, All scripture is God-breathed …(2 Timothy 3:16 New International Version), is included in the Bible because, and only because, of Catholic apostolic succession. Succession’s fruit is the visible body that, with the aid of the Holy Spirit, determined which writings would become Christian Scripture—Scripture that, along with the books of the Old Testament, would become useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness.
Without apostolic succession, Christianity would be precisely what the non-Catholic world exhibits: a collection of doctrines that contradict themselves, contradict doctrines from other Bible-claiming communities (who “see” differing “things” in the Scriptures), and exemplify the opposite of Jesus’ wish for unity. Christianity would be “every man for himself”, self-ordained ministers proclaiming authoritative and binding interpretations of the Bible—relying only on their own human authority and an appeal to followers by injecting Gnostic-like divine insights marketed by charismatic deliveries. Is it not glaring how non-Catholic Christian groups—groups that deny apostolic succession—have devolved into a collection of communities that, together, communicate chaos to the world? Is not the Protestant Church of Christ one competing non-Catholic community among thousands?
Is not the “word of God”, as you understand it (the “Bible only”) Sacred Scripture? Do you not wonder, since the Bible contains no sacred table of contents, who, or what, produced the table of contents? Does it haunt you that it might be the Catholic hierarchy—successors of the Apostles—that developed the canon of Scripture nearly four hundred years after Jesus’ Ascension, or do you allow yourself to accept the extra-biblical and ahistorical notion/hope that either an evil body begat an inerrant and sacred library, or that a body other than the successors of the Apostles determined the canon of Scripture? Do you believe Protestant ministers (non-Catholic men), a Protestant Church, a Protestant council, or Protestant anything whatsoever was involved with the canon’s formation?1
The creation of the New Testament Scriptures, however, was not the purpose for apostolic succession. The Bible is a product of the Sacred Tradition of the Church. It is like the conscience of the Church, a product of the Church, yet the Church is subject to it—a loving relationship and a synergistic unity. The purpose of apostolic succession is to accomplish what even the Bible cannot accomplish: provide proper Christian doctrine (which, of course, incorporates its exegesis of the Scriptures) and administer the sacraments for the worldwide Church for all generations. The New Testament, the Acts of the Apostles specifically, provides a narrative of the nascent Church installing the first successor of an Apostle. One must wonder why the Apostles ordained a successor for Judas Iscariot. One must also wonder why St. Luke included that detail within his narrative. To consider such questions is a Catholic exercise.
The word “apostolic”, to Restorationists, is a term to describe what is “orthodox” (a term with no definable boundaries of meaning)—not historical Christianity, but a kind of orthodoxy that a Protestant by his (or his group’s) self-proclaimed authority deems to be correct doctrine. In like fashion, Protestantism does not recognize “succession” as history (or logic) recognizes it, but implants a needed definition suggesting that the modern group’s claimed teachings of the Apostles are what constitute succession. Clearly, if both contributing words of “apostolic succession” have indeed been changed, then the resulting (new/Protestant/restored) definition of the ancient term is anything other than its ancient meaning; revealing an admitted intentional perversion of the term and alienation from the nascent Church, yet displaying an ancient pheno-linguistic appearance—a costume composed of words.
For Protestantism to supply a biblical defense of the term’s evolution, proponents often refer to Ephesians 2:20, which reads, … [Christianity] was built upon the apostles and prophets. Commonly, the verse is presented as, “Christianity is built upon the Apostles’ and the prophets’ teachings.” Not only would a cursory glance recognize that only a portion of a single sentence provides the proof-text, but the words “apostles” and “prophets” are forced to become possessive, and the word “teachings” must be inserted to force a new (= different) and needed conclusion, which seemingly creates a Christian workaround of visible, historical, Catholic apostolic succession and ecclesiastical order.
However, even if the forced conclusion of this passage were completely accurate, then the fullness of Catholic apostolic succession is reinforced—for succession is the means of maintaining apostolic teaching, and the Protestant argument continues to fail in supplying the means for Protestantism to maintain proper doctrine.2 The advantage that Protestantism gains in changing the meaning of the verse is a kind of self-gratification for uncovering a supposed biblical precedent for the bypassing of established authority, and a resulting favorable outlook for a religious system that does not recognize the Church as the pillar and foundation of truth (cf. 1 Timothy 3:15), and advances the Protestant premise that a book is the pillar and foundation of truth—a book that can be taught to mean anything to anyone and by anyone, which can arbitrarily be labeled, with no contest, as “the Apostles’ teachings.”
Because the Bible, in no confusing way, displays Jesus as building His Church on Peter, and then the Apostles in communion with Peter, the Catholic Church of Christ can keep the text’s heart beating by not changing the words to support modern ecclesiastical inventions:
… the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord (Ephesians 2:19b-20).
Prior to the Acts of the Apostles, and prior to the actual ordination of St. Matthi’as, Jesus built His Church. Jesus did not leave His Church with ecclesiastical instructions; He left His Church (ekklesia) with His authority—authority that created ecclesiastical instructions. If any group of people were given instructions by Jesus, it is more reasonable to believe it would be with men He had chosen to lead, and men that were promised the Spirit of truth (cf. John 14:16-18, 26; 16:13), than any random Restorationist who wishes to either re-build or re-structure Christ’s Church into a form of his own understanding of what “Church” ought to be many centuries later. Furthermore, if the Apostles had no knowledge of their Commanding Officer’s intent, then the authority vested in them would be sufficient to create any such doctrine. Therefore, reason mandates that any Christian community that claims to submit to the authority of Jesus must also submit to the authority of the Catholic bishops—the authority of the hierarchy; and that any Christian community protesting the authority of the Petrine Office is not in obedience to the body to which Jesus gave His authority. In other words, if Catholic Christianity is false, then every brand of Protestantism (including any brand of Protestantism that claims it is not Protestant) must be, and can only be, false. Reason demands that any salvific message that is not entertained by the Catholic bishops, no matter how certain one’s emotions or hermeneutics conclude it to be true, cannot be orthodox—it is a human invention, no matter how well dressed in Christian garb the theory might be.
But that beloved Church was not orphaned! That Church received the Advocate, which guided and still guides her into all truth (cf. John 14:16,17). Just as today, early Christians looked to the Church for truth. Because Jesus left her with teaching authority, Christians, Catholic Christians at least, call the teaching offices of the pope and the bishops in communion with him the Sacred Magisterium. Only the Catholic Church has such authority—Protestantism abandoned orthodox teachings and authority (message and office) for a system with no appeal to any legitimate interpretation of the Scriptures.
As a result of abandoning the Magisterium, Protestantism’s five hundred year life has been defined by chaos, contradicting doctrines, and a permanent, well-earned identity of being a non-something—“an angst against the Catholic machine” public image. Modern Protestant apologists defend the abandonment because, as they would teach, the Catholic Church either ceased teaching the true gospel or never taught the true gospel in the first place, which of course is predicated on pre-conceived anti-Catholic theologies (entering the Bible as it ought not be entered; with a bias towards self-intrerpretation). However, the lack of a solid or unified answer indicates the pursuit of any rationalization to justify their severing of themselves from the Magisterium, and offers that rationalization as an assertion that the gates of hell did in fact prevail against the Church. Ironically, it is often such people who accuse the Catholic Church of becoming apostate, as though a head that loses a foot would die, but a foot that loses a head could live. Logically, any argument that maintains that the Catholic Church ceased teaching the true gospel must accept that Christianity, as a whole, is either a failure or a hoax.
The subject of apostolic succession saturates the divide between the ancient Faith and her Protestants. If Catholic apostolic succession is the manner in which the Church is propelled into every generation, then by implication, every Protestant ecclesiastical model that rejects the Magisterium is illegitimate. Furthermore, every Protestant appeal to the “Bible only” (which in reality means “one’s interpretation only of the Bible”) for authoritative teaching is fraught with problems. With this background, it becomes understandable why Protestantism’s themes seem preoccupied with accusing the brethren and the desire to undermine the Catholic Church’s authenticity which, in some way, presumably indicates the validity of a Protestant installment—the validity of, somehow, alienating apostolic teachings from the Apostles by insisting their own teachings constitute the Apostles’ teachings.
The Scriptures offer clues as to the apostolic identifications of Christ’s Church, and the honest Bible-only Christian must admit that the Scriptures have no overt verse describing Jesus’ intention of creating a congregationalist or democratic model such as yours (consisting of self-authorized elections and ordinations for elders), and therefore, should not suggest Catholic apostolic succession is an invalid means of knowing where God’s gathering resides; every apostolic successor was ordained in the manner reflected in the Bible (ordained by the hierarchy and with the laying on of hands). In fact, if Bible-only Christians regarded the Bible as more authoritative than their personal bias against Catholic “popery” (versus Protestant self-popery; every person recognizes a final authoritative voice), then it would be admitted that Catholicism reflects the New Testament Scriptures more so than any Protestant system. Put differently, a Christian that is less interested in building his own church or joining an existing non-Catholic community, and more interested in the Church of the Bible, would recognize that any Protestant claim of having any sort of authentic ecclesiastical connection with the body as recorded in the Bible is not logical; it is only wishful thinking.
The Bible does not offer instructions regarding the mechanics of apostolic succession, but the Bible does reflect the performance of the nascent Church—the actions that resulted from Jesus’ calling specific men to office. That nascent Church embodied the means of preserving the integrity of authentic apostolic teachings by preserving the office; she safeguards the gospel message with an established body. Therefore, apostolic succession incorporates not only the continuity of the office instituted by Christ, but also the security of the message by not granting the office to zealous grabbers—revealing the full stack of apostolic succession: office and message; and only the Catholic Church possesses both.
Upon Judas Iscariot’s suicide, the remaining Apostles either possessed knowledge imparted upon them by God concerning the needed refilling of the office; or the Apostles, by their own authority given to them by Christ, installed St. Matthi’as as the first successor (cf. Acts 1:26). Christians must either accept the Apostles’ performance or conclude that the Church was already experiencing entropic decay—that hell was prevailing. Casting lots may seem haphazard today, however, a charitable allowance is warranted, for it was God’s providence the Apostles recognized as choosing the first successor. St. Matthi’as did not ordain himself; other clergy installed him. In like fashion, bishops throughout history have not installed themselves; they were ordained by the laying on of hands and in the company of other properly ordained bishops.
Still, the question persists: How did the Apostles know to install a successor? It is unreasonable to limit the instructions Jesus gave the Apostles to only what is specifically revealed in the Bible.3 Knowing that the gospel message, as far as the New Testament reveals, was carried orally is an additional clue to understanding the legitimacy of Catholic apostolic succession. The New Testament itself reveals that the mechanics of the New Testament message and means of its communication was not always in written form, but by spoken word. The system the early Church operated under was not one of letters (primarily), but of community. In Genesis, God spoke creation into existence, and in consistent form the Church spoke the message of salvation.
The relational model in which the early Church operated provides ample room to submit the possibility that not all doctrinal mechanics must be written in what would, nearly four centuries later, be included in the Bible by the Apostles’ successors. Either Christians would accept the Apostles and their teachings, or they would reject the Apostles and their teachings. Acceptance meant accepting Jesus and rejection meant rejecting Jesus (cf. Matthew 10:40). Unfortunately for today’s non-Catholic Christians, the Apostles clearly believed and practiced what can only be described as a Catholic form of apostolic succession.
The oral aspect within the operations of the Church is difficult for many non-Catholic Christians to understand because Protestantism has always been a religion of the Book. The oral aspect is foreign and feared because acceptance of an oral tradition and an oral message, to Protestantism, is understood as a breach in the security of the written Word. The allowance also, in some way, is understood as a diluting and degrading attack on Sacred Scripture. Catholic Christians, on the other hand, accept the oral gospel and oral nature of the Church’s early workings as the self-evident intent of Jesus Himself. By Jesus’ own prerogative, He chose to entrust humans to be His mediators of good news (and forgiveness). Believers knew that faith comes from hearing (cf. Romans 10:17) and that Scripture needed legitimate interpretation, which mandates an authoritative teaching office (cf. Acts 8:26-31, Hebrews 5:12, 2 Peter 1:20). The Apostles preached their message and exhorted their properly ordained auxiliaries to teach the message that they “heard” (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2). In fact, the Sodomites and Gomorrheans would be better off than those who would not give an ear to the Apostles (cf. Luke 10:10-16).
Apostolic succession incorporates every issue pertaining to legitimate Holy Orders. Order, which must remain either a trivial or counterfeited component within Protestantism, is essential for Christians to enjoy communion with other Christians throughout the world and time. Apostolic succession is the rock that propels the Church, that protects her, and is the signature of authentic Christian teachings—any other system is, by definition, not apostolic, and therefore, not orthodox Christianity.
Apostolicity mandates hierarchy. Chronologically appropriate, the New Testament reveals that the early Church was indeed hierarchical (the hierarchy pre-dates the New Testament autographs). Every ecclesial office in the New Testament was given and not grabbed. The Bible fails to present any Protestant-styled (bottom-up, nominated or elected) ordination or calling to leadership, and fails to offer any clue that the Apostles believed in any Protestant-styled ordination. In every case, pastoral offices with any detailed description always portray a Catholic model. The New Testament’s Pastoral Letters reveal the Apostles’ intention to preserve the apostolic mission through the appointment of successors. St. Paul clearly did not believe that the installment of Judas’s successor should remain unique, for he too groomed a successor: St. Timothy (cf. 2 Timothy 1:6, 13-14, 2:1-2, 4:1-6). Authority to appoint elders/priests was given from the top down (cf. Titus 1:5). Ensuring proper apostolic doctrine was the responsibility of properly chosen clergy (cf. 1 Timothy 3:1-13, 5:22), and those men were properly ordained by the laying on of hands (cf. 1 Timothy 4:14). Absent from the Pastoral Letters, or any other New Testament source, is any allusion towards Protestant-styled clergy or any indication that succession should cease after St. Matthi’as’ (or St. Timothy’s) installment. Why has your group broken the pattern?
It seems the more modern, and thus more unorthodox, Protestantism becomes, the greater its inclination to disregard history. As a group, the Protestant Church of Christ normally has little interest in reading Church history, much less recognizing the names of those who were closest to the Apostles. As a result, Catholics, as a group (especially its intelligentsia), simply know more. Catholicism has not imposed limits on itself by constructing defensive frameworks of study. It is reasonable to be interested in understanding what the early Church fathers believed because they were the closest sources to the Apostles. As St. Irenaeus of Lyons (A.D. 140-202) worded it, the “echo of the Apostles’ preaching was still audible.”4
Other early fathers, undoubtedly, were not confused about the subject of apostolic succession and the authority that it embodied. They, the closest sources to the Apostles, could only conceive of a Church that encased the fullness of the Catholic paradigm. The writings that illustrate the thoroughly Catholic minds of our early Church fathers would only make an impact on Christians whose minds are influenced by history. Such teachable Christians come to recognize names such as Clement of Rome (died A.D. 97), St. Ignatius of Antioch who coined the term “Catholic Church” (A.D. 35-110), [early] Tertullian (A.D. 160-225), Clement of Alexandria (A.D. 150-215), St. Cyprian (A.D. 205-258),5 and even the oldest extra-biblical Christian writing that might have been ordered by the Apostles themselves: The Didache.
Historical facts are often unnoticed or avoided by the Protestant Church of Christ’s theological fortresses; after all, such writings are not in the realm of “the Bible only”. Never mind their proximity to the early Church, their contribution of terminology that adds flesh to the Bible’s vocabulary or context to the Church’s interpretation of the Bible—hence the difficulty of discussing Christianity with your members who demand a biblical book, chapter, and verse for every historical and/or Catholic assertion, as if a single verse could fully illuminate an infinite concept; and who believe their infallible interpretation of the “Bible only” renders two thousand years of witness and study superfluous.
Catholicism claims its connections to the early Church are real. One of your group’s criticisms of the Catholic Church is that it regards the theologies of the early Church fathers too heavily. Because Catholicism is connected to the early Church, the writings of the early Christians are not stigmatized. The stigmatization of the early Church fathers by Protestants suggests a non-verbal confirmation of the lack of unity between the early Church and the latter-day groups. Simultaneously, Protestantism recognizes that a disjunction between the early Church and Protestantism suggests that the two institutions and belief structures are, obviously, different. Therefore, Protestantism cannot out-of-hand reject the existence of the early Church fathers and maintain its advertised self-identity as the first Church, but can develop campaigns designed to reduce the attention modern Christians give to the early Church. So, as an indication of your group’s standing, ask yourself if you are at all familiar with any of the names that I presented over the last couple of pages.
While Protestantism, by necessity, diminishes the pearls of insight provided by the early Church fathers, Catholicism is in communion with those early Christians. Catholicism recognizes the continuity of Christ’s teachings, the Apostles’ teachings, and the successors’ teachings; and the paper trail is a treasure trove for Christians who are not satisfied with unexamined assertions your ministers often preach: “The early Church believed [insert any belief], therefore, we believe it too.”
Protestant mantras, of which your group shares, such as “sola Scriptura” (by Scripture alone) or “the Bible says it, that settles it” (my interpretation settles it) have saturated the Protestant mindset so thoroughly that study material pertaining to the early Church is relegated primarily to Scripture alone. Evangelical and restoration communities tend to limit their students’ curriculum of the early fathers (and any pre-Reformation theologians) to extremely short, cherry picked portions and typically do not refer to any of them as “saints”. Proving how successful the self-stripping of history from Protestantism’s communities has become are the unexamined beliefs that the Catholic Church is a denomination of Christianity (at least by the more charitable variety; most believe Catholicism is not Christian, but satanic), or that the Catholic Church began in the third or fourth century, that the early Christians practiced some sort of Protestant-styled Christianity, that the Catholic Church added books to the Bible (which is, in a way, true; she added every book to the Bible), that clergy should be democratically selected, and so forth.
History is real. Things actually happened. Jesus chose a method for His Church to advance, and it was apostolic. The Christian Church progressed through time and generations before the canon of Scripture was determined. Do you believe the Church became apostate for doing so? At what point did apostolic succession become heretical? At what point did the elders’ authority cease, and at what point did it become orthodox to elect elders outside the authority of the hierarchy? Can you provide any answer from the “Bible only”, or must you provide theory only, present your own extra-scriptural dreams and hope your hearers simply assume your dreams can be found within Sacred Scripture? Yet, your group insists that it is a “Bible-only” group.
The New Testament and other early Church writings illustrate the Church’s practice of ordaining apostolic successors, and reveal a certain trajectory—an avenue in which the Church continues, and is also an indication of the Church’s location. The New Testament offers no suggestion of the stoppage of the legitimate ordination of apostolic successors, and offers no indication that latter-day Protestant-styled self-ordination would be in compliance with Jesus’ or the Apostles’ intent. In other words, a Christian minister is properly ordained and in communion with the bishop of Rome, and therefore Christ; or a Christian minister is improperly ordained—he is either a Bible Christian, or he/she is a Protestant.
Protestantism may not recognize the necessity and logic of Catholic apostolic succession, but the Apostles expressed it, the New Testament reflects it, and the early Church fathers supported it. The successors’ authority was uncontested by Christians; even the secular world recognized the bishop of Rome as the visible head of Christianity—a reality that testifies to the triumph of the Catholic Church of Christ, though her Protestants are unable to recognize her beauty and prefer a religious system with no roots and no means of maintaining orthodoxy.
All written material is property of Patrick Vandapool. All rights reserved.
1 The Catholic Church did not “decide” what is Scripture, rather, she discovered it; it was revealed to her (cf. John 14:16-18, 26; 16:13).
2 The Apostles’ Faith and teachings clearly included an understanding of succession, or they would not have ordained successors (cf. Acts 1:20-26, 2 Timothy 1:6, 1:13-14, 2:1-2, 4:1-6). Therefore, it is illogical to suggest that the Apostles’ teachings did not entertain apostolic succession as recognized by the Catholic Church today.Apostolicity includes two characteristics: succession via Holy Orders (office) and orthodox teachings (message).
3 The Bible (and reason) makes clear Jesus did things that are not present in the Bible and that the Apostles received teachings from Jesus that are not recorded in the Bible (cf. Acts 1:3, John 20:30, John, 21:25; and perhaps Jesus Himself revealed to St. Peter the messianic interpretation of Psalms 69:25 and 109:8, which prompted the Apostles to install Judas’s apostolic successor as shown in Acts 1:20). Christians, therefore, have two choices: either accept the texts of the Bible as God’s Word as delivered by the Apostles and their successors, along with the Tradition (teachings) of those same Apostles and successors (as Catholics do); or to accept only the texts that were delivered by the Apostles and their successors as Scripture (as Protestants do). Of course, both choices must accept that Sacred Tradition is a means in which God guides his Church. However, Catholics admit to that necessary and self-evident component while Protestants erase that component by invoking a new tradition of their own: sola Scriptura.
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