aefenglommung (aefenglommung) wrote,

More on authority issues

Continuing the background here on ecclesiastical authority to set up a future post. This is a musing about Apostolic Succession.

Controversies w/in my branch of Xtny have led me to reach back and explore my roots in First Millennium orthodoxy. I have noticed several others who are wrestling with similar controversies w/in their branches of Xtny -- branches which claim what is called Apostolic Succession. (This proves that the grass is not greener on the other side.)

The theory of Apostolic Succession says that the full benefits of Xtny, as conferred by the Holy Spirit, can only be transmitted to new believers via those clergy who stand in direct, person-to-person succession to the apostles. The basic unit of the Church is the diocese, headed by a bishop. That bishop was ordained/consecrated/whatever by other bishop(s) who were ord/cons/whvr by other bishop(s) who . . . by the apostles, themselves, the first in line from Xt himself. To set up on one's own, by this theory, is to willingly separate oneself and one's group from those who have the authority to transmit the full benefits of Xtny, and thus to render one's group, if not oneself, deficient in a number of ways -- ministerial authority among them.

We United Methodists have a number of founders, though our main guy is John Wesley, an ordained priest of the Church of England. When Wesley took the extraordinary step of ordaining ministers for the Methodists in America, he did so only after deciding that he was a Scriptural episkopos (bishop). But this doesn't count for Anglicans (not to mention Catholics and Orthodox), so while we UMs have a great respect for tradition, the liturgical Churches would say that we stand outside the Apostolic Succession.

Now, Apostolic Succession is a very ancient theory, and certainly the monarchical episcopate was defined by around 115 AD (Ignatius of Antioch). But there are some problems with Apostolic Succession, as with the orders that it presupposes.

First of all, not all Churches (=dioceses) have an apostolic foundation. Some are autochthonic (self-originating). The two most famous examples of this are Antioch and Rome. In the New Testament, we notice that Antioch (where the disciples were first called "Christian") has no apostles associated with it before Saul of Tarsus (Paul) -- and HE was sent out FROM Antioch. He was not a founder. The Spirit spoke directly through the prophets in the congregation. Antioch was probably founded by Jews who were present at Pentecost, and carried the new faith back to their fellow Messianic Jews. Rome is obviously autochthonic, too -- and probably founded the same way -- as witness Paul's careful exposition of his theological bona fides (The Letter to the Romans). Paul has no authority over the Church at Rome -- nor does anybody else. So Paul submits his work to them to be accepted, rather than just issuing instruction, as he did to the Churches he himself founded.

It should be noted that the Roman Catholic Church attempts to get around this problem by claiming that Peter was the first bishop of BOTH dioceses, visiting Antioch before going to Rome. The Bishops of Rome from early times claimed Peter, who was martyred there, as their first bishop, but it is clear that he had nothing to do with founding that Church (though I'm sure he was greatly revered when he came to town, perhaps with a view to settle there). As for Antioch, I find its association with Peter suspect.

This doesn't mean that I think it's okay to just say, "God told me so" and plant a new Church anywhere one wants. But it does mean that I find the very basis of Apostolic Succession -- the founding of each episcopal seat by an apostle -- to be a bit dubious.

It is true that by the Council of Jerusalem (c. AD 50), the Church became aware of itself as an organization operating in the world. From that time on, it would appear that apostolic authority was agreed-upon and regularized. Thereafter, one can trace the formation of orders of ministry and the founding of dioceses in fairly regular fashion.

But in addition to there being autochthonic (self-originating) as well as autocephalous (self-governing) Churches in ancient times, the NT has only the sketchiest details on orders. Elder/priest seems to have been synonymous with bishop for some time. Or rather, the senior elder in each place was a bishop, but after a while, the bishop of more important places (cities) eventually wound up with multiple parishes under them, and had to have elders sub for them, while the Bishop of Backwater could rule his congregation directly. So bishops went from being what we would call Senior Pastors to being hierarchical overseers of many pastors, but the essence of bishop was not changed thereby.

This is the nub of Wesley's case for himself. He had tried to obey the established order, which he believed in and reverenced. That established order refused to work with him, and he was convinced God's hand was at work in his organization. He looked to the NT and saw that he was, as an elder/priest, the equal in ordination rank with a bishop, though elders normally only fulfilled episcopal functions by permission from the diocesan bishop or metropolitan (archbishop).

Anyway, if apostolic foundation was not necessary for a Church to be a real Church, with the indwelling Spirit, in NT times, then the basis of Apostolic Succession as it is usually presented is a foundation resting upon air. This does NOT mean that anybody can do it now -- that's another argument. But this does mean that the idea that only a bishop qualified by a bishop qualified by . . . an apostle can transmit the Spirit, for only so was the Spirit transmitted to them, is bunk. The Spirit was obviously transmitted to the Antiochenes (and through them, to Paul), as well as to the Romans, BEFORE any apostles did squat. And that means that basing one's theology of orders or sacraments on Apostolic Succession is a dubious proposition.
Tags: church, clergy, history, theology

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