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Do you agree with the claim by the Orthodox Church that "apostolic succession" has been in affect from the time of the apostles to our current church age?October 15, 2012
Also see: Bishops and the Catholic Church
Both the Catholic Church and the Orthodox branches make the claim of apostolic succession and seem to place an extraordinary importance on it, using it as a legitimizer.
Is Apostolic Succession a Myth?
There are many Protestant groups that attack the Catholic Church over their use of apostolic succession. It is easy for Protestants to be insecure on this point - because we have cut ourselves off from the chain of Christian history by rejecting everything from Constantine to the Reformation.
The truth is that Protestants should see early Christian apostolic succession as their history, the early fathers as their ancestry. Why would we accept the transmission of the New Testament documents through the work of the monastic communities, yet reject almost everything else from that movement? It makes no sense.
Get reconnected to your Christian heritage. Read my review of the DH Williams book, Retrieving the Tradition and Renewing Evangelicalism. Prof. Williams shows how many Reformers failed to properly represent the history of the Church which helped lay the foundation for Protestant skepticism. You might also want to read the interview I conducted with Prof. Williams.
Part of our Protestant presentation of the early church that leads to poor conclusions is the idea that the early church was close to perfect. This is what led me to do Ph.D. research on the early church; I had it in mind that if we could figure out how they were so good at working out their faith we could emulate it. The more I studied, the more I discovered that the early church had many flaws -- just like us. I would encourage you to read my article, Three Protestant Myths of Early Christianity.
In the end, I DO believe apostolic succession has been in place from the original apostles up to our day. Like everything God does through humans, it is not perfect...in fact, it has been somewhat messy.
The problem: leadership was not always clear and unanimous. There were many conflicts over who was the rightful bishop in many locations and in numerous timeframes (see the examples below). THIS is why I do not agree with using apostolic succession as evidence to give legitimacy to a particular movement, Catholic or Orthodox. Remember, when the original fathers used apostolic succession it was an apologetic against Gnostics. In the modern world when Catholics or Orthodox believers use apostolic succession it is to show that their branch of faith is more legitimate than Protestants (or one another). I do not think either branch would say that NO others are Christian, yet that WAS the original use of apostolic succession.
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