One of the most plausible arguments in favor of traditional churches like the Roman Catholic church is that they have a long history. They argue that they can trace their roots back right to the apostles. They argue that the bishops received special grace and authority from the original apostles. Before these bishops died, they ordained other bishops and so on. This process continued to the present day. It is argued that only those in this chain of succession have true authority in God’s church.
While these doctrine has a certain appeal, it is not directly taught in the Scriptures. The related doctrine of the ordination of special priests to do Christian sacraments is especially contrary to the Scriptures. This doctrine creates two classes of disciple of Jesus – the common ones, and the ones with special grace to administer the Lord’s supper and baptize people. The Roman Catholic church talks about “common priesthood” whilst the Bible talks about “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). Peter told all the believers they were a royal priesthood – so why should we listen to anyone who tells us we are only “common priests”.
Where did Jesus say to His disciples, “Go, make disciples, baptize them, and teach some of the disciples you make to obey some of my commandments, but not necessarily the one I’ve just given you here”? He taught his disciples to teach ALL them to obey “all things I have commanded you” and that includes the command to baptize. (Matthew 28:18-20).
If having a long history was a guarantee of truthfulness and integrity in church traditions, then BOTH the Roman Catholic AND the so-called Orthodox church should both have equally valid traditions and authority. This is because they have both been around for about the same time. If pressed, I would say the Orthodox has a longer church history and tradition, because the bishops of Rome did not make claims to supreme authority over the church until perhaps the 6th century. Until that time, church traditions were growing up in both the Eastern and Western parts of the Roman empire.
The fact that these traditions evolved differently and the church leaders of the respective factions ended up condemning each other in the 11th century proves that churches with long histories tracing back to who knows when CAN and DO get it wrong at times.
If the argument of being ancient works for the Roman Catholics it should work for the so-called Orthodox and vice versa.
The whole argument of apostolic succession is based on the idea that after the death of the apostles, Jesus Christ was not communicating authoritatively to anyone directly about their call to plant churches. But what if this idea is simply not true? What if the resurrected Saviour HAS INDEED been revealing Himself to others – either through the Word, through the Spirit, or through a vision – and commissioning those ones to plant churches according to the Word of God? On what basis can anyone state that Jesus would never do this? Is He not alive? Does He not speak? Is He not Lord of the Church? If all authority in heaven and earth has been given to Him, can He not use it?
The fact is, there have been and are people who never trace their spiritual parenthood back to historical traditional churches, who have met Christ and been commissioned to start churches according to the Word of God. And those who have simply received a quickening of the Spirit of God to do what the Word of God says concerning church life have many times also received God’s authority to go forward and plant churches. God alone is the final judge of these matters. Everyone will receive according to their works. The apostle Paul taught that the foundation upon which works for God are done is JESUS CHRIST (1 Corinthians 3) – He alone is the bedrock of the church. And those who disregard the teachings of the apostles as written in the Word of God are certainly not truly building on their foundation either.
Jesus said concerning the Scribes and Pharisees that they sat in Moses’ seat. But he also said they were hypocrites and sons of the devil. It is not sitting in the seat of St Peter that makes someone righteous, but rather faith and obedience to God and His Word.
If someone forsakes the Word of God, and does not obey the Words of Jesus, to that extent they have also forsaken God, and are not true to Him. Let us not be impressed with such people, no matter how religiously they dress up, and no matter how much they know about church tradition. Their works prove they are not disciples of Jesus.