Apostolic succession – says who?

Once again, from the Catholic Catechism, we read:

“In order that the full and living Gospel might always be preserved in the Church the apostles left bishops as their successors. They gave them ‘their own position of teaching authority.'”35 Indeed, “the apostolic preaching, which is expressed in a special way in the inspired books, was to be preserved in a continuous line of succession until the end of time.”36

This is a VERY important claim of the Roman Catholic church. But may we ask: by what authority is this claim made? Such an important claim is nowhere found in the Bible. It is true that Jesus taught his disciples to make disciples and teach them to observe all things Jesus commanded them (Matthew 28:19). But this is not the same thing as saying that the church leaders appointed by the apostles would have the same position of teaching authority as the apostles. These church leaders could not and did not write Scripture. Furthermore, many of them clearly disagreed amongst themselves as to what constituted true doctrine and teaching, and they spent a lot of time fighting about what was heresy and what was not. Eventually, the eastern and western branches of the traditional church split and severed completely.

Furthermore, sad to say, it didn’t take more than 100 years from the death of the original apostles for the church to abandon the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit to EFFECTIVELY set people free from demons and disease by the power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, there are exceptions and references to these things in the writings of the early Church Fathers (so-called) but these things were not the rule, but rather the exception. Ecclesiastical power brokers had grieved the Holy Spirit, as many do today, even in pentecostal churches, which are pentecostal in name only in many cases, having squashed the use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit for many years now.

The church down through the years has not replicated the teaching ministry of Jesus, because very rarely has the institutional church produced men of such character and divine charisma as to be anything like the original apostles or to do as they did. A few shining examples stand out nonetheless, but even most of these men did not demonstrate the same kind of authority over Satan’s works as did the early apostles and disciples.

The source given as 35 in the Catholic Catechism website is ‘St. Irenaeus’. This man was a bishop in the church of Lyon. Church history says he was a disciple of Polycarp, bishop of Smyna, who was in turn a disciple of the apostle John. Some scholars argue that Irenaeus was only a boy when he heard Polycarp preach. We don’t know for sure. Irenaeus DID write some useful theology and did combat the gnostic heresies well. But does that mean all that he wrote is gospel truth? We have a bishop saying, “We were given authority to determine church doctrine”. How do we know that he was precisely and absolutely right on this? Just because he said so? Just because some other church leaders agreed with him? I contend that this Irenaeus was speaking on his own authority here. If you are going to credit his statement with divine authority, on what basis do you do it? Do we have to agree with EVERYTHING this Irenaeus wrote? Just because some religious teacher CLAIMS authority to speak from God does not mean he really has it from God. Did Irenaeus do the same kind of works as Jesus did, which would back up his claim to be a true believer in Jesus Christ (see John 14:12). If not, why not?

The split of the Orthodox and Roman Catholic church is proof that bishops can and do go astray, because they can’t all be correct. All of these guys can trace themselves back to earlier bishops of the church. So why did they end up disagreeing amongst themselves? Because they were not inspired by the Holy Spirit with the same kind of teaching authority as the Scripture writing apostles of Jesus Christ, that’s why.

In contrast to Irenaeus’ ideas about elders never going astray, in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul told the Ephesian elders that some of them would actually speak wrong things and draw disciples after themselves! (Acts 20).

Act 20:30 “Also from among you yourselves will arise men speaking things having been distorted, in order to draw away the disciples after them. “

Paul told Timothy that in the latter times men would depart from the faith and start to forbid people to marry.

1Ti 4:1 Now the Spirit explicitly says, that in latter times some will fall away from the faith, giving heed to deceiving spirits and doctrines of demons,
1Ti 4:2 speaking lies in hypocrisy, having been seared with a hot iron as to their own conscience,
1Ti 4:3 forbidding to marry, commanding to abstain from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who are believers and have come to know the truth.

In the book of Revelation, chapters 1 to 3, Jesus was already revealing to John that some of the churches in Asia Minor (Turkey) were starting to get off course. Jesus threatened to take away their lampstand, if they did not repent. The abysmal state of the church in Turkey today if evidence that this threat was fulfilled.

So much for the idea that being a disciple of an apostle, or the disciple of a disciple of an apostle made one a true teacher in all things. Irenaeus DID combat some deadly gnostic heresies and did teach a lot of truth, but it doesn’t mean he was inspired by God in all his theology or statements.

For example, Irenaeus writes concerning Christ:

So, likewise, he was an old man for old men … Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, every one will admit; but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while he still fulfilled the office of a teacher … those who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord [affirming] that John conveyed to them that information. … Some of them, moreover, saw not only John, but the other apostles also, and heard the very same account from them, and bear testimony as to the [validity of] the statement. (Irenaeus, Against Heresies, 2:22:4-6)

Irenaeus seems to be saying here that Jesus was into his forties when he died. So is Irenaeus infallible? I don’t think he is an infallible source for us on doctrine. Seems like he didn’t even always get his facts straight.

The Scripture is a surer source than Irenaeus, and the Scripture warned that an apostasy would and could happen in the church.

If this claim of the Roman Catholic Church about apostles vesting their teaching authority fully in bishops is not fully true, then all the claims of Roman Catholic authority over the faith of true believers also fall. All pretensions of the so-called Magesterium of the church to define the parameters of true doctrine cannot be trusted.

The sad fact of history is that just as the Scribes and Pharisees departed from the pure teachings of Judaism by adding their own traditions, rules and regulations to the Law of Moses (Matthew 15, Mark 7), so church leaders down through history have polluted and corrupted true Christian doctrine and practice by means of various additions and flagrant omissions concerning the practice of Christian faith.This is not to say we can learn nothing from them. But we have to always go back to Scripture and to the witness of the Holy Spirit to test the spirit by which people are speaking. Any Tradition which contradicts the plain teaching of Scripture is clearly in error. It doesn’t matter whether this tradition is found in Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Evangelical or Pentecostal churches.

This falling away happened gradually, by degrees, and not all at once. The warnings of Jesus in the gospels about clinging to Tradition and laying aside the commandments of God in Scripture ARE THERE FOR A REASON. The significant attention given to the nature of the Scribes and the Pharisees, the “authoritative” religious teachers of Jesus’ days on earth, is ALSO there for a reason. The reason is that you and I can avoid being duped by religious traditionalists who dress up in fancy clothes and pretend authority to speak by the Holy Spirit’s authority when really the source of their authority is actually MEN.

Unless YOU spend a lot of time reading and studying the Scripture, and praying, you are unlikely to be able to tell when a religious teacher is teaching something that cuts across New Testament revelation.

Take the time to seek God for yourself. Don’t just take it on my word or the word of any Bible teacher. Embrace a living faith which produces the fruit of a holy and empowered Christian life, and then the Holy Spirit will further guide you into all truth, just as Christ promised.

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About Michael Fackerell

Michael is the founder of Christian faith dot come, a site about Jesus. He came to save the lost. Bible teaching, Testimonies, Salvation, Prayer, Faith, Networking.

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