jerusalemcrossSt John's Anglican Mission

What in the World is Apostolic Succession?

lorettoTwo thousand years ago there was a man by the name of Jesus (Yeshua) Christ. There is archeological evidence that Jesus existed. There are Roman historians that wrote about Jesus. There are Jewish religious leaders that wrote about Jesus. Jesus is a real person.

Jesus was the son of God. Tens of thousands of people witnessed him heal the sick and lame. Tens of thousands were fed by a few loaves and fishes. Thousands witnessed him live after he was crucified and died on the cross. Jesus said he is the son of God. Either he is a nut, and our faith is misplaced, or he is the son of God who performed miracles and rose from the dead proving who he was. You will have to decide, like I did, if you believe he is the Son of God. As for me and my home, we serve Jesus.

Others wanted to learn what Jesus had to teach. Those people were his students, known as disciples. Jesus selected twelve to share his message. These twelve were known as his apostles. One of the disciples betrayed Jesus and committed suicide. Jesus sent the remaining apostles on a mission. In the Gospel (Good news) of St. Matthew 28: 16-20, we learn;'Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said,'All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.' The word apostle is often misunderstood. In the early church, in order to be recognized as an apostle, you had to have studied with Jesus. Many don't know that there were more than just the original twelve who studied with Jesus. According to St. Luke, there were approximately seventy disciples. But, there were twelve that ultimately were selected as his apostles.

The word apostle means being a messenger. It comes from the Greek root, (stello), which means 'I send' or 'I depart'. This sometimes is considered to have even a stronger meaning, as that of being a delegate, or a person who is sent with authority. In the Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, it argues that it our Christian tradition translated the Jewish word, sheliach, and later into the Latin word, Missio, whereupon, we get the word missionary. What was the mission? Their mission was to go make disciples, baptize new believers, and teach them to obey the commandments. In other words, their job was to establish churches in the true teachings of Jesus Christ. The true teachings were passed on from teacher to student. In many ways, apostolic succession is a spiritual lineage passed on from teacher to student. St. Paul teaches us in 1 Cor. 4:14-15'I do not write this to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel.'

Apostolic succession means the basic teachings of Jesus are correctly based on from generation to generation. This is done by asking the Holy Spirit to assist in choosing people who love Jesus, understand his teachings, and love God's creations. Is apostolic succession Biblical? We see our first example of Apostolic succession in Acts 1:21-26; Wherefore of these men which have companied with us all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, Beginning from the baptism of John, unto that same day that he was taken up from us, must one be ordained to be a witness with us of his resurrection. And they appointed two, Joseph called Barnabas, who was surnamed Justus, and Matthias. And they prayed, and said, Thou, Lord, which knowest the hearts of all men, shew whether of these two thou hast chosen, That he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he might go to his own place. And they gave forth their lots; and the lot fell upon Matthias; and he was numbered with the eleven apostles.'

We see that the original apostles selected two disciples to become apostles. They selected Barnabus and Matthias to replace Judas. They did not select some stranger off the street, but some who knew Jesus and understood the teachings of Christ. Not only that, they prayed knowing that it was the Lord who knew their heart. Ultimately, it was Matthias that was selected.

St. Paul, who was later called an apostle, emphasized the fact that apostles were there to teach and pass on the correct teaching of Jesus. St. Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 11:2;'Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you.' St. Paul reiterates this teaching in 2 Thessalonians 2:15; So then, brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.'

St. Paul taught us that the correct teachings of Jesus are taught by the tradition of both the spoken word and written word found in the Bible. Ultimately, the Bible is the ultimate rule and guide of our faith. St. Paul teaches us in 2 Timothy 3:16;'All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.' St. Paul also wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:11;'Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.'

How is apostolic succession passed on from generation to generation? These missionaries are called by God. (Acts 13:2). Missionaries goal is to establish churches (Acts 14:23). There next goal to hand over authority to locally established churches (1 Timothy 5:22). These people are selected, prayed over, and have a laying on of hands (1 Timothy 1:6 and 1 Timothy 4:14) whereupon the Holy Spirit enters them in a new way, as a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Does this mean that apostles are infallible or that priests, bishops, or the pope is perfect? All human beings, even though made in the image of God, are subject to sin. Jesus teaches us that sin is the Greek word, Hamartia, which means to miss the mark. Sometimes we error. Peter was the first Bishop of Rome. The other apostles, even though his equal, would defer to Peter when they were together in public. St. Paul said Galatians 2:9;'and when James and Cephas and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.'

However, even St. Peter errored at times. St. Paul writes in Galatians 2:11-14;'When Peter came to Antioch, I told him face to face that he was wrong. 12 He used to eat with Gentile followers of the Lord, until James sent some Jewish followers. Peter was afraid of the Jews and soon stopped eating with Gentiles. 13 He and the other Jews hid their true feelings so well that even Barnabas was fooled. 14 But when I saw that they were not really obeying the truth that is in the good news, I corrected Peter in front of everyone and said: Peter, you are a Jew, but you live like a Gentile. So how can you force Gentiles to live like Jews?'

Each of the apostles were seen as equal. They approached each other humbly and with God's love to reproach, correct, and guide one another to ensure that Jesus' teachings were correctly passed down to new disciples. Ultimately, two elements guide the faith. First is tradition. What was passed down from the apostles. Second, all tradition must be evaluated by Holy Scripture. If Holy Scripture counters tradition, then it may be in error.

St. Peter was the first of the apostles. Those apostles were equal. There were three apostles that were the pillars of the church, James, Peter (Cephas), and John. The Anglican Church shares lineage with three of the Apostles. The primary lineage always starts with Jesus. From Jesus, we have our connection with St. John the Apostle, whom we have names this mission after.

Jesus warned us there would be wolves among the sheep. The Roman Catholics had the Spanish Inquisition where approximately 1500 victims had horrific deaths. Luther had strong anti-Semitic beliefs toward the end of his life. The Puritans killed twenty'witches' during the Salem Witch trials and allowed five children to die in prison. Thomas More, who argued against the reformation, liked to watch people get tortured. The Jews had their Pharisees and Sadducees. None of these compare to the millions murdered by the Communists, National Socialists (Nazis), or the Progressive Socialists (Massacre at Wounded Knee, Internment Camps of WW II, Abortion, Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment, U.S. Army Bubonic Plaque experiments, Statesville Penitentiary Malaria experiments, Atomic Energy Commission experiments on pregnant women, Operation Plumbbob, U.S. Warfare Service tests on tens of thousands of troops without consent, MKUltra, etc.). Everyone can make mistakes. At times, they can do some really evil things. The history of the prophets have been people outside the norm that have been touched by God to help correct fallacy. This does not make prophets perfect either. I believe Luther was a prophet that helped correct a time the Roman Catholic Church was doing some bad things. The Roman Catholic Church strayed from the Orthodox Church and they failed to read the whole Bible. They allowed error into the faith. For example, they allowed false doctrine into the faith like referring to Mother Mary as the queen of Heaven. The queen of heaven is mentioned twice in the Holy Bible. It is mentioned in Jeremiah 7:18 and Jeremiah 44: 17-25. Both times, the queen of heaven is being referred to as a demon goddess named Ishtar or Ashtoreth. It was a pagan belief. It is apostasy to refer to Mother Mary as the queen of heaven. Mother Mary was a wonderful woman who gave birth to our Lord, but she is not a goddess.

Denominations have often arisen to counter error in the faith. Sometimes denominations have arisen because they are the ones in error, like the emergent church who believes that we can become a god ourselves. God is about balance. God is about love. God is the creator and we are his creations. We do not become god. It is important to have an unbroken lineage of believers to pass the teachings down to each subsequent generation. Jesus taught us these believers are equal amongst each other. They were there to help correct one another. Each of them were subject to error and they grew in their faith and knowledge by working together as brothers.

None of us can have all the answers. The Holy Bible is our guide and rule for faith as is the oral traditions passed down by the apostles to each subsequent generation. It is important we judge those subsequent oral traditions by the rule and guide of our faith to ensure accuracy. It is important we have church leaders that have recognized that a young man shares in the truth of Christ and is able to pass it down to the next generation. It is important that church leaders pray over this person, call upon the Holy Spirit to bless him, and to send him with authority to teach the next generation as a parent teaches their own children. This is apostolic succession.

For me, I love the fact that I can trace my leadership back to Jesus himself. I know that each of my leaders have learned from someone who had been taught by another who, at first, were taught by someone who knew Jesus. I know the sacraments I share with others were sacraments taught by Jesus to one of the apostles who taught someone else who, through time, eventually taught them to me. I know I share these sacraments with others in the same way that Jesus taught St. John, St. James, and St. Peter. Today, I have the honor of being able to share them with you. I get to share them with you because God loves us both. Someone shared with me God's love. We want to share that love with you.