Apostolic Succession and the Ante-Nicene Fathers
Since the Reformation, the ongoing question has persisted concerning who is to carry the burden of authority within the church and has been the subject of numerous doctrinal debates.The various jurisdictions within the Christian Faith possess a variety of opinions regarding the issue of ordination and the proper transmission of teaching authority within the church. This is especially true of the Evangelical and Catholic realms. Most evangelicals disregard, and often scoff at, the concept of Apostolic Succession, preferring a neo-gnostic calling of God to the individual to engage in ministry. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the Roman Catholic Church, which considers Apostolic Succession a sign they alone are the true church and thus have the sole authority to teach the faithful. A study of Scripture indicates both of these doctrines are flawed. The evangelical postion lends itself to the abuse of pastoral authority. One need only look at Jim Bakker, Jimmy Swaggert, Jim Jones, Bob Larson,Kenneth Copeland,etc.,and the various heretical movements within the evangelical community such as, Holy Laughter, the Charismatic Movement, Latter Rain Movement, The Vineyard Movement, Dominion Theology, Shepherding, ad nauseum, to observe the inherent danger of rejecting the foundation of Apostolic Succession and adherence to Ante-Nicene doctrine as a sign of doctrinal clarity. The Roman Catholic postion lends itself to abuse as well. The Roman use of Apostolic Succession has led her to assume a role not given to her. She arrogates to herself the right to declare "new doctrines", which her members are bound to believe under penalty of eternal damnation. Consider the many unbiblical practices and teachings of the Roman Church, such as, praying to the saints, the Rosary, the Scapular, Infallibilty of the Papacy, the Immaculate Conception, the Assumption, Indulgences, and the Inquistion. All of these are examples of the abuse of the precious gift of Apostolic Succession. In contrast to these two extremes are the teachings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, which the Holy Celtic Church firmly adheres to as it's only necessary commentary on all things pertaining to the faith. The role of Apostolic Succession is to preserve legitimate lines of ministerial authority in the church, and to a lesser degree provide a test for whether what is being taught is truth or heresy. Heretics have always applied their own interpretations to Sacred Scripture. So, as we shall see, unless one could demonstrate Apostolic Succession and the adherence to the faith as delivered to the church by the Apostles, then such is best ignored. These marks of authority have been of a historic concern to the church. The Apostle Paul told Timothy,"What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also." (II Tim.2:2) The Ante-Nicene Fathers themselves were major links in the Apostolic Succession. Let us see what they had to say on this subject, keeping in mind that these men learned directly at the feet of the Apostles themselves! Irenaeus writes,"It is possible, then, for everyone in every church, who may wish to know the truth, to contemplate the tradition of the Apostles which has been made known to us throughout the whole world. And we are in a position to enumerate those who were instituted bishops by the Apostles and their successors down to our own times, men who neither knew nor taught anything like what these heretics rave about." (Against Heresies) The test for authority is made clear here. We are to look to those given authority via Apostolic Succession (in this case the Apostolic Fathers themselves) and the faithful transmission of the teachings handed down by the Apostles. He also writes," Polycarp was not only instructed by Apostles, and conversed with many who had seen Christ, but was also appointed,by Apostles in Asia,bishop of the church in Smyrna, whom I also saw in my early youth, and when a very old man...gloriously departed this life, having always taught the things which he had learned from the Apostles, and which the church has handed down, and which alone are true. To these things all the Asiatic Churches testify, as do also those men who have succeeded Polycarp down to the present time." We see two interesting points made here. First, we see respect and dignity given to the Apostolic Succession. Not simply by virtue of someone having received authority in the church, but because these men also transmitted the pure teachings of Christ. So, along with the authority of Apostolic Succession comes the duty to teach only that which the Apostles taught, without addition or subtraction. Irenaeus states further,that," It is encumbant to obey the presbyters who are in the church-those who, as I have shown, possess the succession from the Apostles;those who together with the succession of the episcopate, have received the infallible charism of truth..." This "infallible charism of truth" is, as demonstrated already, the transmission of the gospel as taught by the Apostles of Our Lord Himself! This adherence to the teachings of the Apostles and Christ is clearly a necessary component of Apostolic Succession. Tertullian writes," The Apostles founded churches in every city, from which all the other churches, one after another, derived the tradition of the faith, and the seeds of doctrine, and are every day deriving them, that they may become churches. Indeed, it is on this account only that they will be able to deem themselves apostolic, as being the offspring of apostolic churches." Tertullian takes the issue one step further, making it clear that only those churches which can be said to possess Apostolic roots(via succession), and teaches that which the Apostles taught, can consider itself apostolic. This does notleave much room for the evangelical/protestant or Catholic churches to argue their postion. For, the one does not possess any Apostolic Succession and lends itself to heresy frequently, and the other may possess a foundation in the succession but departed from the faith entrusted to it by the Apostles long ago. So, we can see that Apostolic Succession is considered necessary in order that the authority of the church and pure doctrines of Christ be preserved. However, this does not mean that simply by virtue of Apostolic Succession that someone will not fall away and teach heresy. "They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us." (I John 2:19) Here John refers to false teachers who had at one time been within the Apostolic Faith. Let us look again to Tertullian, who writes," But if there be any (heresies)which are bold enough to plant (their origin) in the midst of the apostolic age, that they may thereby seem to have been handed down to them by the Apostles....we can say; let them produce the original records of their churches. Let them unfold the roll of their bishops, running down in due succession from the beginning in such a manner that (their first) bishop shall be able to show for his ordainer and predecessor some one of the Apostles..." Now, the first test given to anyone who precludes to teach the doctrine of Christ is for him to prove his Apostolic Succession. But that is not all! Tertullian continues,"...or of Apostolic men- a man, moreover, who continued steadfast with the Apostles." We see here that the legitimacy of anyone who claims to represent Christ and His Church is Apostolic Succession, AND adherence to the teachings received from the men of the Apostolic age;the Ante-Nicene Fathers. Tertullian continues," But should they even effect the contrivance (of composing a list od succession for themselves), they will not advance one step. For their very doctrine, after comparison with that of the Apostles, will declare, by it's own diversity and contrariety, that it had for it's author neither an Apostle nor an Apostolic man, because, as the Apostles would never have taught things which were self contradictory." So succession itself is no guarantee of fidelity to Apostolic doctrine. It is no magic spell which wards off heresy. But succession along with adherence to the teachings of Christ and His Apostles are the proofs for spiritual authority. They are complimentary components. We can also see in this statement by Tertullian a severe blow to both evangelical/protestant and Catholic foundations. Protestants, by and large, cannot prove Apostolic Succession. And even if they could, the incredible numerous sects and divisions within their ranks shows such a diversity as to prove their churches highly suspect, and in some cases, downright heretical. Catholics may be able to prove succession, but the contrariety of their doctrines when compared to Sacred Scripture and the guidance of the Ante-Nicene Fathers shows them to be in error at best, and most likely heretical. As we have seen, only those churches which maintain purity of doctrine (a doctrine which necessarily would have to agree with the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers), and which can prove Apostolic Succession can claim to have the authority to teach or guide people in the faith given to us by Our Savior. To all those other churches, which clearly do not meet the standard, nor pass the test of Apostolicity or authority, we say with Tertullian,"Then let all the heresies, when challenged by these two tests by our apostolic church, offer their proof of how they deem themselves to be apostolic. But in truth they neither are so, nor are they able to prove themselves to be what they are not. Nor are they admitted to peaceful relations and communion by such churches as are in any way connected with the Apostles, inasmuch as they are in no sense themselves apostolic, because of their diversity as to the mysteries of the faith." And further, to our readers who are even now involved in these various sects, we echo the words of Our Lord,"Come out of her, my people, so that you will not share in her sins..."(Rev.18:4) We urge our readers to study this subject for yourselves. Read the writings of the Ante-Nicene Fathers, check our facts, and then prayerfully consider the importance of this issue to your walk of faith.
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