Apostolic succession

One hotly debated issue among Christians is that of whether there are the successors of the apostles who hold their authority today. I think we can answer that question by looking at what the Bible says about the qualifications of an apostle, the purpose for which they were chosen, and their rewards.

One of the first things the believers did after Christ’s ascension was to choose a replacement for Judas. In Acts 1:21,22 Peter tells what the qualification for an apostle is:

One of the men who have accompanied us during all the time that the Lord Jesus went in and out among us, beginning from the baptism of John until the day when he was taken up from us — one of these men must become with us a witness to his resurrection.

An apostle could only be someone who was with Jesus all during the time of his public ministry. How many people are there alive today who meet this qualification?

What was the purpose for which the apostles were chosen? In Ephesians 2:20,21 Paul compares the church to a building

built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord.

The first step in constructing a building is to lay the foundation but after that you go on to doing something different. If the apostles were to be part of the foundation of the church it seems to me that their work is now done and there is no need for anyone else to duplicate it. In the third verse of his letter Jude said we must

contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.

He said that the faith had been delivered to the saints. This was what the apostles did and it was a finished action which doesn’t need to be repeated. Now we must contend for that faith to protect it against the attacks of Satan.

In Matthew 19:28 Jesus tells the apostle how they will be rewarded.

You who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel.

There are only twelve thrones but if there are others who succeed the apostles in their office there will be more that twelve people to occupy these thrones.

It seems that the Twelve were chosen for a unique purpose, to help lay the foundation for the church, and when that was accomplished there was no longer any need for their office. There is a sense in which all Christians are their successors in that we carry on the work they began. The word “apostle” means one who is sent for a specific purpose, and in that sense we have apostles today. They are generally called missionaries. But there is no one today who has the authority exercised by the original apostles.

Even if a person holds an office that was first held by an apostle and can trace his line of succession back to that apostle that doesn’t prove that he is in fact following God as the apostle did. The high priest who helped bring about the crucifixion of Jesus was a direct successor of Aaron and a descendant as well but his actions were clearly contrary to God’s will. The fact that the Pope traces his line of succession back to Peter doesn’t prove that God has given him Peter’s authority.

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Posted on November 7, 2011, in Bible study and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Apostolic succession.

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