Why To Not Be Catholic: Apostolic Succession

I posted on the blog earlier a request for readers to comment why they won’t become Catholic. See that post here. As promised, I am responding to the reasons in individual posts. Today’s reason:

I am not persuaded by the necessity of apostolic succession.

The necessity of apostolic succession is quite clear. All that one has to do is look around at the current state of Christianity. There are literally tens of thousands of different sects of Christians. And they all teach contradictory things. They clearly cannot all be true. You have the Catholics, for example, who teach the doctrine of transubstantiation. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the anabaptists who take up the Zwinglian belief of symbolism in the Lord’s Supper. This is one of many examples of contradictions within Christianity. It is reasonably safe to say that everything that one particular community that claims to be Christian believes will be contradicted and disbelieved in at least one other community claiming to be Christian, even coming right down to whether Jesus is God, or if God exists as Trinity.

Is this a problem? Does it really matter?

Yes. How could one not see that the truth is important? Jesus teaches that he is truth. And he teaches that he is the only way to the Father. We must know and seek the truth in order come to the Father.

We also must accept that Jesus established the Church to be one. He established one Faith. There is one baptism which incorporates us into one body. It is quite clear that a) Jesus did not intend to create a tangled mess like Christianity is today, and that b) Jesus does not leave truth up to whatever any individual wants or personally interprets Scripture to say.

Jesus gave the Church 12 men to lead. These 12 men were given special graces. Jesus told them that whoever hears them hears him. Jesus told them that what they bound on earth was bound in heaven. These men began exercising apostolic succession almost immediately when Judas needed to be replaced. This event is documented in the Holy Scriptures. The authority of the Apostles to ordain ministers of the Gospel is clearly illustrated throughout the book of Acts. We can also infer apostolic succession in St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy in his instructions regarding the entrusting of the Gospel.

The first Christians heavily testified to both the legitimacy of this doctrine as well as to its necessity. Please read some of the quotations here. The Church was never intended to be hidden. It is a city on a hill. It is a light to the nations. With so many heresies and falsehood abounding it is important, if we believe anything Jesus says at all, that we are able to see the Church and know the truth. Apostolic succession is the way Jesus set it up. I don’t have to interpret Scripture. I have a Church that does that for me. Where is that Church? It is with the apostles. But they are dead. They left successors. Without apostolic succession, the Gospel is actually a guessing game. Your guess is as good as mine. Your interpretation is as good as mine. And that is why apostolic succession is a necessity. Salvation is too important to leave up to your best guess.

I am neither convinced that apostolic succession is necessary, nor that it would rest in the chair of Peter if it was.

Of course, even when one stops resisting the very real necessity of apostolic succession there is the very real issue that there a number of Churches that have valid apostolic succession and a number that claim succession which have no validity. Probably the greatest valid “Church” is the Eastern Orthodox, which is more of a communion of Churches with none really being the head. So the question remains, does it matter if the successors to an apostle are in communion with the Chair of Peter.

While it is true that Scripture gives all 12 of the Apostles the same graces, it is quite unambiguously clear that Peter is the head of the Apostles. It is also clear that he is more than just a “first among equals” in which his headship is simply symbolic. Two significant events show this: when Jesus gives Peter alone the keys to heaven and when he tells Peter alone that he is to feed his sheep. It is also important to note that at the giving of the keys Jesus changes Peter’s name from Simon to Kepha (Peter). This is not insignificant, especially considering what Kepha means (rock). It becomes ridiculously obvious when he proceeds to say that on this rock he will build his Church. “You are Rock (Kepha) and on this Rock (kepha) I will build my Church.” Come on people. Don’t let your prejudices blind you.

As a convert I can tell you that this was one of the harder points to get past. But if one prayerfully and realistically reads the Gospels, it becomes so clear that it is amazing to me at how ignorant I was regarding the significance of it all! And of course, once I accepted the truth of apostolic succession, like the commenter said, everything else fell into its rightful place.

Accepting apostolic succession is an act of humility. It kills pride. And maybe, just maybe, that is one of the most important reasons that Jesus gave us this gift.

For a better post than this one by a better writer than this one, please check out this article by Francis Beckwith.

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6 thoughts on “Why To Not Be Catholic: Apostolic Succession

  1. I am still not convinced. You state that Jesus never intended for the church to be divided as it is today, but I am not so sure. Surely God’s will is done on the Earth! While I lament that the church is divided I feel for the most part the Catholic Church itself is responsible for that division: the Eastern Church broke away because Rome insisted that they were not merely first among equals, as it had been for hundreds of years, but supreme over all others. The Protestant Reformation occurred because “heirs of Peter” at the time, such as the despicable Borgia and many who came before and after him during that corrupt time, had so obviously abandoned the faith and given themselves over to avarice and worldly ambition that they had relinquished any right they had to claim succession from the apostles (It would seem better to say that Martin Luther was a better successor of the apostles than Pope Callistus III!). I believe these events were God birthed and God planned: a check against corruption. Indeed the Catholic Church was slowly forced, after Luther, to correct itself. I don’t think you can argue that the Catholic Church is better off today because they had to deal with the spurs of the Protestants.

    This is not to deny that heresies abound, but a universal church is no special guard against them: indeed, a single church only serves to ensure that any heresy that is accepted will spread to all Christendom everywhere. God has better plans than that: I sincerely believe that most of the history of Christendom is a history of the church becoming corrupted, and those that see that corruption not submitting to it bur rebelling against it. It is like the history of a forest; without occasional fires any forest will grow dark, diseased, and filled with rot and dead wood. Christ knows his own, and they are all over the world: Protestant, Orthodox, and Catholic.

    • Jesus himself says that we are to be one, and not divided (John 17), just as God the Father and the Son are one. Paul reiterates this fact multiple times, including in 1 Corinthians 4.

      I could possibly buy the argument about the corruption of the “heirs of Peter” as you put it as a justification for division, however, the Reformers did a whole lot more than simply leave, they changed doctrine. They declared what is true to be false, and took what is false to be true. There is a large difference between a priest, bishop, or even the pope being corrupt in their actions, and the doctrine of the Church being corrupted. Because clergy sold indulgences doesn’t mean that the Church teachings on indulgences were/are wrong.

      The bottom line is that Protestants are far less better off than Catholics because Protestants reject two basic truths: the first is that the Church is pillar and bulwark of truth, a reality that Scripture testifies to. The second is that this Church is built upon Peter, as Scripture also testifies to. Scripture is also very clear that Peter is the head of the Apostles. Like it or not. This rejection of the very promises of Christ made to his Church, has left Protestants in a very troubling state. They have no direction except for their personal interpretations. The Protestants have given in to every sort of falsehood because their is no pillar of truth. If you don’t like something, you simply start a new church, accept different beliefs and voile! No wonder so many Protestants reject the Sacraments, starting with Communion and Baptism. No wonder so many Protestants accept divorce and remarriage. No wonder so many Protestants believe it is perfectly fine to murder children. No wonder so many Protestants reject solid theology about the nature of Christ, the Godhead, and just about everything else. They have no direction but their own stomach. Say what you will about corrupt Catholics, but despite the scandals and the sinners, the Church remains steadfast in her teachings, and has since the day Jesus Ascended. Most Protestants haven’t even stayed true to the teachings of day 1 of the Reformation. Even Martin Luther’s teachings changed from day 1 of the Reformation to the day he died.

      Only a single Church can prevent heresy because a single Church is identifiable. Only a single Church can possibly make a determination of what is heresy. Example: Hi, I’m an Gnostic. Gnosticism is a heresy. No, its not. So I’m just going to set up my own little Church of Gnostics here. There is only one faith, one baptism, one Lord of all Yeeeeah, I don’t think so. You don’t have the authority to say I’m a heretic. Bye. Calling all people to come be Christians, right here! Hey are you Christians? I want to be one. Yep, come on in. No, they are heretics, we are the successors of the Apostles, and this was not handed down to them. um… Don’t listen to them, they just think they are superior to everyone. Ok, cool. But actually, I do have a few problems with what you teach. I’m an Arian. I think I’ll go start my own church. Ok, cool. Bye!

      It doesn’t work. A lack of authority only muddies the truth for those seeking God. It allows heresy to go unchecked. It allows beliefs to be changed and altered at will, regardless for what is actually true. How can you not see that?

      So let me ask you: what do you believe about Sacraments? About Scripture? About homosexuality? About divorce? About Purgatory? About the Saints? About abortion? Why do you believe those things? How can you be confident that what you believe is true? Does it matter to you? Does it matter to God?

    • You say that most of Church history is a history of the Church becoming corrupted. You treat this as a good thing. It is not. And it defies the very promises of Christ. It defies the words of Paul in staying true to what has been handed down through the apostles.

      While it is true that suffering makes the Church stronger, corruption does not. When the Church endures suffering and trials, particularly through the sins of some of her members, it is the Church’s job to come through the suffering with the deposit of faith intact, not to change its doctrines. This is what the Catholic Church does. In the Protestant Reformation, she continued to reaffirm all her teachings from Purgatory to Indulgences, from the Canon of Scripture to the Real Presence in the Eucharist. She continues to defend these unchanged teachings to this very day. This is evidence not only the need for apostolic succession, but that apostolic succession is not simply a manmade concept (otherwise the wickedness of man’s heart would have destroyed the institution over the lust for power), but is divinely guided and ordained. That through some very corrupt people, including Popes, God has still brought the Church through those times with all the truth intact.

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