Friday, August 08, 2008

Apostolic Succession and Scripture

"Wherefore I put thee in remembrance that thou stir up the gift of God, which is in thee by the putting on of my hands. For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind." II Timothy 1:6,7

"Lay hands suddenly on no man." I Timothy 5:22a

"And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also." II Timothy 2:2

"For this cause left I thee in Crete, that thou shouldest set in order the things that are wanting, and ordain elders in every city, as I had appointed thee." Titus 1:5

Late last Summer we had a visitor to St. Andrew's, a young man with his wife and child. He informed me that he had been raised a Presbyterian, and was attending a Baptist Church that embraced "Reformed Theology," which means, in the usage of serious Protestants, Calvinism. He was better read than the average modern American Evangelical, and he knew that the classic Anglican position differed from "Calvin's Geneva Discipline." He was perhaps not quite familiar with Richard Hooker's chapter (in The Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity) by that title, in which the 16th century Church of England writer defended the polity of what would be called Anglicanism against innovations in Church government; but, our young visitor did know that Anglicans preserved the Catholic Tradition of Apostolic Succession.

Like many others, he assumed that Apostolic Succession was extra-Biblical. This is a common view among many Protestants, and therefore they reject our sacramental theology about Holy Orders. Others who make the same assumption include those in one school of thought among Roman Catholics, namely, the people who believe Newman's theory of Doctrinal Development. The Protestants who see Apostolic Succession as extra-Biblical believe (as the Puritans did in Hooker's day) that it serves no genuine purpose. Among these are Liberal Episcopalians, as we see by their preference of the term "historic episcopate" in place of the term "Apostolic Succession." It includes also the more serious believers, like the young man who visited us, who see nothing real or charismatic in the laying on of apostolic hands. The followers of Newman, on the other hand, assume it is extra-Biblical also; but, they assume as well that this does not matter. Their mistake is to believe that anything can be taught with authority as doctrine that does not come from revelation. Once again we take that famous Anglican Middle Road, or via media, between erring extremes.

I said to our young visitor, "The scriptural pattern shows that the gift (χάρισμα, charisma) of God is given through the laying on of apostolic hands 1. Furthermore, we see that the Apostle Paul left Timothy and Titus in his own place, Timothy in Ephesus and Titus in Crete, and that it was specifically their duty to select the right men, train them to teach others also, and ordain (καθίστημι, kathistēmi) them. The scriptures show this as supernatural and charismatic, teaching also that it involves the laying on of hands."

We know from the Canon Laws (which in England were also the Law of the land) that the Apostolic Succession of bishops, and the distinctly episcopal function of ordaining, seen as consistent with the scriptural pattern I have outlined, provides the only possible meaning of Article XXIII:

Of Ministering in the Congregation. It is not lawful for any man to take upon him the office of public preaching, or ministering the Sacraments in the Congregation, before he be lawfully called, and sent to execute the same. And those we ought to judge lawfully called and sent, which be chosen and called to this work by men who have public authority given unto them in the Congregation, to call and send Ministers into the Lord’s vineyard.

Since Anglicans have never deviated from the practice of Apostolic Succession and episcopal ordination (as a requirement) it is obvious how the Article was to be applied.

The young visitor gave a most interesting objection to my summary of what we find in scripture. "We would regard Timothy and Titus as special evangelists who served a unique function." I replied: "Whereas you must treat the actual pattern we see in scripture as something unique, which explains it away rather than dealing with it, we simply accept the pattern we see in the word of God, and continue to practice it to this very day. That is the difference between your Church Government and our polity, and it is a theological difference." I could add, it is a spiritual difference.

It is generally understood that the word "bishop" (ἐπίσκοπος, episkopos) and "elder" (πρεσβύτερος, presbyteros)2 meant the same thing in the earliest days of the Church, and that they were synonyms in the New Testament. Within a generation, as early as the days of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, bishop and martyr, the word episkopos was reserved for the successors of the Apostles, men like Titus and Timothy who were, as the Pastoral Epistles of St. Paul show clearly, Ordinaries (those who ordained).

The Church has kept records of Apostolic lines for two thousand years. From this fact we can see how Tradition interprets Scripture for us. Does the scripture actually say anywhere that the Apostolic Succession is necessary? That I cannot find, and it is useless to try to prove it. But, does the scripture give this as the pattern? Yes. Does it give or even suggest any alternative pattern? No, it does not. Since this is what we see in Scripture and Tradition, is it Reasonable to ignore it?

Update on Nov. 20, 2009: At this link some questions have been asked and answered.)

1. I Tim. 4:14 gives a more detailed picture: "Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery." The difference is important. The charism comes by prophecy, a spoken word, not through the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery, but merely with it. Whereas II Tim. 1:6 teaches that the charism came "by" the laying on of Paul's hands, i.e. the hands of an Apostle. The prophecy, then, mentioned in I Timothy, could very well be what we would call today the "form." That is, words of Ordination spoken by St. Paul. This was written at a time when the Church seemed more readily to have spoken in terms of its own charismatic nature and ministry, all of which comes from the Holy Spirit.

2. It is from the word presbyteros that the English word "priest" evolved, just as the word "bishop" evolved from episkopos.

3. The preface to the Ordinal opens with these words: "It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors, that from the Apostles' time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ's Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. Which Offices were evermore had in such reverend Estimation, that no man might presume to execute any of them, except he were first called, tried, examined, and known to have such qualities as are requisite for the same; and also by publick Prayer, with Imposition of Hands, were approved and admitted thereunto by lawful Authority. And therefore, to the intent that these Orders may be continued, and reverently used and esteemed in the Church of England, no man shall be accounted or taken to be a lawful Bishop, Priest, or Deacon, in the Church of England, or suffered to execute any of the said Functions, except he be called, tried, examined, and admitted thereunto, according to the Form hereafter following, or hath had Episcopal Consecration, or Ordination." Notice the reliance on how Tradition interprets Scripture in those words: "It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors..."


Anonymous said...

The Church of England was undoubtedly wise to continue the
Apostolic Succession. We are wise to contine it today. It is a long established tradition, and it is a
tradition that seems reasonable.

As you point out, there is a scriptural weakness in that the
Bible uses Bishop and Presbyter interchangeably. Those churches who
do not follow Apostolic Succession
do not hesitate to point that out.
As you pointed out in was at least a generation or two before the idea
of Apostolic Succession was really established. That said, it seems a
very wise pattern in which to continue.

That said, the Holy Spirit goes where it will. I think it is fine to say that sacraments given by
clergy in Apostolic Succession have
a guarantee of validity. However, I
believe it is totally over the top,
and treading on dangerous ground, to say, as I've heard some in the Continuum say, that sacraments given by clergy lacking Apostolic Succession are invalid. The Holy Spirit goes where it will. If sincere Christians, who may be totally unknowledgable of the tradition of Apostolic Succession, pray sincerely and ask for the consecration of their Eucharist, I tend to think that their sacrament will be valid; or, in the very least, we should never proclaim it invalid. The Holy Spirit goes where it will.

All of that said, I prefer to receive the sacraments where there is Apostolic Succession. With the
Apostolic Succession we have a seal of authenticity. When one is dealing with one's own immortal soul, and that soul's salvation, I like to go with the seal of authenticity.

1928 BCP Supporter

Anonymous said...

Discussing "church order" with a Presbyterian is hard enough, but a "Reformed Baptist" is far more difficult on this topic (and about any other topic, for that matter).

But there is a subtle difference here which Anglicans might overlook.
The Presbies consider the Apostolic office to be unique (as eye-witnesses to the Resurrecton) and therefore untransmittable. Your RB friend goes one step further and makes the apostolic ministry of Timothy and Titus untransmittable also. Therefore, there is very little possibility, if any, for the Church's continuity throughout history. Classic Presbyterian polity allows for a "perpetua successio presbyterorum." Such a concept would be meaningless to a Baptist, and also to most modern Presbies, whose ecclesiology has become heavily Baptistic.

PS. Did your visitor return? I had a similar visitor once, who e-mailed me later that he liked my preaching but couldnt understand why we had idols in the church--referring to the crucifix and the Walsingham shrine. He still comes around periodically.

poetreader said...

Something is "valid" if its efficacy is assured beyond doubt. To claim something is "invalid" is NOT to claim that is is assuredly of NO effect, but merely to state that its validity has not been demonstrated.

By Tradition that rests upon Scriptural certainty, Apostolic Succession and the sacraments administered through it are demonstrated to be thus valid. Orders and sacraments not thus transmitted have no such guarantee. Their 'validiity' is certainly not assured. Is it impossible that God may act beyond the limits of the assuredly valid? As Lewis said, He's not a tame lion, of course he can give grace beyond His formal promise.

Speaking personally, I would be unable to deny the Sacrament I received as a Lutheran, or, for that matter, the Sacrament I administered as a Protestant minister believing in the Real Presence. I like to believe that God met me there. I suspect that God, in His mercy, would not refuse such a gift. However, I have no authority whatever for assuming that I am demonstrably right. There's no certainty.

"1928"s argument may be (and I hope is) consonant with Scripture, but there's no safety in assuming that to be true.


Anonymous said...

Poetreader writes:

Something is "valid" if its efficacy is assured beyond doubt. To claim something is "invalid" is NOT to claim that is is assuredly of NO effect, but merely to state that its validity has not been demonstrated."

I think you are on the right track, but let me tweak your statements just a tad. There are three concepts which work together but must be distinguished: validity, efficacy, and regularity (aka liceity).

"Validity" means that a sacramental act conforms fully to the Dominical ordinance. For baptism, that means (along with a few other things) the use of water and the Triune formula. For the Eucharist, Bread and fermented wine are required, along with a proper minister (one who is commissioned by Christ Himself, as Christ acts through the apostolic ministry He established), and "proper intention," the intention on the part of that minister "to do what the Church does" with bread and wine. I would prefer to define intention as "to do what Christ commanded us to do."

"Efficacy" means that the sacramental act, through God's blessing, actually achieves what Christ intended. Thus, a Eucharist
might be technically invalid owing to "invalid matter" in the form of unfermented grape juice or coca cola. It could also be invalid through the absence of a validly ordained priest, or even the failure of the "minister of the Gospel" in a Protestant conventicle to believe in the real presence. But through the Divine economy this could still be efficacious. God is very generous as He distributes His saving grace.

"Regularity" means simply that the sacramental act conforms to the canons and rubrics of the Church.

I would only change your statement to say, "IF something is valid, THEN its efficacy is assured beyond all doubt." And I strongly concur with what you say about Protestant sacramental ministrations. "Apostolic succession" to me means that Christ has Himself created a priestly ministry which He has promised to preserve "until the end of the world." It should not be a mean-spirited denial of the efficacy of other ministries.

Anonymous said...


I think you and I are definately on the same page.

I find it interesting that you mentioned your own experience as a former Prostestant minister. I would like to agree with that as a minister who believed in the Real Presence, I, too, believe that God, through His Holy Spirit, met you there.

But this brings up an interesting
question to ponder. Does the intentions of the celebrant (as to whether the celebrant believes in the Real Presence) affect the validity of a sacrament?

I was in an RC Church, as a visitor, on the Feast of Corpus Christi, and heard a priest give a sermon that indicated that the priest really didn't believe in the Real Presence. In fact the priest said that Christ isn't present in the elements themselves, but only in the minds of those who receive the elements.
I disagree strongly with that statement.

However, my question is this: since this is a priest in valid Apostolic Succession, is the Eucharist he consecrates valid, even if the priest himself does not
believe in the Real Presence?

I tend to think it would be a valid Eucharist regardless of what the priest's personal beliefs happen to be. After all, he is following the Rite of a church that believes in the Real Presence, and he is validly ordained. What is anyone else's opinion on this?

1928 BCP Supporter

Anonymous said...

Remember that, when bishop and priest seemed to be used interchangeably, some of the 12 and many of the 70 were still alive. The presence of these unique Apostles, directly appointed by Christ Jesus, MAY have blurred the distinction between bishop (sort of Apostolic suffragans) and priests (assistants to bishops).

In any event, almost simultaneously with demise of the uniquely dominical Apostles (the 12 and 70), we see that the Church catholic universally and immediately understood bishops to take a higher role than priests.


Fr. Robert Hart said...

As you pointed out in was at least a generation or two before the idea of Apostolic Succession was really established.

No, actually, I did not say that. I have said it is the pattern we see in St. Paul's pastoral epistles. I regard it as essential; and my point is that it is in the Bible, even though it is more demonstrated than described.

When I say "essential" I do not mean that we have to imitate Rome, and declare anything "absolutely null and utterly void." We do not know that sincere attempts to follow scripture, even when the scripture is poorly understood, is void of efficacy. The Anglican way is to affirm what we know rather than declaring something we can't know. We can't know that God withholds grace among sincere people in Protestant sects. I think we all hope that He extends it.

Nonetheless, it is not for us to take their crackers and grape juice. That goes too far, so I would politely decline.

Anonymous said...

LKW said:

"Apostolic Succession.............
..It should not be a mean-spirited denial of the efficacy of other

AMEN, to that. To use Apostolic
Succession as a mean-spirited club
against other denominations and
ministries is a violation of everything that Christ taught us.
Christ taught us to love one another.

1928 BCP Supporter

poetreader said...

Thanks Fr. Wells, for your clarification of my terminology. That gives what I said precision.

"1928" The classic definition of intent (as I understand it anyway), is that it is the intent to do what the Church intends (or in Fr. Hart's even better phrase, to do what Christ intends). Individual understanding of what is meant by that is something of an irrelevance to validity or to efficacy. It is Donatism that made the sacraments dependent on the character of the ministers. They are not given to individuals to use as they will, but to the living Body of Christ, to be used as He directs.

As a Protestant minister I did receive Communion from pastors who denied any kind of real presence. I still believed that the elements were His Body and His Blood, and that I received them as such. Was I wrong? I like to think not. Can my sentiments be proven true? They cannot. We are given no assurance other than that God is merciful. But God is good.

I agree entirely that it is fruitless to be deciding what someone else does not have. Let's offer them the assurance that we do have.


Canon Tallis said...

When quoting the appropriate scriptures, I believe that he forgot to include the Old Testament story of Korah's rebellion in Numbers 16:1-50 and the commentary upon same in Jude 1:5-13. We as Anglicans try to be as fair as we can with those unable to understand God's purpose in creating his own official ministry and the necessity of sticking with it rather than doing as Korah and his associates did.

It is my belief that even when being as generous as we can about others inability to see God's pattern in both the Old Testament and the New, we are still not allowed to interpret one scripture against another. And we should never call rebellion against God good. Nor should we call "mean-spirited" those who have the task of pointing out the failure's of those outside the apostolic ministry of reproducing the apostolic pattern found in Acts 2:42. To do so is to discourage them in the performance of their God given task of maintaining what God established by equating it with the rebellion of man.
In the state in which I live we have the remanants of one of the most successful of those rebellions. It has built a huge mega church, a university and a good deal more, but those of us who have been around for a long time know that the overriding motive of its founder, clearly stated by himself, was to make a great deal of money with very little work. It surely has brought many to Jesus but not to the fullness of the Jesus of the New Testament nor to the fullness of the apostolic faith and practise. And are we supposed to believe that their state is perfectly "ok" and ignore what the New Testament plainly teaches about those who teach another doctrine that its own?

I welcome the excellence with which Father Hart has set forth not merely the teaching of the classical prayer books and classical Anglicanism, but also that of the Church of the Bible, the Creeds and the Councils. But I refuse to accept the idea that you can be just as good a Christian by rejecting the teaching of same and playing nice with those who at the very least are mistaken.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Our own people need to know where to draw the line. As I said, we should not receive what passes for Communion in their churches. That could be sacrilege; certainly my own conscience would not allow me to do such a thing.

But, we have enough charity to pray as the King of Judah did in II Chron.30:18,19: "For a multitude of the people, even many of Ephraim, and Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet did they eat the passover otherwise than it was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, The good LORD pardon every one that prepareth his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he be not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary."

However, the main point of my article was to say that Apostolic Succession is scriptural, not extra-Biblical. This needs to be defended against Protestant assumptions and against Newmanian theory of DD assumptions.

Anonymous said...

It does not have to be "mean spirited" to explain Apostolic
Succession and the Apostolic Holy
Orders, at all. It can be done in
great love as Christ taught us to

Unfortunately, I have witnessed
some, not all, in the Continuum
who are mean-spirited in this, and
other matters, toward good, devoted
Christian people of other denominations.

I personally do not believe that only members of the Continuum will
be in heaven. Unfortunately, some
in the Continuum do act as though
that will be the case.

I think there will be saints and
devout Christians from all eras of history in heaven, and from many denominations.

I believe the Continuum is the best
way to follow Christ. I do not believe it is the only way to follow Christ.

1928 BCP Supporter

Anonymous said...

I agree with Fr Hart that Apostolic Succession is a Biblical doctrine, as Biblical as the doctrine of the Trinity.

My way of getting at this is to draw a distinction between what we believe about church polity (are we congregational, connectional, or prelatical?) and what we believe about the nature of the ministry itself. Protestants generally don't get beyond the first of these two questions.

In order to be fully Biblical, we must insist that the ministry (be it called "ministry of the gospel," or "ministry of word and sacramental," or whatever) is CHRIST'S own ministry made present here and now, just as His body and His sacrifice are made present here and now in the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. There are lots of Gospel texts to support this, "He who receiveth you receiveth me," etc. Christ is the "great high priest," and His ministers make His priesthood present and effective. They also re-present His royal and prophetic offices, in the pastoral and preaching functions of the ministry, but for some reason Protestants don't seem to cavil that this quite as much.
When the Presbies take delight in the title "Teaching Elder," I wonder if they recall that in the OT, teaching was a sacerdotal function. The few Presbies I have tried to enlighten on this point look at me with eyes glazed over.
I could develop this further, with Paul use of the terms leitourgos
and hierogounta in Romans 15:16:
"because of the grace given to me by God, to be a minister of Chjrist Jesus in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering (prosphora, a term denoting sacrifice) of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit."
A person who rejects a sacerdotal concept of the ministry would have a hard tie explaining away this and similar texts.

This priesthood being grounded in the Incarnation and continuous with it, there must be some way to explain and guarantee that continuity. If not through the Biblical rite of ordination (a rite which surely meets the definition of a sacrament), how else?

If Apostolic Succession is not Biblical, then what would be the Biblical warrant for a "church" which lacked such a succession?

Back to the first part of the question: once the sacerdotal nature of the ministry has been established exegetically, as I believe it can be, the next question is, What sort of polity is most consonant to such a ministry?

Anonymous said...

Father Hart:

I think you are right that Apostolic Succession is more demonstrated, than described, in the scriptures of the New Testament.

What I think we have is truly a
very good case for Apostolic Succession based on tradition. We
have scriptures that show a pattern, in addition.

I personally believe Apostolic Succession to be a good and valuable thing to maintain. But frankly, there is no scripture that
anyone has quoted that would say it
is absolutely necessary, and that
sacraments will not have efficacy
without it.

Also, we need to remember that many
spread the Gospel story who are not ordained into Holy Orders. St.
Mary Magdalene, for example, is called the "Equal of the Apsotles"
in the Eastern Orthodox Churches for her important work in preaching the Gospel. Christ, Himself, sent her to tell the news
of His Resurrection to the Apostles. She was indeed commissioned by Christ to tell the
"Good News"!

Christ gave the Great Commission to all of us to share the Gospel, not just those in Holy Orders. Sometimes the simple, shared words
of the laity telling how Christ has changed their lives, are more effective to bring souls to Christ than the most eloquent Sermon ever delivered.

1928 BCP Supporter

Fr. Robert Hart said...


We need to remember how strong a word "apostle" is, signifying that whatever is Apostolic to the Church carries Christ's own authority. The scripture quoted by Fr. Wells, along with "as my Father hath sent me, even so send I you." (John 20:21).

Getting back to the young visitor the Reformed Baptist, what is is special or extraordinary applies to the kind of ministry he believes in. That is, to whatever degree God may deem to work outside of Apostolic Succession (Holy Orders), and the Church in which those specific charisms are present with valid sacraments, we would have to consider that to be what is extra-Biblical and special. We, meanwhile, live within the Biblical and Traditional pattern,which go together.

Anonymous said...

1928: The Apostolic Succession was given to us by Christ and the Apostles, and is clearly set out in Scripture and maintained in Tradition. Therefore, it is necessary. It is, moreover, our solemn duty to preserve it.

Even the Romans at least officially believe that the grace of the sacraments is capable of being imparted by sacraments that they do not regard as valid.

Nobody is denying that God works through other sincere believers who haven't been enlightened concerning the Apostolic Succession. It is not for us to put limits on Grace. But, when we know the right thing, we must do the right thing--all of it.

The ministry of the laity is not in any way inconsistent with the duty to maintain the Apostolic Succession. Laity nourished by valid sacraments have a duty to spread the faith to the unchurched and to strengthen their fellows among the faithful.

If you don't accept the necessity for the Apostolic Succession, I could ask you just which bit of the 1928 BCP you support.

Anonymous said...

1928 Supporter: I believe your comments on A.S. can be summed up
as stating that the historic ministry derived from Christ's apostles is kind of nice to have around, but not essential or necessary in any serious sense.

This reminds me of Flannery O'Connor remark that is the Mass is only symbolic, then "to hell with it."

Some wag has said that Low-churchmen believe that Bishops are unnecessary but desirable, while High-churchmen believe that they are undesirable but necessary.

I believe that what is at stake here, and why your "bene esse" position is inadequate, is the Incarnational nature of the visible Church. Christ established His Church as truly One, one in space as it spreads over the earth, and one in time as
it continues down through the centuries. The episcopal order has been the sign and guarantee of that continuity. It is grounded in Paul's concern, stated repeatedly in the pastorals, for a continuation of his own apostolic ministry. Read I and II Timothy and Titus and you will see his concern for an orderly perpetuation of the original ministry of eye-witnesses. Hardly an adiaphoron. Dying men do not write letters from prison about trivialities.

Both Fr Hart and I have had bad experiences with bishops. But as a matter of theological principal we both argue strenuously for what they represent, however imperfectly. And if this apostolic ministry is not essential, then in Miss O'Connor's words, "To hell with it."

poetreader said...

I believe firmly in the ministry of the Apostolic Succession. I believe it to be what is demonstrated in the Scriptures and confirmed in the unbroken Tradition of the Church. I believe that in this God-given pattern we have the assurance that the Sacraments are just what He said they would be.

Beyond that, I have NO opinion or belief with regard to what does NOT happen outside that structure. I do not find where God has spoken to that issue. Those who do not maintain the Apostolic Ministry are clearly not maintaining what the Church has always insisted to be the right pattern. If, however, they are following the Lord to the best of their knowledge and ability, I leave it to Him in his mercy to decide what to do with such exceptional circumstances. I will be dogged in continuing within it, and thus will avoid receiving where there is doubt, but I will not stand up and say that so-and-so does not have the Sacrament. I don't and can't know that. It really isn't my business to judge.


Anonymous said...

Once again, I am not attacking the
tradition of Apostolic Succession.
Once again, please understand, that
I fully agree that the scriptures
do seem to model it. I like LKW's
point that this is a lot like the
Doctrine of the Trinity. The word
"Trinity" is never used in the Bible, yet the Bible clearly teaches the doctrine.

I fully feel that the tradition of Apostolic Succession should continue.

But we must admit that there have been different interpretations of the offices of "Bishop", "Elder", and "Deacon" throughout church history.

Presbyterians, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and other have
ordained Elders and ordained Deacons. They are properly ordained as the Bible says by the laying on of hands. These Elders and Deacons are "laity". They have Elders and Deacons just as the Bible says. The Elders consecrate the communion by saying the prayers over it, informal prayers generally, but prayers that definately include the Words of Institution. The Deacons then distribute the communion. They are "laity" in one sense in that they are not professional, paid clergy; and have other jobs during the week. But since they have been ordained, are they really laity? After all, they have been ordained.

They follow the scriptures and believe they are doing what the Bible says, just as we are. So, although I prefer our way, I would never be guilty of saying that they are wrong and we are right. Only God, Himself, someday, will be the judge of all that.

Another issue that the Anglican Priest, The Rev. John Wesley struggled with is the fact that the scriptures use the words Bishop
and Elder interchangeably. Although Rev. Wesley firmly supported the 3 Holy Orders of the
BCP, the crisis brought about by the American Revolution caused him to study scriptures and church history a lot on this subject.

The "Methodist Societies" were a dispersed religious order organized within, and as a part of, the Anglican Church. Rev. Wesley begged them not to leave the
Anglican Church, but fearing being called "Tories", coupled with the fact that the Bishop of London would not consecrate a Bishop for the newly-free colonies, the split occured.

Wesley begged the English authorities to consecrate a Bishop for America so Elders could be ordained. When the authorities refused, he searched the scriptures and the early church fathers for guidance. He came to feel that since the words "Bishop" and "Elder" were used interchangeably, and since there was no obvious seperation of them in the early church, that these offices were the same office, except that a Bishop served in a supervisory role. He also found evidence of other historic churches who allowed Elders to ordain other Elders. Thus he believed that in the emergency situation, that he could ordain Elders to go to America and ordain other elders so that the people could finally receive Communion.

Rev. Wesley saw this as am emergency measure, not unlike the fact that the church catholic has always allowed laity to do emergency Baptisms when clergy were not available.

Whether, we agree with it or not, the Church of England did not reprimand or discipline Rev. Wesley. I tend to think they were right to not discipline him, as he did what was best so the newly-free Americans could have the sacrament of communion long denied to them.

I agree that there are "Bishops", "Elders", and "Deacons", but I am greatly conflicted that "Bishop" is actually a seperate office; or whether it is simply a "supervising Elder" as Rev. Wesley, and Methodists to this day continue to see it. There have been many Anglicans throughout history in the Church of England who saw it Wesley's way, especially before the Oxford Movement caused many to want to imitate Rome. It is undeniable that the scriptures use the words interchangeably.

1928 BCP Supporter

Anonymous said...

1928, you say: 'But we must admit that there have been different interpretations of the offices of "Bishop", "Elder", and "Deacon" throughout church history.

Presbyterians, Church of Christ, Disciples of Christ, and other have
ordained Elders and ordained Deacons.'

But it is precisely our point that there haven't BEEN Presbyterians, Church of Christ, etc, with their 'different interpretations' 'throughout Church history', unless you are one of those folk who think that the Church began in the 16th century, which I don't imagine to be the case.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

1928 BCP Supporter:

The office of Apostle is not the same as elder, and yet the Apostle Peter says: "The elders which are among you I exhort, who am also an elder..." (I Pet. 5:1) What is very clear, very early on, is that the word episkosos was reserved for those who were received into the College of the Apostles (to word it as Dom Gregory Dix did, in Apostolic Order). The usage and definition are just as important as the word itself. By the time of St. Ignatius of Antioch, the episkosos was the local, diocesan Apostle, with authority over and responsibility for the presbytery.

We are very much aware of the Presbyterian concept of "lay elders." About that whole idea, Richard Hooker had only the strongest criticism. It is unscriptural, and clearly in contradiction of every ancient authority.

We may hope that God imparts grace beyond the limits of what we can teach to be valid. But, we must also work only as he has ordained. Anglicans have always been as firm on this matter as have the other Catholic churches, Rome and Orthodoxy.

(Fr. Laurence is right that I have had a bad experience with a certain English/Southewestern bishop; but I also have a good and positive relationship with the bishop who ordained me, Bp.Joel Johnson. So, it doesn't have to be bad.)

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart:

Once again, I'm not opposed to bishops, or Apostolic Succession. I'm just pointing out some things for discussion's sake.

As I said, you have made an excellent argument for the Apostolic Succession.

I am of the opinion that even a bad bishop is better than no bishop at all. I've seen the messes that churches without a bishop can get into. There needs to be some supervisory power over the Elders and Deacons.

I do consider a Bishop to be necessary. One cannot believe in the BCP and not believe in the necessity of bishops.

However, please do not think I disagree with you. I just wanted to bring up some points to broaden the discussion a bit.

Article XXXVI. refers to the "Consecration of Bishops" and the "Ordering of Priests and Deacons". I find that use of language somewhat interesting. I wonder if it does not back up what Rev. Wesley concluded that the Bishop is indeed an Elder and Deacon, and as an Elder is fully empowered to celebrate the Sacraments. However, the Bishop is set aside for extra supervisory duties such as ordination and confirmation. Whether one calls that person an "Apostle" or simply a "supervising elder" it seems not to matter. The BCP clearly lays out the duties of the office. The Bishop clearly remains an Elder as that ordering does not go away when the Elder is consecrated a Bishop.

It would do all clergy well to remember that they also forever remain a Deacon, a servant to the people in their church. The clergy collars were modeled after slave collars of olden times to remind the clergy of this. One of the worst problems I see among some, not all, clergy today is a lack of that sense that they are a servant to the people. Many like to elevate themselves above the people, which always leads to disaster. "Pride goeth before a fall."

1928 BCP Supporter

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Well, I'm glad to hear it.

It would do all clergy well to remember that they also forever remain a Deacon, a servant to the people in their church.

Since the Orders are an indelible sacrament, that is true. "Thou art a deacon forever." One bishop I knew, and want to forget, clearly thought of his consecration to the episcopate as his own personal elevation making him superior to the priesthood. The priesthood is greater than any man, even if that man is a bishop; for it is the priesthood of Christ.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart:

I think you've touched upon one of the worst problems with bishops.
What can be done with an egotistical bishop? an incompetent bishop? an alcoholic bishop? a drug-addicted bishop? a heretical

Holy Orders are conferred for life, so, once consecrated, that status of ordination doesn't go away.

However, evil bishops, or bishops with some of the problems above, can, and have, led churches to apostasy and heresy throughout history.

It seems to me that Bishops should be subject to reelection by the laity, priests and deacons of a diocese every 4 years, at least. If they are not doing their job, if they are an alcoholic, if they are just plain egotistical or arrogant, then the members of a diocese in good-standing should have the right to vote them out, or retain them. It only seems right that bishops not be given a life-time job if they are too drunk, too arrogant or too lazy, or whatever reason, to do the job.

While their status of ordination can't be taken away, their employment can, and should be, if they are not performing in the job.
This idea of life-time employment, if they do not earn it, is just not conducive to the Continuum ever growing and doing its proper mission for Christ in the world.

Most Continuum Canon Law, as it now stands, requires their fellow bishops to get rid of them. The chances that members of the "good old boys club" are going to get rid of one of their own, even if he is an alcoholic or other impediment, are not good.

1928 BCP Supporter

Fr. Robert Hart said...

I have decided to revise my reply to the above comment.

I know of cases where integrity has prevailed and Canon Law has been taken seriously and observed, even to the deposing of bishops. In this matter, from what I have learned, the ACC has set a good example.

Anonymous said...

Fr. Hart:

It is most important that Bishops take this seriously. If they allow a fellow bishop to continue
in the job when they are unable to
do so, it can cause enormous harm to parishes.

An example would be a bishop with a substance abuse problem, that might be rude and unkind to parishioners, upon arriving at a parish with a "hang over", causing parishioners to leave a parish.

The result of this is that if the problem continues, and the other bishops close their eyes to it,
eventually a parish is left with no choice but to leave a jurisdiction. Most Continuum parishes are small. The people of the parish work hard to bring new members to Christ and their parish.
Having a bishop rudely drive new members away is something a parish just can't tolerate.

1928 BCP Supporter

Anonymous said...

Fr Hart,

This piece is rather timely for me. I've only been a Christian for a little more than a year. I believed in the Real Presence from the get-go which for me meant no "lower" than (traditional) Lutheranism. I did not accept Rome's possessive claims to the faith and think they err in several important ways. I became continuing Anglican rather than Lutheran for somewhat circumstantial reasons (location of the Church, invitation by priest and parish members, etc). I've recently considered leaving our parish a conservative Lutheran church for reasons that aren't primarily theological such as lack of Christian education/Bible study (or want of it for that matter) in the parish and too many progressive attitudes from our leadership and laity.

My questions pertain to the differences between the two faiths/confessions. The most obvious to me is Apostolic Succession. Can you comment on the Lutheran understanding?

Are there other major differences I'm not seeing? Augsburg and the 39articles certainly don't seem radically different to me but I may lack the maturity and learning to see distinctions that are there.

Fr. Robert Hart said...


If I understand you correctly, you are not satisfied with your particular Anglican parish. I suggest only this, not knowing what that parish is: If you see problems address them to the Rector in a private conversation, with a willingness to help. Each parish is different.

About your question, in the United States you will not find Lutherans who have tried to carry on the Apostolic Succession of bishops, as they did in, e.g., Sweden (which church has been damaged beyond repair as bad or worse than TEC). Even so, it is apparent that they were less careful to maintain valid lines even in the old days.

Traditional Catholic Anglicanism is based on adherence to the faith of the Church of the first millennium. It retained much more of the Catholic Faith than churches that were spawned in the Reformation. Our church does not trace its origin to the 16th century, but rather to the beginning. It takes more than the 39 Articles to understand Anglicanism. Without looking at everything, including the Canons and Liturgy, the most important writers, etc., the Articles themselves can enable a false understanding, appearing to be far more "Reformed" than is truly the case.

Look at some of the "theology" posts on this very blog, and maybe some of the questions you have will be answered. If not, write and ask.

Ken said...

The apostles themselves were "overseers" (i.e. bishops, see Acts 1:20 which speaks of replacing Judas' "office" or episkopas).

It should go without saying that they handed off this "oversight" to others, since the very term "overseer" bishop is used of church leaders.

Dano said...

There are many great comments and views presented here which gives us all food for though.

It seems like everyone is so kind and loving that there is a major void that no one wants to address.for fear of creating a problem or being negative. That is not my intent but if someone could answer my question and clarify this subject I for one would sincerely appreciate it.

Christ goes in great detail to show and teach His Apostles how He wants His church to be organized and operated. He sends Paul on a mission to start a church . Paul is sent by Jesus Christ. Paul sends Titus and Timothy and the three go and open the church. Christ sends and bishops send. But everyone is sent either by Christ or by someone Christ authorized, Bishops!

Remember the definition of Apostle is "To send or be sent."

Than someone asked Christ if a another person can open a church and Christ stated, How can he preach if he has not been sent. As the father has sent me, I also send you. He who receives whom I have sent, receives me. He than says that the man who enters the sheepfold through the main door is welcome and the sheep will know him and follow him. But he who climes over the fence and enters the sheepfold is a thief and a murderer the sheep will run away.

Christ has been dead for 15 centuries before the reformation so we know Christ did not send anyone.

Than Christ makes Peter the head of His church, gives him the keys to the kingdom of heaven and than breathes the Holy Spirit into them telling them to go preach to all nation all that I have taught you. And He will be with the church till the end of time.

To me that seems pretty straight forward and exact. There does not seem to have room for debate. They are Christ words, 'APOSTLE- TO SEND OR BE SENT'

So how can any of the of the protestant churches claim validly since no one was sent? We have so many churches today all claiming to be bible based, all with different views and concepts and no one agreeing,, it just seems impossible for them to be approved by Christ. "How can they preach if they were not sent."

Again I ask you to please do not take my comments as argumentative or negative. I am simply trying to clarify things in my head.

Thank you and God Bless.,


Dano said...

Thanks Ken,

Yes apostles were "overseers' but they were apostles sent by Christ with the Holy Spirit breathed into them.

They cannot hand off this authority to strangers because "They must be sent.

It makes sense that Christ would have the apostles replace a bad apple on their team but has nothing to do with a man opening a church contrary to Christ church 15oo years later. Does not compute!


Fr. Robert Hart said...


Although there are a few details we could discuss from your comments, none of it matters if, as you said, "Christ has been dead for 15 centuries before the Reformation..." If you believe that Christ is dead, why bother with any of it? But He was only dead from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning.