Thursday, November 15, 2012

Are you in the line of Apostolic Succession?

     Apologies for the delay in getting this out:  I got sidetracked by the political revolution!  I've transitioned drastically in study contexts:  I just finished Leviticus, and have been struck several times by nagging questions in 2 Corinthians (my pastor is preaching through the book), which my personal studies have bypassed so far.  I'm happy to have the chance to get those questions resolved, and share any nuggets with you.
     So I was diving into 2 Cor., praying for new insight from God in verses that I struggle not to be bored with;  you know the ones... "Paul an apostle...  Grace and peace to you..." (all of his epistles open this way, and Paul bats 1000: 13/13 in following his name with wishes of grace and peace).  Don't get me wrong:  there are vital concepts that we must grasp in just those words, and I'll be the first to tell you that Paul's top priority in his introductions was not (and shouldn't have been!) originality or keeping me entertained.  So I was overjoyed when God answered my prayer and revealed something I hadn't considered before!
This is my wallpaper right now!
     Some of you may not be intimately familiar with the Roman Catholic Church;  this is likely the time of the year that awareness (to use a popular term) of the divide between that church and Christianity is at its highest, because of the fresh observance of Reformation Day (Halloween for all of you with a sugar fix!).  The primary concerns of the Reformers are embodied in the "5 Solas", which are the central concepts of true religion and areas of irreconcilable contrast between the Reformers and Rome.  But believe it or not, that's not what God brought to my mind regarding 2 Cor 1:1-2:  I was inexplicably drawn to Paul's claim of apostleship, and its implications.  Another more minor difference between Protestants and Catholics is  where we derive our authority from:  in addition to the authority of Scripture, Catholics believe that the current Pope is the most recent in an unbroken chain of bishops of Rome, straight down from Peter himself; and as such, the Pope has the keys to the kingdom of God, to bind and loose, and to definitively interpret Scripture for the rest of the Church (mistakenly drawn from Matt 16 and 18).  This line of apostolic succession is a long chain (264 men by one count) and for those who investigate a little more closely, pesky questions about feuds and squabbles between bishops and at one point, 3 different men who all claimed to be pope!  So to put it mildly, there are a few problems with this version of apostolic succession;  imagine having a question about doctrine and being required to check with 264 guys on it (that's assuming they all agreed;  there are several times when popes contradicted each other!).
Oh... is that how you're supposed to read the Bible?
     So should we throw the baby out with the bathwater and say there's no succession between the apostles and us?  I should say not;  I think there is a much more helpful way to teach this doctrine and live under apostolic authority, a way that's directly drawn from God's Word.  But we must separate the authority of 2 spheres:  biblical interpretation and church governance.  We'll spell those out next time.

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