As a humorous intro, I recently bought a new Kindle... it works great, and I should be able to write more; if I can just stop accidentally deleting documents! Most of you know how “funny“ that is; God‘s sanctification comes in many ways.
So the focus of this last installment of this series on our connection to the apostles is necessary and must be continually refreshed in our minds. Just as Rome errs in the direction of too much and wrongly grounded authority, there is an equal and opposite mistake common to many who call themselves Protestants. I've heard it called the “just me and my Bible“ syndrome; the symptoms of this disorder include: bouncing from church to church, establishing home churches that stay pretty small (newcomers stay until they hear something they dispute, and then leave to find a new one!), and an inability to distinguish essential doctrinal truth from secondary issues believers can agree to disagree on. These folks typically think that the proper and necessary right of private interpretation gives them license to fall off the other side of the log and shun/despise all human religious authority. In the first post on this topic, I mentioned that Rome bases their claim of papal supremacy on a supposed connection to Peter as the first pope, so it‘s probably best to start the correction of the aforementioned syndrome, and the completion of our exploration of apostolic succession, with the official title he gives himself in the ecclesiastical structure of the 1st century...
“So I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ...“ (1Pet 5:1)
Wait a second...Peter‘s not “ Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, or Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church" (all of these titles actually are claimed by the guy with the funny hat)? He‘s just an elder? And not even Head Elder, but a “fellow elder“ (I guess in Hebrew it would be “Elder of Elders“!)? Just to be clear, I‘m not demoting Peter from apostle to elder; the goal is to realize how the apostles thought of themselves, and desired others to think of them within the church structure; see also 2 Jn 1, 3 Jn 1.
Which leads to a second point: whom did the apostles want to succeed them? “For this cause, I left you in Crete, that you would set in order the things that are lacking, and ordain elders in every city, as I appointed you;“ (Tit 1:5). So if the chosen leader(s) to replace apostles was/were not a single, preeminent papacy, but groups of locally appointed elders, responsible only for their local fellowship, who are we to argue and set up a central figurehead, contrary to God‘s will (1 Sam 8:4)? (As a side note, if elders are responsible for the souls of 100-200 people, and that‘s considered a great charge and duty, consider the weight of judgment upon the bishop of Rome, who claims watchcare over every Christian in the world?)
If on the other hand, like our modern-day religious anarchists, you have a tendency to belittle the power and necessity of leadership, and think yourself a sufficient judge of orthodoxy and truth, you think too much of yourself (Rom 12:3): we are not called “sheep“ without good reason! Outside the protective sheepfold of the Church, under biblically qualified elders, we are exposed to the elements of error, sin and apostasy. Left to our own devices, we quickly wander and succumb to sin, the world, and the devil. This is such a dependable constant in those who profess Christ that John equates departure from the fellowship of believers with a departure from Christ (1 Jn 2:19). As a divinely ordained counter, God gives every local body men to lead it (Eph 4:11). With the responsibility of guiding the flock, these “undershepherds“ are given the necessary authority to back it up (Acts 20:28, Heb 13:17, 1 Pet 5:2-5; it would be ludicrous otherwise!). So the standards for leadership in Christ‘s church are high, as one would expect with the successors of the apostles, and most do not meet them (myself foremost among them!). So in summary, we could depict apostolic succession in church authority like this:
The apostles wisely ensured Christ‘s church would be well taken care of... thank God for your local shepherds. And while you‘re at it, thank them too!