Apostolic Succession

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Apostolic Succession
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Apostolic succession is the doctrine (or teaching) that today's church is (or those in church leadership are) the spiritual successor to the original followers of Jesus Christ - the Apostles. The doctrine of Apostolic Succession has different meanings to different Christians in different denominations. In episcopal churches, such as Roman Catholicism, the Anglican Communion and Eastern Orthodoxy, the teaching is that the bishops who lead the church have received their authority through an unbroken line of bishops through the centuries from the apostles, and so are the rightful leaders of the church.


Roman Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican

Churches that have maintained the historic episcopate of a hierarchy of bishops and priests include the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox churches, Oriental Orthodox churches, Assyrian Church, Independent Catholics and the Anglican Communion

These churches generally teach that Jesus Christ founded a community of believers (the church) and selected the apostles to serve as the leaders. The apostles then selected further leaders as the church grew and the years passed; these leaders now had authority to lead because they were chosen by the apostles. This, according to churches such as the Roman Catholic Church has continued until this day, with an unbroken line of leadership, and so today's bishops have received their authority through the apostles.

The Roman Catholic Church further teaches that the Pope, who is the bishop of Rome, has primary authority among the bishops. The Church interprets Matthew 16 in a particular way to support this doctrine. In Matthew 16, Jesus gives the apostle Peter the keys to Kingdom of Heaven. Tradition holds that Peter traveled to Rome and was the first bishop of Rome, and so today's Pope holds those same keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. There are many alternative views regarding this passage. One of the common opposing views is that Jesus gave Peter the keys in the sense that Peter would be the apostle who as-it-were unlocked the door of the Kingdom of Heaven to non-Jews (Gentiles). This view holds that the words of Jesus were fulfilled in Peter in the book of Acts. In Acts 1:8 Jesus reveals that his disciples will be his witnesses to Judea (that is, the Jews), Samaria (that is, the Samaritans) and to the ends of the earth (that is, Gentiles, or non-Jews). In Acts, we see Peter being present when the Holy Spirit comes to the Jews at Pentecost (in Acts 2), to the Samaritans (in Acts 8) and to Cornelius and the Gentiles (in Acts 10).

Roman Catholic and Orthodox theology additionally hold that the authority to administer the sacraments (such as Holy Communion) is passed on only through this unbroken line of apostolic succession. These churches understand the sacraments are a means by which grace is received by the believer. This concept of the sacraments being conveyors of grace is not held by Protestant denominations, who instead see the sacraments as outward signs of an internal truth.

Common Protestant views

Most Protestant churches (other than the Lutheran and Anglican churches) do not generally hold to the concept of an unbroken historic line of apostolic succession. These churches mostly teach that their leaders have positions of leadership only because they are called by God, and recognized by their congregation to lead. Most Protestant churches also do not teach traditional Catholic or Orthodox views about the sacraments.



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