faith of our fathers

The historic discipline of the Church requires both apostolic faith and apostolic order for the exercise of the apostolic ministry, as Arthur Middleton explains

The Book of Common Prayer makes an obligatory statement of doctrine and discipline in the  Ordinal. It states that Holy Scripture and early Fathers testify that from the Apostles’ time there have been three Orders of ministers in Christ’s Church – bishops, priests, and deacons.

This threefold ministry is the authoritative pastoral and teaching ministry of the apostolic Church. Jesus sent out the Apostles with the same authority to complete his Father’s will on earth as the Father had first given him. This includes the Apostles’ authority to make provision for the continuation of their ministry through others, just as Jesus Christ had taken authority to continue his ministry through them.

Transmitted by Jesus

Jesus transmitted ministerial authority to the Apostles that was publicly sealed on the Day of Pentecost by the gift of the Holy Spirit. Since the original authority transmitted came from the Father through his Son, whose Body is the Church, that authority resides in the entire one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

The Apostles transmitted that particular ministerial authority to their own chosen successors, bishops, priests and deacons. The Apostles gave them authority to call, try, examine, approve and admit by public prayer and the imposition of hands their own chosen successors in ministry until the Second Coming. There are other ministries through which God blesses the faithful in many ways. But the apostolic pastoral and teaching ministry is what Christ entrusted to the Apostles and their own continuation of their ministry through bishops, priests and deacons.

The Nicene Creed affirms our belief in the ‘apostolic’ Church where we claim that the identity of the Body of Christ is known by two objective realities: the apostolic faith and the apostolic ministry. This standard was not invented or thought up by the Fathers at Nicaea. It is a revelation given by the Holy Ghost at Pentecost, as the Acts records, ‘they continued steadfastly in the Apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers’ [2:42].

Origin of the term

Apostolic succession is first used as a technical term by Hegesippus, c.175, who traces this succession in Corinth and Rome and every city stating that things are ordered according to the preaching of the Law, the Prophets and the Lord. This demonstrates that apostolic succession consists in both the faith and in the order of the Apostles, and not in one or the other.

Another error is to equate an office held in the temporal organization of some local church with the scriptural office of the same name belonging to the entire one, holy, Catholic and apostolic Church.

When discipline breaks down, a bishop or an ordinary member of a local church may be anything but what the Scriptures demand of a bishop or of a Christian. This state of affairs neither redefines Christianity nor disproves the episcopate. Additionally, the granting of a mere title does not confer an apostolic office unless all the objective requirements for apostolic office are met.

The historic discipline of the Church requires both apostolic faith and apostolic order for the exercise of the apostolic ministry. Choosing between them leaves no apostolic ministry at all. The apostolic succession is a visible, objective means for the preservation, teaching, defence and transmission of the apostolic faith.

Thus, revisionist people like John Pike or Gene Robinson may hold a temporal office in the Church called ‘bishop’, but that does not make them a complete ‘bishop’ in terms of the apostolic succession. Their authority, due to their lack of apostolic faith, is limited. The bishops of the primitive Church did not tolerate such false bishops, but removed them and instructed the faithful to place themselves under a true bishop until their see could be supplied with a bishop who represented both apostolic faith and apostolic order.

Maintaining the apostolic succession is merely to obey Christ, the Scriptures and the Apostles. This assures the Church of a valid faith and a valid ministry. This is what the debate on women bishops is about. It is not about women. ND

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