I have a friend that I’m certain thinks I talk about apostolic succession and other Catholic issues too much. On the other hand, I get regular emails about the subject, and "When Protestants Become Catholic" remains my most read post.
So here’s one more. This is an answer to an email I received. It addresses not only apostolic succession but results and unity, and it introduces a subject I want to talk about tomorrow: How do we build the church in 21st century America?
Or, maybe, more pertinently, the subject could be called "America Needs More Missionaries."
Also, there’s enough links is this post to make a fair history lesson if you follow them.
Anyway, here’s the email:
Email Concerning Whether We Should Find Elders with Apostolic Succession To Submit To
I guess we’re both looking for something. What I’m looking for will not be provided by submitting to elders with apostolic succession. In fact, it will almost certainly be prevented.
I’m looking for fruit. Christians are to be known by their love. If even an apostle preaches a false gospel, he is to be anathematized. We are to fellowship with those that meditate on God’s Word and separate from the world.
Those sorts of things matter to me.
I was a Roman Catholic. I was raised in it. For 18 years I faithfully attended mass, CCD, and even a couple short youth retreats.
In 18 years, I may have met one Christian in the Roman Catholic Church. Every single one of the others I met in 18 years, 3 countries, and 3 states were not even trying. I’ve met more Roman Catholic Christians since leaving the RCC than when I was in it.
Yesterday I was reading The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience. It says that 26 % of Evangelicals do NOT think that premarital sex is wrong. Then, a paragraph later, it says, "Green [Prof. John C. Green of the University of Akron] finds that Evangelicals fare better than mainline Protestant and Catholic Christians on theses issues."
That’s pretty much what I would have figured. Roman Catholics, in general, know almost nothing about the Bible’s teaching on following God. (Most of my relatives are Roman Catholic, by the way, because my dad is from Hawaii and is Portuguese by descent.)
On top of that, the RCC’s unscriptural and unhistorical teaching on celibacy in leaders has led to vast amounts of sexual immorality. Both the Council of Nicea and the Council of Arles—in 325 and 268 respectively, before celibacy was even common—said that live-in females were a problem for "many" bishops and elders.
I was an altar boy. Lack of kindness, a bad temper, and sipping the leftover Eucharistic sherry among priests was a given, accepted and talked about by altar boys and parish members alike.
Now, let me ask you. If my goal is to teach Christians to follow Christ together, in holiness, as one people, why in the world would I ask them to submit to mostly unsaved leaders in a mostly unsaved church and why would I do so myself? That would be completely contrary to my purposes?
And as for yours [i.e., his purpose, which was to be "in unity"], do you really believe that because you’re submitting to elders with apostolic succession, that you are somehow now living in unity? With whom?
Unity is not agreement about which organization to belong to. Unity comes from the Spirit first, and it is destroyed by members who don’t even know that they are not supposed to have premarital sex! 26% don’t even know among Evangelicals, and it’s worse among Catholics!
Jesus said there would always be few who will find the path; I want to be in unity with those few. It doesn’t matter to me that there’s a carnal, fleshly counterfeit organization out there claiming to be the church and claiming a succession that isn’t scriptural, isn’t historical, and that didn’t really happen. (There was no bishop in Rome for nearly a century. Several men in France claimed to be the bishop, while never even seeing Rome, and then there were 2 or 3 competing men for another 50 years. Succession in Rome is long broken by this and by successions that happened by imperial appointment or assassination of the previous bishop.)
Cyprian said that a church leader who lives in sin should be rejected by the people or they will be contaminated by his sin (To the Clergy and People Abiding in Spain, Epistle of Cyprian 67 in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. V). How much more true is that of a prelate who preaches a false gospel of sacraments, confession to a priest, and attendance at mass because he’s never heard the true one of Christ’s call to lay down our lives, hate our families, leave our possessions and follow him?
I’m sorry but Roman Catholic leaders with a pretended succession are not a route to unity; they’re in the way of it. Unity is only going to happen by the Spirit of God and among disciples (Eph. 4:3).
That’s the only unity that matters. All other unity is just words.
Division Versus a Corrupt Church
One final word. What’s worse? The divisions of Protestantism or the complete corruption, both politically and spiritually, that was Roman Catholicism in the late medieval period?
Keep in mind that Luther and Calvin did not leave Roman Catholicism. They were put out of it for speaking things that were undeniably true. For Martin Luther, the purpose was to save poverty-stricken Germans from being milked of the nothing they had by evil salesmen threatening cruelty from God, then selling release from it. It was literally extortion!
These were sent by Pope Leo X in order to build the luxurious St. Peter’s Basilica.
Don’t think the division between the Lutherans and the Catholics had anything to do with theology. It had exclusively to do with money that the pope and his henchmen were wringing out of emaciated people to build a cathedral.
So, should Martin Luther—possibly mentally ill, but at least caring about the extortion he was witnessing—have just submitted to the minions from Rome? His local elders were on his side!
Things get very complicated when we reduce things to carnal, earthly ideas like a succession that involves fleshly men. The succession of the early church fathers involved men who preserved the truth in holiness, and it was the truth that was on their mind, not the men.
The Roman Catholic Church has lost the truth, so they’ve lost the succession.
The proof is not in arguments about transubstantiation and infant baptism. The proof is in the pudding. The RCC rarely produces Christians [as a percentage; among their 2 billion members, there are many devoted to Christ], and most of the Christians it produces in the 21st century are influenced by Protestantism. Protestantism is corrupt as an organization, but it has produced most of the Christians in the world, even if they have gone to the RCC and Orthodox over ecclesiastical ideas.
Anyway, the point of this is that I’m after results. I’m certainly not chasing an organization. Where’s there any Scripture for that? Let us go after Christ with a whole heart and preach the Gospel Jesus preached, and let us serve alongside all who name the name of Christ.
There is one foundation, according to Paul, and that is Christ. On that foundation is one inscription. It says, "The Lord knows those who are his, and let those who name the name of Christ depart from iniquity."
Listen, I’ve probably sounded real forceful, perhaps rude, in this email. If you can submit to elders with apostolic succession, and then, as a result, show me a people gathered in the power of the Spirit, obeying Christ together, and each of those who are a part knowing what Christ calls them to, then I’ll acknowledge we may need to do that, too.
Of course, we already have that situation in Selmer, Tn, and I’m devoting efforts to making that happen in Auburn, CA, so I guess even if you succeed by submitting to such elders, I can’t say that it’s mandatory to do the same. But at least, having seen it, I would be more open!