I posted on the blog earlier a request for readers to comment why they won’t become Catholic. See that post here. As promised, I am responding to the reasons in individual posts. Today’s reason:
I am not persuaded by the necessity of apostolic succession.
The necessity of apostolic succession is quite clear. All that one has to do is look around at the current state of Christianity. There are literally tens of thousands of different sects of Christians. And they all teach contradictory things. They clearly cannot all be true. You have the Catholics, for example, who teach the doctrine of transubstantiation. On the opposite end of the spectrum are the anabaptists who take up the Zwinglian belief of symbolism in the Lord’s Supper. This is one of many examples of contradictions within Christianity. It is reasonably safe to say that everything that one particular community that claims to be Christian believes will be contradicted and disbelieved in at least one other community claiming to be Christian, even coming right down to whether Jesus is God, or if God exists as Trinity.
Is this a problem? Does it really matter?
Yes. How could one not see that the truth is important? Jesus teaches that he is truth. And he teaches that he is the only way to the Father. We must know and seek the truth in order come to the Father.
We also must accept that Jesus established the Church to be one. He established one Faith. There is one baptism which incorporates us into one body. It is quite clear that a) Jesus did not intend to create a tangled mess like Christianity is today, and that b) Jesus does not leave truth up to whatever any individual wants or personally interprets Scripture to say.
Jesus gave the Church 12 men to lead. These 12 men were given special graces. Jesus told them that whoever hears them hears him. Jesus told them that what they bound on earth was bound in heaven. These men began exercising apostolic succession almost immediately when Judas needed to be replaced. This event is documented in the Holy Scriptures. The authority of the Apostles to ordain ministers of the Gospel is clearly illustrated throughout the book of Acts. We can also infer apostolic succession in St. Paul’s second letter to Timothy in his instructions regarding the entrusting of the Gospel.
The first Christians heavily testified to both the legitimacy of this doctrine as well as to its necessity. Please read some of the quotations here. The Church was never intended to be hidden. It is a city on a hill. It is a light to the nations. With so many heresies and falsehood abounding it is important, if we believe anything Jesus says at all, that we are able to see the Church and know the truth. Apostolic succession is the way Jesus set it up. I don’t have to interpret Scripture. I have a Church that does that for me. Where is that Church? It is with the apostles. But they are dead. They left successors. Without apostolic succession, the Gospel is actually a guessing game. Your guess is as good as mine. Your interpretation is as good as mine. And that is why apostolic succession is a necessity. Salvation is too important to leave up to your best guess.
I am neither convinced that apostolic succession is necessary, nor that it would rest in the chair of Peter if it was.
Of course, even when one stops resisting the very real necessity of apostolic succession there is the very real issue that there a number of Churches that have valid apostolic succession and a number that claim succession which have no validity. Probably the greatest valid “Church” is the Eastern Orthodox, which is more of a communion of Churches with none really being the head. So the question remains, does it matter if the successors to an apostle are in communion with the Chair of Peter.
While it is true that Scripture gives all 12 of the Apostles the same graces, it is quite unambiguously clear that Peter is the head of the Apostles. It is also clear that he is more than just a “first among equals” in which his headship is simply symbolic. Two significant events show this: when Jesus gives Peter alone the keys to heaven and when he tells Peter alone that he is to feed his sheep. It is also important to note that at the giving of the keys Jesus changes Peter’s name from Simon to Kepha (Peter). This is not insignificant, especially considering what Kepha means (rock). It becomes ridiculously obvious when he proceeds to say that on this rock he will build his Church. “You are Rock (Kepha) and on this Rock (kepha) I will build my Church.” Come on people. Don’t let your prejudices blind you.
As a convert I can tell you that this was one of the harder points to get past. But if one prayerfully and realistically reads the Gospels, it becomes so clear that it is amazing to me at how ignorant I was regarding the significance of it all! And of course, once I accepted the truth of apostolic succession, like the commenter said, everything else fell into its rightful place.
Accepting apostolic succession is an act of humility. It kills pride. And maybe, just maybe, that is one of the most important reasons that Jesus gave us this gift.
For a better post than this one by a better writer than this one, please check out this article by Francis Beckwith.