Apostolic Succession

Bishop's MitreA question.

With all the hoo hah in the Anglican Communion over people splitting off and so on, and the current GAFCON 2 in Nairobi, is there a list anywhere of Churches that the CofE recognises the orders of? So for example, Martyn Minns and other ACNA bishops got consecrated by current Anglican Communion bishops and the CofE recognises their orders (even if they don’t let them do Bishopy things in England).

So…… is there a list somewhere? Are the orders of groups like the REC, ACA etc recognised? Is it as simple as “if you were ordained / consecrated by a Bishop in proper line of succession, even if not currently in AC, you are a priest / bishop even if we don’t let you do priesty things in England”?

Curious of Canterbury

42 Comments on “Apostolic Succession

  1. I’m not an expert, but I think your last sentence is more or less correct – proper line of succession makes their orders irregular but still valid. We recognise the orders of those ordained by Roman Catholic, Old Catholic and Orthodox Bishops – if a priest from any of those churches joins the Church of England then they are not re-ordained – and the Old Catholics certainly still recognise ours. Shades of Crufts, really…

  2. There are still many “vagantes” around, still claiming to be “descended” from Mathew, Beale or Howarth and others at the end of the 19th century. All completely bogus. They claim direct succession, but from whom? Those whom they claim as their antecedents would have denounced them furiously – and the three in question were all formally excommunicated by Rome.

    The important question is not so much, “is their line of succession legitimate”, but “with whom are they actually in communion?” If they are in communion with an episcopal church which has a genuine claim to exist, then the chances are that they have legitimate orders. If they are only in communion with themselves (look at the photos on their websites – which often show a gaggle of bishops – but no congregation) then the chances are that they have bought all the kit from Wippells, but have no authority to wear it.

    There is a very good study of the phenomenon: Bishops at Large. Peter Anson. New York City: October House Publishing, 1963

  3. There’s a list of churches in communion with the Church of England here: http://www.churchofengland.org/about-us/structure/churchlawlegis/canons/supplementary-material.aspx (towards the bottom of the page) which would presumably begin to answer your question. Churches can also have their orders recognised (eg. http://churchofengland.org/media-centre/news/2013/01/free-church-of-england-orders-recognised.aspx) which haven’t (yet?) made it to that list.

      • If (in the case of both REC and ACA for example) we don’t recognise the organisations, my guess is that it would be on a case-by-case basis if someone ordained in a continuing tradition wanted to be licensed in a CofE diocese. Mind you, I’m not really sure why they’d want to.

      • It’s more a question of “does the Church of England recognise the MINISTRY of….” – possession of “valid” orders is only part of the picture. Since the Free Church of England has now been recognised, and it derives its orders from the REC, there is a fair chance that the REC would be recognised if it sought recognition.

  4. I really don’t get apostolic succession as a doctrine. What would happen to it if, say, all the bishops that they viewed as valid were in a meeting and they got bombed (for example) and so all killed? How would the apostolic succession continue?
    As Sigfridii says, I think who you are in communion with is far more important than who you have succeeded. Mind you, far more important than that is what you believe from reading the Bible!

    • If every validly consecrated bishop were to die, the Church would cease to exist. Somehow I can’t see God letting that happen…
      But that doesn’t preclude small break-away groups simply dying out. That surely would be the work of the Holy Spirit, since Christians are called to unity, “so that people may believe.”

      • But that doesn’t mean that all bishops would be dead. Imagine if, during the vote for the next Pope, the Vatican is bombed. And if all cardinals are in the Vatican for the vote then all the RC church is left with is a bunch of archbishops and bishops, with no one to promote them to cardinal and thus neither to Pope. If the belief is in the apostolic succession, that means that the RC church dies out at the top and eventually runs out of the succession.
        I would not wish this on them at all, but if it did, how would they continue? The CofE would still be around with it’s bishops but because they are not recognised they can’t help. So would the RC have to change it’s views or accept it’s fate? The same could be said for any number of Protestant denominations who hold themselves and a select few of others to be the true succession.

        • When I said “every” I meant regardless of being Anglican/Roman Catholic/Orthodox etc.so that “all bishops” would be dead (obviously people are going to disagree about whether Anglican bishops are valid, which is part of the original question).

          The standard rule is that a bishop must be consecrated by three others (though two has been permitted in exceptional cases) – I’d take that as my standard of being validly consecrated. Schismatic groups generally struggle to find the three necessary, and so fall out of the Apostolic Succession.

          In the case of all Cardinals being killed during the Conclave, I expect there are rules to govern this (or at least the possibility that the Conclave might be held to ransom by a secular power as has happened historically). There would still be plenty of bishops who could elect from among themselves a new Pope, who is after all just a bishop in terms of the threefold orders of bishop/priest/deacon. And even if there were never another Pope, the remaining bishops could carry on consecrating successors, such that the Church continues.

          • But if there is no Pope to create cardinals (thus no new cardinals to elect a new Pope) and no Pope or cardinals to create new archbishops, that is the top 3 tiers of the Catholic Church wiped out and a new way of doing church has to be brought in that doesn’t include the repeated line of descent from Peter, as there is no longer a Pope.

            My point, at the end, is why is who you are “done” by really that important? Surely it is who you follow and what you believe that is important? I wouldn’t care if a bishop was consecrated by the worlds most depraved individual or the most saintly, it’s the person they are that matters, not the others.

            • Direct descent in terms of laying on of hands by one Pope to the next has never been part of it, as the departing Pope has usually departed. Cardinals and Archbishops are just bishops with a posh job title, at the end of the day – no more required to consecrate a new bishop than any others. So extraordinary measures would be needed to restore the hierarchy to its normal form, but there’s no reason why it couldn’t carry on as before after that.

              As for why the people consecrating matter, it is precisely to ensure that the person consecrated does follow and believe correctly. The original Apostles chose those whom they approved; these then chose the next generation, and so on. By requiring three bishops to consecrate (and normally involving a senior (arch-) bishop in the process) you avoid an individual fool or heretic producing lots of dodgy bishops. The idea is to guarantee that the person consecrated will hand on the faith which he has received (from the bishops who consecrate him). How are we to know what the faith is, unless we receive it from those to whom the task of handing it on has been entrusted? And if the faith is not handed on, there is no Church. Which is why bishops are vital to the existence of the Church.

              Golly, I’m long-winded!

              • But I don’t need to be patted on the head by someone who has had the same from someone else in a long line of head-pattings just to be sure I am following the correct teachings from the Bible.
                Otherwise that means that ALL house churches are theologically flawed from the get-go

                • Well, how do you know you’re following the correct teachings of the Bible? Are you just making it up for yourself? Or do you follow the guidance of someone else you trust, and who is trusted by others? That’s the bishop’s job, in the theory I’m following here.
                  And yes, house churches are indeed theologically flawed from the get-go by this account of how the Church works.

                  • So what about a house church that follows all the church beliefs over the last 2000 years, but is formed by people who believe that the Church in their area is not offering the gospel to their community and so split off with no official head patting and go out spreading the Good News just as the Church did in it’s infancy?

                    • Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

                      “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. (Mark 9:38 – 41).
                      This man acted in the name of Christ and his faith was rewarded with miraculous power. However, he was not personally commisioned by Christ nor one of His apostles. He simply acted on what he heard. Forget the healings, I guess that made him a self-appointed minister whose liturgical actions lacked sacramental assurance.

                      In fact, those commissioned leaders did not discern his vocation and considered his ministry to be bogus, whatever its results. Compare this with Priscilla and Aquila’s gentle mentoring of Apollos (Acts 18). Not one ounce of clerical ostracism between them.
                      How refreshing it would be for someone to take me under their wing, like those two, and offer a thoughful mentoring relationship, perhaps a retreat!…I’m not holding my breath, though.

                    • Against that Mark passage we need to set Luke 11.23 and Matthew 7.21-23. Clearly God can do things in any way he wants, but in a fallen world, the Apostolic succession provides something like a guarantee of faithfulness to the Gospel.

                      But if we could have bishops who were willing to engage in new and unconventional approaches (whilst giving proper oversight to stop them running away into oddity) – whilst also nurturing the majority of plodders – now that would be a Church that attracted people!

                    • The passages that you mention indicate that the gifts for the ministry of the gospel are never a substitute for the ‘obedience of faith’, i.e. our human actions (not just ministry) conducted in accordance with love for God and in a state of immediate reliance upon divine insight and empowerment as appropriate to each situation.

                      Taken together, it means that just as Christ commissioned his apostles, the church has a duty to scrutinise candidates for ministry. Nevertheless, there are those who will discover legitimate ministries that involve leadership outside of the conventional process of discernment, training and ordination. They deserve the support, oversight and encouragement of the whole church (the right hands of fellowship), without obstruction for superficial reasons.

                      Examples of how ministries were allowed to flourish beyond direct apostolic ordination include St. Stephen (a deacon who exercised other charisms) and Apollos.

                      Matthew 7:21 – 23 simply reminds us that true salvation involves more than just a successful ministry. Even St,Paul said: ‘But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.’ (1 Cor. 9:27)

                    • How a group of Christians can follow “all the church beliefs over the last 200 years” and reject the need for a bishop is an interesting question. And of course the infant Church was hugely reliant on Apostolic teaching – which is why Paul makes such a big point of being an Apostle himself.

                      And of course, two wrongs don’t make a right. How are people to believe when the Church is split – how does the outsider know which bit of the Church to believe?

                • They are, according to the standards and doctrines of the ancient church, all the councils and the overwhelming majority of the historical churches today (you know: Roman Catholics, Episcopalian protestant churches, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental churches, etc.), which I suspect you may consider not proper Christians at all.

                  • Nothing wrong with the churches that go for apostolic succession, in whatever shape of form it is in, but it should NOT be the be all and end all of what defines a “valid” church

              • Hope y’all don’t mind the comment. I usually just lurk. :-)

                But I would add (echoing Bishop Ramsey) that it seems to me that as
                commissioned by Christ, the apostles were the principle of unity within the new born church. They reminded/enacted (by their function as apostles) that conversion was never simply an individual matter. St Paul makes this very point to the Corinthians when he tells them that they forget that we are not saved apart from the rest of the church. Conversion is always into the body of the historic crucified and risen Lord to whom the apostles were the historic link.

                The apostles were the image of that one church- the one body- that St Paul declared we are all baptized into (Rom.6:1-4, I Cor. 12:13) and with which we have communion in the Eucharist (I Cor. 11:28, I Cor. 10:16). This is why St. Paul declares that the Corinthian sin against church order was a sin against the cross.

                Different aspects of the church’s life manifest different facets of the gospel. The apostles (and later the Bishops) are the gospel manifestation of the reality/necessity of one body. There is no place for individualism in the church. An individualistic Gospel is a contradiction. That’s what a bishop MEANS; and it is this part of the gospel that goes undeclared/un-enacted when there is no bishop.

                This is why when the Samaritans believed in Christ, it wasn’t appropriate to allow them to develop alone, out there. John and Peter were sent- because they were apostles: organs of the one church- to lay hands on them and bring them into the organic body, which the gospel of Christ creates; and to which God bears testimony through various witness/means of grace. (Acts 8:14-17)

              • ‘As for why the people consecrating matter, it is precisely to ensure that the person consecrated does follow and believe correctly.’

                Really? So we, the church, are born anew by that inscrutable agency of the Holy Spirit, only to be preserved from error by a humanly mediated ritual of consecration.

                Like a frustrated family member, St. Paul’s rhetoric chided the Galatians for resorting to this sort of stance, saying: ‘O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministereth to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, doeth he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? (Galatians 3:1 – 5)

                • I don’t think St. Paul had anything like Mr. Randall’s stance in mind at all.

                  Regarding human mediation: Everything I’ve received from the Spirit is humanly mediated. From my very existence, to the writing and preservation of the scriptures, to the communication of the gospel, which I believed, etc.

                  I suspect the same is true of you.

                  “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

                  All sorts of human mediation going on in St. Paul’s argument. He doesn’t seem to think that it is opposed to the work of the Spirit. Why do you assume it must be otherwise?

                  • The context of this thread is the importance of apostolic succession. When Mr. Randall speaks of why someone or something matters, he is indicating importance to a specified purpose: that the consecration process somehow preserves succeeding generations of clergy from error: so that they follow and believe correctly.

                    The issue is not whether human mediation is involved, or whether it matters. That is not in dispute. The point Mr. Randall raised was why those consecrating others matter. Mr. Randall’s claim is that they matter because they ensure that those consecrated follow and believe correctly. That is how some view the importance of apostolic succession and that’s why I took issue with it.

                    Those involved in consecration may try to ensure orthodoxy in those consecrated to ministry, but they are no guarantee. Neither they, nor the physical act of consecration is any guarantee of the obedience of faith.

                    I repeat that my difference is not that consecration doesn’t matter. It is that the guarantee and mechanism guaranteeing that those consecrated follow and believe correctly is due to the sovereign influence of the Holy Spirit working through a wide variety of direct and indirect means.

                    Identifying the importance of those involved in consecration to spiritual preservation above the many other means available to the Holy Spirit reveals a very narrow theology, especially given the immense variation of the divine interventions (‘at sundry times and in divers manners’) revealed in scripture.

  5. Just a thought, but did Philip tell the Ethiopian eunuch to arrange for one of the apostles to visit him so he could set up a church, or did he explain the Gospel, baptise him and leave him to go on his way?

    • Good point – and of the many lessons of Acts 10 one of the most important ones is that our understanding of church should be shaped by the workings of the Spirit, and not vice versa.

    • Here’s my take- one Phil to another…

      Philip told the Eunuch ‘the good news about Jesus.’ We’re not told explicitly all that his account of the gospel consisted of, but we know that it included baptism; or the eunuch wouldn’t have asked for it. Since that baptism incorporated him into the historical community that was built on the apostles, I suspect they and their gospel ministry were mentioned as well. How do we tell the story of Jesus without mention of the apostles? Why would we want to?

      So, just as Baptism (and Eucharist, Scripture, Etc) is part of ‘the gospel,’ I believe that the Episcopate likewise is part of the gospel in that it proclaims (by enacting) an essential reality about the world that God created in Christ. As such, it (and the one community it symbolizes) was implicitly (at least) a part of what Philip proclaimed.

      Its hard to tell which comes first: an individualistic view of salvation or the rejection of that part of the church’s life which was given to prevent such an accounting of salvation. It seems a truism that regardless of which we begin with, we’ll get the other.

      • The role of witness in the early church was crucial to the spread of the gospel. The forensic standard that St. John set forth is as valid today as ever:

        ‘We accept human testimony (μαρτυρία), but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God,’ (1 John 5:9) If we can assent to a judicial process that can send another citizen to prison for life based on coherent sworn testimonies about their previous misdeeds, then by that standard, God’s testimony of Jesus as the Messiah has an even greater corroboration.

        Any account of the gospel involves the re-telling of eye-witness accounts of the life, death, resurrection and continuing ministry of Jesus. Beyond Christ himself, no testimony could have greater weight than the apostolic witness. They, and the prophets provided the foundational testimony in prediction and witness to the fulfilment of the gospel. That apostolic testimony to Jesus being the Messiah is superior to others for four reasons:

        1. Eye-witness evidence, rather than mere hearsay: ‘That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.’ (1 John 1:1)

        2. The fame of Jesus of Nazareth’ unparalelled divine nature had already spread through the region ahead of apostolic preaching: ‘And you know that God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. Then Jesus went around doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.’ (Acts 10:38)

        3. Miraculous divine corroboration: ‘how shall we escape if we ignore so great a salvation? This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him. God also testified to it by signs, wonders and various miracles, and by gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will.’(Heb 2:3)

        4. Blameless post-conversion credibility: ‘We put no stumbling block in anyone’s path, so that our ministry will not be discredited. Rather, as servants of God we commend ourselves in every way: in great endurance; in troubles, hardships and distresses; in beatings, imprisonments and riots; in hard work, sleepless nights and hunger; in purity, understanding, patience and kindness; in the Holy Spirit and in sincere love; in truthful speech and in the power of God; with weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left; 8through glory and dishonor, bad report and good report; genuine, yet regarded as impostors; known, yet regarded as unknown; dying, and yet we live on; beaten, and yet not killed; sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:3 – 10)

        Apostolic succession is not accomplished by an unbroken succession of episcopal rituals, but by the Holy Spirit’s sovereign influence over human history.

        • Thank you for your reply.

          I don’t think there is a choice to be made between any of the ‘rituals’ of the church and the Holy Spirit’s sovereign influence over human history. I surely don’t see an awareness of the dilemma in the statements that our Prayer Book require that we make in God’s presence, anyway.

          • I’m no expert on Hooker, but I don’t remember him saying that. I’m remembering that he argued that Episcopacy was both ancient (believed by the early church to have been received from the apostles.) and scriptural. In contrast the Puritan innovations were unscriptural. He didn’t speak to the bene esse question at all. He did allow that emergency situations in national churches (as occurred on the continent) may create exceptional situations, but that did not deprive the wider church of the apostolic ministry. Or so it seems to me.

            Illiteracy, lack of technology, despotism etc may (and have) deprived people of written scripture. They don’t cease to be the church for it, and the church as a whole hasn’t lost scripture; acknowledging that isn’t a claim that scripture is not radically foundational or necessary. Rather the assumption is that the church that is blessed with scripture must preserve it more carefully, and the church that is without it ought to diligently seek to remedy that want. Just so the apostolic office. That’s my understanding of Hookers position.

            Perhaps, I’m remembering inaccurately.

            When it comes to clarifying the Anglican position, surely the BCP carries as much weight as Wiki. In it we find things like: “It is evident unto all men diligently reading holy Scripture and ancient Authors that from the
            Apostles’ time there have been these Orders of Ministers in Christ’s
            Church; Bishops, Priests, and Deacons…..”

            • Again, the validity of these orders is not in question. Hooker challenged the Puritan view that the episcopacy polity inherently contradicted scripture (which it doesn’t).

              The issue is whether that which is wholly endorsed by the custom and tradition of the church is indispensible to the economy of salvation and the preservation of our faith from error.

              Here’s what Hooker says: ‘On the other side Bishops albeit they may avouch with conformity of truth, that their authority hath thus descended even from the very Apostles themselves, yet the absolute and everlasting continuance of it, they cannot say that any Commandment of the Lord doth injoyn; And therefore must acknowledge that the Church hath power by universal consent upon urgent cause to take it away…’ (Ecclesiastical Polity VII 5.8)

              As Stanley Archer comments in Hooker on Apostolic
              Succession: The Two Voices
              , ‘The office is upheld by custom and tradition, rather than any divine appointment, and as such is alterable for urgent cause. In this, he is consistent with his previously expressed view that the New Testament does not prescribe the details of polity (Pref. 4.4). By appointing the Apostles, Christ in the New Testament appointed men; he did not establish a rank or office. While upholding the historical origins of Apostolic Succession, Hooker nevertheless rejects the inference that episcopacy enjoys divine sanction or unalterable status.’

      • If what you say about baptism is correct, then surely anyone who is baptised comes under the same cover with the apostles as the eunuch?

        • Another thought:
          What about 1 Corinthians 1:10-17?

          Doesn’t that pretty much say that the who is not important, so long as it’s Jesus, particularly when linked to 3:4-5

          • The ‘who’ oughtn’t matter, but this is different from saying the
            ministry doesn’t matter. Doesn’t St. Paul say as much in the passage you
            cite: ‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you
            believed, as the Lord assigned to each.’

            Apollos or Paul is of no
            consequence, what counts is the ministry they perform as the Lord’s
            servants, and God has given different ministries to each of us. Some are
            apostles, some prophets,….

            • A very valid point. While Paul was an ordained apostle, Apollos, an Alexandrian, is described as ‘eloquent (logios) and mighty in the scriptures’.

              Paul had left Ephesus for Caesarea and on to Jerusalem and Antioch. Apollos arrives at Ephesus, and while his synagogue discourse upholds Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, his experience is limited to the baptism of repentance.

              Priscilla and Aquila, who had remained in Ephesus and heard him, were able to provide him with the further insight gained from exposure to St. Paul’s teaching stint in Corinth. He had clearly built his credentials. However, once the church had heard the soundness of his teaching and his intention to expand his teaching mission to Achaia, they encouraged him and offered him letters of recommendation.

              This is a far cry from today’s fairly suppressive regime of discernment (read, exclusion). There are few opportunities for who show gifted oral and written expression to gain full church support to even begin to explore participation in that sort of mission. The apostolic mission described as ‘the ministry of the word’ in Acts has been supplanted by silent ‘waiting on tables’. A fear that any overt moral challenge (apart from support involvement in some ‘green’ cause, or deploring notoriously hideous criminality) will turn people off pervades the CofE.

              Close a local surgery, or underperforming school in the area and we’ll take to the streets with placards and ‘we shall overcome’ chants. Divert tax-payers’ money from the true inter-generational purpose of the marriage privilege to a accolade of romantic accoplishment and there’s hardly a whisper in the public forum beyond the Lord’s Spiritual

        • The ‘who’ oughtn’t matter, but this is different from saying the ministry doesn’t matter. Doesn’t St. Paul say as much in the passage you cite: ‘What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each.’

          Apollos or Paul is of no consequence, what counts is the ministry they perform as the Lord’s servants, and God has given different ministries to each of us. Some are apostles, some prophets,….

        • I’m not sure I understand your point. I’m sorry.

          You use the word ‘covered.’ That makes me think that you
          understand my position in a legal sense: The requirement is covered by X,Y or Z. Perhaps I misunderstand you.

          I don’t see salvation as something that happens ‘inside’ a person. I see salvation as the redemption of the human life in its entirety. As children of the God-Who-Exists-As-Community, humanity is a being of relationships. From the beginning it was not good for man to exist alone, and of course no human came into this world or continued through it on his own. Salvation restores relationships, and takes the form of community.

          So it’s not so much that baptism, scripture, Eucharist, bishops, etc are legal requirements of the gospel that we are wise to check off. Rather, these practices are the shape that salvation takes as our humanity is reshaped according to the gospel of Christ.

          Leaving one out of our communal life is just another way of saying that we are not allowing some aspect of the gospel to find expression in our life. The apostles and Episcopate are the recognition that salvation is always communal; that as St. Paul reminded the Corinthians, none of us is saved alone. An individual Christian wandering self-sufficient and alone in a desert cannot be the fullness of the redemption won by Christ.

          So I do believe that baptism brings you into the church, and
          since I also believe that the function of the apostles is a continuing
          outworking of the gospel, the Episcopate belongs to all Xians- whether they know it or not. The same could be said for Scripture, the Eucharist, etc.

          But though these things are the inheritance of all, many live without a full appreciation for one or the other. In so far as they do that, some aspect of the gospel is left undeclared and unlived. Some aspect of human flourishing, which the gospel brings, is denied- often on principle. That’s a sad thing, and a failure.

          I may be speaking entirely beside your point. If so, forgive me.

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