Ministerial / Apostolic Succession in the Presbyterian Tradition

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Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
I have been reading Jus Divinum Regiminis Ecclesiastici, a 1646 defense of Presbyterianism authored by a collection of London ministers 1646. Among other things, the book responds to a critique by the Independent party that a Presbyterian view required historic ministerial succession going to back the Apostles, which the Presbyterians did not have. (Presbyterianism implies historic succession because actual authority for ministry can only be transferred from previously ordained ministers and if you work back long enough, you will see that this must end in the calls of Christ to the apostles).

The most interesting thing was the Presbyterian response. They essentially agreed that historic succession was necessary for legitimate ministerial authority and simply argued that ordinations through the English Church can be traced back to the apostles. Roman corruption did not void Rome's ordinations until after Trent. This historic ministerial succession gave Presbyterians valid ordinations and Presbyterian ministers coming out that church did not need reordination.

It seems many Presbyterians today deny the need for this kind of succession. If so, then their view really seems to be a mutated form of independency. This is because if there is no succession of transfer of authority by laying on of hands, then the power to ordain must rest somewhere else, which would be presumably the people (even if it is coopted at some point by the presbytery and only elders come to ordain, the original jurisdiction lies somewhere outside of the historic succession).


Any thoughts?

Scott

[Edited on 3-3-2005 by Scott]
 

kevin.carroll

Puritan Board Junior
Good question!

Hi, Scott.

I was actually just musing over this very subject recently although I am a little fearful to reply since I have not studied it too deeply.

It seems like the earliest notions of Apostolic Succession trace back to the 2nd Century only then the idea was not so much as inheriting Apostolic authority as it was continuing in Apostolic teaching as evidence by being able to trace ordination back to the Apostles. As the years waned on, though, and the Church became more sacerdotal, the issue became more one of authority.

I think the whole idea of succession smacks a little too much of Catholicism with it's attendant view of the priesthood as a superior spiritual class.

The BCO says that ecclesiastical authority is ministerial and declarative and I think that provides a helpful insight here. Spiritual authority is vested in the church. The church recognizes and declares gifted those men who are called to ministry and sets them apart to labor in the Word and administer the Sacraments.

Seems to me, if it is the other way around we stand on a slippery slope.

Mind you, these are very superficial musings, fraught, I am sure, with logical holes. But, hey, you asked for thoughts. :)
 

AdamM

Puritan Board Freshman
The most interesting thing was the Presbyterian response. They essentially agreed that historic succession was necessary for legitimate ministerial authority and simply argued that ordinations through the English Church can be traced back to the apostles. Roman corruption did not void Rome's ordinations until after Trent. This historic ministerial succession gave Presbyterians valid ordinations and Presbyterian ministers coming out that church did not need reordination.

All well and good except for the fact that the English Church split with Rome in 1530 and the Council of Trent did not start meeting until 1545 (1545 through 1563.) So presumably when the English Church split from Rome in 1530 (pre-Trent,) so that King Henry the 8th (the "Defender of the Faith") could get his divorce, it (the English Church) became schismatic and thereafter did not have the authority to do valid ordinations?

[Edited on 3-3-2005 by AdamM]
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by AdamM
The most interesting thing was the Presbyterian response. They essentially agreed that historic succession was necessary for legitimate ministerial authority and simply argued that ordinations through the English Church can be traced back to the apostles. Roman corruption did not void Rome's ordinations until after Trent. This historic ministerial succession gave Presbyterians valid ordinations and Presbyterian ministers coming out that church did not need reordination.

All well and good except for the fact that the English Church split with Rome in 1530 and the Council of Trent did not start meeting until 1545 (1545 through 1563.) So presumably when the English Church split from Rome in 1530 (pre-Trent,) so that King Henry the 8th (the "Defender of the Faith") could get his divorce, it (the English Church) became schismatic and thereafter did not have the authority to do valid ordinations?

[Edited on 3-3-2005 by AdamM]

The same could be said for Scotland too. Then you have the problem of the schisms between presbyterians since then. It's a slippery slope.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Other Reformers took an approach similar to the Presybterian ministers. Calvin's heir, Francis Turretin, wrote this defense of the Calls of the First Reformers:
http://www.apuritansmind.com/FrancisTurretin/francisturretincallingreformers.htm

Roman controversialists were accusing the Reformers of having fake calls. Turretin does not say historic succession does not matter. Rather, he says that the calls of the first reformers are valid on one of two grounds. First, ordination in Rome. Or second, they were justified by extreme emergency. Their successors had to be ordained in the existing, established church.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
All well and good except for the fact that the English Church split with Rome in 1530 and the Council of Trent did not start meeting until 1545 (1545 through 1563.) So presumably when the English Church split from Rome in 1530 (pre-Trent,) so that King Henry the 8th (the "Defender of the Faith") could get his divorce, it (the English Church) became schismatic and thereafter did not have the authority to do valid ordinations?

No, I don't think anyone understood things that way. The power to ordain is transferred by the laying on of hands. Subsequent schism, even in error, does not divest one of that power. The power to ordain does not rest in communion with Rome or even in continued communion with other branches of the visible church. It is transferred by a laying on of hands and can only be lost with complete apostacy (for example, the Reformers held that Rome lost the power to ordain with the passage of Trent), not simple schism or sin.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
The same could be said for Scotland too. Then you have the problem of the schisms between presbyterians since then. It's a slippery slope.

Agreed. I think the presence of schism, especially on the massive scale we have seen, clouds the issue quite a bit. That does not diminish the importance of the issue. If the Reformed position was that legitimacy was tied in part to historic succession, and we no longer have that, then that raises several issues.

[1] Were the Reformers correct? If not, perhaps Presbyterianism should be aboandoned and Independency adopted. (I don't agree with this and think indepdency is serious error, but I am just offering for consideration).

[2] If the Rerformers were correct in requiring historic succession, are the ordinations of modern Reformed ministers lawful and valid (or have they somehow been lost through schism)? If they are not valid, we should not seek the sacraments or the preaching of the Word in Reformed churches. We would perhaps have to go the Anglican churches (which the Reformers acknowledged as having succession).
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Originally posted by Scott
The same could be said for Scotland too. Then you have the problem of the schisms between presbyterians since then. It's a slippery slope.

Agreed. I think the presence of schism, especially on the massive scale we have seen, clouds the issue quite a bit. That does not diminish the importance of the issue. If the Reformed position was that legitimacy was tied in part to historic succession, and we no longer have that, then that raises several issues.

[1] Were the Reformers correct? If not, perhaps Presbyterianism should be aboandoned and Independency adopted. (I don't agree with this and think indepdency is serious error, but I am just offering for consideration).

[2] If the Rerformers were correct in requiring historic succession, are the ordinations of modern Reformed ministers lawful and valid (or have they somehow been lost through schism)? If they are not valid, we should not seek the sacraments or the preaching of the Word in Reformed churches. We would perhaps have to go the Anglican churches (which the Reformers acknowledged as having succession).

:Ditto: My wife and I spoke of this last night over dinner..........
 

DTK

Puritan Board Junior
Originally posted by Scott
It seems many Presbyterians today deny the need for this kind of succession. If so, then their view really seems to be a mutated form of independency. This is because if there is no succession of transfer of authority by laying on of hands, then the power to ordain must rest somewhere else, which would be presumably the people (even if it is coopted at some point by the presbytery and only elders come to ordain, the original jurisdiction lies somewhere outside of the historic succession).


Any thoughts?

Scott

[Edited on 3-3-2005 by Scott]
As far as we know, Calvin never received any formal ceremonial ordination. Notwithstanding what you go on to argue below in terms of an emergency situation, does that make him guilty of a "mutated form of independency?" We know of "no succession of transfer of authority by laying on of hands" for him. See James L. Ainslie, The Doctrines of Ministerial Order in the Reformed Churches of the 16th and 17th Centuries (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1940), pp.163ff.

If you hold to this strictly, I don't see how you can free Calvin of this charge.

Blessings,
DTK
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
"I think the whole idea of succession smacks a little too much of Catholicism with it's attendant view of the priesthood as a superior spiritual class."

I don't think so. The succession Reformers talk about is ministerial succession, which simply means that elders ordain elders. Romanists teach succession through bishops only. This is quote a bit different.

In any event, the position of the Reformers seems to be implicit in the structure of the church in the New Testament. Christ authorized the apostles to be his ministers. The apostles in turn ordained elders and other church officers. Someone who was outside of this process did not have actual authority.

I will use an analogy. The relation of God to the visible church (his kingdom) is analogous to the relation of a human King to his kingdom. In a kingdom, only the king has the ultimate right to create public offices and to appoint people to those offices. The authority in a kingdom is like a pyramid, which the king alone at the top point. He can create whatever offices he sees fit and can appoint whomever he sees fit. He can create dukedoms and appoint specific people as dukes. He can create earldoms and appoint specific people as earls. He can even install and remove local sheriffs if he desires. A person who took an office upon himself without royal approval would be a usurper. He would be a fraud without legitimate authority.

Officeholders in God´s kingdom need His authorization as well. We see an example of this in Hebrews 5:1, 4, which is a passage Reformers often quoted against Independents and Anabaptists: "œEvery high priest is selected from among men and is appointed to represent them in matters related to God, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. . . No one takes this honor upon himself; he must be called by God, just as Aaron was." The office of high priest was one of the offices God created. Nobody was allowed to take the honor of the office without God´s call. He needed God´s approval.

The king can give his approval to an officeholder in two ways. The first way is that he can personally appoint that person to office. This is how God appointed Gideon, for example. God´s direct appointment of a person to office is called an immediate, extraordinary, or special call. A king can also indirectly appoint people by delegating authority to a person or process. For example, he could tell a regional governor that the governor can appoint anyone he wants. Or, the king could simply set up a process, such as regular elections, if he so wished. People appointed by either method are legitimate because their authority derives from the king. When God appoints people in one of these indirect ways, it is called a mediate or ordinary call.

If Reformed minister are to be real ministers with real authority, they must be lawfully called through a means authorized by God. In terms of ordination in the Church we see that it is done by the laying on of hands of the presbytery. See Acts 6:6 (remember the apostles were all elders as well - see 1 Peter 5:1, 2 John 1:1, 3 John 1:1. Other passages expressly state that appointment, or ordination, was by the eldership or presbytery. See Titus 1:5; 1 Tim. 4:14.

If someone were not ordained in a line tracing back to this, what is their source of external call from God? The Independent answer would likely be that Christ invested
this right in groups that affiliate together. But that is anathema to the Reformed and Presbyterian understanding.

Scott
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
"If you hold to this strictly, I don't see how you can free Calvin of this charge."

Wouldn't Calvin's and the calls of other reformers fit Turretin's exception for extreme emergency (check out the link to Turretin I posted above)? I would be surprised if Calvin's heir, Turretin, took a position that invalidated Calvin.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
"itto: My wife and I spoke of this last night over dinner.........."

Did you guys come to any conclusions?
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Ironic that I placed this quote earlier:

"Could it be that we are so bent on having immediate, measurable results that we have defined the gospel and evangelism in a way that enables people to understand and respond even without spiritual comprehension and heart change? I fear this is largely why we are so weak as a church. The very foundations have been laid wrongly." Piper, The Pleasures of God (Portland, Oregon, Multnomah Press), p. 289.

(tongue placed firmly in cheek) Could Camping be right? How could one ever find the consistant thread of succesion?
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Originally posted by Scott
"itto: My wife and I spoke of this last night over dinner.........."

Did you guys come to any conclusions?

I am afraid to even ponder the implications........
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
If it's just a matter of "laying on of hands" rather than denominational polity, then the modern Reformed churches don't have anything to worry about, though they still need to explain how multiple denominations with the same confession can legitimately co-exist without uniting.
 

Scott Bushey

Puritanboard Commissioner
Originally posted by puritansailor
If it's just a matter of "laying on of hands" rather than denominational polity, then the modern Reformed churches don't have anything to worry about, though they still need to explain how multiple denominations with the same confession can legitimately co-exist without uniting.

Patrick,
Following the vein of what has been stated, does it not depend upon what hands are being utilized. If the hands are severed from the proper succesion, would they not then be illicit and the ordination also illicit?
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
"If it's just a matter of "laying on of hands" rather than denominational polity, then the modern Reformed churches don't have anything to worry about, though they still need to explain how multiple denominations with the same confession can legitimately co-exist without uniting."

You are so right on this.
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by Scott Bushey
Originally posted by puritansailor
If it's just a matter of "laying on of hands" rather than denominational polity, then the modern Reformed churches don't have anything to worry about, though they still need to explain how multiple denominations with the same confession can legitimately co-exist without uniting.

Patrick,
Following the vein of what has been stated, does it not depend upon what hands are being utilized. If the hands are severed from the proper succesion, would they not then be illicit and the ordination also illicit?

Severed in whose eyes? Our's or God's? The Spirit is definitely working among those churches with "illicit" ordinations who yet still proclaim the gospel faithfully. You will notice the WCF doesn't define the "visible church" as the Church of England. This ultimately, to me, should cause us to broaden our horizons regarding who we consider ordained or not. It is God's church, not ours. If the "laying on of hands" by other ordained hands is what makes it a true ordination, then there have been far less illicit ordinations, though you will have to accept that God's church is larger than any one denomination. Congregationalists were ordained with the laying on of hands as well as Baptists. They could trace there "laying on of hands" historically back to England, and thus to Rome as well.

[Edited on 3-3-2005 by puritansailor]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
" If the "laying on of hands" by other ordained hands is what makes it a true ordination, then there have been far less illicit ordinations, though you will have to accept that God's church is larger than any one denomination. Congregationalists were ordained with the laying on of hands as well as Baptists. They could trace there "laying on of hands" historically back to England, and thus to Rome as well."

Patrick: I don't think that anyone is saying that only one denomination is right. I would also be interested in how the Reformers treated congregationalists that had their pastors ordained by other ordained elders. If anything, I would be glad that licit ordinations are broad. And, I think that broadly speaking many denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican), not just reformed, will have lawful ordinations.

Also, I don't think that anyone is saying that God does not work in communities with illicit pastors. Jesus used someone outside the covenant, a Samaritan, as an example of moral piety to be imitated. Further, we have this passage about those who act in Jesus' name but are outside the apostolic community:

38"œTeacher," said John, "œwe saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us."
39"œDo not stop him," Jesus said. "œNo one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, 40for whoever is not against us is for us. 41I tell you the truth, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to Christ will certainly not lose his reward.

This is an affirmation of their activity. But that does not mean that they are licitly ordained or have the lawful power of Christ. It is sort of like a Bible study, or BSF, or something, can be useful and yet not be a "church."
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
A couple of questions for those who do not see the transfer of authority through succession as important.

[1] Is there even a such thing as being called to ministry or, b/c of the priesthood of the believers, are all equal?

[2] Assuming there are really ministers, what is necessary for being validly ordained? I.e., through whom or what does God issue calls to ministry today?

[3] What are the consequences of someone taking a position a ministry unlawfully (i.e. he usurps the postion)?
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by Scott

Patrick: I don't think that anyone is saying that only one denomination is right. I would also be interested in how the Reformers treated congregationalists that had their pastors ordained by other ordained elders. If anything, I would be glad that licit ordinations are broad. And, I think that broadly speaking many denominations (Lutheran, Methodist, Anglican), not just reformed, will have lawful ordinations.

But all those denominations have had their own schisms, even anglicans. You may not want to conclude there is only one true denomination, but that's where this thinking is going. How am I to know that the OPC has a legitimate ordination? When I'm ordained by them in a few years will I be legitimate in God's eyes even though the denomination is "schismatic" from the PCUSA? Or should I wait for some study committee findings to ease my conscience regarding my legitimacy? Surely you must allow for the continuance of Christ's church and a legitimate gospel ministry regardless of the denominational chaos we see today. In my estimation, our polity mess in the visible church would allow for the "emergency clause" since there really are no clear descendents today.
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
I don't see this leading to a single denomination situation. You are assuming that schism invalidates ordinations. I don't think that anyone holds this. Are you saying that the actual authority lawfully transferred is divested or made void by schism?

I do get your point about denominational chaos. Perhaps the New Testament sets forth a standard that can only be applied in certain settings. Sort of like the Jews being faced with how to worship God according to the Mosaic Law with the temple being destroyed. The Mosaic Law regarding temple worship could only make sense in the context of an existing temple.

Still, it is interesting that the broad majority of Christendom do clearly have historic apostolic succession. If you combine Roman Catholics (half of the Christian world), Eastern Orthodox (11 percent), and Anglicanism (I think Anglicans are around 3 percent of the Christian world), those who don't have succession are about 1/3 if you are going to say that Protestant denominations like presbyterians do not have any kind of succession.

If the Presbyterians and other Reformers all agreed that historic succession of some sort was necessary for authentic ministry and one believes that it is gone, perhaps that should cause one to question Protestantism, as a fundamental plank has been voided and by Protestant and Reformed standards the Protestant and Reformed churches of today are unauthorized fakes.

Just thoughts. But these are important issues. BTW, I don't think the Protestant world has reached that point. I see those denominations that can trace their succession through the Reformation as real (and there are many such denominations). But for those who don't, I think this is a problem of whether you are really part of a real church or just an elaborate bible study. As Luther would say, without the authentic ministry you are just "playing church."

Scott

[Edited on 3-3-2005 by Scott]
 

Scott

Puritan Board Graduate
Patrick: Do you think that someone can just take a call upon himself (which would seem to contradict the principles expressed in Heb 5:1-4) due to the chaos? If not, what is required for valid ordination? Approval of the people (essentially an independent argument)? I am confident that since you are a cessasionist you do not require extraordinary calls (direct, special revelation from God).
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by Scott
I don't see this leading to a single denomination situation. You are assuming that schism invalidates ordinations. I don't think that anyone holds this. Are you saying that the actual authority lawfully transferred is divested or made void by schism?
Not at all. But that seems to be what you, or at least Scott Bushey, are saying. If an ordained minister forms a schism, can he still legitimately ordain other ministers? If all that matter is the "laying on of hands" then I don't see a big dilemma for most Protestants. But if his ordination is lost by the schism, then there really can be no true protestant ordination anymore.


I do get your point about denominational chaos. Perhaps the New Testament sets forth a standard that can only be applied in certain settings. Sort of like the Jews being faced with how to worship God according to the Mosaic Law with the temple being destroyed. The Mosaic Law regarding temple worship could only make sense in the context of an existing temple.

Still, it is interesting that the broad majority of Christendom do clearly have historic apostolic succession. If you combine Roman Catholics (half of the Christian world), Eastern Orthodox (hundreds of millions), and Anglicanism (I think Anglicans are around 13 percent of the Christian world), those who don't have succession are pretty small (does anyone know the stats - would it be around 20 percent or so). So being in the mess may be partly due to choosing to enter the mess.
And isn't it interesting that all those groups (and we could throw in the mainline denominations too) have apostacized? They are schismatic to the utmost because they have rejected the gospel. regardless of whether they can trace their ordination back to the Apostles, they have abandon the Apostle's teaching. What is more important, the teaching or the ordination? It would be nice to have both, but we are fast heading toward a time when we may only have one or the other, if you consider physical apostolic succession important. But what of their "spiritual" successors?

If the Presbyterians and other Reformers all agreed that historic succession of some sort was necessary for authentic ministry and one believes that it is gone, perhaps that should cause one to question Protestantism, as a fundamental plank has been voided and by Protestant and Reformed standards the Protestant and Reformed churches of today are unauthorized fakes.
Perhaps this is one way the devil wishes to destroy the legitimacy of the gospel, by discounting it's origin, and banishing the message to a group of schismatics compared to the rest of the professing Christian Church.
As Luther would say, without the authentic ministry you are just "playing church."
As long as God plays too, then I'm not gonna worry about it.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Not at all. But that seems to be what you, or at least Scott Bushey, are saying. If an ordained minister forms a schism, can he still legitimately ordain other ministers? If all that matter is the "laying on of hands" then I don't see a big dilemma for most Protestants. But if his ordination is lost by the schism, then there really can be no true protestant ordination anymore.

Patrick, how would this work in the OPC?

For example - Pastor Harry, ordained 10 years ago, decides he wants to become a Methodist. Does he retain his ordination in the OPC or does he have to be reordained? How would that play into the problem?
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
Originally posted by Scott
Patrick: Do you think that someone can just take a call upon himself (which would seem to contradict the principles expressed in Heb 5:1-4) due to the chaos? If not, what is required for valid ordination? Approval of the people (essentially an independent argument)? I am confident that since you are a cessasionist you do not require extraordinary calls (direct, special revelation from God).

I don't believe you can take it on yourself. I do believe in the ordination by other elders and the confirmation of the call in the church. That is not the issue, at least for me. If what you are saying is true, then there is no way for me to get legitimately ordained unless I go back to Rome, or Greece, or perhaps London, all havens of apostacy and/or heresy. That is why I think the definitons put forth thus far from you and Matt are too restrictive and unrealistic, especially in light of the work of the Spirit in our days. Apparently it doesn't matter to Him that most churches faithful to the gospel today don't have a legitimate physical succession from the apostles.
 

C. Matthew McMahon

Christian Preacher
Not at all. But that seems to be what you, or at least Scott Bushey, are saying. If an ordained minister forms a schism, can he still legitimately ordain other ministers? If all that matter is the "laying on of hands" then I don't see a big dilemma for most Protestants. But if his ordination is lost by the schism, then there really can be no true protestant ordination anymore.

Patrick, how would this work in the OPC?

For example - Pastor Harry, ordained 10 years ago, decides he wants to become a Methodist. Does he retain his ordination in the OPC or does he have to be reordained? How would that play into the problem?
 

Puritan Sailor

Puritan Board Doctor
I'll have to dig up my OPC BCO and see, which I can't find right now. I'm not sure about that case. But either way, if the OPC is "schismatic" and the PCA in similar fashion, then it wouldn't matter because they were never legitimately ordained in the first place.

[Edited on 3-4-2005 by puritansailor]
 

Peter

Puritan Board Junior
Patrick, schism is sin however it in no way invalidates ordination. No one has said that.
 
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