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CSC: WELS Topical Q&A: Definition of Church and Ministry Apostolic Sucession

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Q:The paragraphs below from Clement of Rome (Clement’s First Letter, 42, 44) I understand are cited in footnote 374 under the title “The bishops—successors of the apostles,” paragraph 861, in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I understand that Holy Scripture is the final rule and norm for what we believe, teach and confess about the Christian faith including the doctrine of the Holy Ministry. That we must distinguish between what has been divinely instituted and what is of human tradition. I Understand that Clement’s writings from Chap 42 and 44 are not Scripture, but they were early tradition of what was taught and practiced in some places in the early church. That according to Lutheran Theology and holy scripture, the pastoral office was instituted by God, that it has been divinely instituted so to speak, that congregations are to call a pastor, and that this call comes from God, and that the members of the congregation are to give respect and honor to this office, and to the Pastor who has been called into this office by God through the congregation. I personally find what Clement writes here generally consistent with Lutheran teaching if my understanding is correct. Is my understanding right and is it reasonable to conclude that the teaching of “historic succession,” i. e., that all pastors must be ordained by someone who has been ordained by someone who has been ordained…, etc. by the Apostles, to be a God pleasing practice, in other words fine apostolic custom, but that it still is not divinely mandated in Holy Scripture and therefore is not a doctrine? How Do lutheran view chap 42 and 44 from Clements writing and how are we to view the idea of Apostolic Succession?


The teaching of "historic succession" is not simply that all pastors should be ordained by someone who has been ordained.  In its strict form it is that all pastors must be ordained by an approved line of bishops who can trace their lineage back the apostles.  Since the first ordained Lutheran pastors were ordained by pastors who had been ordained in the Roman Catholic church and so on through the generations, we could claim historic succession as plausibly as can Roman Catholic priests if it simply were dependent on being ordained in a line of pastors.  But for the historic succession to be considered legitimate by Rome or the Othodox or Anglicans it must be mediated through the correct bishops. Rome does not recognize as legitimate even the ordinations done by bishops in historic succcession as in the Church of Sweden and the Church of England.  Only through bishops connected to the pope is the historic succession legitimate in their eyes.  There are a number of major problems with this view.

There is no evidence the popes have historic succession to Peter other than their own claim that it is so.

The bishops claiming succession have not preserved apostolic doctrine, therefore they have no meaningful apostolic succession.

There is no evidence that the apostles were ordained by laying on of hands when they entered their office.

There is no evidence in Scripture that the office must be conveyed by laying on of hands and no command that it must be by a special class of bishops.

It is our custom that ordination of pastors is by other pastors.  Neither Scripture nor the confessions make this the only  divinely mandated way of entering the pastoral ministry. It is the call of the church that is the essential element, more specifically, the call of Christ through the church.

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