“Who died and made you….”, insert word into the blank. This is a common challenge someone makes to someone who assumes authority that is not theirs. I remember when I was a kid that sometimes the one being challenged would cite a parent or teacher or some other adult who had indeed given them charge of a situation. Then the accuser would comply or rebel. But if the challenged one had no comeback then it was usually assumed that they do the “walk of shame” away from the school yard taunt.
When I was a young adult I was intrigued by the writings of a man named Gene Edwards. He wrote great Christian historical fiction that still stands up today as worth reading. But he also had some non-fiction books that had a mixed effect on me. One hand, it made me hungry to see the continuity of the Christian people living in the first century continued or restored in the 20th.
But secondly he made me hunger for the snapshot of church we get in the book of Acts as the way to go always and that it was definitely not hierarchical. He saw apostolic authority only as something to be used then and now at a minimum and that most things of consequence were left to the laity. Being you, almost my definition, made me love what he was saying and easily swayed by rhetoric that was against anything perceived as modern day Pharisees.
There was a central verse for this that I pondered on day and night. “They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” (Acts 2:42).
A cornerstone to that list is with the apostles teaching. Surely, if God was going to “restore” Christianity to the purity of the apostolic age then he would need to raise up apostles. But that song and dance has been tried before regarding someone new on the scene with a gift for reformation. It is a long story but I erred in many movements in my Christian life become a man or group of men were considered “on the cutting edge” and raised up “for such a time as this”.
But Sacred Scripture and Sacred Tradition do not indicate this. First, the premise I had was wrong in that since only something evil would make the church drown in error in doctrine and practice then that means Satan in large part got the upper hand. But this would be a contradiction with the words of Jesus when he said, “And so I say to you, you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of the netherworld shall not prevail against it” (Matthew 16:18). Am I making the connection too strong? Logically, I do not see how.
For someone to have a conversion and hold on of Jesus they are first met with the choices that he is Lord, Liar, Lunatic or Legend. For Jesus to be discerned as Lord in ones heart the truths are that he was what he said he was, did what he said he would do and is with us to the end of the age (more on the last one when I write about breaking the bread). If he said he would build a Church that would never fall, but it did, does that not cast doubt that he rose from the dead?
For it to last, there would have to be safeguards based on Jesus and the ongoing revelation by the Holy Spirit. An example is where Paul writes to a Timothy who was a bishop under him but meant for others in the church to overhear since at the end of the letter he says, “Grace to you” using the plural form. “And what you heard from me through many witnesses entrust to faithful people who will have the ability to teach others as well” (2 Timothy 2:2). Right there is a trust of Sacred Tradition to be passed on at least to a fourth generation. Now are these just nice sayings? We can look at Paul earlier in his ministry on this. “Therefore, brothers, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught, either by an oral statement or by a letter of ours” (2 Thessalonians 2:15). “Stand firm” is more serious than a handed down recipe.
But not just anyone can carry that weight. “Do not lay hands too readily on anyone, and do not share in another’s sins. Keep yourself pure” (1 Timothy 5:22).
But can this be passed on with good intentions to the empowerment over all people like Americans think of “We The People”? Not so easily. “For this reason, I remind you to stir into flame the gift of God that you have through the imposition of my hands” (2 Timothy 1:6). This lends to the doctrine of Holy Orders and apostolic succession. This is a sacrament that part of the guarding of the deposit of faith and its access. For instance we see it next to the sacrament of baptism which is the baton of salvation in the adding to the number of the church. Both belong side by side.
Therefore, let us leave behind the basic teaching about Christ and advance to maturity, without laying the foundation all over again: repentance from dead works and faith in God, instruction about baptisms and laying on of hands, resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. And we shall do this, if only God permits. (Hebrews 6:1-3).
This is the skeleton of the Church of Jesus Christ as indicated by Scripture and Tradition. With the truths above she survives. But with the truths below she thrives.
So then you are no longer strangers and sojourners, but you are fellow citizens with the holy ones and members of the household of God, built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the capstone. Through him the whole structure is held together and grows into a temple sacred in the Lord; in him you also are being built together into a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19-21)
So is this “teaching of the apostles” still ongoing? If one reveres the Bible then to be consistent it begs reverence for apostolic authority until at least the 4th century when it was codified. Objectively speaking, what has been outlined above points to a church that has had a laying of hands, never passed away, never ceased teaching the same doctrines of the early church and definitely has current the Holy Orders. Long story short, that leaves us with the Coptic, Orthodox or Catholic Church. I would posit that this deposit of faith rests in its fulness in the Catholic Church. How it is the Catholic Church and not the others will be explained later.
The Fathers Know Best by Jimmy Akin
Crossing The Tiber by Stephen Ray