Marvin L. Weir
The word “succession” denotes the assumption of a position or title and the inherent right to hold such a position or title or the order by which they are received. The Roman Catholic church claims to be the only legitimate church because of its conviction in the so-called unbroken episcopal succession that supposedly has descended from the apostle Peter to present time. According to the Catholics (it surely does not come from the Bible), the apostles designated their successors as bishops and bishops today designate their successors in the same way. This convenient Catholic doctrine thus keeps alive the continuous transmission of powers that were conferred by Christ to His apostles to those within the Catholic church.
Implicit in the doctrine of apostolic succession is the understanding that the church has the power, right and duty to establish matters pertaining to doctrine and morality. Catholics are persuaded that such teaching by the church is guaranteed to be accurate because of the Holy Spirit’s presence in the church. Some refer to this as “the living voice of the church.” Thus, it is the church instead of the Word of God that Catholics appeal to for authority.
In principle, Protestant denominations are guilty of the same error in that they believe the church has the right to change her doctrines from one year to the next. These churches have their annual conventions where certain representatives vote on deleting one creed and adding another. Then the announcement is made that this is the church’s new policy and position on certain matters.
The Word of God Does Not Come From the Church
Catholics are convinced that the church does not come from the Holy Scriptures but that the Scriptures come from the church. Protestants may claim to not believe such a doctrine but they prove otherwise by rejecting the inspired Word of God and abiding by the churches’ man-made creed.
God told Moses, “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brethren, like unto thee; and I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak unto them all that I shall command him” (Deut. 18:18). This was the Christ who would say, “…Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). The apostle Paul said the things he wrote were “the commandment of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37)—not the commandment of the church! God speaks to us today through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2) and God’s Word is true (John 17:17). The apostles recorded the words of Christ so that we today might have completed revelation (1 Cor. 2:12, 13; 14:37). The Holy Scriptures are God breathed (2 Tim. 3:16-17) and furnish us with all truth (2 Pet. 1:3; Jude 3). It is not the church but the Word of Christ that will judge one in that day (John 12:48). “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today, yea and for ever” (Heb. 13:8) and His Word will never pass away (Matt. 24:35). Churches change beliefs and practices based solely upon the whims and wishes of men, and this is precisely why so many demand that authority be found in the church!
The Church is Perpetuated Through Seed
The seed to be sown is not the church but the Word of God (Luke 8:11). An eternal principle is that seed produces after its own kind. One does not plant a watermelon seed and expect to harvest tomatoes nor does one plant a squash seed and expect it to yield okra. The seed (Word of God) sown in its purity will produce only Christians—the church of Christ. It is Christ’s church because He is her Head (Eph. 1:22-23), and He purchased her with His blood (Acts 20:28).
The seed that produced the Lord’s church in the book of Acts is the seed that must be sown to produce His church today. In Acts 4:4, “many of them that heard the word believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.” A little later it is recorded that “the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith.” One next learns that “Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and proclaimed unto them the Christ” (Acts 8:5). It is then made clear that “when they believed Philip preaching good tidings concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women” (Acts 8:12) [emphasis MLW ]. It is obvious that the above words that are emphasized all refer the same thing—preaching the gospel (cf. 1 Cor. 15:1-4). There is only one gospel (Gal. 1:6-8), and it is the only power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16).
In the book of Acts, the same gospel was preached with the same terms of admission to those who became Christians. On Pentecost, those “that received his word were baptized: and there were added unto them in that day about three thousand souls” (Acts 2:41). One will note that it is not man but the Lord who does the “adding” (Acts 2:47). Philip preached Jesus to the eunuch who believed what he was taught and understood that he needed to be baptized into Christ (Acts 8:35-39). Peter preached the word to Cornelius and some of his friends and relatives, and they believed and were baptized into Christ Jesus (Acts 10:34-48). Paul and Silas spoke the word to the Philppian jailer, and he and his household believed and were baptized into Christ (Acts 16:32-35). Paul taught God’s word to a group of women, and Lydia and her household believed and were baptized into Christ (Acts 16:13-15). Saul of Tarsus did not have his sins remitted until he was baptized into Christ (Acts 22:16).
It should be pointed out that baptism is only the consummating act of gospel obedience. When an honest heart comes into contact with the seed (Word of God or Gospel) that heart will believe and obey. The gospel plan of salvation has always required that one hear (Rom. 10:14 ), believe (Heb. 11:6), repent (Luke 13:3), confess (Rom. 10:9-10), and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:37-38; Mark 16:16; Gal. 3:27). When one genuinely obeys the gospel the Lord adds that one to His church (cf. Acts 2:47).
The Lord’s church does not exist because of “church succession,” but it is perpetuated through the unadulterated seed of the kingdom—the Word of God (Luke 8:11). Please remember that this seed will always produce the same thing—Christians (Acts 11:26;26:28; 1 Pet. 4:16) who comprise the body of Christ or the Lord’s church.