Sunday, March 14, 2010

Lutheranism and Apostolic Succession.

In the ELCA, a group of thinkers led by Robert Jenson (often called "Evangelical Catholics) fetishize the concept of apostolic succession.  They claim that the Lutheran Church in general and the ELCA in particular has never been able to "enforce" (interesting word choice!) the gospel.  If we were to have Bishops who could trace themselves back to the Apostles, well, then, all those radical Feminists and Gay-activists would just throw up their hands and say "well, Bishop "so and so" says that this is against the Scriptures.  So I guess we should just listen and stop our heresy."

Now, you can see that I find this idea silly and naive.  Not only that, but it gets the idea of of the gospel and the ministry of the Church wrong.  They talk about "enforcing" the gospel, which is supposed to do nothing but produce freedom.  Of course, there is the exercise of the keys and the right to reject heresy (both functions of the pastoral office as the Augustana notes), but this is something very, very different.  The exercise of the keys and the rejection of heresy by those who exercise the pastoral office is aimed a driving people to the liberation of the gospel, not imposing a new law on them, which the so-called Evangelical Catholic appear interested in.  There is, of course, the other major problem that the idea that most of the Bishops in the RC, EO or AC can really trace themselves back to the apostles is pure fantasy.

Nevertheless, I think that I would suggest that some sort of apostolic succession is necessarily part of the Lutheran ecclesiology.  

Allow me to suggest how.

If we assume that the people of God are the ones who validly call a person to exercise the pastoral office, then there must a have been a person prior to them exercising the pastoral office.  Otherwise, there would be no congregation, since conversion and gathering of the people of God depends on activity of the Word and there clearly needs to be someone to preach that Word.  Now if that is the case, you can logically move back generation after generation to through the back and forth of the people of God being called and in turn calling a pastor until you reach back to the apostles.  In this sense, apostolic succession is valid and necessary, in that the preaching of the Word is exercised through an office and that office depends on a definite call.  This differentiates the Lutheran concept from the enthusiastic concept one finds in Catholicism, wherein their is a special charisma passed down through the laying on of hands. 

Most important, of course, is the fact that the apostolic Word is present to create the people of God who will then call the pastor.  The supreme apostolic succession is therefore correctly the understood as the succession of the apostolic Word, which creates real faith. 

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