A few months back I had a lunch with a friend, who is a part of the Orthodox Church. We talked about many things, but as we always do we ended up settling on the topic of Authority. Since Jesus' ascension, where does our authority come from? We have the Scriptures, which all Christians agree are God's own Words and carry His authority...but who is authorized to interpret them?
I was reminded of this talk recently, when I came across a story about the United Church of Canada--which is a far cry from a conservative viewpoint to begin with--which is trying to decide what to do with an outspokenly atheist minister. They have cut themselves from both the Scripture AND any kind of tradition, so to what authority do they turn in making decisions?
The question of authority is a key one, for any Christian.
In the end, it comes down to this question: Does authority as a minister of the Gospel originate due to a continuous line of succession back to the Apostles, or does it originate due to the indwelling of the Holy Spirit for the believer?
The Roman Catholic Church and Orthodox Churches all accept apostolic succession, and each argues that they are the 'true' church derived from the Apostles' teachings. Protestant Churches, in contrast, argue that it originates from the Scriptures and Holy Spirit and not from apostolic succession, a stance generally referred to as sola scriptura. Between the two stand the Methodists and Anglicans, who hold a position which I will refer to as prima scriptura.
This is an important topic which we need to address. It goes without saying that we should be following proper leadership in our churches; indeed, Jesus was insistent that we be on the lookout and ensure our shepherds are proper shepherds of God (Matt 7:15). So we will tackle this topic in a series of posts in the coming days and weeks:
Authority, Part I: Introduction - this post, defining the problem
Authority, Part II: Defining the Claims - what is meant by apostolic succession, sola scriptura, and prima scriptura?
Authority, Part III: Testing the Claims with the Early Church Fathers - if we read the early church fathers, how do they refer to authority...succession, sola scriptura, or prima scriptura?
Authority, Part IV: Testing the Claims with History - let us examine the succession lists of Orthodoxy, Catholicism, and Anglicanism to ensure that there is an unbroken line
Authority, Part V: Conclusions - what can we draw from this?