A Catechism on the Government and Discipline of the Presbyterian Church (1849) Continued...
NOTE: I have changed the Bible quotations to ESV throughout and noted where this differs substantially from the KJV. I have also adopted British spelling rather than the American English of the original
At this point in his catechism the author moves from giving the full text of Scripture to merely citing the reference.
THE SUCCESSION OF MINISTERS, AND THE NOTION OF APOSTOLICAL SUCCESSION.
Q.1. Had the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ any successors in their office?
Answer. They had : not however as apostles, for none could be an apostle except such as had seen the Lord,—but as ministers, in preaching the word and administering the Sacraments, and taking the oversight. 2 Tim. 3:2, Acts. 14:23
Q. 2. As distinct from Deacons, what are these spiritual office-bearers called?
A. They are sometimes called Bishops, that is, overseers of the flock — sometimes Presbyters, which means elders. They are elders by station, and overseers by its duties, but they are of one order — not two. Acts 29:17—28,Titus 1:5—7
Q. 3. How were they ordained or set apart to their office?
A. By the laying on of the hands of the Presbytery. 1 Tim. 4: 14 Acts 13: 1
Q. 4. What is the practice of those Churches which unscripturally assert that bishops and presbyters are two separate orders?
A. Their practice is to set apart one class of men by what they call consecration, and another by simple ordination.
Q. 5. Is there any rule or example in the New Testament for these two separate modes of setting apart ministers to their office?
A. There is none.
Q. 6. Is it not of importance that there should be a regular succession of scripturally appointed ministers?
A. Yes ; as a matter of order, it is seemly in the Church of Christ, but not essential to the salvation of souls.
Q. 7. Why is it not essential?
A. Because a broken succession can never frustrate the efficacy of the word of God, and an unbroken succession can never sanctify “the doctrines of devils.”
Q. 8. Who are they that rest all efficacy and salvation on what they call Apostolical Succession—that is, a derivation of their ministerial office through prelate-bishops from the lands of the apostles?
A. The Popish Church, and a large party in the prelatic Churches of England, of Ireland, and in Scotland and America.
Q. 9. Seeing these impute so much to it, can they prove from history that such a thing as unbroken succession exists among them?
A. Their assumption requires this at their hand ; but though they affect to do this, yet they cannot.
Their pretended catalogues are spurious or defective : for, 1st, There is no good evidence that the apostle Peter, from whom they pretend to derive their succession, was bishop of Rome, or that he ever visited that city ; 2d, There is no good evidence as to who were the chief pastors of the church there for the first two or three generations ; and, 3d, There is the clearest evidence which history can afford, that, in subsequent times, the succession was broken in numerous instances, and in innumerable ways. That it is “unbroken” is a popish fable.
Q. 10. Is not such a claim still farther invalidated on protestant grounds?
A. Most certainly it is; for if, as Protestants maintain, the Popish Church has become an apostate church, its office-bearers have plainly lost their Master’s commission, and they cannot impart it to others : or if they can impart it, we must also admit that they can recall it. Now, all Protestant bishops have been repeatedly excommunicated and deposed by the Romish Church ; how then can they claim succession from it? Therefore, if Protestant clergy teach their people that all legitimate authority, necessarily and exclusively accompanies such “succession,” the people are, on this principle, clearly bound to leave them, and return to the authority of Rome, which these clergy, on the one hand, foolishly acknowledge, and, on the other hand, inconsistently disobey.
Q. 11. Is this notion of unbroken succession objected to by us, because we are unable to advance any similar claim?
A. No: but because we regard it as idle and unscriptural. The apostle, when groundless pretensions were to be met, could say, “But whatever anyone else dares to boast of—I am speaking as a fool—I also dare to boast of that. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I.” (2 Cor 11:21, 22). After the same manner, we are allowed to say, if any protestant communions may claim such a succession, the Presbyterian Church may.
Q. 12. How so?
A. Seeing that at the Reformation, her ministers were ordained by Popish Bishops, and seeing that all her ministers are themselves bishops, as before shown ; the likelihood that their succession would be afterwards broken, is less than it is in a church where only one minister, say in five hundred, is acknowledged to be a bishop, with power of transmitting it. In times of confusion it might be lost among Prelate-Bishops, and yet preserved among Presbyter or Parochial Bishops.
Q. 13. But are we to rest or to glory in this?
A. No, certainly : we are to look for proofs that our ministers are sent of God, in other things than in this, which is at best unprofitable and vain.
Q. 14. What evils arise from the assertion, by Protestant clergy, that “unbroken succession” is necessary to salvation, and from their assumption of the claim?
A. Great evils are apt to arise. It goes to unchurch themselves ; because when what they assume and pronounce to be necessary to constitute a church, is historically disproved, they by consequence pronounce themselves excluded from the ministry, and their people from salvation.
It tends to exalt the authority of man above that of God ; tradition above scripture ; points that are indifferent above truths that are essential. It fosters pride among the clergy, and exasperates differences among Protestants. It strengthens Popery, because it concedes one of its most arrogant demands ; and it strengthens infidelity, because, when ministers of the gospel maintain dogmas, which, on being slightly sifted, are found to be so foolish and fictitious as this, they impair their own credit in proclaiming to men facts and doctrines which are founded in truth and necessary to salvation.