28 January 2014

Apostolic Succession and Lutherans

Just read a rather delightful paper on the topic by Fr. Heath Curtis located here: Apostolic Succession

Do read Eric Phillips insightful comments following it as well. Fr. Curtis' paper reminded me of story told by Fr. Mark Buetow. He was attending some clergy gathering on a campus and wore his pectoral cross. An Episcopal or Roman priest (can't remember which) said: "In my tradition, that is worn only by a bishop." Without missing a beat, Mark responded: "In my tradition, I AM a bishop." Bingo.


Tapani Simojoki said...

A similar story from my own past, but without the happy ending:

At the licensing of a local Anglo-Catholic priest by one of the flying bishops of the Church of England, the bishop in question approached me at the reception afterwards. "Which church are you from, then?" "I'm the minister of the local Lutheran church." (Calling yourself a pastor in certain gatherings is inadvisable). "A Lutheran! Do you have bishops." "No, not in the sense you mean." "Oh." And with that, and without a word, he performed a most ecclesiastical about-turn in his purple cassock and sought better company.

At that moment, I resolved never to say "No" to that question again, but instead to say, "Yes. Me."

the Lutheran bishop of Hampshire and Southern England.

George said...


Just substitute "god" with "bishop."

Unknown said...

I have read and reread “Why The Apostolic Succession Debate Matters” by Rev. Heath R. Curtis. As I understand it, Hermann Sasse denies that the Church needs Apostolic Succession as Rome defines it. “Authentic Apostolic Succession, then” he writes, “is always and only the succession of doctrine.” Sasse does two other things: he denies that Rome has Apostolic Succession as they define it, and he argues that laymen may ordain a person to the Preaching Ministry without necessarily involving a bishop.
Both Sasse and Rev. Curtis agree that Apostolic Succession, as Rome defines it, does not guarantee purity of doctrine. Apparently even Rome accepts that. But Rev. Curtis argues that we, in fact, do have Apostolic Succession as Rome defines it, because it is unthinkable that anyone in the early church became a member of the Preaching Ministry without some contact with the Apostles. Furthermore, he argues, the Confessions require the participation of a bishop in ordination. Ordinations by laymen only are invalid. For this reason, Apostolic Succession validates our clergy.
Did I get that right?
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

Hi, George! Pardon delay in reply. Perhaps Pr. Curtis will weigh in himself, but as I recall what he wrote, he stated that the Confessions did not support Sasse's contention that laymen could place a man into the office. There's that little phrase that was in the original Tractatus: "adhibitus sui pastoribus." "Using their pastors to do it."

He also argued that we need to stand more robustly with St. Jerome in his approach: the difference between bishop and priest is one of human custom, not divine mandate. By divine mandate the Church puts persons into the office and the Church means MORE THAN just clergy but it doesn't mean NOT clergy. I think that Heath's point was essentially Piepkorn's: we operate with a defacto succession that is every bit as "apostolic" as Rome's, but we do not attribute to that succession all the notions that Rome attributes to it.

Pr. H. R. said...

Pastor Weedon has aptly summarized my position.


Unknown said...

Thanks for your response, Will. There is no reason to apologize, since neither you nor anybody else is obligated to answer my posts. I appreciate that you do so out of Christian charity.
Rev. Curtis is correct is pointing out that the Church consists not only of laity, but also of clergy. But take away Synod and the Seminaries, how does the Church then find clergy? Then take away the clergy – does the Church cease to exist? This is not a fanciful hypothetical of two men in a boat. This really happened:
German Protestants in Tsarist Russia and the Soviet Union
“The following statistics may help to clarify the situation: for the 204 Lutheran parishes in the USSR there were 189 pastors in 1917 (figures refer to the end of the year.in each case);.in 1924 there were 81 (reduction due to imprisonment and the so-called "flight of priests"); in 1929 there were 90 (increase due to graduates from the seminary); in 1932 there were 64; in 1933, 60; in 1934, 34; in 1935,23; in 1936, 10; in 1937, none or perhaps just one.” (Another source claims that that “one” was actually sent back to Finland. GAM)
It is estimated by various sources that in 1941 there were about one million Lutherans in the non-Baltic areas of the Soviet Union. The Lord of the Church did not abandon them. Did they elect “pastors” from among them? Yes, they did. Did these pastors administer the Eucharist? Yes, they did? Did they do so to their judgment?
Without doubt, for the sake of order in the Church we should adhere to the institutions and the traditions which have been built up over the years. But when an upheaval takes place that makes it impossible to maintain the former institutions and traditions, then we need to be absolutely certain that we understand the principles which underlie our traditions and institutions. We should not let the traditions determine the principles.
Therefore, I suggest that Sasse is right, when he writes that “elders” ordained pastors in the early church, including the Apostle Paul in Antioch, and that laymen ordained pastors in the church of Rome before St. Paul or St. Peter ever got there. If we accept this as doctrine, then the need for any Apostolic Succession, except that of the Apostolicity of doctrine, disappears.
I am not writing this to win an argument, or to be right. I am concerned that we look at our fellow members of the Kingdom of God in this world as if they all have the benefits we have in this country. I suspect that there are many places today where the condition of the Church is not that different from what it was in the Soviet Union.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

William Weedon said...

I kind of wondered if that was where you were heading with it. I'd not seen the stats, but David Jay Webber had shared the story with me before, particularly as impacting Ukraine. And the wonderful way that wiping out the pastors couldn't wipe out the Church. I'd be curious of Pr. Curtis' response to your words, but my guess is that he'd admit that in such instance the Church does what it must in the confidence of the Lord's gracious will for His people, for the Ministry is not optional in her midst to serve out the Lord's gifts. Thoughts, Pr. Curtis?

Unknown said...

Just a few more thoughts on the subject. When I asserted that the Soviet Lutheran parishes ordained pastors for themselves, I just assumed that they did. I know of no such cases, but I think they should have, if they did not. I am reminded of what I asked my mother, a Volga German who was fortunate to escape to Estonia before the slaughter of Lutheran pastors began. I was puzzled why it was that Luthers gute Lehr had not taken Russia by storm, since it is obviously so superior to Russian Orthodoxy. So it finally occurred to me to ask her sixty years ago, “In what language were your services held” “In German, of course,” she responded as if it were silly to even ask that question. But to me it meant that for many of the good Lutherans in Russia, their faith was more a matter of their cultural heritage than devotion to God. By no means am I making a generalization about all of them, but I know it to be true in many instances. Therefore, they may not have had the knowledge to even ask the question about what they should do if their pastors disappeared.
On the same topic, the Kingdom of God is a mirror image of the Kingdom of this World. While corporations have organization charts which go from the top down, in the Kingdom of God, the Church, the organization chart is from the bottom down, from least to greatest. In other words, the Royal Priesthood is at the bottom, but then below them are the ordained clergy, and below them the bishops. I think this is what is reflected in our Lord’s words, Matthew20:25, “"You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. 26 Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant (διάκονος), 27 and whoever wants to be first must be your slave (δοῦλος)-- 28 just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." There are some Lutheran pastors who want to assert their servant hood by taking Communion last. I know that scandalizes some traditional liturgists. When I asked my brother about it many years ago, surprisingly enough he did not have a firm dogmatic response as he usually did. He suggested that maybe the celebrant needed communion more.
Peace and Joy!
George A. Marquart

Pr. H. R. said...

My response is: "hard cases make bad law." I'm no fan of trying to prove theological points by pointing to difficult historical circumstances. That's simply not an argument to the point.

Furthermore, our knowledge of this situation is incomplete. I would surmise that if the clergy of our church started to be systematically exterminated we would start ordaining our replacements away from prying governmental eyes. How do we know this did not happen among the Russian Germans?

At any rate: hard cases make bad law - and a hard case is not an argument from Scripture. That's where we base our practice. We leave the judgment of the hard cases up to God.