Clement still has me thinking.
I've written here before on my doubts regarding a present day apostolic succession. In short, when the earliest Christians were falling into dangerous heresies and schisms, the integrity of local communities was guarded by its leaders, who (probably) first were prophets and teachers, then presbyter-bishops, and later singular bishops. Those first presbyters were installed by the apostles, their faithfulness to the "faith once delivered" assured because their discipleship and ministry were formed in their relationship with the apostles. In turn, those leaders formed others in the faith to take their places of authority. On the basis of personal relationships and the redeeming work of the Holy Spirit, it was considered very likely that those leaders were able and faithful successors to the apostles in their ministry.
(In the late second century, it was a negative criterion whereby +Irenaeus of Lyons was able to discredit Gnostic teachers, who claimed a secret knowledge that the apostles gave to them, but not to the leaders the apostles had ordained.)
Clement unflinchingly upheld the qualifications of the Corinthians' deposed presbyters: they were ordained by the apostles as their successors, and in the utter absence of charges against them, they are not to be removed.
This raises a couple of questions that irritate my Anglican and Baptist sympathies, respectively. In what way is a contemporary apostolic succession valid? When is it really legitimate for a presbyter/pastor to leave one community for another?
An Alternative Apostolic Succession?
The Romans and some Anglicans (I won't make claims for the Eastern Orthodox) claim a mechanical succession: their presbyters and bishops were ordained by bishops ordained by bishops ... ordained by the apostles. Even if that were verifiably true, they could not make claims about their bishops being formed by those other bishops. The connection is mechanical, not relational, and it would require a special work of the Holy Spirit to give the benefits of the former relational connection in the absence of relationships. I don't think that's happened.
As a result, I'm not certain how ordination in the apostolic succession can be more legitimate than ordaination in the free (congregational) churches. It just may be that the Holy Spirit wishes for a different kind of system to emerge altogether.
Perhaps the Holy Spirit will form members of a community into Christians. Perhaps presbyters and teachers will be formed there, and all of the offices necessary for the life and growth of the Body of Christ in that particular place will be filled by Christians who have been formed for them by the Holy Spirit's work in each community. Separate communities in a region could form relationships, getting to know one another through time spent together, teaching and shared mission.
What further "recognition of ministry" would be required? If one is truly formed in the life of the community, shouldn't one serve that community? Shouldn't one be validated by one's reputation in that community, rather than the approving stamp of a denomination?
Could the Holy Spirit do a work in our midst that would do the same validating work as did the ancient apostolic succession?
I'd love to hear some perspectives on these questions.
What of itinerant ministry? More to come...
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