by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: Acts 20:17-36
I. How do you prove that your brand of Christianity is real?
A. For some, the argument is based on who was around the longest.
1. A religion that just recently started is declared to be suspect. If the church has been around for 2,000 years, then where was the group?
2. Hence, there is a drive in many groups to provide an unbroken link from their current leaders to the apostles of Christ
B. The Roman Catholic is the largest and oldest of the groups claiming apostolic succession. Based on their claim of connection to Peter, they claim to be the true church
1. “The first Christians had no doubts about how to determine which was the true Church and which doctrines the true teachings of Christ. The test was simple: Just trace the apostolic succession of the claimants” [Catholic Answers, “Apostolic Succession”]
C. Eastern Orthodox, the Anglican church, some Lutheran churches, and a few others also claim that without a chain back to the original apostles, a person has no authority to appoint leaders in the church or conduct worship services.
II. Was the authority of the Apostles passed down?
A. Apostles were eyewitnesses of the resurrection of Jesus - Acts 1:21-22
1. All the apostles witness Jesus alive and resurrected - Acts 2:32
2. Paul was the last to see Christ alive - I Corinthians 15:4-8
a. The concept that there was a proper or due time to be an apostle implies that it was not continuing.
B. Apostles could give miraculous gifts to others - Acts 8:14-19
1. Example of Paul doing so - Acts 19:1-7
C. Apostles taught by direct instruction of the Holy Spirit - John 16:33
1. The Spirit gave the words to speak - I Corinthians 2:12-13
2. Paul’s example - Ephesians 3:3-5
3. Something that was done in one period of time - Jude 3
D. None of these indicators of the apostles’ authority were passed down
1. “Peter, it is true, ... possessed also the gift of inspiration and the power of working miracles. These two latter gifts are not claimed by the Pope ... The Apostles were endowed with the gift of inspiration ... No Catholic, on the contrary, claims that the Pope is inspired or endowed with Divine revelation properly so called.” [Faith of Our Fathers, pgs. 89, 99].
III. Are Apostles needed today?
A. The apostles wrote what was given to them - I John 1:1-4
1. Peter talks about Paul’s writings, calling them Scripture - II Peter 3:15-16
2. What was given was complete - II Peter 1:2-4; II Timothy 3:16-17
B. Miracles were given to confirm that the teachings were from God - Hebrews 2:3-4
1. Why the gospels were written - John 20:30-31
2. It took two witnesses to prove truth - John 8:17-18
C. The writings are understandable as presented - Ephesians 5:17
1. They are there as a reminder - II Peter 1:12-15; 3:1
D. God makes sure the writings remain - I Peter 1:22-25
1. It will be with us forever - II John 2
E. The teachings are not to be altered - Galatians 1:6-10; II John 9-11
IV. Can you identify the true church by tracing a succession back to the apostles?
A. “The role of apostolic succession in preserving true doctrine is illustrated in the Bible. To make sure that the apostles’ teachings would be passed down after the deaths of the apostles, Paul told Timothy, "What you have heard from me before many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also" (II Timothy 2:2)” [Catholic Answers, “Apostolic Succession”]
B. People would leave the truth - II Timothy 4:2-4
C. There would be a falling away - I Timothy 4:1-3
D. Elders, or bishops, would lead people into error - Acts 20:28-30
1. If an elder strayed from the truth and you trace a succession through them, then would you have the true church?
2. The blind leading the blind - Matthew 15:14
V. God’s Word is seed - Luke 8:5-15
A. When that seed is planted in good hearts, it yields Christians - I Peter 1:22-23
B. Seeds produce after its own kind. You cannot plant a tomato seed and get cucumbers.
C. When the pure Word of God is used, it produces pure Christians, who know from God’s teachings in His Word how to live and worship Him.
D. People may spread the word, but it is the word that converts - I Corinthians 3:6-7
E. Truth is not establish by imaginary apostolic succession by how a group stays with the Word of God - John 17:17